Thursday, December 2, 2010
The Latest in the Battle Over Theater Captioning
Well, it's about time.
As I've written about on this blog before, I'm among the thousands of Deaf and hard of hearing moviegoers fed up with not being able to understand movie dialogue. Now a group is sueing Cinemark theatres for lack of captioned movies. This is a theater chain that hasn't yet embraced captioning technology like other theaters have. For a listing of theaters currently showing captioned films, visit Captionfish.com.
I thought it would be interesting to compare Cinemark with two other theater chains: AMC Theatres and Regal Cinemas. Unlike Cinemark, the latter two show captioned movies at some of their locations.
Cinemark - The Lawsuit
A lawsuit brought on by the Association of Late-Deafened Adults (ALDA) and two individual plaintiffs claims Cinemark discriminates against hard of hearing and Deaf communities by failing to provide any captioned films in its Alameda County, California, theaters. The suit sees this oversight as a direct violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California's anti-discrimination statutes, the Unruh Civil Rights Act and Disabled Persons Act.
ConsumerAffairs.com reports that about 85 percent of first-run movies are captioned and compatible with the rear window captioning system when they arrive in theaters. Each individual movie theater has the option of whether or not to install the $10,000 captioning equipment.
Apparently, Cinemark opted to save money at the expense of being accessible to the Deaf and hard of hearing.
AMC has nearly 160 theaters equipped with rear window captioning (RWC) units. RWC involves a reflective cupholder device that reflects captions emitted from a LED screen at the back of the theater. Some locations show open captioned (OC) movies, in which each movie has captions printed directly onto the film.
The theater chain provides an online search by zip code service of locations playing movies that are open captioned, closed captioned (rear window captioned) or with descriptive video.
Although AMC has been showing few captioned movies recently in its headquarters of Kansas City, the local Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) Chapter is in talks to expedite the return of captioned movie showings. A Kansas City HLAA rep is in twice-weekly contact with AMC to encourage the theater chain to expedite showing captioned digital format movies. AMC's Olathe, Kansas, theater is expected to be the first AMC location in the U.S. to show digital format films with rear window and open captions.
Regal Entertainment Group
Here is the latest on the theater chain's captioning efforts as stated on its Web site:
"Regal Entertainment Group, the National Association of Theatre Owners ("NATO") and the Inter-Society Digital Cinema Forum (ISDCF), film studios, manufacturers and technology designers have agreed and implemented a goal to have all digital standards associated with closed captioning and descriptive audio available for digital servers and projectors in the near future.
"The primary intent behind these efforts is to have 100% of all digital cinema systems being manufactured for theatres contain closed captioning and audio described technology that is accessible to theatre patrons in the near future.
"We also are working directly with manufacturers of closed caption systems that will be able to plug into compliant digital cinema servers.
"While there remains much work to be done, and while we are dependent on third party manufacturers, we are optimistic that acceptable personal captioning system will become available in the near future."
What the Cinemark Lawsuit Means
While the Cinemark lawsuit has captured media attention and has fired up those of us with hearing loss, what difference will it make in the long term? If Cinemark, the third largest U.S. theater chain, can be sued over captions, how quickly will other theater companies heed the warning and make their films accessible to everyone?
I'd like to imagine theaters packed with people with varying levels of hearing, deafness, vision loss and other (dis)abilities. I'd like for 2011 to be the Year of Theater for Everyone.
Join me on Facebook, Twitter, and my new blog LipreadingMom.com as I monitor movie theater captioning.