TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Theaters Agree to Help Visually, Aurally Handicapped People at Movies

Theaters Agree to Help Visually, Aurally Handicapped People at Movies

Michael Gormley (
Sun, 4 Dec 2005 21:41:36 -0600

By MICHAEL GORMLEY, Associated Press Writer

Did you catch the new movie that everyone's talking about at school
and at work?

If you're visually or hearing impaired, there's a good chance you couldn't.
But that's slowly changing.

Nationwide, more than 150 movie theaters have added special systems to help
the deaf, hard of hearing, blind or visually impaired, according to the
nonprofit National Center for Accessible Media.

Most of those theaters are in major cities that made the move voluntarily,
but states are now putting pressure on theater chains to spread the
technology much farther or risk discrimination lawsuits.

In New Jersey, four movie theater chains agreed under pressure last year to
install deaf-captioning technology in theaters statewide. The attorney
general filed a discrimination complaint against a fifth chain that didn't
go along.

A similar deal being announced in New York on Monday involves eight national
theater chains. The chains agreed to implement technology to help the
visually and hearing impaired enjoy movies in 140 theaters across the New
York state - up from about a dozen now.

"Movies are an important part of popular culture," said New York Attorney
General Eliot Spitzer. "Every adult and child should be able to enjoy a film
with family and friends, especially during the holiday season."

Like those in the New Jersey agreement, the New York theaters will add Rear
Window captioning, in which hearing disabled customers can use an acrylic
panel to read captioning projected from the back of the theater.

They also will provide listening devices more compatible with hearing aids;
most headsets used now for the disabled only amplify a movie's soundtrack.

Thirty-eight of the New York theaters will provide on-screen captioning of
some movies and headsets that offer descriptive narration of films under the

Representatives of Loews Entertainment Cineplex, AMC Entertainment and Regal
Entertainment Group, three of the largest chains, didn't immediately respond
to requests for comment. Email and phone messages left Friday were not
returned by the others. In addition to Loews, AMC and Regal, the deal was
agreed to by Carmike Cinemas, Clearview Cinemas, Dipson Theatres, National
Amusements and Zurich Cinemas.

The American Foundation for the Blind said the measures are good for
everyone involved - by making theaters accessible, more customers will come.

"It's not only seeing it, it's understanding it," said Joseph Gordon of Self
Help for Hard of Hearing People in New York City. He said people with even
moderate hearing difficulties have trouble distinguishing between words like
"tomato" and "potato."

"I think it's an extremely isolating factor," Gordon said. He said 2 million
New Yorkers have hearing difficulties.

Spitzer, who is running for governor in 2006, said he started negotiating
with the theater chains after receiving complaints from disabled New

The complaints appeared to show potential violations of state and federal
laws against discrimination against disabled people, said Dennis Parker,
chief of the attorney general's Civil Rights Bureau.

"It's not just being able to see a movie," Parker said. "It's the social
situations ... the talk around the water cooler, and kids' conversations
about movie openings."

On the Net:

New York attorney general:

National Center for Accessible Media:

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

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