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Title: Open Captions at the Movie Theaters
You are deaf or hard of hearing and enjoy watching movies on the big screen. And you wish you could enjoy movies with open captions, meaning everybody can see the captions instead of using a device to see them. If this sounds like you, learn what Erik Nordlof and a group of other deaf moviegoers have done in the DC area to have frequent showings of open captioned movies.
A few months ago I learned about Erik through an article at the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) website. Erik was featured there because he started talking to movie theaters’ managers in the DC area to set up open captioned screenings and then he created a group on Facebook called “DC Deaf Moviegoers.” This is a Facebook group for deaf and hard of hearing moviegoers in the Washington, DC area which sets up open captioned movie screenings on behalf of its members.
Erik started the group because he was frustrated with the CaptiView technology provided by some theaters for their deaf or hard of hearing customers. CaptiView is a device that sits in the seat’s cupholder and uses a flexible arm to hold a small screen that shows the captions. CaptiView is provided in AMC and Cinemark theaters. Regal Cinemas use a different technology to show captions. They provide special glasses where captions are projected in the line of sight of their users. CaptiView and special glasses are not the only technologies available but they are the most widespread now.
Since January 17 of this year, movie theaters are required by law to provide close captions and audio description when showing a digital movie distributed with that feature, unless doing so would result in an undue burden for the theater. Movie theaters also need to have a specified number of captioning devices and audio description devices based on the number of auditoriums in the movie theater that show digital movies. Previous to 2017, as much as 70% of all movie theaters were already equipped to provide closed movie captioning and audio description; however, the availability of these services varied significantly depending on a movie theater’s location and ownership.
It is fortunate that now assistive devices are widely available, but watching a movie with the captions directly on the big screen is something totally different. That is why I wanted to share with you Erik’s experience. He kindly accepted to answer a few questions regarding the way he and other people in the DC area have successfully worked to set up frequent open captioned (OC) movie screenings in their area. My deep thanks to Erik for taking the time to answer my questions.
Dicapta: What has your approach been to convince movie theater managers to show movies with open captions?
Erik: My approach depends on if the movie theater is part of a chain and what chain it may be. I often try to find out if the theater has done open captions before, and if needed, I provide background information, such as the difference between open and closed captions, the widespread availability of open captions for all movies from the big six studios, and how open captioned movie screenings have attracted large groups of deaf and hard of hearing moviegoers. I share information about other theaters providing open captions and having significant turnouts.
Dicapta: Do you know of other groups in the US that are doing something similar to what you have done?
Erick: Absolutely! DC Deaf Moviegoers was not the first group. We began organizing open captioned movie screenings in October 2015 with Matt Damon's "The Martian". When I started out, I looked online and found multiple groups in places like New York, NY, Rochester, NY, Kansas City, MO, Huntsville, AL, Twin Falls, ID, Fayetteville, NC, Vernon Hills, IL, San Antonio, TX, etc. I reached out to them so we could form a loose network. There have been other groups that started after DC Deaf Moviegoers, and we've shared our feedback with some on how to have open captions successfully.
Dicapta: How many theaters in your area are now showing open captions?
Erik: We routinely set up open captioned movie screenings at three theaters: Regal Gallery Place 14 in Washington, DC, and two in Fairfax, VA -- Regal Towne Center 10 and Angelika - Mosaic. We have had OC screenings at other local theaters but have largely settled on these three as the most preferred among deaf moviegoers.
I do want to recognize that there are some movie theaters in the Washington, DC area that set up OC screenings on their own, and we are glad to share these details with our group. They are AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, MD, Old Greenbelt Theatre in Greenbelt, MD, Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market in Washington, DC, and The Avalon in Washington, DC.
Since my friend and I volunteer our time and energy to organize OC screenings and share details with the group, we are not expanding to other theaters. However, we are glad to help others organize OC screenings, especially if they live a little too far away from the theaters in Washington, DC or Fairfax, VA. There have been OC screenings set up in multiple parts of Maryland, including Baltimore, Frederick, and Rockville. A contact of mine may be interested in setting up OC screenings in Hyattsville.
Dicapta: What would you recommend to other people if they want to do something similar in their communities?
Erik: I recommend following an approach similar to mine and also have a few additional points to suggest. First, find out what movie theaters are the most convenient locations for most deaf moviegoers. Secondly, find out what the theaters' managers know about open captions and what they are willing to do, especially when presented with evidence of successful OC screenings elsewhere. Third, find out what upcoming movie would be of the most interest to most people to ensure a strong initial turnout. For example, an R-rated movie for a first movie may not be ideal since younger deaf people and their families will not be able to go.
If OC screenings look like they could become routine, I recommend having a centralized location for sharing details. A Facebook group is probably the most convenient for most people, and the group can have polls so deaf moviegoers can vote on what they want to see. If possible, I recommend adding a non-Facebook option like a mailing list since not everyone is on Facebook. DC Deaf Moviegoers sends out a weekly email with MailChimp, for example.
It is important for OC screenings to be advertised in multiple places. For example, an event can be created in a Facebook group and shared in other groups, especially those run by local deaf organizations. If there are other mailing lists, ask those in charge if they can share details. Making a flyer and distributing it can help. The larger the group becomes, the easier it becomes to share details about OC screenings with everyone.
Lastly, I do recommend having a partner or two. It does take time and energy to figure out which movies to have OC screenings for, to communicate with the managers to set them up, and to advertise the screenings. It helps a lot to have someone to work with.
A final point to consider: while the current DOJ ruling says that the ADA does not require open captions, this does not mean there cannot be a state law to require them. Hawaii is the first state to require having OC screenings, and there are similar initiatives underway in other states. So in regard to organizing OC screenings, think of it as working within the system, until the system can be changed by you or your peers.
- “#NADHandwave: July 2017.” National Association of the Deaf, https://www.nad.org/handwaves/july-2017/
- “Dolby CaptiView.” Dolby, https://www.dolby.com/us/en/professional/cinema/products/captiview.html
- “STW-C140GI Entertainment Glasses with Audio. STWA-C101 Data Transmiter.” Sony Electronics Inc., https://pro.sony.com/bbsccms/assets/files/mkt/digicinema/brochures/EntAccessGlasses-DI-0272_2.pdf
- “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability by Public Accommodations Movie Theaters; Movie Captioning and Audio Description.” Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, https://www.ada.gov/regs2016/movie_rule.htm