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Movie Theaters May Soon Be More Accessible

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Most movie theaters would be required to offer captioning and audio description devices under a proposed new rule. (Rennee Jones Schneider/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT)

Most movie theaters would be required to offer captioning and audio description devices under a proposed new rule. (Rennee Jones Schneider/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT)

The Obama administration wants movie theaters nationwide to do more to accommodate people with disabilities.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Justice said Friday that they are proposing new rules that would require movie theaters to offer captioning and audio description to ensure access for people with hearing and vision disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The rules would set a national standard for accessibility at the movies, officials said.

Existing technology allows captioning to be provided to individuals at their seats that is only visible to those who request it. Audio description gives those with limited sight spoken narration of the visual elements of a film via a wireless headset.

Under the proposal, theaters would be required to provide a specific number of closed captioning and audio description devices. The directive would apply to digital screens in cases where movies are produced and distributed with captioning and audio narration features. The Justice Department said it is considering whether to extend the rules to analog screens as well.

There are exceptions to the rule for drive-ins and theaters that would face an “undue burden” or require “fundamental alteration” in order to provide the accessibility features, the agency said.

“As we celebrate the 24th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on Saturday, we are reminded that people with disabilities still do not have full access to all aspects of American cultural life,” said Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Justice Department.

“Although some movie theaters are making strides towards meeting their ADA obligations, there is a good deal of inconsistency among theaters across the United States. This proposed rule is intended to ensure that, regardless of where a person with a hearing or vision disability lives, that person will be able to attend movies with their friends and family and fully enjoy this important social and cultural activity,” Samuels said.

The proposal will be published soon in the Federal Register, officials said. At that time, there will be a 60-day public comment period.

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Comments (2 Responses)

  1. jackie says:

    I don’t know what theater that photo is from, but doesn’t resemble the ones around where I live- and those hard of hearing probably don’t have a problem, because the movies around hear BLAST the sound, and the a/c- 2 reasons why I don’t frequent the movies- maybe the disabled stay away for similar reasons- there really isn’t that much worth paying > $10 to see anyway, but if it will help some folks get to experience what I have- high prices, junk on the screen, deafening volume, & frigid temperatures, well then, welcome !!

  2. AnnieM says:

    There is one theater chain in San Antonio (Regal) that provides glasses that project a holographic image of the dialog in front of the viewer. The text can be adjusted vertically up and down and the size of the font can be made larger or smaller. The headsets that other chains offer do nothing to help those with severe hearing loss. My husband and I love to go to the movies, but had stopped because I could not understand (not ‘hear’ – a common misconception. Loudness does not equal clarity.) The Sony glasses provided by Regal have allowed me to enjoy the movies again with my husband. They even have explanation of background sounds in parentheses. e.g., “loud footsteps, soft music, knocking on door.” If all movie theaters would provide the same, it would benefit thousands who currently cannot enjoy movies with their families.

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