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.