Sunday, February 23, 2003

Theater aids available, but not here

No Tristate theaters have equipment

When I went to see the movie Chicago last week with loved ones, we sat in the back of the theater. It's not that we like to sit in the back, but we knew there would be a considerable amount of visual action that someone would have to describe to me if I was going to enjoy the film as much as everyone else.

I loved the movie, but would have loved it more if I could have leaned back in my seat - any seat, anywhere in the house - and enjoyed the movie without the need to whisper and query my companions.

Lisa Porter of San Carlos, Calif., sent me an e-mail today that raises similar concerns:

I am a hearing impaired individual who is interested in finding ways to bring captioning to a movie theater where I live.

Are there some deaf and hearing impaired organizations that could help me with this? Should I try to talk to the district manager of the AMC theaters to set aside one screen for captioned movies?

I love watching movies, but often miss a lot of what is going on. I would imagine there are other deaf and hearing impaired people who would also benefit from this.

Connected to culture

Movies are a key element of our culture. If you can't hear well enough to understand song lyrics or dialogue or see well enough to follow scene changes, dance routines, critical gestures or significant facial expressions, you consider more carefully before buying a movie ticket.

In 1992, the Motion Picture Access Project, MoPix, was launched by the Media Access Group at WGBH in Boston. As the home of the national Caption Center (begun in 1972) and Descriptive Video Service (1990), it is no surprise that WGBH would spearhead efforts to make motion pictures more accessible to people with disabilities.

Two innovative technologies make it possible for people who are deaf or hearing impaired to know what is being said or sung, and people who are blind or visually impaired are included in all of those visual nuances essential to full appreciation of a film.

With Rear Window captioning, hearing impaired moviegoers place a piece of Plexiglas on the seat in front of them and see the captions reflected. The captions are visible only to the person using the Rear Window Captioning system.

Similarly, with DVS Theatrical, patrons who are visually impaired, hear, through headsets, an additional recording synchronized with the sound track that carries a descriptive narration of the visual elements of the show. Only the individual wearing the headset hears the description.

Once Closed Captions (CC) or Descriptive Video Service (DVS) has been added to a film, hearing description or seeing captions exists with every print of the film, every time it is played. The catch is that theaters need to install the necessary equipment to render these technologies functional.

Lack of installations

Lisa Porter is lucky. She lives 26 miles south of San Francisco, where a handful of theaters are equipped with Rear Window Captioning and DVS Theatrical. While many theaters in 17 states and five Canadian provinces have seen the wisdom of this one-time installation of equipment, not a single theater in Ohio, Kentucky or Indiana has taken the plunge.

There are 45 million Americans with impaired sight or hearing. Most of them would probably buy more movie tickets if their local theaters took steps to ensure they would enjoy the film as much as everyone else.

For a complete listing of movies and theaters carrying closed caption and description, go to

Contact Deborah Kendrick by phone: 673-4474; fax: 321-6430; e-mail:

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