Theater experiences to improve for those with hearing loss

Contributed by Lauren Clason, staff writer for Healthy Hearing

If you have hearing loss, going to the movies might get a little easier for you. On Nov. 21, the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) announced collaboration with the Alexander Graham Bell Association (A.G. Bell), the Association of Late Deafened Adults (ALDA), the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) and the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) to submit their opinions on the proposed rule to update captioning equipment and policies in movie theaters throughout the country.
After several weeks of discussions, the groups agreed on a set of recommendations to submit to the Department of Justice (DOJ), calling for stricter access requirements in movie theaters for the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities. The recommendations confirm the DOJ’s proposed rule currently up for public comment, which was posted on Aug. 1.
Movie theaters may soon be required to update
captioning equipment and policies, making the
movie-going experience much more
enjoyable for those with hearing loss.
“This partnership between deaf and hard-of-hearing advocates and the movie theater industry has been remarkably productive and promises to yield results that will benefit our patrons and expand access to movie theaters in a real, practical and measurable way,” John Fithian, NATO president and CEO, said in a statement.
The recommendations include requiring closed captioning (CC) technology, as well as audio description (AD) technology for blind or low-vision patrons, installed in all movie theaters nationwide. Specifically, the organizations are advocating for the installation of a CC monitoring device that is capable of responding to audience demand. The recommendations also include a new compliance period to allow theater owners a reasonable time frame to complete the required changes.
Previously, while theaters were required to make movies accessible to deaf and blind patrons under the Americans with Disabilities Act, they weren’t required to provide CC and AD movies. Instead, they complied by providing assistive listening devices in place of CC. According to the HLAA, in April of 2010, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled such a requirement would be an “undue burden” on on theater owners. But, with the switch from analog to digital, those technologies are becoming less expensive and easier to implement, and in July of that year, the DOJ posted an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the topic, paving the way for CC and AD options to become standard in movie theaters.
The proposed rule requires theaters to obtain any CC or AD movies that are made available by the distributor, but does not require them to create their own captions if the film studio did not make those versions available.

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