Movie Theaters To Expand Screenings For People With Disabilities

Attorney General Spitzer today announced a series of agreements that will help people with visual and hearing impairments enjoy the movies.

Under the agreements, eight movie theater chains will expand the availability and use of assistive technology and take other steps to encourage people with sensory disabilities to patronize movie theaters across the state.

"Movies are an important part of popular culture," Spitzer said. "Every adult and child should be able to enjoy a film with family and friends, especially during the holiday season. These agreements will permit individuals who are hard-of-hearing, deaf and visually impaired to share in the cultural experience and entertainment of a movie screening."

"The theater companies have shown extraordinary cooperation and we applaud them for their sincere commitment to expanding access to individuals with disabilities," the Attorney General said.

Under the agreements, the theater companies will utilize a variety of technologies to make their films accessible to individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Some of the theaters will offer "closed captioned" films by installing Rear Window Captioning (RWC) technology. RWC displays reversed captions on a text display mounted in the rear of a theater. Deaf and hard-of-hearing patrons use transparent acrylic panels attached to their seats to reflect the captions so that they appear superimposed on the movie screen. The reflective panels are portable and adjustable, enabling the caption user to sit anywhere in the theater. Other theaters will offer "open captioned" films where the captions are displayed directly on the movie screen, as with subtitles in a foreign language film.

The agreements also require theaters to install DVS Theatrical systems (DVS). DVS delivers descriptive narration via infrared or FM listening systems, enabling visually-impaired and blind moviegoers to hear the descriptive narration on headsets without disturbing other audience members. The descriptions complement the soundtrack by providing narrated information about key visual elements such as actions, settings, and scene changes, making movies more meaningful to people with vision loss.

Finally, the agreements require theaters to make available hearing aid-compatible assistive listening devices. Currently, all theaters in New York offer patrons headsets which amplify a film's soundtrack. Many individuals with hearing aids, however, cannot use these headsets because they do not amplify the sound sufficiently, or because they cause feedback. Under the agreements, the movie theaters will offer hearing aid-compatible loops or headsets that will interface directly with telecoils in hearing aids, enhancing the ability of individuals with hearing aids to enjoy a film.

As a result of the agreements, 38 theaters throughout New York will offer captioned and/or narrated films and 140 theaters will offer hearing aid-compatible assistive listening devices. If demand for these technologies increases, the theater companies have agreed to discuss increasing the number of accessible screens throughout the state.

Advocates for persons with disabilities praised the agreements:

Joseph Gordon, Coordinator of the New York State Chapter of Self-Help for Hard of Hearing People, said: "New York has two million people with hearing loss who will benefit from the implementation of the Attorney General's exciting agreements. By gaining greater access to movies, people with hearing loss will no longer be isolated from this important segment of our culture."

Carl R. Augusto, President of the American Foundation for the Blind, said: "I want to sincerely thank the Attorney General for this initiative. I also want to commend the movie theaters for agreeing to make their movies accessible to a wider range of audiences. With these companies leading the way, the Foundation hopes all theaters will soon offer more options to their patrons, giving people with vision loss the same access to the social and cultural experience that movies provide."

The theater companies that entered into the agreements with the Attorney General are: AMC Entertainment; Carmike Cinemas; Clearview Cinemas; Dipson Theatres; Loews Entertainment Cineplex; National Amusements; Regal Entertainment Group; and Zurich Cinemas.

This case was led by Assistant Attorney General Anne Pearson under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Natalie Williams of the Attorney General's Civil Rights Bureau.

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