Theater experiences to improve for those with hearing loss

Contributed by | Friday, December 12th, 2014

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. 

theaters and hearing loss
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. 

"This is the end of a long road, and like a lot of long roads, there have been a few bumps along the way," John Waldo, ALDA member and attorney, said in the statement. "Most ALDA members lost some or all of their hearing later in life, and movies were one of those things we could and did enjoy at one time but can no longer do so. We are very grateful to the theater owners for helping us get to this destination, and we look forward to a continuing and productive partnership."

Along with the equipment requirements, the recommendations include requirements for marketing, equipment upkeep and employee training. The organizations also committed to lobbying movie distributors to join in the efforts by providing CC and AD data files on all movie trailers, and by letting theaters know the availability of those screenings prior to movie releases. This way, that information can be included in posted show times for the public. The groups also committed to expanding community outreach efforts in support of the new policies.

“A.G. Bell and other deaf advocates have been fighting for captioning access in movie theaters ever since 1927 when the first “talkie” movies were released,” John F. Stanton, chair, Public Affairs Council of A.G. Bell, said in the statement. “These joint comments are the result of decades of efforts from A.G. Bell’s members and other deaf advocates to attain captioning access in movie theaters. Today is truly a landmark day in captioning access history. As soon as these joint comments are effectuated, the days for deaf or hard of hearing consumers having to wait for a movie to come out on television, video or DVD for the captions will be over.”

Public comments were collected and can be viewed at

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