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Dinner And A Movie? -
Reality For The Hearing Impaired

By Hazel Inglis
HearingCenterOnline.com Staff Writer

Dinner? Movie? I’ll pick you up at eight. Nothing unusual here. Whether with a group of friends, a date, or a spouse, going to the movies is one of the most popular North American pastimes. Almost 1.5 Billion movie tickets were sold in the US alone in 1998 and again in 1999.* Competitive theater companies have invested an increasing number of dollars to dazzle customers with louder more impressive sound systems. However, for many of the hearing impaired, (10% of the world’s population) an evening at the movies is a distant memory, or an unknown experience.

It is this sense of isolation that has pushed eight hearing impaired people from Oregon to sue three of America’s largest movie theater chains, (Regal Cinemas, Century Theaters and Carmike Cinemas) earlier this year. The group, citing America’s Disability Act, wants these three chains to install a rear window captioning system into each of their theaters. "Not being able to go to the movies is socially isolating for deaf people," says Dennis Steinmen the group’s lawyer. "Not only are they kept from that aspect of culture and society, they miss out on social interaction; they can’t go out to dinner and a movie with their hearing friends."** Today, there are a couple of options to enable the hearing impaired to understand movie dialogue. However, access to these systems is still very limited.

The first option, which has been around the longest, is open captioning. Open Captioned films are made available from a non-profit organization called Tripod Captioned Films (TCF). TCF is a community outreach project of the TRIPOD Model School Program in Burbank, CA. Tripod obtains donations of captioned films from every major movie studio, including Walt Disney, 20th Century Fox, Sony, New Line, MGM-UA, Paramount, Universal and Warner Brothers. With the help of local non-profit organizations throughout the US and Canada, they then book theater space and distribute the captioned films based on regions and the quantity of films attainable. Unfortunately, most of these movies are not available until four weeks after their national release.

To decide whether or not they will caption an upcoming film, TRIPOD attends screenings of projected top box-office hits a month prior to their release. They then evaluate the audience appeal and predicted success of each feature. Sadly, because captionned movies must be shared between different regions, the times of the showings are not always premium. Theater time is often booked during the week or the day. Thankfully, Tripod Captioned Films does notify interested viewers about upcoming features every Monday via e-mail. If you would like them to notify you, e-mail tripodschool@earthlink.net with your name, e-mail address and state for which you would like to receive information.

A second option for hearing impaired movie goers is the MoPix Rear Window Captioning System. MoPix, also known as the Motion Picture Access Project is an initiative of the CPB/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media. NCAM is a division of the WGBH Educational Foundation. The patented Rear Captioning System works concurrently with a system that enables the blind to utilize headphones to hear descriptive narration of on-screen content, thus addressing the needs of more than one disability.

The Rear Window Captioning System is designed to provide the hearing impaired with a closed captioning system without disrupting other members of the audience. The system displays mirrored captions on a LED display which is fixed to the wall at the back of the theater. These captions are reflected onto clear, acrylic panels which attach to holders on the audience member’s seat.

Unlike an open captioning system, the Rear Window System does not require special printed films. Instead, the captions are on a CD or floppy disk and are played at the same time as the film. This means that the Hearing Impaired do not have to wait for open captioned films to come to the theater. Similarly, they will not be limited to certain viewing times or days, but will be able to see any film at it’s regular show time.

On the down side of this captioning system, adjusting the reflector to view the captions can be a hassle. It is also difficult to look at the screen and read the captions at the same time. Taking advantage of this device requires practice and patience. It is advisable to arrive at the theater early, in order to adjust the reflector to the most comfortable position for you and to practice reading the “test captions” provided.

If you would like to find out more information about open captioned films [TRIPOD] in your neighborhood local theater you can contact Tripod Captioned Films at: http://www.tripod.org or telephone (818) 972-2080 and fax (818) 972-2090 or Email: tripodschool@earthlink.net

If you need more information on the MoPix system contact:

The Motion Picture Access Project, WGBH Educational Foundation, 125 Western Avenue, Boston, MA 02134 (617) 300-3400 (voice/TTY) or (617) 300-1035 (fax)
Email: ncam@wgbh.org 
WebSite: http://www.wgbh.org

In addition, check out the Closed Captioning Web’s online petition for captions in movie theaters at http://www.captions.org/petition.cfm Likened to "the virtual equivalent of staging a march on Hollywood," this petition was started September 1, 1999. The goal is to illustrate the deaf and hard of hearing community’s desire for greater access to captionned movies. By April 2000, this list reached over 21, 000 unique names and continues to grow!

*according to the Motion Picture Association of America http://www.mpaa.org

**quotation from Fox News Online (Associated Press) February 4, 2000, article "Deaf group files lawsuit against movie theaters" http://www.foxmarketwire.com/

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