The Latest on Closed Captioning and the ADA

May 24, 2013


On May 14th, A full senate committee hearing was held regarding the ADA and Entertainment Technologies. The focus being “Improving Accessibility from the Movie Screen to your Mobile Device.

Ms. Eve Hill , Senior Counselor to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Washington, DC

Ms. Karen Peltz Strauss , Deputy Chief, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, Federal Communications Commission, Washington, DC

Mr. John Fithian , President and CEO, National Association of Theatre Owners, Washington, DC

Ms. Betsy Beaumon , Vice President and General Manager, Literacy Program, The Benetech Initiative, Palo Alto, CA

Mr. Brian Charlson , Chair, Information Access Committee, American Council of the Blind, Watertown, MA

Mr. Andrew Phillips , Policy Counsel, Law & Advocacy Center, National Association of the Deaf, Silver Spring, MD

Senator Tom Harkin from Iowa moderated the discussion and below are some of the highlights from the hearing.
* Senator Harkin commented on a flight he took recently where many movies were available to watch on board. He noticed that only two movies provided captioning.
* Senator Harkin also mentioned how he personally has difficulty understanding dialogue on television and movies. Like many with aging ears, he can ‘hear’ it, but cannot understand what is being said. He uses captions whenever he can and spoke to how difficult it is to “go back” to watching shows without captions.
* Mr. Andrew Phillips shared his experience as a deaf entertainment consumer. He spoke of his childhood days when he would make up his own story and dialogue when watching films. He elicited laughter when he observed that later – when he understood the real story and plot – he felt his imagined version was much better. He mentioned his disappointment when movies only provided captions when they had been in the theaters for awhile…..and usually at low peak times like Sunday afternoons.
* Mr. Phillips also commented on current technology that still makes movie – going challenging. Glasses which can be worn which display captions are uncomfortable while the eyes are constantly adjusting to a far away picture and close up captions. He described caption devices which can be held in a movie seat’s cup holder. This option requires constant looking back and forth to keep up with the story.
* Mr. John Fithian spoke on behalf of Theatre owners who are not in favor of legislation. He argued that theatre owners are already taking steps to provide accommodations in their efforts to bring in more patrons. He believes that legislation will only open the door to law suits and litigation. When asked to provide captions for all films, he spoke on behalf of the hearing consumers who prefer NOT to see captions on the screen.
* Senator Harkin commented on a device he has heard about, but no one had information on this particular technology. This method would embed captions into every film, but would require special glasses to see them.
* Mr Brian Charlson spoke on the challenges faced by the blind and asked for the committee to consider “standards” when these devices are created in the future. If every theater offers varying devices with varying operational set-ups, this would create additional frustration as blind / deaf patrons miss the story while trying to figure out how this particular device operates.  Mr Charlson also pointed out how difficult new “touch screen” devices are for the blind.
Many points of view were brought to light as each participant told of their frustrations and concerns. No vote was taken regarding these proceedings, but it will be interesting to see how the ADA and “equal access” are resolved in the future. In any case, it is refreshing to view 2 hours of efforts to increase awareness and once again rally for equal rights.
As news unfolds, we will keep you posted via our network postings


About Evelyn

Evelyn Hunter is a SODA with years of experiential study in Deaf Culture. She attended Gallaudet University to immerse herself in this unique deaf world while working for the University and studying sign language to hone her skills. Evelyn has served in training, relationship sales, and marketing -- always seeking to expand awareness of Deaf Culture and the unique challenges the deaf face on a daily basis. The Sign Language Company has recently established a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and a website with a blog, as Evelyn coordinates the marketing and outreach efforts for the agency. Her goal is to attract new clients seeking exceptional service, while maintaining optimal relationships with clients who have selected The Sign Language Company for over 20 years.

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