Representatives of the organizations that reached agreement on closed captioning are, from left,  John Fithian, president and CEO of NATO;  John Stanton
, of AG Bell; Anna Gilmore Hall, executive director of HLAA; 
Andrew Phillips, policy counsel with NAD; I. King Jordan, PhD (president-emeritus of Gallaudet University, and representative of ALDA; 
and Randy Smith, senior vice-president of Regal Entertainment Group.

Representatives of the organizations that reached agreement on closed captioning are, from left, John Fithian, president and CEO of NATO; John Stanton
, of AG Bell; Anna Gilmore Hall, executive director of HLAA; 
Andrew Phillips, policy counsel with NAD; I. King Jordan, PhD (president-emeritus of Gallaudet University, and representative of ALDA; 
and Randy Smith, senior vice-president of Regal Entertainment Group.

WASHINGTON, DC—The future is looking a lot brighter for deaf and hard-of-hearing movie enthusiasts, thanks to an agreement announced on November 21 by four national advocacy groups for people with hearing loss and the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO).

If the Department of Justice (DoJ) accepts the recommendations from the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), the Alexander Graham Bell Association (AG Bell), the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), and the Association of Late Deafened Adults (ALDA), technologies that provide equal access for movie-goers with hearing loss will become routinely available in movie theaters throughout the U.S. within the next few years.

At a press conference last week in Washington, DC, the five organizations announced that they would submit two documents to the US Department of Justice (DOJ) that they hope will be incorporated into its final rule on movie access under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

One is the Joint Recommendations to the US Department of Justice, which, according to the announcement, includes the following:

• “Closed captioning (CC) and audio description (AD) technologies are to be installed in all digital movie theater auditoriums nationwide.
• “The joint plan establishes certain minimum CC device requirements with a monitoring requirement. This flexible, market-responsive device scoping method will ensure access for all deaf and hard-of-hearing patrons and respond to actual consumer demand.
• “The compliance period has been restructured to reflect reasonable timelines in delivery and installation of CC and AD systems.”

Also submitted to the DoJ was a voluntary commitment by theater owners to encourage film distributors to include CC and AD files on both movies and trailers, and to provide information about the availability of such assistance for use in listings of movie show times. NATO is a trade group representing the owners of about 80% of the nation’s approximately 40,000 movie screens.

 

HISTORIC AGREEMENT
Leaders of the five organizations that hammered out the agreement during several weeks of talks hailed it as a landmark achievement in a joint press release.

John F. Stanton, chair of public affairs at AG Bell, said, “AG Bell and other deaf advocates have been fighting for captioning access in movie theaters ever since 1927 when the first ‘talkie’ movies were released.” He added, “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.”

Anna Gilmore Hall, executive director of HLAA, said, “This historic agreement with NATO is a ‘Welcome Back’ banner for people who had given up going to the movies because they could no longer hear.”

NATO’s president and CEO, John Fithian, said, “This partnership between deaf and hard-of-hearing advocates and the movie theater industry promises to benefit our patrons and expand access to movie theaters in a real, practical, and measurable way.”

 

END OF A LONG ROAD?
Theater owners and advocates for the deaf and hard-of-hearing hope that their agreement and their filings with the Justice Department will soon bring a successful conclusion to a process that began in 2010. That was the year that the department’s Civil Rights Division gave advance notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the issue of Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability; Movie Captioning and Video Description. That notice generated many hundreds of comments from the public for the agency to consider.

On August 1, 2014, the DoJ issued a final Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to amend the Title III regulation for the Americans with Disabilities Act so as to require movie theaters to provide closed movie captioning to give persons with hearing and vision disabilities access to movies.

Over 200 comments have been submitted in response, including those from HLAA, AG Bell, NAD, ALDA, and NATO. Once the December 1 deadline for comments has passed, the Justice Department will consider them and then, in all likelihood, issue a final rule.

Will that rule follow the recommendations made by the five groups? That is impossible to say for sure, Lisa Hamelin, director of public policy at HLAA, told this blog. However, she said that at the very least she is confident that the agency “will look at those recommendations very seriously.”

It’s also unclear when the final rule will be issued, but Hamelin is hopeful that it will be sometime next spring or summer. If she’s right and if the rule has the recommended provisions, then by the end of 2017 or so, moviegoers can expect that captioning will be standard at their local theater.