Thousands of Regal theaters to provide devices for hard-of-hearing moviegoers

KNOXVILLE, TN–Regal Cinemas, the country’s largest chain of movie houses, has announced that by the end of May it will have distributed caption-displaying Access Glasses for patrons with hearing loss to more than 6000 of its theaters nationwide. When moviegoers use this technology, captions are projected onto the Access Glasses, but the words look as if they are floating about 10 feet in front of wearers.

Regal’s announcement offers good news not only for people with hearing loss, but for those with vision difficulties as well. Made by Sony Entertainment, the glasses come with audio tracks, which serve a dual purpose. They can raise the sound level of the movie so those who are hard of hearing can hear it better as well as read the actors’ words. The audio tracks can also be used to orally describe the action on the screen to assist people with poor vision. (See a video on YouTube for a demonstration of the glasses.)

The Regal Cinema theater chain is owned by the Knoxville-based Regal Entertainment Group, which also owns Edwards Theatres and United Artists Theatres. All told, the company has some 7400 screens in 580 locations in 42 states and the District of Columbia.

 

A PERSONAL CAUSE

In an interview aired earlier this month on National Public Radio, Randy Smith, chief administrative officer of Regal Entertainment Group, explained that he was personally motivated to seek “technology that would allow accessibility to the deaf and blind for every show time, for every feature.” His motivation? Ryan Smith, his 23-year-old son, who is deaf.

The Regal executive told Arun Rath, host of the NPR program All Things Considered, that whenever companies would send him new technology prototypes, he and Ryan would test it out at the movies together, with Ryan giving him feedback along the way. “We’d do that until we got to a point that we felt it was comfortable enough,” Smith said.

 

LEGAL PRESSURE, AS WELL

Along with personal factors, Regal and other theater companies have also been under legal pressure for several years to make their facilities accessible to people with hearing loss.

As reported on this blog, the U.S. Department of Justice issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in July 2010 that would require half of all movie screens in the country to start showing captioned films within five years. That spurred private-sector advocacy groups and federal and state government agencies to address this issue.

In November 2010, a class action was filed in California against Cinemark Theaters claiming that by failing to provide closed captioning, the company was engaging in discriminatory activity that violated both California laws and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In Illinois, the attorney general’s office responded to complaints from the group Equip for Equality by putting pressure on AMC, that state’s largest movie chain. In April 2012, AMC agreed to install closed captioning in all 246 of its theaters in the state.

As discussed on this blog in January 2013, Regal Theaters was the defendant in a case brought by the Washington State Communication Access Project. A Washington Appeals Court ruled that Regal must make captioned screenings available to deaf and hard-of-hearing patrons for any movies for which the distributors provided captions.

Thus, Regal’s recent announcement is the latest development in a growing movement toward enabling people with hearing loss to enjoy the movies.