The United States Department of Justice has announced changes that will affect the movie-going experience for persons with hearing and visual disabilities. In late July Attorney General Eric Holder signed a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to amend the Title III regulation for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Holder’s action requires movie theaters to provide closed movie captioning and audio description in order to give persons with hearing and vision disabilities access to movies.
“This proposed rule will allow all Americans, including those with disabilities, to fully participate in the movie-going experience. With this proposal, the Justice Department is taking an important step to ensure consistent access for people with vision and hearing disabilities,” said Holder. “Twenty-four years after its passage, the Americans with Disabilities Act remains a critical tool for extending the promise of opportunity and inclusion for everyone in this country.”
“As we celebrate the 24th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we are reminded that people with disabilities still do not have full access to all aspects of American cultural life,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. “Although some movie theaters are making strides towards meeting their ADA obligations, there is a good deal of inconsistency among theaters across the United States. This proposed rule is intended to ensure that, regardless of where a person with a hearing or vision disability lives, that person will be able to attend movies with their friends and family and fully enjoy this important social and cultural activity.”
Closed movie captioning refers to captions that are delivered to the patron’s seat and are visible only to that patron. Audio description enables individuals who are blind or have low vision to enjoy movies by providing a spoken narration of key visual elements of a movie, such as actions, settings, facial expressions, costumes and scene changes. Audio description is transmitted to a user’s wireless headset. The department is proposing to provide a consistent nationwide standard for movie theaters to exhibit movies that are available with closed movie captioning and audio description for all showings.
The department is also proposing to require theaters to provide a specific number of closed captioning and audio description devices.
Theaters need not comply with the proposed rule if doing so would cause an undue burden or fundamental alteration. The department is not proposing to require movie theaters to add captions or audio description to movies that are not already produced and distributed with these features.
The department is proposing a six-month compliance date for movie theaters’ digital movie screens and is seeking public comment on whether it should adopt a four-year compliance date for movie theaters’ analog movie screens or should defer rulemaking on analog screens until a later date.