silent movies once provided the same opportunity to enjoy going to the movies regardless of anyone’s hearing ability. But with the introduction of sound in movies more than eighty years ago, people with hearing loss were faced with a disparity in access that largely (but thankfully is shrinking) still exists today.
People with vision loss encounter their own obstacles when wanting to see a movie. Audio description (an additional audio track that narrates a film’s visual elements) is becoming more common for movies released on DVD and streamed online, but is not as common in movie theaters.
Captions not only display words to indicate spoken dialogue or narration, but also include sounds, sound effects, speaker identification, music, and other auditory information not conveyed in speech. description adds audio information that is essential for understanding characters, scenes and scene changes, passages of time, style, objects, and other aesthetics. however, it is rare for first-run movies shown in theaters to be instantly accessible to people who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, or visually impaired.
Not all movies are made accessible in the same way, and terminology to describe types of subtitles varies. Most people use the terms open captioning (oc) and closed captioning (cc). in movie theaters, open subtitles consist of those that do not require manipulation or interaction on the part of the audience; subtitles can be viewed on the screen without the need for special equipment or adjustments by the audience. Closed captions in theaters consist of subtitles that can only be seen by a person with the necessary equipment, usually provided by the theater at no charge.
the described video will be called audio description (ad), video description (vd) and description (d). many theaters have a description available as part of the digital file used to show a movie. To use audio description in movies, a person wears a headset and listens to an audio description track that is in sync with the movie.
2010 ada standards for accessible design
The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design state: A public facility shall take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that no person with a disability is excluded, denied services, segregated, or treated differently from other persons due to the absence of auxiliary aids and services, unless the public accommodation can demonstrate that taking such steps would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations offered or would result in an undue burden, significant hardship, or spending . The updated ADA regulation now specifies that open or closed captions are included in the term “ancillary aids and services.”
2016 justice department decision
In 2016, the Department of Justice issued a final rule under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regarding the accommodation of disabled patrons in movie theaters. Failure to provide captions and audio description is a violation of the ADA. theaters should:
where to find movie theaters with subtitles and description
acb’s audio description project maintains a list of theaters that offer audio description https://acb.org/adp/moviesbystate.html. contact your local theater to make sure the movie you want to see is accessible.
This post was originally written by Teresa Rogers in 2012. It has been updated by dcmp staff to include new information.