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Movie Theaters May Soon Be Required To Install Technology That Accommodates Blind and Deaf Patrons

Disability advocates will soon be celebrating a big accomplishment with an Obama administration proposal that will require movie theaters to offer technology so people who are blind and deaf can go to see a movie.

The proposal, which started at the Justice Department’s civil rights division a few years ago, is expected to reach the White House for final approval soon. The policy will force movie theaters to install audio narration and closed-captioning technology in order to adapt to blind and deaf customers.

Justice Department lawyer Eve Hill said during testimony to the Senate back in May that people with disabilities deserve to be able to participate in the same things that everyone else does, and this will make sure that happens.

“Movies are part of our shared cultural experience,” said Hill. “When individuals with sensory disabilities have the opportunity to attend movies that they can actually understand through the use of captions or audio description, they are exposed to new ideas and gain knowledge that contributes to their social development.”

Many theater owners, however, fear that this will put them out of business, as the cost of the technology is reported to be as much $70,000 per screen.

"These theaters can barely stay in existence and often need community support to break even,” said The National Association of Theater Owners in a comment to the Justice Department. “To require them to install expensive closed captioning technology at this time is an undue financial burden that may result in these theaters closing.”

Still, disability advocates say that the time has come for people with disabilities to be able to do the same things as people without.

“The National Association of the Deaf believes strongly that all deaf and hard of hearing people should have equal access to all services in society available to everyone else,” said NAD chief executive Howard Rosenblum. “It would be akin to only requiring that 50% of buses should have segregation for people of color and the other 50% of buses should be integrated. We believe that providing equal services is a civil rights that should apply to all theaters and not just a fraction.”

The policy is expected to be enacted soon.


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