You CAN Go To The Movies When You Have Hearing Loss

Going to the movies can be challenging for people with hearing loss. The soundtrack is often deafeningly loud but the dialogue is too soft, making it hard to follow the plot. You can’t really ask the actors to repeat themselves and your companions get annoyed when you ask “What did he say?” a hundred times during the film. Not surprisingly, my family rarely went to the movies, waiting for the new releases to become available for home use where we could watch them with captions.

But recently my son has been asking to go to the movie theater. He is getting older and wants to enjoy his favorite action flicks (like the latest Star Wars movie) on the big screen. Who can blame him?

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I didn’t want to miss out on the experience — I really do enjoy a big screen Star Wars flick myself — so I experimented and found a way to enjoy going to the movies again. It has become a regular Sunday afternoon activity for our family.

There are two important elements: Noise canceling headphones to block out the overly loud soundtrack and caption readers to enhance the dialogue.

Noise Canceling Headphones

I love my noise canceling headphones and use them often. I wear them when I travel on airplanes, at concerts, and I even sported them on some of the attractions at Disney World. They not only help protect my ears from sounds that are unsafe, but also help me cope with situations that I find disturbingly loud, even if the decibel level is within normal limits.

At the movies they work great! They not only ratchet down the volume, but when I use the noise canceling feature, the background noise recedes and the dialogue is much easier to understand. This works well at loud Broadway shows too, where the music can sometimes overpower the voices.

In the case of Star Wars, a small flick of the noise canceling switch and I was able to hear the rebels’ calls for help over the diminished roar of the Empire’s fighter planes. Excellent.

Caption Readers

Many movie theaters now offer captions readers, and most of the time they work quite well! Two years ago, when I first tried using one, the cinema staff was not familiar with the device and it took some time to get one. But more recently, the folks at guest services have become much more efficient. This must mean the devices are being used more frequently!

There are two basic types of caption readers that I have seen. The most common (at least in my experience) is Dolby CaptiView®, which according to the website “consists of a small OLED display on a bendable support arm that fits into a theatre seat cup holder.”

The screen is small, but the captions are clear and easy to read. Built-in privacy visors prevent the captions from bothering those seated around you. The adjustable arm lets you position the viewer anywhere you like. I try to center it at the bottom of the screen like my closed captions at home. The captions often work for the previews too, but not for the ads, which is fine by me.

The second type is Sony® Access glasses. I have only had the chance to try these once, and the captions were blurry so I could not read them. I should have exchanged them for a different pair, but they felt so heavy on my face, I wasn’t sure I wanted to wear them anyway. Other people I know use them frequently with much success, so I may need to give them another try.

Find theaters with caption readers at CaptionFish. Enter your location and you can then search by theater or movie times. Or simply ask at your local theater. Most larger chains now offer them.

Readers, will I see you at the movies?

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40 thoughts on “You CAN Go To The Movies When You Have Hearing Loss

  1. I don’t have total hearing loss, so I find that the Fidelio system offered by Cineplex theaters (for free) is the ideal solution for me. I use a Fidelio receiver set to “HI” (Hearing Impaired) mode. This enhances the understandability of the dialogue and reduces the background noise of the normal soundtrack. I plug the output of the Fidelio receiver into my Oticon Streamer. My hearing aids are Behind-the-Ear with ear molds. I use the Streamer to turn off ambient sound. This results in almost none of the loud auditorium sound getting into my ear. I can block all the ambient auditorium sound by stuffing foam into the air holes of my ear molds, but that’s not usually necessary. Only the enhanced dialogue soundtrack from the Fidelio gets to my ears. With this arrangement, I can easily understand dialogue that would be exhausting to understand otherwise. This system has made it possible for me to once again enjoy going to the theater rather than waiting for the online release. In fact, I’m off to see “John Wick: Chapter Two” as soo as I finish this post.

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  2. How on earth did you find theaters which provide caption assistance?! This is incredible. Though I may need to travel a bit out of my area, it’s certainly doable and allows me to live a little (now to just get those ridiculous ticket prices down!). Fabulous. Thanks for being a great resource.

    Also, tell me more about noise canceling headphones.

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    • In the United States, all movie theaters must offer accommodations to people with hearing loss. I have used both the Captiview screen and the Sony glasses. Although both are equally good as far as I am concerned, I prefer the Dolby Captiview. The glasses start becoming heavy the longer that you wear them. If you go to a movie and they do not have some sort of accommodation for you, (and I think it should service not just people with hearing loss but people who are deaf too) then you should tell them you will report them to the FCC and then do it. Too many companies get away with discrimination simply because we fail to follow through on letting them know their practices are not only unacceptable but they are illegal as well.

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  3. I love the access glasses. All too frequently, the mounted ones move while I am trying to use them, interrupting the flow of the movie and frustrating me (and my husband who has to deal with my frustration). The access glasses fit over my regular glasses and allow me to position my head comfortably. I use them in conjunction with my noise-canceling earphones and it increases my enjoyment of the move tremendously.

    As i side note, even with my nose-canceling headphones, I find it necessary to use an additional earplug in my good ear. (I am unilaterally deaf). I have complained to the management about the high sound volume, but am always told that the noise is “within tolerance.” I do not believe it and can only cringe at the thought of what it is doing to the hearing health of the audience.

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  4. Well, Shari, it’s been at least 15 years since I was inside a regular mainline movie theater. It was one of those pirate movies with Johnny Depp. CA’s grandkids were with us and those children knew every line in the entire movie. It was loud but I was hearing fairly well as I recall. The kids were the real entertainment!

    A few years later I saw a couple of off beat films at a small alternative venue nearby with limited seating and even some stuffed furniture down in the orchestra section. Then I think I saw an early Harry Potter in a multiplex. What I remember is the volume. About then my hearing took a dive.

    I think that if the theater were looped I would be able to enjoy movies again. We watch them at home. Even with the audio pumped into my devices I find subtitles to be essential in most cases. Anyway, you have – once again – caused me to consider expanding my listening life – even to the movies. Thank you.

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  5. Excellent Blog! I can’t wait to see ‘this years Award Winners..I’m reading Hidden Figures, now. Isn’t it crazy how the sound is so loud, yet most of us struggle to understand the speech! Yes, noise cancelling headphones may help, good idea! But, so too can assistive listening systems! Advocates lobbied for years to get these in the theaters and filed complaints to get theaters to insure their systems are hearing aid compatible with the use of Neckloops! The same idea allows you to plug into your streamer. Both Martin and Jerry reference using different types of ALS. Here’s what most people miss.. you can use an ALS system to turn DOWN the volume! It’s assistive listening after all! Unfortunately, the caption gadget developer folks were shortsighted and did not incorporate assistive listening into the receivers. With Capri ire, I could easily plug into the same receiver if it had been designed appropriately. The same goes for the glasses. Now, unless the theater is looped or shows open captions, I need a backpack to carry all my devices to my seat! Even so, I love the technology that keeps me connected to my world. I just wish using it was seamless and universal.

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  6. Hello Sharie. I recently experienced sudden hearing loss in my left ear and am now deaf in this ear. One of the other issues i have been left with is sensitivity to noise. I tried going to the cinema a few months after my hearing loss, as there was a film that i really wanted to see. i knew if was going to be loud, so i took some ear plugs – the foam kind used for sleeping. Anyway, I found that i had to put both plugs right in, as (like you said) the background music and sound effects were so loud! I am living in Spain, and when they play Original versions of films, they play them in English with Spanish subtitles. So I ended up watching the film with my ears completely plugged, and reading the Spanish subtitles – my cinema experience had turned into a challenging Spanish lesson! However, i did still enjoy the experience of being in the cinema again, and was not willing to give up the occasional cinema trip. So I invested in some acoustic filter ear plugs that i bought online. They are great! I can wear them in the cinema and still hear the dialogue, but my ears don’t feel the force (pardon the star wars pun!) of the other cinema sound effects. ..What headphones do you have? My filters are these : https://www.getdubs.com/
    …I might upgrade to some headphones like yours 🙂
    Thank you for an informative post. Take care. Carly

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  7. I have been using the Capti View for a couple years and find it works great. Not as good as closed captioning on TV because you need to look away from the movie screen to read the captions. But there are definitely some movies you should see on a big screen and this works.
    The biggest issue I’ve found is maintenance of the devices. We have one theater near us (near Philadelphia) where they are maintained well and you know you can go there and it’ll work. However recently we went to a different theater and sat through the previews and then learned that they weren’t working that day. I complained to the theater itself as well as their corporate offices. I’ve never seen anyone else using them so I think it’s easy for them to get lazy not maintain them.

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  8. Hi Shari: What a great article on captioning at the movies. Would it be ok to use it in our CHHA-Hamilton upcoming newsletter? Of course, stating you as the author at Living with Hearing Loss. 🙂

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  9. Love the CaptiView, hated the Access Glasses. I wear distance glasses, but not bifocals even though I do need reading glasses too (dry eyes, can no longer wear contacts, ugh…), and found it to be difficult seeing the words with glasses on plus a clunky BTE hearing aid, plus the glasses were SOOOO heavy on my nose. But a very unique concept, who ever invented it!

    The CaptiView is great, BUT you have to make sure the movie staff sets it on the right theater number so you don’t get the words from a different movie and you usually don’t know this until the movie starts , and then you have to leave your seat in the dark and trudge down to the customer desk and have them reset it and trudge back to your seat , in the dark, and by then you’ve missed a half hour! Frustrating and embarrassing , carrying around that black “stick”. LOL…….

    But still we’ve come a long way from OPEN CAPTION movies , where the captions would be cut off on the bottom of the movie sceen and the staff would either have to stop the movie and reposition the film trying to get the words to fit in, Or they just gave up and refund you back your money. That was very discouraging and disappointing.

    The joys of hearing loss!!!! Enjoy the ride …….

    Enjoy the movies everyone !!

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  10. Not to do with movies but would like any recommendations regarding music systems. In my preliminary research, I’ve seen ZVOX suggested. I need deep, clear sound–not tinny. I’m NOT looking for individual listening like with an ipod. I’d like a small stereo system for regular musical enjoyment. Has anyone had experience with BOSE?

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  11. I haven’t been to a movie theater in *years*. It’s just too frustrating. Even with really good HAs, I miss too much. So if it’s a good one, I wait until it comes out on DVD and watch it. I finally have the assurance that *anything* on Netflix is CCd, which wasn’t always so. I remember years ago I had the DVD part of the subscription too just for the streaming that wasn’t yet CCd.

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  12. Such a coincidence, Shari. A few days before this blog post, I wrote up my experience at a local Showcase Cinema for our HLAA-Boston listserv. It’s generated a lot of responses.

    In brief, a theater recently told me they were phasing out my beloved CaptiView (“old technology”) and moving to headsets. I wear glasses and was miserable in the headset and couldn’t see subtitles. After three failed sets, and just before I was going to ask for my money back, the manager brought out an old CaptiView, which worked perfectly. By then I had missed 15 or 20 minutes of the movie.

    I went to the website, found an appropriate managerial name, and wrote to him describing my experience. He wrote right back, assuring me that more CaptiViews would be ordered. He also asked me for my address so he could send me some free movie passes for my trouble. Apparently it is very common to get free passes if you have had trouble. One of the people who responded to my HLAA-Boson post said she’s gotten 20 free passes, and that her kids thought they went to the movies with mom to get free tickets!

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  13. Hi Shari

    May I ask what noise cancelling headphones you use at the movies? I wouldn’t have thought of using these. I have been using musician’s earplugs but they are not really all that comfortable. Any advice would be great. Also I would love to feature a guest post from you on my blog as I occasionally blog about hearing loss and especially Tinnitus.

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