Since discovering caption readers at the movies a couple of years ago, I have firmly embraced heading to the movie theater to take in a film now and again. And with most movie theaters in my area now offering some type of captioning device, I can choose the movie based on where and when I want to see it, not where and when the accessibility options are offered. This is a treat, and one that I have come to expect.
But recently, things are feeling less secure. In each of the last four times I went to the movies, there has been an issue with the captioning. It makes me wonder if the devices are being properly maintained.
The first time I had a problem, the entire system was down, so the theater offered me a rain check. The second time, the gooseneck attachment arm was not rigid enough to hold the caption reader aloft. No matter how hard we wedged it into the cup holder, the device would slowly fall to the side, making the captions unusable. A replacement device worked better, but still was not perfect. Maybe the gooseneck arms are wearing out?
The third time was an issue of training / human error. The device eventually worked, but only after I figured out how to link it to the correct theater. It had been programmed for theater 1, but I was in theater 5. I was tech savvy enough to fix this issue on my own, but I’m not sure everyone would be as lucky.
In the most recent instance, everything worked smoothly until two-thirds of the way through the movie, when the caption reader began to display, “Select language.” Turning it on and off rebooted the system and reconnected the captions, but that only lasted a few minutes before the same message appeared. I was not tech savvy enough to fix this issue — particularly in the dark while the movie was playing — but rather than leave the theater for a replacement device and miss the end of the movie, I decided to stay and get filled in later.
As a person with hearing loss, I find these inconsistencies frustrating and insulting, but as an advocate, they make me angry. Even when an excellent accessibility feature has been developed and implemented broadly, poor training, uneven maintenance and uncharged batteries can quickly turn it into nothing.
Each time I had trouble, I brought it to the attention of the staff person involved, and when possible, the theater manager, but most seem unconcerned. “Yeah, we have that problem a lot,” is not a satisfying answer, when you have spent your money expecting to see the movie with accessibility options intact. So what can we do to change this trend?
1. Speak up. When something goes awry, let management know. Be polite, factual, but also explain that you are disappointed and sad that your needs were not met. The only way theater personnel will understand the importance of these devices is if we demonstrate it. Maybe over time, it has an impact and performance improves.
2. Team up. There is strength in numbers. A national organization like Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) speaking to the theater companies’ headquarters may do more to implement the required changes in training and procedures than a grass-roots effort one theater at a time. In reality, both are likely needed to spark change.
3. Compliment good service. When the devices work well, praise management. Tell them how much you enjoyed the movie and explain how important the caption reader was to your experience. Positive feedback can be a great motivator.
4. Don’t give up. Advocacy work never ends. Even when we seemingly win a battle — good and widespread accessibility options — upkeep is required. We should continue to go to the movies, use the devices and make our needs known. Together we can make a difference.
Readers, do you advocate at your local movie theater?