More Open Captioned Movie Theater Showings Please!

Have you had the chance to watch We Hear You, our documentary about hearing loss? If so, you probably noticed the open captions burned directly into the film to help people with hearing loss (and others) follow the dialogue easily. Our film is about hearing loss, so open captions are the obvious choice. CODA, the recent movie about the deaf experience also featured open captions at every showing. Despite concerns by movie theater owners that audiences don’t like on-screen captions, the public seemed to love CODA, awarding it a 94% viewer rating on Rotten Tomatoes), open captions and all.

CODA’s positive ratings beg the question: Why aren’t more films screened with open captions? A group of advocates in New York City is trying to achieve just that. They support a city ordinance that would boost the required number of open captioned screenings at local cinemas. Their aim: more equal access at the movies for people with hearing loss.

Would you like more open captioned screenings at your local movie theater?

Fairness and Equality at the Movies

The NYC ordinance is not greedy. It aims to create a fair opportunity for people with hearing loss to see movies with open (on-screen) captions without diminishing the ability of others to see movies without visible captions. Open captioned showings are currently few and far between. And they are often scheduled for off-peak times. The ordinance would increase the frequency of open captioned screenings and boost the number that occur during prime viewing windows.

What are open captions?

Captions come in two basic types: open and closed. Closed Captions are the most common kind of captions, used by major broadcasters and video streaming services. They can be turned on or off by the user and usually require decoding devices (like the CaptiView systems that are often found at movie theaters) to access them.

Open captions appear directly on the video making them visible to all viewers without the use of a decoder device.

Why is this important?

People with hearing loss often struggle at the movie theater. While closed-captioning devices are terrific, they are not always well maintained leaving movie-goers with hearing loss in the lurch. Free passes for another show because the closed captioning system is on the fritz does not help us enjoy the show in the moment. It can be incredibly frustrating, especially if the trip to the cinema is a long-planned outing with friends or family.

Even when the devices work, open captions are preferable because they work seamlessly. There is no need to self-identify as having hearing loss or to retrieve and return any devices. Some theaters require you to leave an ID behind when using them, adding to the hassle. The devices are also often difficult to manage. They are bulky and don’t always fit well in cupholders. Or in the case of caption glasses, they are uncomfortable or difficult to wear over an existing pair of glasses.

What costs are involved?

According to the NYC petitioners, open captions do not add anything to the cost of the movie for theaters. Digital movie packages can be requested with open captions, closed captions or both at no additional cost. Theaters sometimes resist holding open caption performances arguing that attendance dips, but according to the NYC factsheet, there is no evidence to support this worry. In contrast, there is research to show that everyone loves captions—hearing loss or not.

What are the benefits?

The benefits of open captioned performances are clear—better access for people with all degrees of hearing loss. But people with hearing loss are not the only beneficiaries. Open captions also help people with autism and auditory processing disorders, as well as senior citizens, children learning to read and people for whom English is a second language.

Advocacy Efforts Already Underway

The NYC effort to increase open captioned showings in theaters is not the first of its kind. In 2015, Hawaii became the first state in the country to require theaters with more than two locations to offer open captioned showings. The initial mandate required theaters to hold at least two open captioned showings per week of each film. Later iterations dropped the requirement to one showing per week OR the offering of closed captioning devices. Discouraging, but the advocacy continues.

A current measure is pending in Washington D.C. that would require a minimum of 12% of all movie showings to be open captioned. There is also a change.org petition supporting more open captioned performances in movie theaters that boasts more than 23,000 signatures.

If you are interested in supporting this effort, feel free to sign and share Jamie Berke’s petition or if you live in New York City, reach out to your local city council member to show your support for Int. 2020Those outside the five boroughs can contact Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s office to urge his co-sponsorship and scheduling of a hearing during this City Council term.

Readers, would you like more open captioned movie screenings at your local theater?

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21 thoughts on “More Open Captioned Movie Theater Showings Please!

  1. Susan Berger – Blogging is one big experiment for me. Will it work? Who knows. I'll link websites that have published my essays and maybe I'll write original posts. My topics will be observations, points of view and life as I see it. I'm still marinating...
    Susan Berger says:

    This is at once wonderful and frustrating. I have been at a continuous loss as to why the HOH population isn’t seen–at least significantly–by the ADA. This is their job yet hearing loss continuous to be forgotten. Similar in the way the medical community rarely if even requires baseline hearing exams.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of LivingWithHearingLoss.com, a popular blog and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus, and an executive producer of We Hear You, an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Shari also serves on the board of directors of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Very true, but we keep at it! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of LivingWithHearingLoss.com, a popular blog and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus, and an executive producer of We Hear You, an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Shari also serves on the board of directors of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Super! Thanks for your advocacy.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of LivingWithHearingLoss.com, a popular blog and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus, and an executive producer of We Hear You, an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Shari also serves on the board of directors of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thanks for your comment.

  2. Susan Berger – Blogging is one big experiment for me. Will it work? Who knows. I'll link websites that have published my essays and maybe I'll write original posts. My topics will be observations, points of view and life as I see it. I'm still marinating...
    Susan Berger says:

    We’d be at a loss without you!

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of LivingWithHearingLoss.com, a popular blog and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus, and an executive producer of We Hear You, an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Shari also serves on the board of directors of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thanks Susan! It takes all of us to make a difference.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of LivingWithHearingLoss.com, a popular blog and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus, and an executive producer of We Hear You, an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Shari also serves on the board of directors of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Agreed! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. The issue with open caption shows is the timing of when they are. I live in a city that has the state’s deaf school. Here there are only few open caption showings at the two local theaters. I have had to travel to a larger city about 60 miles away before to watch an open caption show since the timing of the film is better

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of LivingWithHearingLoss.com, a popular blog and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus, and an executive producer of We Hear You, an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Shari also serves on the board of directors of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Yes, the timing of the shows is very important. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  4. The other problem with closed captions is that the viewer has a choice — look at the screen and see the movie, or look at the device and see the captions. Very hard to do both. (Note: IMO that’s also a problem with GalaPro. When I go to the theater, I like to see the play, not spend my time looking at my phone). Open captions are much better since the captions appear on the screen. In DC, before the pandemic, a study was commissioned by NATO (the National Association of Theater Owners, not the North Atlantic Treat Organization) to try to determine whether theater operators are or are not correct in thinking that OC depresses audience attendance. This was in respondence to proposed legislation that would mandate a certain number of OC showings in DC theaters. The study was interrupted by the pandemic.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of LivingWithHearingLoss.com, a popular blog and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus, and an executive producer of We Hear You, an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Shari also serves on the board of directors of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      The looking back and forth can be challenging. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  5. Russ, some of us believe NATO’s study in DC was completed but not disclosed because the findings indicate no adverse economic impact of regularly scheduled open-captioned movie showings. Based on a 2017-18 experiment in Rhode Island, there is some data to indicate that more tickets are sold to non-OC showings than OC showings. But there is absolutely no data indicating that mandated, scheduled OC showings depress OVERALL attendance.

  6. Hi Jerry, That is interesting. I hadn’t heard it, but it could be. It’s a difficult thing to measure because to do it right, information is needed on what people do if they really don’t want to see an OC performance — just stay home? which of course does affect theater revenue; opt for another performance of the same (or a different) film? which may not (although it could divert revenue from one theater to another). Then there is the matter of whether OC performances attract people (like me, for example) who sans OC would likely wait for the film to be on Netflix or equivalent. As I recall Ernst and Young was engaged to do the study. And in large part because of the interest and involvement of the D & HL communities (HLAA, DC Deaf Moviegoers, TDI, DC Association of the Deaf, ALDA, etc.) all of these and other relevant factors were under consideration.

  7. I use the caption boxes at movie theatres here in IL without too many issues. I suppose I’m just used to looking back-and-forth between screen and box, and I can usually position the box appropriately. What I do hate is when the boxes are not charged and run out of juice before the end of a movie! I always sit in the aisle, just in case. Caption glasses are uncomfortable if you already wear glasses, and the script on ones I have used are yellow, which disappears during a bright, sunny scene. Theatres in IL no longer offer OC shows since CC boxes became available. They were few and far between anyway when they did have them years ago. Then it was one adult movie and one children’s movie per week, and usually a show I didn’t want to see. People would buy tickets not knowing it was an OC show and moan and groan, “So distracting!” Which is why I love the boxes. I do my thing, you do yours, everybody is happy. What I would LOVE is a caption box for live theatre, especially since looping is so rarely available. They have the script, right? How hard would it be?

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of LivingWithHearingLoss.com, a popular blog and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus, and an executive producer of We Hear You, an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Shari also serves on the board of directors of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thank you for sharing your perspective on the issue.

  8. Displaying open captions works 100% of the time — and we’re not singled out as needing an assistive device, nor inconvenienced by having to request a devise and returning it. Then there’s also no fear of germ transmission. Who knows if or how well caption devices are disinfected; not often, I suppose.

    Re theater captions, your regional theater showing road company productions of Broadway shows should offer the GalaPro closed-captioning system that displays closed captions on smart phones; http://www.galapro.com

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of LivingWithHearingLoss.com, a popular blog and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus, and an executive producer of We Hear You, an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Shari also serves on the board of directors of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thanks for sharing the GalaPro information.

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