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Theaters to help blind, deaf moviegoers

N.Y. attorney general strikes deal with 8 national movie chains
/ Source: The Associated Press

Did you catch the new movie that everyone's talking about at school and at work? If you're visually or hearing impaired, you probably couldn't.

That would change under a deal with eight national theater chains aimed at making it easier for visually and hearing impaired people to enjoy movies in 140 theaters statewide, according to New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

"Movies are an important part of popular culture," Spitzer said. "Every adult and child should be able to enjoy a film with family and friends, especially during the holiday season."

The agreement will include "rear window captioning," in which hearing disabled customers would use an acrylic panel to read captioning projected in reverse to the back of the theater. Thirty-eight theaters under the agreement also would provide on-screen captioning of some movies and headsets that offer descriptive narration of films.

Currently, just two theaters in western New York, one in Central New York, one in Albany and five in metro New York City offer captioned or narrated movies.

Spitzer said the companies are showing "extraordinary cooperation." They are AMC Entertainment, Carmike Cinemas, Clearview Cinemas, Dipson Theatres, Loews Entertainment Cineplex, National Amusements, Regal Entertainment Group and Zurich Cinemas.

Representatives for Loews, AMC and Regal Entertainment Group, three of the largest chains, didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Under the agreement, theaters would also have to provide listening devices that are more compatible with hearing aids. Most headsets currently made available for disabled customers only amplify a movie's soundtrack.

The American Foundation for the Blind said the measures outlined in the deal will help bring more customers into theaters.

The foundation "hopes all theaters will soon offer more options to their patrons, giving people with vision loss the same access to the social and cultural experiences that movies provide," said Carl Agusto, the foundation's president.

"It's not only seeing it, it's understanding it," said Joseph Gordon of Self Help for Hard of Hearing People in New York City. He said people with even moderate hearing difficulties have trouble distinguishing between words like "tomato" and "potato." He said there are 2 million New Yorkers with hearing difficulties.

"I think it's an extremely isolating factor," Gordon said.

Spitzer, who is running for governor in 2006, began the negotiations after many complaints from disabled New Yorkers. The complaints appeared to conflict with state and federal laws against discrimination of disabled people, said Dennis Parker, chief of the attorney general's Civil Rights Bureau.

"It's not just being able to see a movie," Parker said. "It's the social situations ... the talk around the water cooler, and kids shut of conversations about movie openings."