New regs would force movie theaters to provide devices for deaf and blind patrons
The irony is lost on advocates for blind and deaf people in that by requiring expensive AV aids - closed captions and audio descriptions of what's happening on the screen - it is likely that choices available to the disabled will shrink dramatically as thousands of theaters will be forced to close because they can't afford the new equipment mandated by government.
Disability associations say that the new regulation will make sure that blind and deaf people can appreciate the latest blockbuster just like everyone else.
But theater owners worry that a federal mandate will force small, rural and struggling theaters to close given the costs associated with the rule.
"These theaters can barely stay in existence and often need community support to break even," the trade group wrote in a comment to the Justice Department's 2010 precursor to the upcoming proposal. "To require them to install expensive closed captioning technology at this time is an undue financial burden that may result in these theaters closing."
The upcoming proposal from the Justice Department is expected to require that a certain percentage of the more than 40,000 movie screens across the country offer headsets that provide a running commentary of visual action for the blind, glasses that display closed captioning for the deaf or other devices to explain what's happening onscreen.
"All of this sort of comes down to choice for us," said Eric Bridges, the director of external relations and policy at the American Council of the Blind. "We would like to have a choice in the movies that we go see that are video-described."
The Justice Department's 2010 notice indicated that the department would require half of the country's movie screens to offer the accessibility services.
Advocates for people with disabilities say that rule would be far too limited. Instead, they think all theaters in the country should offer the technology.
"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 Howard Rosenblum, the association's chief executive, in an email to The Hill. "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 National Association of Theatre Owners has reported that about half of the movie screens in the country currently offer the technology.
The trade group has opposed the upcoming rule. They say that, if anything, requiring services for people with sight and hearing loss at 25 percent of screens in movie theaters would be enough.
Plus, they say that theaters are likely to provide whatever services will help them draw in more customers. Setting a stringent regulatory requirement only punishes the few theaters that can't afford the technologic advancements.
The comparison to segregation is laughable. Why do special pleaders always bring up the struggle for black equality when they want to stick business owners and their patrons with additional costs? Can't we argue the point on the merits of what is being proposed rather than ring the bell of Pavlov's media dogs by talking about race?
This regulation will probably limit choices for the seeing and hearing public while doing little to expand access for the blind and deaf. Theaters can't offer the service if they're not in business.