Legislation Introduced to Require DC Movie Theaters to Show Movies with Open Captions

District of Columbia Councilmember Charles Allen, along with three co-sponsors, recently introduced the Open Movie Captioning Requirement Act of 2018 to the Council of the District of Columbia. This legislation would require DC movie theaters to show movies with open captions. Many deaf and hard of hearing individuals have always found open captions – in which captions are displayed on the screen – to be the most accessible option. The open captioned movies would be listed on outlined dates and times throughout the weekly schedule, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy the movies! As such, this legislation is a monumental step forward to ensure accessibility and inclusivity at the movies, especially for Washington, DC moviegoers.

Movie theaters offer devices that meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements but oftentimes, these devices do not work and leave individuals feeling as though they have missed major parts of the movie. These devices malfunction, have connectivity issues leading to dropped dialogue throughout the movie, or have not been fully charged by movie theater staff. The devices that fit into cupholders are in awkward positions next to the chair. Captioning glasses also have several issues. For example, the wires connected to the glasses get easily tangled up while trying to adjust the fit. Captioning glasses on top of prescription glasses are very uncomfortable and their heaviness have been known to cause headaches. While these devices are supposed to encourage deaf and hard of hearing moviegoers to enjoy movies in theaters, the obstacles created by these devices deter deaf and hard of hearing moviegoers from attending. The best solution to these myriad obstacles is open captioning! It allows everyone – the deaf, hard of hearing, late deafened, veterans with hearing loss, senior citizens, English as a Second Language (ESL) learners, people with auditory processing disorders or developmental disabilities, family members, and friends of the aforementioned groups, as well as the growing segment of the population that generally enjoys watching movies and television shows with captions – to enjoy the rewarding experience of watching a movie without drawbacks.

The Council of the District of Columbia will hold a public hearing on the Open Movie Captioning Requirement Act of 2018 on Tuesday December 11, 2018 at 12:30 PM at 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004 . If you live in the Washington, DC area and want to show your support, I encourage you to attend the hearing. Even if you do not live in the DC area, I encourage you to submit written testimony by December 21, 2018 to cow@dccouncil.us. It is my hope that this legislation will lead to similar efforts nationwide.

Reema Radwan serves on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Bar Association (DHHBA) Board and is an attorney who has been involved in legislative efforts to require DC movie theaters to show movies with open captions. 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Bar Association (DHHBA). Additionally, this post does not constitute legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship with anyone. If you need to contact an attorney, please visit our Find A Lawyer page.