Exhibs hear a suit

Trio joins push for close-captioned features

Hard-of-hearing and otherwise disabled Americans continue to battle the nation’s theater chains as the latest action saw three deaf Washington, D.C., residents filing a class-action lawsuit against Loews Cineplex Entertainment and AMC Entertainment late last week.

In their suit, the trio charge the exhibs with failing to make first-run films widely available with captions in their theaters. Deaf patrons usually must wait until the captioned movies come out on video. Plaintiffs claim that the Americans With Disabilities Act obliges theaters, as public places, to accommodate the large number of hearing impaired.

In February, a group of eight people with hearing impairments filed a similar class-action suit against Regal Cinemas, Century Theaters and Carmike Cinemas. And earlier this month, three disabled moviegoers, along with the Oregon Paralyzed Veterans of America, filed a federal lawsuit in Portland against Regal for requiring people in wheelchairs to sit in the front row of theaters.

Aim of the latest suit is to force the chains to use so-called rear-window captioning, in which equipment at the back of a theater projects subtitles onto Plexiglas panels attached to cupholders or seats. Loews has said the system is cost-prohibitive and not widely accepted by the deaf community. Also, it could become outdated as cinemas start moving to digital projection, as expected, over the next several years.

Both Loews and AMC participate in a project that provides open-captioned movies (with subtitles on the screen where everyone sees them) at some theaters. But critics claim that open-captioned films are shown infrequently and only in a handful of locations.

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