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ADA Requires Movie Theaters to Provide Closed Captioning and Audio Description
On November 21, 2016, Attorney General Loretta Lynch signed a Final Rule revising Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This new rule clarifies that the ADA requires movie theaters to provide closed captioning and audio description.
What is the new regulation?
Title III of the ADA requires public accommodations, including movie theaters, to provide effective communication through the use of auxiliary aids and services.
The Final Rule provides specific requirements that ensure movie theaters will provide effective communication to people with hearing and vision disabilities.
As with other regulations, this rule can only be bypassed if compliance would result in an undue burden or a fundamental alteration.
Specifically, the rule requires covered movie theaters to:
- Have and maintain the equipment necessary to provide closed movie captioning and audio description at a movie patron’s seat whenever showing a digital movie produced, distributed, or otherwise made available with these features;
- Provide notice to the public about the availability of these features; and
- Ensure that theater staff is available to assist patrons with the equipment before, during, and after the showing of a movie with these features.
Closed movie captioning is the written display of a movie’s dialogue and non-speech information, such as the music, the identity of the character who is speaking, and other sounds or sound effects, made available only to those movie patrons who request it.
When requested, the captions are delivered via individual captioning devices used by patrons at their seats. Closed movie captioning does not result in captions being shown to all patrons by being displayed on the screen itself.
Audio description is a technology that enables movie patrons who are blind or have low vision to enjoy movies by providing the spoken narration of a movie’s key visual elements, such as the action, settings, facial expressions, costumes, and scene changes.
Audio description fills in information about the visual content of a movie where there are no corresponding audio elements. It involves a separate script that is recorded and synchronized with the movie as it is projected. The oral delivery of the script is transmitted to the user through infra-red or FM transmission to wireless headsets.
Who is Required to Comply?
The rule defines a movie theater as:
a facility, other than a drive-in theater, that is owned, leased by, leased to, or operated by a public accommodation and that contains one or more auditoriums that are used primarily for the purpose of showing movies to the public for a fee.
While the ADA requires movie theaters to provide closed captioning and audio description, there are some exclusions. The requirements do not apply to any movie theater that shows only analog movies in all of its auditoriums. Additionally, drive-in theaters are excluded because the technology needed to provide closed movie captioning and audio description in these venues does not yet exist.
What Do Movie Theaters Need to Do?
Movie theaters must obtain and install the necessary equipment that enables movie patrons to view the closed movie captions and hear the audio description at their individual seats. The necessary equipment consists of the following two components:
- The hardware equipment that transmits the closed movie captions or the audio description to movie patrons at their individual seats; and
- The individual devices that receive the closed movie captions or the audio description.
The number of devices required depends on the number of auditoriums showing digital movies. Reference the chart below for captioning and audio description device requirements.
|# of Auditoriums||Minimum # of Captioning Devices||Minimum # of Audio Description Devces|
When Do Movie Theaters Need to Be in Compliance?
Movie theaters must notify the public about the availability of closed movie captioning and audio description and have staff available to assist patrons with the equipment within 45 days of the rule’s publication. They have up to 2 years to acquire all the necessary equipment. Once 18 months has passed from the publication date of this rule in the Federal Register, companies will have only 6 months to comply.