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November 19, 2002

Cinema more accessible

From: Halifax Daily News, Canada
Nov. 19, 2002

Park Lane launches gear for blind, deaf movie fans

The Daily News
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Going to the movies is something most of us take for granted, but it just became possible for deaf and blind people in Halifax.

Yesterday, Park Lane 8 Cinemas became the first movie theatre in Atlantic Canada equipped to accommodate visually and hearing-impaired movie-goers. Famous Players has spent $650,000 so far this year installing special systems in 31 cinemas across Canada.

For people who can’t hear properly — an estimated 55,000 in Nova Scotia — there is Rear Window Captioning, with individual plexiglass screens that reflect red lettering projected from the back wall of the theatre. Attached by bendable metal rods to a circular base, the gizmos pop into the armrest’s drink holder, so guests can read captions on the small acrylic panels while watching the film. People who can’t see — an estimated 4,000 in Nova Scotia and P.E.I. — can follow the onscreen action, thanks to DVS Theatrical Systems, a descriptive narration heard through a headset.

The new gear got a test run at yesterday’s announcement, attended by members of metro’s deaf and blind communities. As Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets began, Rear Window showed captions of the dialogue and other sound effects. The headsets offered a running narration of the visuals — such as “Aunt Petunia is downstairs decorating a cake,” or “the bony hand returns its fingers to the upright position” — without distracting from the film’s own audio.

“This is a real breakthrough day for us,” said Robert Ganong of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. “We always had to have someone explain the movie for us.”

Frank O’Sullivan, executive director of the Society of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Nova Scotians, said he’s looking forward to attending movies with his three hearing children, because now they’ll be able to discuss the plot and characters.

“It’s a very exciting time for us ... This finally allows us the pleasures of going to the movies,” O’Sullivan said.

A letter-writing campaign by students at a deaf school in London, Ont., prompted the theatre chain’s move toward greater accessibility, said Andrew Sherbin, manager of corporate affairs for Famous Players.

“It’s not just a community service, it’s also a long-term investment as the population ages,” Sherbin said, noting 10 per cent of Canadians are hard of hearing, while three per cent are visually impaired.

Developed by Boston’s WGBH Media Access Group, the systems cost about $20,000 per cinema. Famous Players planned to introduce them at only 10 theatres this year, tripling the number after an overwhelming response.

For now, just one theatre is equipped at Park Lane, and it’s playing Harry Potter. To check future films for captioning and narration, see www.famousplay and click on the RWC/DVS section, check printed listings for a RWC/ DVS indication, or call the Park Lane Cinema hotline at 423-4860. When you arrive at the theatre, ask the box office for a screen or headset — 22 of each are available.
© Copyright 2002 The Daily News