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February 23, 2003

Devices help deaf, blind enjoy movies

From: Times Picayune, LA - 23 Feb 2003

By Jane Pic

There have been great strides in developing technology that allows people with vision and hearing impairments to enjoy a night out at the movies, and local audiences are benefiting from it.

One system is the Rear Window Captioning System, co-developed by Rufus Butler Seder of Boston and WGBH, the Boston public broadcasting station. The second system is Descriptive Video Service, or DVS, Theatrical, which allows blind and visually impaired moviegoers to hear descriptive narration on headsets without disturbing other members of the audience. Digital Theater Systems of Agoura Hills, Calif., worked with WGBH to bring these technologies to conventional movie theaters.

Together, these innovative technologies are known as Motion Picture Access or MoPix.

Several theater circuits and chains have begun installing these technologies in the United States and Canada. Locally the MoPix systems are available in the Entergy IMAX Theatre at the Aquarium of the Americas; AMC Elmwood 20, Theater No. 1, in Harahan; and the AMC Palace 12, Theater No. 1, in Clearview Shopping Center, Metairie.

An outstanding array of films are currently in theaters. Movies showing with Rear Window Captioning and DVS are: "Daredevil," "Catch Me if You Can," "The Lion King/IMAX," "Star Wars: Attack of the Clones: The IMAX Experience," and "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets."

Movies showing with Rear Window Captioning only are: "The Jungle Book 2," "Chicago," "Biker Boyz," "Darkness Falls," and "Adaptation."

WGBH has been a pioneer in the development of closed captions and descriptive narration that allow individuals with vision and hearing impairments to enjoy TV, video, and movie presentations.

Nearly 30 years ago, the radio station revolutionized television and video for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing by providing program dialogue as text or "captions" on the lower third of the television screen. Realizing the need was as great for people who are blind or visually impaired, WGBH then worked to develop a technological tool to enable access to visual images.

The result was the introduction, in 1990, of DVS, which provides narrated descriptions of key visual elements during pauses in the soundtrack of a program.

Together, the two technologies give about 36 million people the ability to independently enjoy television programming .

WGBH then began researching captioning and description in movie theaters to enable independent access to films. With Rear Window Captioning, the system displays reversed captions on display that is mounted in the rear of a theater. Hearing-impaired patrons use a transparent acrylic panel attached to their seats to reflect the captions so that they appear superimposed on the movie screen. The panels are portable and adjustable, so the caption user can sit anywhere in the theater.

For information about using these systems at the movies or the IMAX, call the theaters AMC Elmwood 20, 733-2029; AMC Palace 12, 887-1257; and IMAX, 581-4629).

To learn more about the technologies and to look up other movie theater locations around the United States, check the Web site

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Jane Pic, mother of a daughter with Down Syndrome, writes about issues of interest to people with disabilities. Write her at P.O. Box 9062, Metairie, LA 70055 or send e-mail to

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