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June 3, 2003

Recognizing movies with a heart

From: Toronto Town Crier Newspapers, Canada - Jun 3, 2003

By Ken Shular

Over the course of the last 18 months or so Famous Players has been working to make feature films more accessible to those with sight and hearing impairments.

So recently the movie theatre chain was recognized for that initiative by two of the largest organizations in the country that cater to the needs of these individuals.

The Hearing Foundation of Canada and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) presented a plaque to Famous Players in recognition of the organization's leadership in providing an accessible movie service for people who are deaf, deafened, hard of hearing, blind, or visually impaired. Famous Players launched the service initially in five theatres in November 2001, and since then, has expanded it to 30 locations across Canada.

"The CNIB is very pleased to be working with the Hearing Foundation to congratulate Famous Players for making movies accessible for people with sensory disabilities. As someone who uses the service myself, I can attest to the pleasures of being able to watch a movie independently and equally with friends and family members," said Jim Sanders, CNIB president and CEO at the plaque presentation.

"This technology has also enhanced my movie-going experience tremendously and provided so much pleasure and comfort," added Hearing Foundation board director Stan Tepner. "We are happy to work with the CNIB so we can recognize Famous Players for providing a true service for people who have a visual or hearing disability."

DVS Theatrical, for people who are blind or visually impaired, delivers narrative descriptions of key visual elements such as actions and settings via headset during the pauses between the existing dialogue sequences in a movie. The Rear Window Captioning service provides subtitles on a portable screen to translate the sound and dialogue of a film for people who are deaf, deafened, or hard of hearing.

"Essentially the overriding difference is that when a blind person sees a film with DVS, it gives a glimpse into a lot of the finer details that would otherwise be blocked off," said J.M. Casey a CNIB client who works in the organization's library. "I guess I've always been a film watcher and I've never had problems following what was going on without having visual input, but obviously I would miss quite a lot of stuff, minute details and action scenes. I just sort of had to gloss over them a bit and try and figure out what happened after the fact, often enough.

"But now with this DVS service I think that it's really created in-depth experience. Obviously it leaves a lot less up to the imagination, but on the other hand I think that a blind person watching a film now can really get to know all of these little details that are just second-nature to a sighted person watching a movie."

Tepner and Sanders jointly unveiled and presented the plaque at the Yonge & Eglinton SilverCity location. Following the brief ceremony, an audience of 100 deaf, deafened, hard of hearing, blind, and visually impaired consumers got a chance to experience the captioning and description systems in action when they were treated to a complimentary screening of Daddy Daycare .

But if there is one complaint, as Casey pointed out, it's that the selection in movies available with this service, is limited.

"I'm not really interested in most of the Hollywood blockbusters, but unfortunately that's all that's available right now. So I'd like to see — ideally I'd like to see — more underground films / lesser-known films equipped with this, as well, but that's a bit of a pipe-dream I guess," he said. "You can get classics and so on from the CNIB library. There they have DVS videos and have had, actually, for many years, so it's not as if this a new technique, it's just been implemented in theatres for the first time and it certainly does increase the experience of actually going to see a film in a theatre, which is something I still only do from time to time. But I guess knowing that I can in fact watch a film with DVS, perhaps makes it a bit more pleasant for me. I think it's definitely won me over."

The CNIB and the Hearing Foundation have created 30 plaques in total, each one featuring bilingual text in both large print and Braille. The rest of the plaques will be unveiled throughout the next year in the 29 other locations where Famous Players offers the accessible service.

© 2003 Town Crier Media Inc.