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November 30, 2003

Theaters bettered for patrons with disabilities

From: The State News, MI - Nov 30, 2003


The State News

Reflective closed-captioning devices, increased seating options and headsets are coming soon to a theater near you. Area movie theaters are adding these and other services to make catching a flick more accessible for patrons with disabilities.

Celebration! Cinema, 200 E. Edgewood Blvd. in Lansing, is opening a new 35-mm theater in addition to the recently opened IMAX theater. The 35-mm theater, or Theatre One, will serve as a testing ground for several new devices, said Roger Lubs, vice president of construction and development.

Lubs, who is based in Grand Rapids, said he talked with people from around the nation to interpret accessibility standards for stadium-style theaters.

"The standard was actually written before stadium seating was in movie theaters," Lubs said. "We've had to use lawsuits from across the country and their findings to determine the interpretation for stadium-seated theaters."

One decision was that in theaters with more than 300 seats, which is the size of most theaters, multiple-seating areas for patrons with mobility impairments were added.

That's good news for social work senior Melinda Haus.

"I often have to sit in the very back if that's the only seating option, and a lot of times, my friends have to sit in fold-out metal chairs next to me," said Haus, who uses a wheelchair.

In addition to having standard floor-level seating arrangements at NCG Cinemas in Lansing's Eastwood Towne Center, promotions manager Patrik O'Boyle said the theaters have a wheelchair-accessible elevator that takes patrons to second-story seating.

"It's quite a novelty," he said.

Lubs said Celebration! theaters also have ramps to different levels , generally the fourth and sixth rows back of the auditorium for people with mobility impairments.

"When we were researching this, we dealt with the Center for Independent Living in Grand Rapids," he said. "We were happy to have an ear, and we incorporated what they told us in both theaters."

Mobility accommodations are in some ways the easiest accessibility issues to deal with, theater representatives said.

For patrons with hearing impairments, some theaters have assisted listening devices, headsets that broadcast movie sound to individual patrons.

Lubs said Theatre One is one of the first movie theaters to feature new closed-captioning technology.

A screen in the back of the auditorium will project subtitles in reverse, and patrons will have a reflective sign that fits into their cupholders so they can individually use closed captioning.

"The problem with open-caption films is that there are only a limited number of prints with them in the country," Lubs said. Open-caption films have standard subtitles printed right onto the film. The reflective technology should be up and running by Christmas, Lubs said.

Another Celebration! theater in Grand Rapids is working to use projected subtitles from CD-ROM files, which means separate captioned films do not need to be ordered.

When interdisciplinary studies in social science senior Kim Borowicz goes to the movies, she knows to sit closer if she knows subtitles will be used, but she runs into problems if a character briefly speaks in a non-native language and subtitles appear.

"The only problem I've had is finding the theater I'm supposed to be at," said Borowicz, who has a visual impairment. She added that multicolored signage can be difficult to read.

For people with more severe visual impairment, Borowicz said visual description would be helpful.

©2003 The State News