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May 6, 2004

Dayton bill would help movie theaters provide closed captioning

From: Grand Forks Herald - Grand Forks,ND,USA - May 6, 2004

Associated Press

WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton is pushing legislation that would provide movie theaters with a 90 percent tax credit to help cover the cost of closed captioning services.

Dayton, a Minnesota Democrat, said his amendment would help 28 million deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans "enjoy one of life's great pleasures." He was joined Wednesday by deaf students from Gallaudet University in Washington, and by movie industry representatives.

The legislation was offered as an amendment to a corporate tax bill being debated by the Senate.

Dayton was first alerted to the issue when Samantha Ruhland, an eighth-grader at Metro Deaf School in St. Paul, wrote him a letter last fall, according to Dyan Sherwood, the school's director. Ruhland's mother works in Dayton's Minnesota office.

Ruhland said that when she and her friends went to movies last summer without any interpreters, they only got frustrated.

"I want to be able to go to a movie and understand everything by myself," she said through an interpreter.

Sherwood said Ruhland's frustrations are normal for young teens, who regard going to movies as a big part of their social lives.

"They just feel it's really not fair," she said. "When you're 13 or 14 years old, you want the same rights as any other 13- or 14-year-old. ... That's why this is such a big deal for adolescents and young teenagers."

Fewer than 500 of the nation's 35,774 movie screens use subtitles or captions. One system is called rear-window captioning, allowing deaf people to see the captions using transparent acrylic panels attached to their seats.

The problem is that "it is expensive," said Bob Strong, a senior manager at Block E's 15-screen Crown Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. "Each unit in the booth costs about $25,000."

Strong said the theater installed the equipment in two of its 15 auditoriums. He said that the equipment is used very little in Minnesota and that providing a tax credit would make the service more desirable for more theaters to install.

"We're doing it just because we have a small dedicated audience that looks to us to have that captioning available for them," Strong said.

The Joint Committee on Taxation has estimated that Dayton's legislation would cost $301 million over 10 years.

In 2000, three deaf people sued two Washington theater chains, claiming that the failure to provide captioning violated the Americans With Disabilities Act. A settlement approved last month calls for theaters in the Washington area to become equipped with rear-window captioning.

© 2004 AP Wire and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.