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September 16, 2004

Marquee day for hearing-impaired moviegoers

From: Philadelphia Inquirer, PA - Sep 16, 2004

The state has reached a deal with four major theater chains. Devices will allow caption viewing.

By Adam Fifield
Inquirer Staff Writer

For 25 years, Arlene Romoff was left out of a popular American pastime. "I was unable to go to the movies with my children," said the 55-year-old deaf woman.

Yesterday, it became easier for Romoff and other hearing-impaired New Jersey residents to enjoy the silver screen.

New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey announced settlement agreements with four major movie-theater chains to provide closed-captioning technology for deaf and hard-of-hearing moviegoers.

He also filed a discrimination complaint against a fifth chain, the Regal Entertainment Group, which operates 12 multiplexes in New Jersey, for failing to install the technology.

"When I heard this was being undertaken, I had to pinch myself," said Romoff, of Saddle River, Bergen County, who is a trustee for the New Jersey State Association of Self-Help for Hard of Hearing People.

Harvey said he still hoped to reach a settlement with Regal Entertainment. The company could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Under the agreements, American Multi-Cinema (AMC), Clearview Cinemas, Loews Cineplex Theaters, and National Amusements will outfit at least one screen in their theaters with closed-captioning technology, called Rear Window Captioning.

The device costs about $12,500 to install and uses a transparent acrylic panel affixed to the seat's cupholder. The captions are projected on the back wall of the theater and reflected on the panels but remain invisible to others in the theater. The devices are expected to be operational by the end of the year.

Any multiplex will have to equip at least one screen with the technology. Among the 36 theaters in the state that will now be installing the technology are the AMC Deptford 8 and the Loews Cherry Hill.

Three theaters in North Jersey already use the Rear Window technology.

Regal Entertainment theaters in the area include the UA Washington Township 14 theater in Sewell, the Cross Keys Cinema Stadium 12 theater, and the UA Moorestown Mall 7 Theater.

"The movies are an integral part of American life," Harvey said. "We have said these people are not children of a lesser god" - referring to a 1986 movie about a deaf woman. "They are not lesser Americans. They should have the ability to go to the movies. They should not have to drive an hour and a half to go to the movies."

Many theaters, including some owned by Regal Entertainment, screen movies with "open captions," which are seen by all viewers. But copies of movies with open captions are few and are screened at infrequent and inconvenient times, said J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo, director of the Division of Civil Rights in the Attorney General's Office.

"They don't show it on a Friday or Saturday, when people want to go see a movie," Vespa-Papaleo said. "They'll show it on a Wednesday at 3 o'clock or on a Tuesday night when parents are not going to let their kids go see a movie."

The Attorney General's Office acted after a forum in March with hearing-impaired residents. At the meeting, many said they were unable to enjoy going to the movies. The Attorney General's Office then contacted major theater chains to work out a solution.

"We brought them together and said, we need to have two things happen," Vespa-Papaleo said. "We need you to have patrons come in during prime time, which is Friday and Saturday and Sunday, and to be able to see first-run movies."

With the settlement, New Jersey will have 39 movie screens with closed-captioning technology - more than any other state, Vespa-Papaleo said.

Elsewhere, a federal judge has approved a settlement in which a dozen Loews and AMC theaters in the Washington area are to install captioning devices.

In Pennsylvania, at least two theaters use Rear Window technology - the AMC Neshaminy 24 in Bensalem and AMC Plymouth Meeting.

But Diana Bender, director of the Pennsylvania chapter of Self-Help for Hard of Hearing People, said the state could learn from New Jersey's example.

"I guess the New Jerseyites beat us on this one," she said.

Contact staff writer Adam Fifield at 856-779-3917 or

© 2004 Philadelphia Inquirer and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.