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September 15, 2004

State seeks to assure captioning for hearing-impaired movie-goers

From: Newsday, NY - Sep 15, 2004

Associated Press Writer

September 15, 2004, 6:59 PM EDT

NEWARK, N.J. -- Four companies that run multiplex cinemas in New Jersey have agreed to install captioning equipment for deaf or hearing-impaired moviegoers in theaters throughout the state, the state Attorney General's office announced Wednesday.

Officials also announced the filing of a discrimination lawsuit in Superior Court in Trenton against a fifth multiplex operator that failed to reach an agreement.

"Movies, in many instances, define our lives as Americans," Attorney General Peter C. Harvey said during a news conference with a sign-language interpreter at his side. "We are not going to allow companies or government agencies to treat people with disabilities as outsiders."

J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo, director of the state Division on Civil Rights, said 720,000 New Jersey residents have hearing problems, yet only a few theaters in northern New Jersey offered captioning.

Vespa-Papaleo said talks that led to agreements with American Multi-Cinema, or AMC, Loews Cineplex Theaters, Clearview Cinemas, and National Amusements began after his office hosted a forum in March on the rights of the disabled, at which parents of hearing-impaired children said they could not take their children to movies. Vespa-Papaleo noted that if only one family member has a disability, it can limit an entire family's choice of activities.

The agreements call for captioning at a total of 44 multiplexes, with at least nine theaters each, within 90 days. At least one theater at each multiplex would offer captioning at all times, and films are to be rotated to ensure hearing-impaired audiences have a wide choice.

Harvey said the state filed a suit against the fifth company, Regal Entertainment Group, based in Knoxville, Tenn., under New Jersey's anti-discrimination law, seeking to force Regal to offer captioning at its 12 multiplexes in New Jersey. He said Regal had previously offered captioning at limited locations, on Tuesday nights only.

The company did not return several messages left at its Knoxville headquarters Wednesday.

Rick King, a spokesman for AMC, which is based in Kansas City, Mo., said the agreement is consistent with the company's plans to install captioning technology at all 211 of its multiplexes in the United States. He said 57 of them, including the Clifton Commons 16 in Passaic County, already have the technology.

AMC uses so-called rear-window captioning, which incorporates a light-emitting diode placed at the back of the theater. The captions emitted by the LED are reflected onto a TelePrompTer-like screen mounted by individual moviegoers on the arm of their theater seats.

The technology was demonstrated Wednesday using scenes from Steven Spielberg's 1981 film, "Raiders of the Lost Ark," projected onto a conference room wall in Harvey's Newark office.

The agreements do not call for the use of any particular technology. Alternatives include films prints with their own captions, similar to subtitles on foreign films. There are also special projectors that superimpose captions onto standard prints.

In both cases, however, officials noted that the captions are visible to everyone watching the film, including moviegoers who may consider them a distraction.

Arlene Romoff, a trustee of the New Jersey State Association of Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, called the agreements "groundbreaking," noting that captioning only became available in New Jersey four years ago.

"For 25 years I didn't see a movie," said Romoff, who is hearing-impaired.

Copyright © 2004, The Associated Press