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October 28, 2004

Advocates for deaf want movie theatres to provide captions

From: The Globe and Mail, Canada - Oct 28, 2004

Thursday, October 28, 2004 - Page A13

Gary Malkowski loves comedies, but when he is in a movie theatre he's usually the one not laughing. When he does, it is several minutes behind everyone else.

For deaf people such as Mr. Malkowski, sitting in movie theatres and trying to decipher a film's plot is like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle that has pieces missing.

So he is on a crusade to make Ontario's movie theatres accessible to those with hearing problems.

Joining him are Scott Simser, a 39-year-old civil lawyer who is hard of hearing, and Nancy Barker, a University of Toronto student.

Mr. Malkowski, 46, is vice-president of consumer, government and corporate relations with the Canadian Hearing Society, and was Canada's first deaf parliamentarian, sitting in the Ontario Legislature in the mid-1990s for the New Democratic Party.

The three have launched a total of nine complaints with the Ontario Human Rights Commission alleging that the movie theatre industry discriminates against moviegoers who are deaf or hard of hearing. They claim that their constitutional rights to equal access are being denied.

At issue is whether all films shown in Ontario should be equipped with technology known as rear window captioning.

It employs a CD made by the film's producer that projects subtitles on to a small screen the viewer places in the cup holder of the seat's armrest.

However, some theatre chains may balk at the price tag of $20,000 a theatre. Only Famous Players has installed the technology in a few of its theatres.

The other form of captioning is to put the subtitles right on the film for everyone to see.

The complaints are against the major theatre chains and film distributors, including Cineplex Galaxy LP, Paramount Pictures Canada, Famous Players, Alliance Atlantis Cinemas and Universal Studios Canada.

Although film distributors are named, Hugh Christie, a lawyer for Universal, said 80 to 90 per cent of films made in the past few years already come with rear-window captioning.

"Universal has never failed to fill an order for captioned films," he said. The problem, he said, is that the movie houses do not have the equipment to play the CDs.

There are about 310,000 deaf Canadians, according to Statistics Canada. About 23 per cent of Canadians have reported some hearing loss, according to the Canadian Hearing Society.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission referred the complaints to its tribunal for a hearing.

Although it won't be held until spring, the tribunal began prehearing discussions yesterday.

The tribunal's vice-chairwoman, Mary Ross Hendriks, told all the parties that she hoped the case might be solved by mediation.

Mr. Malkowski, a father of six, said he doesn't like his children having to tell him a film's story. Having captions across the bottom of the screen would benefit everyone, not just those with hearing problems, he said in an interview.

It also would help improve children's literacy and assist new immigrants with learning English, Mr. Malkowski said.

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