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December 14, 2004

Theater to provide captioning for deaf

From: The Wichita Eagle - Wichita,KS,USA - Dec 14, 2004

The Wichita Eagle

Wichita's deaf and hard-of-hearing are getting new help at one Wichita theater to enhance their movie-going experience.

The east-side Warren Theatre, near 13th and Greenwich, has begun two Sunday showings -- one matinee and one evening performance -- with "open captions," which means English subtitles.

It is the only local theater to offer the service and one of only about 500 among the 28,000 screens nationwide.

The captioning process requires special equipment that synchronizes the subtitles from a digital disk with the action on the screen, then activates a separate video projector that projects the subtitles on the screen.

"People who haven't gone to movies in years are now going every week," said Lori Lawrence, an advocate with the Topeka Independent Living Resource Center.

"They used to have to wait until the movies came out on video or DVD. Now, they can go, kick back and have popcorn just like everybody else."

Tickets for a captioned showing cost the same as a regular showing. And shows are open to anyone, not just deaf and hard-of-hearing.

"Open captioning benefits a wider segment of the population than the usual 10 percent that is guesstimated to be deaf or hard of hearing," Lawrence said.

Subtitles can also be helpful to hearing audiences if there is too much audience noise or laughter that covers up dialogue, she said.

And captioning can be a tool for learning English, whether through adult literacy programs or as a second language.

"I thought they (subtitles) might be distracting for hearing people, but I found them unobtrusive," she said.

Warren Theatres was approached this summer about offering captioned performances on a regular basis by a coalition of local deaf and hard-of-hearing groups. That coalition persuaded the theater chain to invest about $12,000 in the equipment.

"We consider it a public service," said Larry Robertson, director of projection and sound technologies for Warren.

"When the technology became available, we decided to try it. So far, it's worked out well."

Captioned showings have not sold out, but attendance is growing as people become aware of them, said Lawrence, who personally alerts about 50 deaf people via e-mail each week when she finds out the title.

People can sign up to receive her e-mail by visiting

Robertson said the theater doesn't get a choice of which movie to caption.

"We are sort of at the mercy of the movie companies. It depends on what disc they send us. Not every title comes with one," he said.

But major titles are represented, he said. This Sunday is "National Treasure," and next Sunday will likely be "Ocean's Twelve."

Reach Bob Curtright at 268-6394 or

© 2004 Wichita Eagle and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.