A Tale of Three Movie Theaters: Audism and its Reversal

Posted on 2 June 2007. Filed under: Audism |

I officially started this blog with the intention of using it to focus on issues related to the reunification of the broader Gallaudet community in the aftermath of the protests last fall. That has expanded to include general diversity issues in the Deaf (and deaf) community(ies), including deafblind people, racism, Deaf on deaf (and deaf on Deaf) audism, etc.

For a change, I’d like to speak off topic. (I’m entitled, it’s my blog 🙂 ).

Like many Americans fortunate enough to have a reasonable supply of disposable income, I occasionally go to the movies. As a Deaf person, of course I only go to movies that have captions.

Once I can find a movie that I want to see that has captions running at a time compatible with my sometimes busy schedule, I usually have no problems. I go to the theater. I purchase the ticket. If it’s an open captioned movie, then I’m all set: I go into the theater, sit down, and enjoy. If it’s one of those movies with the Rear Window captioning device, then I pick up my reflector then proceed as above: go into theater, sit, enjoy.

But sometimes I run into problems. On two separate occasions at two separate theater locations, I took my seat in the theater only to find that the Rear Window device was broken, or at least non-operational. (On one of these occasions, it actually seemed to break shortly after I sat down. On the other occasion, I arrived to find it already broken.)

Needless to say, this was upsetting. I had gone to the trouble of arranging my schedule to be at the theater instead of at some other location pursuing some other enjoyable activity. I had paid for the tickets and the food.

But, more to the point: even in a large, metropolitan city like Washington DC, the movie viewing options for Deaf and hard of hearing people are extremely limited. If you check the movie listings (and, yes, the movie pages in your metropolitan newspaper SHOULD indicate which movies have some form of captioning available), maybe two or three movies will be available with captioning at two or three locations in the entire Washington, DC metropolitan area on a given day. This, out of dozens or hundreds of movie and location options offered to hearing people. Also, the window of opportunity for seeing any one, given, specific movie are generally few and often narrow. If you miss the window, you may miss seeing that movie altogether. I completely missed seeing a certain Harry Potter movie (I forget now which) because it was available in DC only ONE time in its entire run, for exactly two days. And I had conflicting plans those two days.

On some days, I feel like I shouldn’t get too upset about this kind of thing. It is really a very, very, middle class luxury to be able to AFFORD to get upset about missed opportunities to see a movie. Poor people can’t afford to go to the movies, period, whether captioned or not. For one billion people around the world who live on less than $1 a day, life is a daily struggle for survival–whether you’re deaf or hearing. For another 1.5 billion people who live on between 1 and 2 dollars a day, life still isn’t pretty. Movies don’t even come into the picture. So if I can afford to sit around and write a whining blog entry about non-accessible movies, then I’m pretty darn lucky.

On other days, I still get (guiltily) annoyed, both for my own personal inconvenience and just on general principle. Deaf people have the same rights to enjoy public services–and, yes, middle class entertainment–as other people. If I am one of the fortunate few people on the planet who actually have money to spend on luxuries like movies, and if movies are made available to my similarly wealthy hearing neighbors, then these same movies ought also to be available to me. (If you have enough money that you can afford to go to the movies AND still have three full, reasonably nutritious meals a day, then you’re wealthy by global standards even if you’re not wealthy by rich-country standards.)

Digression aside, let me get back to my story. On both of the aforementioned occasions, I had to miss the start of opening credits to find an employee to complain. On both occasions, the people I encountered were apologetic and cooperative. They tried their best to fix the problem on the spot. But they couldn’t. They pleasantly compenstated me. (On one occasion, they gave me a full refund for both my ticket and my food. On the other occasion, they gave me two free tickets for any future movie at that chain.) For one of these, I was able to see the same movie on another night after they repaired the Rear Window device. For the other, my schedule did not permit me to return.

This afternoon, I had a third encounter with caption-related problems at a theater. My (hearing) partner and I went into DC to see an open-captioned movie that was supposed to be shown at 11:50 am. We were astonished to find upon our arrival that the open captioned movie was now announced as being at 3:30 pm. My partner had plans to go out this evening. And we also had to do the laundry today. Our original plan had been to come to the 11:50 movie, then squeeze in laundry after getting back home, timing it to complete shortly before time for my partner to leave again. There was no time to go home, do the laundry, and come back to the theater and still allow my partner to attend her evening event. If we had simply known the movie had suddenly been rescheduled to 3:30, then we could have planned to do the laundry before the movie instead of after. Although the movie is playing through Thursday, today was the only day that suited both our schedules.

So I complained to the ticket lady. She politely sent me up to talk to the manager. I had a speech planned in my head. I was going to point out the extremely limited movie-viewing options available to deaf people generally. I was going to explain exactly why missing a particular movie time slot does not always mean simply that we have to come back to the theater another time. For a deaf person far more often than a hearing person, it may mean missing the movie during its entire theater run. I didn’t think they’d be able to solve anything on this particular occasion. But I wanted to at least ensure that they understood that sudden changes in movie schedules creates disproportionately MUCH greater annoyances for Deaf people (and deaf and hard of hearing people) than they do for hearing people.

We got to the manager. I barely finished getting the first sentence or two out of my mouth when the manager apologized AND immediately fixed the problem. She explained that a mistake had been made on their end of things. And she promised that she would ensure that the 11:50 showing WOULD use the open captioned version of the movie. So we bought the tickets, bought our food, and sat down. And, yes, they showed the open captioned movie, and we enjoyed it.

I’m not clear if this was a mistake in the scheduling posted on the web, or a mistake posted on the listings at the ticket kiosk, or what. But whatever: they admitted the error. AND solved it on the spot.

Lesson learned: Sometimes it does pay to (politely) raise a complaint when accessibility fails, including up to manager level. If they can’t fix it, they should at least return your money. Or you may get lucky and find that you end up with no problem at all.

(Want to go to the movies, too?: Regal Cinema has open captioned movies in various locations across the United States, usually in or near major cities. Or, for information on theaters equipped with Rear Window captioning, see www.mopix.org)

[Want to submit your own essay for publication at Reunify Gally? It should be related in some way to diversity within the Deaf/deaf communities, or to reunifying or healing the Gallaudet community in the aftermath of the protests. If interested, review my Guidelines for Guest Bloggers and submit your essay to ashettle (at) patriot.net]


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13 Responses to “A Tale of Three Movie Theaters: Audism and its Reversal”

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Excellent story. Most of my posts are dedicated to resolving problems without causing any new ones. Loved it.


You may also like Fomdi to help locate captioned showtimes in theaters.

Thank you Tayler — I just now checked Fomdi and, you’re right, it is a GREAT resource. I like how it makes it easy to find both open captioned movies and closed captioned movies in one, easy, on-line location. And you don’t have to screen through dozens and dozens of inaccessible movies to find the very few that ARE accessible. (Geesh, now I sound like advertising copy. *gag, choke*, but it’s true.)

At one point some (years? months?) ago, I tried checking on-line newspaper movie listings and ended up very frustrated because I found that the on-line version of the newspaper did not indicate whether movies were captioned–only the print version. (I *think* I dashed off an email to the newspaper complaining about it.) So most of the time when I go to the movies at all, I tend to check the Regal Cinema page because that’s the only on-line resource I knew how to find. (The mopix page mostly indicates UPCOMING movies that are captioned, though I think it does have links to theaters that offer open-captioned movies. Though the nusiance of checking multiple theater pages annoyed me too much for me to put up with it.) Only occasionally have I bothered to buy a print newspaper to check the listings. But Fomdi seems so much more efficient. THANKS.

Dennis, I’m curious now about your blog. Can you give us a link to it? Thanks.

Andrea, I greatly sympathize with you about your personal frustrations about the so-called accessibility/accomodation issue within the entertainment complex in public places, esp. movie theatres with captioned films.

No questions about how we would be perceived as whiner/town crier about non-necessity stuff like fouling up the film showtime with open captions or unworkable RWC system. The reality about our deserved rights to the full accessibility/accomodation to any public entertainment without experiencing any kind of personal difficulty or obstacle.

Why should we endure such burden of dealing with that kind of situation beyond our own resilence in many ways as a deaf person?

FYI, I already lost an interest in seeing the film with open captions or RWC pleixlgass container. I am really fed up with illogical showtime schedule for open captions or poor theatre management to insert information about which movies being available to be shown in RWC.

For example, no info regarding films with RWC in the Washington Dc newspapers or City Paper like the Majestic Theatre 16 of Silver Spring. The Majestic Theatre 16 management ever did not post info on the electronic bulletion for film listings. Why??? I have to get in the line to just ask for the related info which films to be shown in RWC or showtimes. Jeez!

There are the sizeable deaf filmgoers/film buffs. What’s really matter with the film industry for underming the potential customer base of increasingly shrinking movie audience due to the easily accessibility of home entertainment from the DVD to Blue Ray DVD system to the widespread possessions of HDTV sets, etc. Whose fault? Of course, the film industry and MPAA!!

I went to see “Spidey 3” film. Guess what? No open captions for 15 minutes! I had to see the manager about no captions being shown on the screen. I missed the pivotal 15 minutes of blockbuster film. Dang! I got the free movie tix anyway. Another deaf guy with his two children also have to come out and find out why no captions at all.

Why can’t there be a manadatory requirement for all films to be shown in open captions? All total hogwashs about some film audience’s dislikes of open captions to be shown on the silver screens!

Where are the hard evidence like the formal surveys of randomly-selected movie theatre attendees by the independent research organizations without being affilated with the film industry or deaf communities? That would be very simple solution to the laybirthnized world of captioned films being shown at the movie theatres!

Robert L. Mason (RLM)


-Nice entry. Good to know I am not alone with my RWC struggles…tonight I saw “Pirates”…it’s a nice theater with stadium seating, but the RWC screen is placed at a bad angle that if I put my reflector in the cup holder…I’d only be able to read the words in the middle of the movie screen…so I just put the reflector between my legs for an optmial angle. Sometimes I wonder if people actually TEST out the equipment when they install…and sometimes I think there should be a “Deaf section” in the theater with reflectors already in the seats…and the seats marked, “Deaf patrons only, but after the previews start…it’s open season on these seats” or something like that..because if I am LATE for a movie and all the optmial viewing seats are taken…the movie will suck for me…. Given a choice…I prefer OC over RWC…but RWC allow you to see movies on opening day…and are shown at good times…while OC’s are usually maintee times or in the middle of the friggin’ week at some theater far away from you….

As I wrote in my blog entry….”it’s better now…but will it ever be perfect?”

-Andrea, Dennis’s blog is titled “The Talkie”…he’s active on DR….easy to find…the only regular hearing blogger….

What happen to my blog posting? I composed it yesterday night.

Robert L. Mason (RLM)

RLM: Sorry about the temporarily missing comment. For some reason it got caught by my spam filter. I ordinarily never look through the captured spam comments, in good part because spambots FAR outnumber real people.

If any more of your comments go missing, please do alert me right away. I never screen comments before hand, so any time you post a comment it SHOULD immediately show up on the screen (or at least after you refresh as needed). If it doesn’t, then it might have been caught by the spam filter. There’s no need to wait until the next day to ask about it.

Obviously I can’t always guarantee a fast turn-around time (depends where I am and what else I have to deal with in my life) but I’m always happy to do a “comment rescue mission” — I just need to know that there’s a comment that needs rescuing.

Thanks for the alert.

RLM: it sounds like one of the reasons you don’t go to movies is simply because it can be hard to track down comprehensive information. I can completely relate to this.

But, *DO* check out http://www.fomdi.com/ (which Tayler points to above). It seems to be really helpful. Just plug in your zip code, select how many miles away you’re willing to travel, and tell it which date you want (within the next 7 days seems to be best) and it’ll list all the movies playing that day within the area you choose complete with time and location and whether it’s “open” or “closed” captions. I’m probably going to use this resource from now on.

Realistically, I think we’re probably going to end up with most theaters eventually using primarily “closed” captions (Rear Window … unless they come up with something better in the future). And that option does offer more flexibility in terms of scheduling, compared to the ridiculous schedule most theaters adopt for open-captioned movies (though Regal Cinema’s scheduling is not that dreadful–a given movie usually plays for a full week with one or two showings each day including on Saturday and Sunday.) But open captions obviously tend to be more reliable and usually easier to see and read without worrying where to sit in the theater.

[…] Joys of Fomdi: Actually FINDING Captioned Movies Recently, I posted a rant about, among other things, how annoyingly difficult it can be simply to find information about […]

As on the “The Joys of Fomdi” (Fomdi could not locate my theatre), try the link mentioned above for Mopix


You can find movies that are being captioned, and all the theatres that have the Mopix captioning system!

(PLUG: including ours at http://celebrationcinema.com/mopix).

And certainly, whenever there is a projection issue, or issues or scheduling issues, please report them to the theatre whether ours or someone elses theatre- that is not whining! We strive for “perfect presentation”, and want to make sure that the audience is served, deaf, blind,hearing and sighted!

Oh, and if it makes it across, my first two attempts at subtitling a trailer:

I’m deaf also and have not been to a movie theatre since 1985. I really don’t know what all the fuss is abt with captioning not being very readily avail in the theaters. My solution to that problem is to rent (or buy) the DVD’s. I certainly don’t mind waiting a couple of months till they are avail on DVD and they all have either captioning or subtitles.. I actually enjoy watching movies at home more than I ever did in a theater – even when I was still able to hear them. I can stop a DVD to make a snack or go potty, go back to review something that I had missed, etc. I can even watch it again a 2nd time if I prefer. And I don’t have crowds of people sitting on every side of me. Watching at home is certainly preferably to me.

Bill, Fomdi shows only theaters that are showing captioned films for the dates you entered. Of course, your theater may not be reporting their captioned showtimes to the appropriate channels. If they aren’t, contact the theater and request that they do.

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