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What we can learn about open captions from this small movie theater

movie theaters should have open captions

People who are deaf and hard of hearing often avoid movie theaters because of inadequate captioning and accessibility. I’m guilty of this too. I just wait until the movie comes out to Redbox or Netflix to watch it at home with captioning. This is why more movie theaters should have open captions.

Why Open Captions are Preferred

More movie theaters should have open captions because even though movie theaters are required to offer closed captioning devices, they’re often in disrepair or don’t work correctly. This takes away from the movie experience. 

Read more: Optimizing the movie theater captioning experience

Some theaters recognize this and offer open caption showings. This means that instead of using a faulty device, moviegoers with hearing loss can watch the captions on the screen. One theater located in Grandview, Ohio offers open caption screenings on a regular basis. I found this one-screen theater on Facebook and wanted to learn more information about how they manage to put on captioned shows about two times a month. I interviewed one of the managers to gain insight into how and why they do what they do. 

Grandview movie theater

Q: Can you tell me about the theater in Grandview and your role?

A: Sure. My name is Andy and I am one of the owners of the Grandview Theater and Drafthouse. I am partners with Eric and Rita. The three of us own it and I run day-to-day operations.

Q: When did Grandview start offering open caption showings? Is it a big part of the theater?

A: This all started with a young lady calling and reaching out to me just to say, “Hey, why don’t you do this?” We did it for “Avengers: Endgame.” There’s no reason not to. So I just figured out how we could do it from the technology standpoint and how difficult it would be. We just threw it on [social media] but that was just our method of letting the public know that we were going to do this.

Q: How easy is it to offer open captioning? How does that compare to closed captioning devices?

A: The truth of the matter is that one is required and the other is not. We all have to have those devices on hand. That’s the cost of doing business. I know that we did it before it was required by law and we’re among the people happy to provide the service. The open captioned stuff doesn’t cost anything. I call an outlet called Deluxe Technicolor. They handle all of the gears, which turn on different parts of the movie that they send us. I tell them I need an open-captioned movie. They say it’ll be fifteen minutes. They email it and that’s that. It’s almost embarrassing to tell you how little effort it takes knowing that we’re the only theater that does it. It doesn’t take any effort at all. 

“It’s almost embarrassing to tell you how little effort it takes knowing that we’re the only theater that does it. It doesn’t take any effort at all.”

Q: Are there any particular benefits to offering open-captioned showings?

A: What I find coolest about the open captioned shows is just that it’s more communal. It’s an opportunity for the deaf and hard of hearing to get together at our place. I just kind of want to celebrate the whole thing, but still, be inclusive so we offer everything. So they can come in at any time but I like doing the events just for people to get together. I love being a place to get people to come together. I mean, that’s one of the reasons to be in this business at all and to be in the bar and movie theater business. We get to do some neat stuff and I love to be a part of it. 

Q: How would you react if I told you that most closed captioning devices at chain theaters don’t work? Are closed captioning devices required?

A: Those are required by law so if a theater doesn’t have those, it wouldn’t and shouldn’t take long for them to get the things repaired or at least on hand if they don’t have them. This is all part of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). I think things have progressed very well with that. What I’m understanding is that a lot of chain theaters- and I don’t mean to talk badly about them because I’m an independent- but it sounds like there’s a lot of frustration with the deaf and hard of hearing community because they find a lot of [the devices] not functioning properly. Ours are maintained and ready to go.

My Takeaway

The biggest point I got from this conversation is that providing open captions is as simple as an owner sending an email to the leasing company and receiving an email with the movie file containing open captions. This is coming from a very small movie theater in Grandview, Ohio. They show movies on one screen. If they are able to provide a couple of open-captioned showings, why can’t larger movie theaters provide them too? They’re free, easy to access and require almost no effort of the staff at the movie theater. Additionally, they provide a sense of community for the deaf community to get together and watch a movie that we’ve all wanted to see.

This provides crucial access beyond the ADA-required closed caption viewers and makes the movie experience more fun for all. However, since open captions aren’t required, they aren’t offered. Little theaters like the one in Grandview are truly accommodating and set the precedent for larger chain theaters. 

What has your movie-going experience been with captions?

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Author Details
Ellie is a 15 year old with a passion for all things BTS, swimming, beadweaving, and beekeeping. She has moderate bilateral sensioneural hearing loss.
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Ellie is a 15 year old with a passion for all things BTS, swimming, beadweaving, and beekeeping. She has moderate bilateral sensioneural hearing loss.