ALDA presents John Waldo with I. King Jordan Award

From Hearing Loss Law & Wash-CAP

At its national convention last week, the Association of Late Deafened Adults (ALDA) highlighted the importance of access to public facilities by honoring John Waldo with the I. King Jordan award. The award, named for the first deaf president of Gallaudet University, was given in recognition of the work done to increase the availability of captioned entertainment, particularly at movie theaters.

In a sense, ALDA was honoring itself, and rightly so. ALDA was the organizational plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit filed in California against Cinemark theaters, America’s third-largest theater chain. Along with Disability Rights Advocates, a public-interest law firm based in Berkeley, Waldo represented ALDA in that case. The case was amicably resolved when Cinemark agreed to install and use captioning equipment at all of its first-run theaters in California.

After resolving the California case, Cinemark extended its commitment to full captioning nationwide. It uses a personal viewing device called CaptiView that is attached to a flexible goose-neck that fits into the cup-holder on the theater seat. The captions are transmitted wirelessly to the device and shown in lighted type. The devices are shielded so as not to disturb other viewers. Unlike the more familiar Rear Windows Captioning system, the CaptiView devices can be used equally well from any seat, and the captions are not interrupted when someone behind the viewer stands up.

At the ALDA convention, Waldo received very favorable feedback from a number of people throughout the country that have experienced captioned movies with the CaptiView devices. Many of them said they had not been able to enjoy movies for years, but are thrilled to be able to join friends and family members at the theater.

After the Cinemark case had concluded, ALDA, DRA and Waldo initiated conversations with AMC theaters, America’s second-largest theater chain. AMC also agreed to provide full captioning capability in its first-run California theaters. Waldo/ALDA was able to sign that agreement at the convention. AMC also plans now to make captions available everywhere once its theaters are converted to digital projection.

Regal Cinemas, America’s largest chain, also has committed to full captioning after digital conversion. Regal showed an open-captioned movie for ALDA conference attendees on the evening prior to the convention opening, and received thanks and recognition at the conference.

Earlier this year, the Civil Rights Section of the Washington State Bar presented Waldo with this year’s Distinguished Service Award. That was a welcome recognition that securing the rights and opportunities that federal and state disability laws extend to people with hearing loss is very much a part of the same civil-rights movement that has opened doors that may have been barred because of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or other characteristics that ought not be relevant.

None of those objectives could have been achieved without the support of organizations like ALDA, the Washington State Communication Access Project (Wash-CAP) and the Oregon Communication Access Project (OR-CAP). Their willingness to clearly and persistently articulate our needs has made it possible to enrich the lives of all that live with hearing loss.

Judge Rules All Movie Theaters in Washington State Must Show Captioned Movies

by John Waldo

Washington’s Law against Discrimination requires movie theaters to install equipment to show closed captions, according to a ruling issued today by a King County Superior Court judge. AMC, America’s second-largest theater chain, will therefore be required to install captioning equipment once it converts its theaters to digital projection.

The ruling by Judge Regina Cahan came in a lawsuit that the Washington State Communication Access Project (Wash-CAP) filed in 2009 against the corporate theater owners doing business in King County, which includes Seattle and the Bellevue area. I represented Wash-CAP in the case.

Our lawsuit was filed under Washington state law, not under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Our state law and regulations require businesses like movie theaters to undertake actions “reasonably possible in the circumstances” to make their goods and services “accessible,” and further define “accessible” as “usable or understandable.”

Despite that clear language, the theater defendants claimed that they had no legal obligation to provide captioning. Judge Cahan rejected that argument in 2010. She then scheduled a trial limited to the question of what each of the defendants could reasonably be expected to do. Prior to the scheduled May trial date, two of the major corporate defendants — Regal and Cinemark — essentially surrendered, and agreed to equip all of their King County theaters to show closed-captioned movies. Subsequently, they agreed to full captioning on a nationwide basis.

The May trial was submitted based on stipulated facts. AMC would not commit to any specific level of captioning, saying only that it would increase the amount of captioning offered at its Seattle-area theaters. Regal and Cinemark argued that because they had fully equipped all of their theaters, there was no remaining legal controversy, and the case against them should be dismissed. (We had dismissed the three smaller defendants for various reasons).

We argued that even though Regal and Cinemark had done what we asked, the court should still enter a ruling to the effect that all theaters have legal obligations to be accessible to people with hearing loss. That was important to us because that ruling becomes a precedent that may be useful in other parts of the state, and because it would give us the ability to ensure that those theaters both live up to their commitments and perhaps incorporate future improvements in captioning technology.

With respect to AMC, we presented financial information showing that AMC can readily afford the cost of equipping all of its theaters to show captions once they convert their theaters to digital projection. Moreover, she noted that because Regal and Cinemark are providing full captioning, AMC had to demonstrate why it couldn’t do the same, but that AMC had not provided any evidence suggesting that it was not financially able to do so. Therefore, the judge ruled that within 90 days of converting to digital projection, AMC must equip enough theater auditoriums with captioning equipment to enable it so show in captioned form all movies that come with captions.

The judge made one other very important and welcome observation. Defendants had submitted evidence to the effect that very few people were using the captioning equipment that Cinemark has installed at its theater complex in Federal Way. That does not matter, the judge said. “The issue is not how many patrons have used the technology provided, but rather, whether an individual with a sensory disability has the legal right to have access to the movies when technology is now present to allow that access without impeding on other patron’s experience and it is feasible for the defendant to provide it.”

We hope that in light of this ruling, AMC will join Regal and Cinemark in making movies fully accessible to individuals with hearing loss throughout the country.

Regal Provides More Details; Partners with Captionfish

The positive repercussions of the ALDA-Cinemark lawsuit continue. Yesterday Regal announced more details about its plan to make its theaters more accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people. In addition, it has established a relationship with Captionfish, the popular captioned movies search engine.

Regal theaters to become more accessible

Denver Business Journal

Date: Wednesday, May 4, 2011, 12:43pm MDT

Regal Entertainment Group said Wednesday it’ll make its movie theaters more accessible to patrons who are hard of hearing, deaf or blind.

The Knoxville, Tenn., company (NYSE: RGC), which Denver financier Philip Anschutz formed from separate movie theater chains, is the largest movie exhibitor in the United States, with 6,657 screens.

Regal is equipping all of its theaters showing movies in digital format — rather than the traditional method of using reels of film — and along with that will offer personal captioning and descriptive video technologies.

Regal expects to have almost all of its theaters converted to digital cinema by the end of 2012. In the next 12 to 18 months, Regal said it will roll out adaptive technologies for the deaf and blind.

The technology Regal will introduce as it shifts to digital cinema will allow moviegoers who are hard of hearing or deaf to view captions. Those who are blind will be able to hear a descriptive narration of the onscreen action.

But Regal said the adaptive technology won’t be available for every film because not every movie studio includes captioning and descriptive video.

Regal also announced a partnership with Captionfish, an Internet search engine that finds captioned and narrated movies showing in the United States.

Saluting ALDA’s Achievement

The end result of the ALDA vs Cinemark lawsuit was spectacular: Cinemark has agreed to provide a closed captioning option at all its first-run theaters. This landmark development–the availability of captioning at all rather than a couple of a theater’s first-run movies–rode on the  shoulders of the lobbying efforts of hundreds of individuals and all major deaf and hard-of-hearing consumer organizations. As the case brewed, Cinemark quietly began to make its theaters in the Seattle area more accessible and, facing a similar lawsuit, Regal Cinemas pledged to provide the necessary equipment for captioning at their theaters nationwide. These developments should be the tipping point for captioning by the other major theater chains and thus the culmination of a long, long battle and elusive dream for deaf and hard-of-hearing people.

The Cinemark lawsuit was initiated by two ALDAns, Linda Drattell and Rick Rutherford, with the support of the ALDA Board of Directors. Another ALDAn, lawyer John Waldo, was co-counsel in the suit. ALDA’s persistence in this case is commendable; the results truly historic. What some people may not know, ALDA is the largest all-volunteer consumer organizations for deaf and hard-of-hearing people in the United States. Yes, it’s an all-volunteer group, and what a dedicated group of volunteers they are. ALDA’s significance to people who become deaf as adults cannot be overstated: many members credit the organization with helping them bridge feelings of social isolation and loss to a life of companionship and purpose . The culture of ALDA, anchored by its philosophy of whatever-it-takes communication modes, is unique and cherished.

ALDA is the youngest of all the major organizations for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, For many years now, ALDA’s dream has been to establish a national office with a paid staff. The Cinemark case can be a tipping point for that achievement as well. There is no better way to salute ALDA than to help make its own dream possible. Consider donating to the organization’s efforts to build a national office and staff. Any amount helps (and big amounts help more! ). Follow this hyperlink and click on “General” to make it happen.

Cinemark vs ALDA: Deaf and HOH People Win!

Cinemark and ALDA Announce Greater Movie Theatre Accessibility for

Customers who are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing

 

April 26, 2011, Plano, Texas.  Cinemark Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: CNK), one of the world’s largest motion picture exhibitors, today announced that it will provide a closed captioning option for people who are deaf or have significant hearing loss in all of its first-run theatres.  Cinemark is installing captioning systems on a rolling basis across its circuit in conjunction with the chain’s conversion to an all-digital format.  Installation started early this year and about half of Cinemark’s theaters in California already have captioning capability. Cinemark will be able to offer closed captioning at all of its first-run theaters by mid 2012.

Movie captions convey the dialogue, narration, musical cues, and key sound effects, speaker identification and other auditory information, in the form of written text for those viewers who have significant difficulty hearing the movie sound track.  Closed captions are relayed-in sync with the movie-only to members of the audience who choose to receive them via a personal display device. The captions are not visible on the screen to the rest of the audience.

The Association of Late-Deafened Adults (ALDA), an advocacy group for those with who have lost some or all of their hearing, applauded Cinemark’s commitment.  Cinemark has worked closely with ALDA in setting the time-table for installation of captioning capability in California.  ALDA also agreed to dismiss a lawsuit the organization filed in late 2010 over captioning issues in Cinemark’s California theatres.  They were represented by Sid Wolinsky and Kevin Knestrick of Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a non-profit legal center, headquartered in Berkeley, California, and John Waldo, an attorney whose practice focuses on the needs of those with hearing loss.

“We are pleased with Cinemark’s support for captioning.  This decision makes first-run movies available to millions of patrons who are deaf and hard-of-hearing in California.  They deserve to participate in this quintessential American experience,” said Mr. Knestrick.  “We want to commend Cinemark for the prompt and cooperative way it resolved this case,” Mr. Waldo said. Linda Drattell, a plaintiff in the case, commented “I am delighted that around this time next year people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing will be able to watch first-run movies at Cinemark theaters throughout California.”

Cinemark selected the CaptiView Closed Caption Viewing System (CaptiView) from Burbank-based Doremi Cinemas LLC to transmit the closed captions to audience members who desire the assistance of captioning.  CaptiView provides captioning to those who have significant difficulty hearing the movie soundtrack via an OLED display on a bendable support arm that fits into the theater seat cup holder.  This device, provided to movie patrons upon request, operates on an internal wireless system and can be used in any seat in the theatre.  The OLED screen provides exceptionally clear captions. The device is also equipped with a privacy visor, which ensures that the captioning has no impact on neighboring movie patrons.

“Cinemark was pleased to collaborate with ALDA,” said Michael Cavalier, General Counsel and Senior Vice President of Cinemark, USA, Inc.  “The conversion to digital cinema has facilitated the development of closed captioning systems like CaptiView.  We now have a platform that makes full implementation of a captioning system viable.  Cinemark has worked closely with our suppliers to make certain that we are providing the highest quality closed caption system,” he added.  Laura Franze, a partner with the law firm of Hunton & Williams LLP, who represented Cinemark in working out the settlement with ALDA, commented “Cinemark has long recognized the importance of making the movies it exhibits accessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences and has supported captioning in different forms for many years.  With the conversion to digital cinema and the development of digital closed captioning systems like CaptiView, Cinemark was moving ahead to full implementation of closed captioning even before this lawsuit was filed.”

Michael Archer, Vice President of Digital Cinema at Doremi noted, “When we began the in-house design of the CaptiView product two years ago, we worked closely with Cinemark, our long-term partner, to create a viable, high-quality product that displays closed captions for digital cinema.  We are pleased to have this opportunity to work with Cinemark to provide captioned movies to their patrons across the country.”

 

About Cinemark Holdings, Inc.

Cinemark is a leading domestic and international motion picture exhibitor, operating 430 theatres with 4,945 screens in 39 U.S. states, Brazil, Mexico and 11 other Latin American countries as of December 31, 2010. For more information go to http://www.cinemark.com

About the Association of Late-Deafened Adults

The Association of Late-Deafened Adults (ALDA) is a not-for-profit organization incorporated under the laws of the State of Illinois. The Association of Late Deafened Adults advocates on behalf of the 38 million Americans who have lost some or all of their hearing.  For more information, please visit http://www.alda.org.

About Disability Rights Advocates (DRA)

Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) is a non-profit legal center, which for nearly twenty years, has specialized in high-impact class action litigation on behalf of people with all types of disabilities.  DRA litigates nationally and has offices in Berkeley, California and New York City.

About Doremi Cinemas LLC 

Doremi Cinema LLC is the digital cinema hardware division of Doremi Labs Inc. located in Burbank California.  For nearly 25 years, Doremi has been providing award winning hardware solutions for cinema, broadcast, presentation and special venue markets.  Having shipped over 22,000 servers into the cinema market, Doremi is the global leader in cinema server technology.  CaptiView has helped propel Doremi into a worldwide leader in access technology.

Press Contacts:

CINEMARK:

James Meredith – VP of Marketing and Communications

Telephone: (972) 665-1060

Cynthia Amerman, President of ALDA

Email: president@alda.org

Sid Wolinsky, Disability Rights Advocates

Telephone: (510) 665-8644

Elizabeth Leonard, Disability Rights Advocates

Telephone: (510) 665-8644

John Waldo, Law Offices of John Waldo

Telephone:  (206) 849-5009

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Regal to Caption All Movies in Theaters Nationwide

Note from the blogger: This is awesome…Article by John Waldo, co-counsel in ALDA vs. Cinemark case.

 

Regal Cinemas, the nation’s largest movie-theater chain, has committed that as it converts its first-run movie theaters to digital projection, it will provide the necessary equipment to display closed captions for all showings of all movies for which the studios have provided captions. Regal began that process in the greater Seattle area, where it has made all the auditoriums at its Auburn, Thornton Place, Landing and Bella Bottega complexes caption-capable.

As of today (Feb. 20), Regal is showing seven captioned movies at the Bella Bottega complex in Redmond, seven captioned movies at the Landing complex in Renton, eight at its complex in Auburn and ten at its Thornton Place complex in north Seattle.

The captioning pledge came in the form of a declaration from Regal chief operating officer Randy Smith submitted as part of Wash-CAP’s ongoing litigation in King County, Washington, against the corporate theater owners that operate in the Seattle area. The case had been scheduled to go to trial in March of this year. Regal sought to avoid the trial by making a commitment to provide captioning.

Notably, Smith’s statement did not just apply to the Regal theaters that are involved in the Seattle lawsuit. What he said was that as Regal converts theaters to digital projection, it will provide captioning capabilities, including at its Seattle theaters. The Seattle area appears to be the first location where this commitment has been implemented, at least in part.

Regal has in the past shown open captioned movies at a small number of its theaters. Regal believes that open captions, visible to the entire audience, are distracting and undesirable to hearing patrons. Therefore, it activates the open captioning only for a very few showings, generally at less-than-ideal times.

Closed captions are visible only to patrons who request and use a viewing device. Because closed captioning does not interfere with the movie-going experience of others, the theaters are willing to engage the captions for all showings.

Regal is apparently using a new device to show closed-captioned movies. The viewing device is attached to a gooseneck that fits into the seat cupholder. Unlike the more familiar Rear Windows system where captions are displayed in mirror image on an LED reader-board fixed to the rear wall of the theater and viewed on a reflector, the captions are transmitted wirelessly. This has the advantage of making the system equally usable from every seat in the theater, and it is also not subject to interruption if somebody stands up behind the viewer. The disadvantage,though, is that unlike the transparent Rear Window reflector that can be superimposed on the movie screen, the viewing device is solid. That means it has to be placed below or to the side of the screen, which means the captions and the movie are in different lines of sight, or the viewing device blocks some of the picture, not unlike the captions we seen on television.

Eyewear that displays captions is in the development stage. It is currently not available commercially, but may be developed and marketed in the future, and that may provide a better viewing experience than the devices that are now available.

At present, there is no well-developed technology for showing captions with 3-D movies, so most of the movies without captions at the Regal complexes are 3-D. Captions are provided by the studios, not by the theaters, and while most of the major-studio first-run releases are captioned, some are not, most notably (and ironically), “The King’s Speech.” So it appears to me that the Regal theaters that have provided full captioning capability are showing closed captions for all the movies that have captions available.

Regal is tying the provision of closed captioning to its program to convert its first-run theaters to digital projection, where film is replaced by digital data packages. Regal has converted all of its first-run theater complexes in King County to digital projection, and evidently plans to add captioning capability to the complexes in Issaquah, Bellevue, Tukwila and downtown Seattle that presently lack it.

Regal is following the same path as Cinemark/Century, the nation’s third-largest theater owner, which has equipped all of the auditoriums at its two Washington complexes — one in Federal Way and one in Olympia — to show closed-captioned movies. Cinemark has essentially done everything we asked for in the lawsuit, and it appears the Regal will do so as well. We haven’t received any specific information that Cinemark plans to equip its theaters in other parts of the country to show captions, but we would be surprised if they don’t do that, because it would be difficult to explain how it was economically possible to offer full access in Washington but not possible to do so in other areas.

Lincoln Square in Bellevue has also committed to provide closed captioning in all of its theaters. In the interim, it is showing many of its movies with open captions at selected times.

The holdout new in our Seattle case is AMC, the nation’s second-largest theater chain. It is taking the position that it should only be required to do what the federal Department of Justice may direct as part of the ongoing rule-making process. We don’t think that is a viable argument. DOJ’s proposal to require captioning for only 50% of the movies being shown at a given location has come under withering fire, and DOJ has provided at least some circumstantial indication that it will either jettison that proposal altogether or, at the very least, defer to court interpretations of what it is reasonable to expect each theater chain to do.

I’m aware that many of us with hearing loss would prefer open captioning. Unfortunately, the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the implementing regulations make it quite clear that private businesses like theaters can choose the kind of accommodation they wish to provide, and the theaters have not been willing to provide open captioning, at least not for every showing. But there does not appear to be any legally viable way to require open captions.

I don’t give up hope completely — we may be able to persuade at least some theaters to voluntarily offer occasional open-captioned showings, perhaps upon request from some number of patrons. But rather than lament the absence of open captioning, I think we should direct our energies to working cooperatively with the theaters on finding the most effective means of showing closed-captioned movies.

The dominoes appear to be falling, and universal access to the movies may be a reality in very short order.

 

 

Cinemark vs ALDA Update

This story just appeared in deafbayarea.com. It’s actually dated and not “new” news, but since I’ve been negligent about this blog, it is new news for the blog. No matter, some of you may have missed it the first time around. Better late than never. And oh yeah, that deafbayarea.com thing….new initiative/website….worth taking a peek at….where else can you see an hour and a half video of the 1966 NAD convention?


By Alan Fung-Schwarz

Linda Drattell, who works at Deaf Counseling, Advocacy, and Referral Agency (DCARA) as a counselor for late-deafened adults, says she was informed of potential progress in the class-action lawsuit against Cinemark for failing to provide accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.

“Cinemark intends to provide the caption-display capability within 90 days of converting the complex to digital projection,” says John Waldo, one of the lawyers representing the Association of Late-Deafened Adults, suggesting that if an agreement is reached, the conversion “would likely all occur by the end of 2011.”

The captioning method is likely to be rear-window captioning.

“Cinemark is currently alone of the three major theatre chains in providing no form of captioning to deaf and hard of hearing customers. I had to watch Season of the Witch, a movie I didn’t like, because there were no other choices,” says Drattell, “Before I lost my hearing, I used to go to Blackhawk Cinemark Theatre with my family after dinner. Now, I can’t.”

“It would cost only 4 million dollars to equip the screens in California with Rear Window Captioning equipment.”

In New Jersey, a similar lawsuit was filed in 2004 against Regal Cinemas for refusing to install accommodations for people with hearing or vision loss. The New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey at the time estimated that the cost of installing Open Captioning equipment is $12,500 per screen, while Rear Window Captioning equipment is $10,000 per screen and Descriptive Video Service is $2,000 per screen. Cinemark currently has 295 theaters with 3,854 screens in 39 states and in the 2010 third quarterly results reported earning an adjusted EBITDA of $125.1 million on revenue of $560.2 million, and raised its quarterly cash dividend to $0.21 per share.

On April 30, 2010, in the case Arizona v. Harkins Amusement, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned the district court, which had ruled that the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Arizonans with Disabilities Act (AzDA) did not require movie theaters to alter the content of their services to accommodate the people with hearing or vision disabilities. The Court of Appeals in San Francisco concluded that a movie theater may be required to provide accessibility because closed captioning and audio descriptions are classified as “auxiliary aids and services,” which is covered under the ADA.

It was based on this favorable ruling that the plaintiffs, Linda Drattell and Rick Rutherford, and the Association of Late-Deafened Adults (ALDA) filed a civil lawsuit on November 30, 2010 against Cinemark USA, Inc. in California’s Alameda Superior Court, alleging violation of the American with Disabilities Act, California’s Unruh Civil Rights Acts and Disabled Persons Act. In § 52(a) of the Unruh Civil Rights Act is a provision that, if the rights of people to equal enjoyment of services provided by a person operating a place of public accommodation have been violated, that the violators are liable for up to three times the amount of actual damage or no less than $4,000 per occurrence.

“We hope that Cinemark will install effective captioning rather than let it go to court,” says Drattell.

Cinemark USA, Inc. did not respond to our requests for comments.

 

Cinemark Hears: Creates Two Accessible Multiplexes

by John Waldo

Without fanfare — in fact, with almost no notice — Cinemark/Century theaters have made that company’s two Washington movie multiplexes completely accessible to people with hearing loss. Patrons with hearing loss such that they need captions to understand the dialog have eight different captioned movies to choose from at the Century Federal Way complex in Federal Way, and ten different captioned movies at the Century Olympia complex in that city’s Capital Mall.

Cinemark, which operates under the Century brand name in Washington, is using relatively new closed-captioning display devices known as CaptiView. Viewers pick up a portable display unit mounted on a flexible gooseneck that sits in the theater-seat cup-holder. The dialogue and some additional aural information like “door slamming” is transmitted wirelessly, and displayed three lines at a time. A privacy screen minimizes the distraction to other viewers.

The captioning is available for every showing of every movie for which captions have been prepared. At theFederal Way complex, those movies include two brand-new releases, “Green Hornet” and “The Dilemma,” and one 3-D movie, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” Additional captioned movies at the Federal Way comples are “Little Fockers,” “The Fighter,” “Black Swan,” “Tangled” and “Country Strong.” All of those movies are also available with captions at the Olympia complex, which is also showing “True Grit” and “Tron:Legacy” (2-D version) with captions.

Century has converted all of the theaters at both of those complexes to show movies using digital projection, in which film is replaced by digital information. The theaters do not caption the movies — that is done under contract with the movie studios by a company affiliated with WGBH public television in Boston. The vast majority of major-studio movies are equipped with captions, but prior to digital conversion, very few theaters were equipped to display the captions

CaptiView has some advantages over both open captioning, in which the captions are visible to everyone in the audience and which hearing patrons sometimes claim is distracting, and over Rear Window Captioning, where captions are displayed in mirror image on a reader-board at the back of the theater and viewed to a reflector. Other patrons can’t block the captions by standing up at the wrong time. Moreover, a central server can make all of the movies in a multi-screen theater accessible without the need for separate equipment in each individual auditorium.

CaptiView has raised some concerns, though, because using it does require patrons to glance away from the screen while reading the captions. Would that cause eyestrain and discomfort over the course of a full-length movie? No one really knows for certain, because the equipment has not been in wide use — in fact, it appears that the Washington complexes may be the first in the nation to be equipped to show in captioned form all movies for which captions have been prepared.

Cinemark has been oddly quiet about this accomplishment. It has not advertised the availabilty of captions in its print advertising. Nor is the information readily available on line. If one goes to the general “Fandango” movie-time site, no captioning information is shown. One must either begin at the proprietary Cinemark website, or click on the theater name on the Fandango site to get to the page that mentions the captions. Unfortunately, that arrangement appears to prevent the Captionfish website, which tries to provide a full directory of captioned movies, from getting the information.

By making all captioned movies accessible in captioned form, Cinemark has provided exactly what Wash-CAP asked for in the lawsuit filed in early 2009 against Cinemark and five other defendants. While the case continues against the others, we are hopeful that some or all of those theaters will follow Cinemark’s lead, and make their movies accessible to people with hearing loss.

Closed-Device Captioning

Mirabai Knight, a.k.a. StenoKnight, is a fabulous CART writer in New York and an activist in the most positive sense for open captions. At a recent concert at the NY Public Library, she experimented with what she calls closed-device captioning, in which captions are delivered over the Internet to cell phones. She describes the upsides and downsides in her blog, excerpted here.

On the 12th and 13th I captioned the annual Holiday Songbook for the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, which was very cool; composers from all over the city were invited to submit new holiday music they’d written, for something like 40 songs in total over the two days. I was able to get some of the song lyrics in advance, and during tech runthroughs I was able to transcribe the rest of them so that when they were actually performed I could send them smoothly line by line instead of having to CART them live. The Library decided to try an experimental closed captioning system, where I sat up in the tech booth and sent the captions over the internet, while audience members went to the caption webpage on their phones and followed along that way. It went quite well, though this method certainly has its pros and cons. On the plus side:

* The event organizers were more comfortable with captioning being opt-in rather than having it visible to everybody.

* Several people — including people of a somewhat older generation — had their phones with them and were able to access the captions without any difficulty.

* This demonstration proved that captions can happen almost anywhere, even when a projector and screen are not available.

Of course, there are a few downsides to closed device-bound captioning over universal open captioning. Namely:

* The many glowing screens of patrons’ phones can arguably be as distracting as the one glowing screen used in open captioning. Additionally, some people don’t understand why the captioning is there, so they might assume patrons viewing captions on their phones are actually being rude and texting their friends, or even that they’re pirating the concert.

* Not everybody with hearing loss who might be helped by the captions identifies that way; it takes an average of five years for someone with hearing loss to acknowledge the issue publicly or sometimes even to themselves. Some people might not even know that they have hearing loss, and open captioning can be a way of helping them realize how much they’ve been missing.

* Some people who could have taken advantage of the captions might not have had web-enabled phones, or might have been too intimidated by the prospect of navigating to a website on their phones.

* Open captions tend to be larger and more visible than hand-held device captions, which can often be a little too small to read comfortably. In addition, open captions tend to be in the same plane as the performer, while device captions require rapid adjustment between near vision and far vision as the patron looks from the performer to the caption screen and back, which can sometimes cause eyestrain and detract from the immersiveness of the experience.

* Closed device captioning only works when there’s a reliable wireless internet connection or when people have fairly high-speed data plans on their phones.

So I obviously try to promote open captioning whenever possible, but it was cool to show the potential of closed device captioning, and I’m very glad that several patrons took advantage of it.

Caption Accuracy Metrics

The WGBH National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) has launched a project to develop a tool that can measure the accuracy of live captioning on television and elsewhere. This is in response to consumer complaints about the quality of captions. The press release describing the project and what it hopes to accomplish are pasted here. Head up, chin out, eyes forward, double thumbs up…onward, NCAM, ever onward!

Real-time captioned news is a lifeline service for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, providing critical information about their local communities, national events and emergencies. Captioning mandates designed to provide equal access to television have resulted in rapid growth of the caption industry, but a shortage of skilled real-time stenocaptioners, and the downward pressure on rates by program providers, has made the low quality of live captioning of news broadcasts a growing issue.

Disability organizations have filed complaints and a formal petition with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) which reflects frustration with chronic problems related to live captioning quality, transmission errors, and lack of industry response to their concerns. However, without a common means of measuring accuracy and quality, the FCC, consumers and broadcasters have no efficient method of tracking and improving stenocaption accuracy performance.

The WGBH National Center for Accessible Media is utilizing language-processing tools to develop a prototype automated caption accuracy assessment system for real-time captions for live news programming or classroom-based communication access realtime translation (CART) captioning. We are researching whether text-based data mining and automatic speech recognition technologies can produce meaningful data about stenocaption accuracy that meets the need for caption performance metrics.

Prototypes will be reviewed by major stakeholders at Technical Review Meetings. Advisors include the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Gallaudet University and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf.

Iterative tests and modifications within major stenocaption and broadcast operations facilities will provide real-world assessments of the system’s ability to produce meaningful caption accuracy metrics.

A reliable performance measurement tool that can analyze the quality of real-time captioning, developed with input from industry leaders, deaf education experts, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology will provide Congress and the FCC with much-needed independently verified data to establish caption accuracy requirements. This will greatly improve the ability of the television community to monitor and maintain the quality of live captioning they offer to viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing and ease the current burden on caption viewers to document and advocate for comprehensible captions to ensure they have equal access to important national and local information.

Deliverables include:

  • Publication of experimental ontology of caption error types;
  • Publication of research into error capture capabilities of text mining software agents, customized with rules and classifications derived from stenocaption ontology; and
  • Prototype software application that provides a technical framework to utilize language processing tools to conduct ontology-based detection, ranking and reporting of stenocaption errors.