DRA’s Press Release on ALDA Suit….and Much, Much More

Things are hoppin’. Here’s a press release on the suit from Disability Rights Advocates, the nonprofit firm representing the plaintiffs. The press release is followed by a gold mine of facts on captioning. So keep reading and reading…challenge your attention span!



November 30, 2010


Kevin Knestrick

Sid Wolinsky

Disability Rights Advocates: 510-665-8644

John Waldo, Washington State Communication Access Project:

206-842-4106 (phone)

206-849-5009 (text to cell)



Oakland, CA – Going to the movies is central part of mainstream American life.  More than 200 million Americans went to the movies last year according to the Motion Picture Association of America.  But alawsuit filed today in Alameda Superior Court alleges that the Cinemark movie chain, the third largest in the country, discriminates against the deaf and hard of hearing communities by failing to provide any captioned movies at its theaters in Alameda County.

The suit is brought by The Association of Late-Deafened Adults (“ALDA”) on behalf of its members with hearing loss, and two individual plaintiffs.  The plaintiffs are represented by Disability Rights Advocates (“DRA”), a non-profit disability rights firm headquartered in Berkeley, California that specializes in high-impact cases on behalf of people with disabilities and John Waldo, a lawyer whose practice focuses on the unique legal needs of the Hard-of-Hearing and Deaf. He works on access and advocacy issues through the Washington Communication Access Project (Wash-CAP).

The most common form of movie captioning technology is the Rear Window Captioning system.  An LED screen is mounted in the back of a theater that displays captioned dialogue onto small reflective plastic panels provided by movie theaters to deaf and hard of hearing patrons.  Only people with the reflective screens can see the captions, which they can adjust to superimpose on the screen.  Approximately 85% of first-run movies are captioned and compatible with the Rear Window system when they arrive at theaters “in the can.”  The only cost to movie theaters is the one-time installation of captioning equipment, which costs approximately $10,000.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders approximately 36 million American adults report some degree of hearing loss.  Hearing loss increases with age: 18 percent of adults 45-64 years old, 30 percent of adults 65-74 years old, and 47 percent of adults 75 years old or older have a hearing impairment.

The correlation between aging and hearing loss is well established.  The number of adults with hearing loss is expected to increase significantly as the baby boomer generation continues to age.

“We just want the opportunity to go to the movies with our friends and family like everybody else,” explains Rick Rutherford who lives in El Cerrito.  “By failing to screen captioned films, movie theaters like Cinemark are denying me an experience I thoroughly enjoyed before the onset of hearing loss.”

“The theaters’ unwillingness to screen captioned films is short-sighted, particularly as the hearing loss community continues to grow,” says Kevin Knestrick, an attorney representing the Plaintiffs. “The technology is readily available and financially, it is a drop in the bucket for theater chains like Cinemark to provide this service for men, women, and children with hearing loss.”

Linda Drattell, a plaintiff in the case, says “It’s disappointing to read reports of blockbuster holiday weekends with films like Harry Potter and Unstoppable, and I can’t go because Cinemark refuses to provide captioning.”

The lawsuit alleges violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California’s anti-discrimination statutes, the Unruh Civil Rights Act and Disabled Persons Act.  A copy of the Complaint can be found at www.dralegal.org.

For information about where to find captioned films in your area, visit websites like www.captionfish.com or www.fomdi.com.  A list of first release films that are captioned for viewing with the Rear Window Captioning System can be found at http://ncam.wgbh.org/mopix/.

# # #

Captioning Fact Sheet

How many people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can benefit from captioned movies?

According to the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders approximately 36 million American adults report some degree of hearing loss.  Captioning makes films accessible to those people whose hearing is too limited to benefit from assistive listening devices (ALDs) — a group that makes up a significant percentage of the 36 million.

Why should captions be provided?
Captions should be provided to give today’s 36 million Americans who are deaf or hard-of-hearing equal access to the first-run movies that many millions of hearing people are able to enjoy. As the percentage of the population that is deaf or hard-of-hearing steadily increases — based on the growing number of older people (aged 65 or older) and the longer life expectancy of adults — the need for captions will become more urgent. Currently, members of this large, ever-increasing under-served population depend on closed-captioned television and video for their audio-visual entertainment, which significantly limits their ability to participate in the social, recreational and educational aspects of movie-going. Assistive listening devices, presently made available under ADA regulations, do not serve the significant portion of the population who rely on visual translations of sounds due to more severe hearing losses.

What is the Rear Window Captioning system?

The patented Rear Window system is a technology that makes it possible for exhibitors to provide closed captions for those who need or desire them without displaying the captions to the entire audience and without the need for special prints or separate screenings. Developed in the early 1990s with the assistance of grants from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), the system was first deployed at the National Air & Space Museum’s IMAX® theater in December of 1994.

How does it work?
The Rear Window Captioning system (Figure 1) displays reversed captions on a light-emitting diode (LED) text display, which is mounted in the rear of a theater. Patrons use transparent acrylic panels attached to their seats (either with a flowerpot-shaped base designed to fit into a drink holder on most theater seats or with a clamp that attaches to the armrest) or on freestanding floor stands (like a microphone stand). The acrylic panels reflect the captions so that they appear superimposed on or beneath the movie screen. The reflective panels are portable and adjustable, enabling the user to sit anywhere in the theater and to either superimpose the captions over the film image or position the captions above or below the movie screen, depending on preference.

How do Rear Window captions differ from open captions?
Open captions are similar to subtitles. They are “burned” onto the film and are visible to everyone in the theater. To provide open captions, it is necessary for studios to create, and for exhibitors to obtain, a special print of the film. Open-captioned films are generally presented at special screenings.

The Rear Window system is a way of providing closed captions. The captions are not on the film itself, so there is no need for a special print. The captions are on a floppy disk or CD that plays in synchronization with the film and can be made visible — via a reflector — to only those patrons who choose to see them. The captions are available during each regularly scheduled presentation for as long as the film plays in the equipped theater (not all films are presently closed-captioned).

How are the captions synchronized to the film?
The synchronization process differs depending on whether the system is being used in a conventional movie theater or specialty theater (e.g., IMAX® or other large-format theaters or theme parks’ theatrical attractions). In conventional movie theaters, captions are transmitted to the LED panel by the Digital Theater Systems (DTS) digital audio system, which provides multi-channel digital audio on CD-ROMs. The caption data resides on an additional CD-ROM that plays in synchronization with the digital audio disks in a DTS player (model DTS 6D, with additional models soon to be available). A “reader head” (a sensing device) attached to the film projector reads a timecode track printed on the film and signals the DTS player to play the audio and captions in synchronization with the film. In turn, the DTS player sends the captions to the LED display. In specialty theaters, caption data is fed to the LED panel by a computer with special software that synchronizes the caption files to the film.

What specialized equipment is needed to provide Rear Window captions?
In order to provide Rear Window captions, the theater must purchase and mount — in the rear of the theater — a light-emitting diode (LED) text panel or “datawall,” which displays reverse captions. This component must be 32 characters wide and 3 rows tall. The characters, or letters, that make up each row are 3.2 inches or 4.1 inches tall depending on the size of the auditorium and the distance people will be sitting from the datawall. A theater also must purchase either portable seat-mounted or freestanding reflectors on which patrons who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can read the reverse text from the LED panel. The reflector component consists of a 3/16-inch thick transparent or semi-transparent acrylic panel, which is approximately 4 inches tall by 12 inches wide, attached to a flexible, 12 to 18-inch-long gooseneck arm.

How much does it cost a theater to install Rear Window?
The cost of installing the Rear Window Captioning system varies from theater to theater based on factors such as theater size and existing equipment. The number and style of reflectors that a theater chooses to purchase also will affect the overall cost. The basic cost of the LED datawall is estimated at approximately $4,000 for conventional theaters and $8,000 for large specialty theaters (IMAX®). The cost per reflector is approximately $80; theaters that have installed the system have initially purchased 12 reflectors at $50 apiece. The DTS 6D player, which many theaters already have available, costs $6,000 if purchased separately. Installation costs depend on the theater’s maintenance arrangements; arrangements for installation can be made with the equipment supplier.

Will installation require any alteration to existing facilities? If so, what types of alterations need to be made?
In order to provide Rear Window captions, the facility will need to acquire and mount a light-emitting diode (LED) display mechanism to the wall in the rear of the theater. Mounting hardware is required, which is able to support a 30- to 50-pound datawall, that is 3- to 5-feet-long and 1.5- to 2-feet-high. The LED display requires standard electrical service and a data signal fed to it from the projection booth. The reflectors may be mounted to theater seats via existing or added drink holders. Theaters without drink holders can purchase reflectors fitted with a clamp or mounted on freestanding microphone stands. Some theaters have fitted seats with a mounting bracket that enables the bottom of the gooseneck arm to be fitted directly into an area between each seat.

Will additional electrical service be needed to accommodate Rear Window?
The LED display requires a standard electrical outlet.

How many equipped seats or equipment attachments need to be available?
It is recommended that theaters purchase a number of reflectors equal to approximately 4% of a theater’s seating capacity.

Are special seats necessary?
The installation of special theater seats is not required for use of Rear Window captions. The seat-mounted reflectors can be fitted to standard theater seats using the drink holder or armrest, while freestanding reflectors can be used in theaters without drink holders.

Are both fixed and portable reflectors available to accommodate different types of seating? Or is there a standard design that works with any kind of seat?
The reflectors are presently available in three styles. The portable, seat-mounted model consists of a movable, acrylic screen on an adjustable gooseneck arm that can be fitted to any theater seat that has a built-in drink holder. The clamp model can be used to attach the gooseneck to the armrest of seats without drink holders. The freestanding device is mounted on a floor stand (similar to a microphone stand), which can be placed adjacent to any type of theater seat, but is most effective when used on a level floor. To accommodate patrons who are deaf or hard-of-hearing and use wheelchairs, theaters may opt to order several clamp or freestanding reflectors.

Are the reflectors easy to use, attach and adjust?
The screens are portable and simple to use; the seat-mounted reflector is easily mounted in the drink holder or on the seat arm, while the freestanding reflector is placed beside the viewer’s seat. In any case, the gooseneck arm and tilting acrylic panel can be adjusted until the captions are visible and comfortable to watch. Test captions are generally made available before the film begins to enable Rear Window users to adjust their reflectors. Depending on the user’s preference, captions can be positioned over or just below the movie screen. Some users have reported that reflectors work best when positioned low and further away from the body, allowing the user to move in the seat with only minimal reflector adjustments.

Are the reflectors adjustable for both child and adult users?
The reflective screens can be adjusted for use by both children and adults. There is no height restriction, though children or very short adults may require assistance in bending the reflector arm into place.

Do users need to sit in certain seats in order to use the Rear Window?
The Rear Window system is designed so that the captions are visible from any seat in the theater. However, depending on the size and layout of the theater and the location of the caption display, some seats may offer better viewing angles than others may. Seats in the middle of the theater generally offer the best view of Rear Window captions. Some LED displays have been mounted above an auditorium’s balcony, thereby making the seats directly underneath the balcony unusable with a reflector.

Can another patron’s head block the user’s view of the captions?
Because the captions are displayed in the rear of the theater, someone sitting in front of the user cannot block them. The LED display can be hung high enough so that the heads of tall people behind the user will not block the view of the captions. However, if someone behind the user stands up, they may temporarily block the captions — just as someone who stands up in front of a viewer may temporarily block the picture.

Can the reflectors block the view of, or be distracting to, other patrons?
As the clear acrylic reflector is adjusted for use by individual patrons, and only those patrons can see the reflection, the use of the Rear Window system will not affect other patrons’ views of the movie screen in any way.

Do the reflectors block the user’s view of the screen in any way?
Since the reflector is made of clear acrylic, the user can see through the reflective panel to the screen, or can adjust the reflector so the captions appear below the screen. If the reflector is not adjusted properly, a user’s head may block his or her own view of the captions. In this case, the user will need to move the reflector slightly to one side or tilt the plastic panel until their view is complete.

How do users know when Rear Window is available in a theater?
Theaters that have made the Rear Window Captioning system available to their patrons have publicized the service to build awareness in their community. Publicity generally includes posting appropriate signage at ticket booths, including information in theater advertising. When the service is offered initially, theaters often publicize the system’s availability via announcements to local newspapers and to local organizations and schools that serve deaf and hard-of-hearing people.

Is there an additional cost to moviegoers to use Rear Window?
Moviegoers who request use of the Rear Window Captioning equipment pay the regular adult, child or senior ticket prices, with no additional costs.

Who is ALDA?

The acronym “ALDA” stands for the Association of Late-Deafened Adults.  ALDA is a not-for-profit organization incorporated under the laws of the State of Illinois.

Late-deafened adults are people who were not born deaf, but rather became deaf after they developed language skills.  They cannot understand speech without visual clues, and thus cannot rely on their hearing as a means of receptive communication.  Instead, late-deafened adults must primarily depend on some visual mode of receptive communication, such as cued-speech, speechreading, sign language, or text-reading.  Their deafness may have been the result of heredity, accident, illness, drugs, surgery, or “causes unknown.”  Their hearing loss may have occurred suddenly or it may have progressively deteriorated over a period of years.  Most importantly, however, regardless of the cause or rapidity of their hearing loss, all late-deafened adults share the cultural experience of having been raised in the hearing community and having “become” deaf, rather than having been “born” deaf.

The General Objectives of ALDA

EDUCATION … ALDA is committed to provide educational information to late-deafened adults, their families and friends, deaf service providers, rehabilitation counselors, government agencies, private corporations, and members of the general public concerning the nature of, as well as strategies for coping with, the social, psychological, familial, occupational, economic and communication problems of  late-deafened adults.

ADVOCACY… ALDA is committed to advocate on behalf of, and to represent the needs, desires, and interests, of all late-deafened adults in the promotion of public and private programs designed to alleviate the problems of late-deafness and to integrate late-deafened people into all aspects of society.

ROLE MODELS … ALDA is committed to provide good role models for late-deafened adults who are striving to cope with the issues of late-deafness and to enhance their personal image, competence, and quality of life.

SUPPORT … ALDA is committed to provide support for all late-deafened adults, (and their families and friends) regarding how to cope with the problems caused by late-deafness, and to provide social enrichment through the promotion of activities in which they meaningfully participate.

Cinemark Holdings, Inc. Fact Sheet

Cinemark Holdings Inc., is the third largest theater operator in the United States with 294 theaters and 3,830 screens in 39 states.  Cinemark is located in headquartered in Plano, Texas.  Cinemark is the second largest motion picture exhibitor in the world in terms of both attendance and the number of screens in operation.

For the year ending December 31, 2009, Cinemark’s revenues increased 13.4% to over $1.9 billion.  Over the last three fiscal years, Cinemark has grown its total revenue per patron at 6.8%, the highest in the industry.

According to industry sources, in 2009, the U.S. motion picture industry experienced its third consecutive records breaking year and the first in history with box office revenues of $10 billion.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Cheryl Heppner on December 2, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Hurrah for ALDA, Linda and Rick for their efforts to move us forward in the quest for captions in movie theaters to become universal! I have motion picture genes — my grandmother played piano for the silent movies — and not being able to see and enjoy movies with my family and friends has been one of my greatest frustrations for decades.


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