San Jose Columnist Champions ALDA case

To date this blog has been rampant with stuff about the ALDA-Cinemark case. Well, it’s a damn important lawsuit, so don’t expect this post to be the last on the subject. In fact, I have a few blogs about it myself if I, the blog curator, ever get in the zone to, um, write. “Tomorrow for sure” is my mantra, but for today this column by Patty Fisher of the San Jose Mercury News works just fine.

Fisher: It’s fun when you know what the actors are saying

Carrie Levin couldn’t wait to see Leonardo DiCaprio in “Inception” when it was released in July.

But the film came and went, and the Sunnyvale woman never did see it. That’s because even if she had seen Leo on the screen, she wouldn’t have been able to hear him, which makes it rather difficult to follow a movie.

So Levin, who is deaf, is still waiting. Waiting for movie studios and theaters to make closed-captioning technology widely available so that the deaf and hard-of-hearing can enjoy films the way other people do.

“When ‘Titanic’ came out, I had to wait for it to come out on DVD in order to see it,” she told me. “I’m sick of waiting.”

Last week, advocates for the deaf in Alameda County sued Cinemark, the nation’s third-largest movie chain, for failing to provide closed-captioned movie equipment in its local theaters. The equipment, called Rear Window Captioning, lets people read subtitles at their seats through a small window that attaches to the cup holder. Rear Window costs about $10,000 per theater to install.

It’s the law

Across the country, movie complexes have slowly begun offering this service, but so far Cinemark hasn’t gotten on board.

Kevin Knestrick, an attorney with Disability Rights Advocates in Berkeley, is representing the Association of Late-Deafened Adults and two Alameda County residents. He insists that the Americans with Disabilities Act

requires theaters to accommodate the deaf and hard-of-hearing.”The technology is readily available,” he said. “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.”

I couldn’t get Cinemark — or AMC, which does offer closed captioning — to comment on the lawsuit. In similar cases in other states, theater owners have argued that Rear Window isn’t perfect, and they are waiting until something better comes along.

That means that Levin has to wait, too.

‘Say what?’

Here’s my take on this closed-captioning business. There are 36 million Americans with some degree of hearing loss. Those numbers are going up as more of my contemporaries who blew out their eardrums at ’60s rock concerts join the ranks of the hearing-impaired. And if it’s true that blaring iPods are deafening our children, before long movie theaters will be filled with people whispering: “What did he say?” or “Did you catch that?”

I think that if I were in the movie business, I would be clamoring for the perfect technology to keep this growing sector of the market from going straight to DVD. In the meantime, I would offer closed captioning, headphones or any other imperfect device that improves the audio experience.

After all, it’s not just the hard-of-hearing who are turned away when the captions are turned off. Consider the experience of Linda Drattell, one of the plaintiffs in the case.

“The last movie I saw was ‘Morning Glory’,” she told me. She was out with seven other people, and they wanted to see a different film, but it didn’t have captioning.

“I was the only one who needed captioning, but the theater with the other movie lost out on eight tickets.”

If I owned a movie theater, I’d be hearing that message loud and clear.

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