There’s an app for that. Some movie theaters already have devices installed that allow closed captioning for the
hearing impaired deaf and audio narration of onscreen action for the sight impaired blind.
But now the Obama administration wants to up the ante so that a greater percentage of the 40,000 big screens across the country offer headsets that provide a running commentary of visual action for the blind, glasses that display closed captioning for the deaf, or other devices to explain what’s happening onscreen.
The Hill notes that the draft rule is “part of a decades-long effort on behalf of people with disabilities.” If passed into law, advocates argue, “blind and deaf people would be able to appreciate the latest blockbuster just like everyone else.”
As you probably guessed, the proposed regulation is encountering opposition from theater owners, who feel it goes too far, while advocacy groups, who back the proposal, feel it doesn’t go far enough. The National Association of Theatre Owners maintains that the costs associated with the rule would force small, rural and struggling theaters to close:
These theaters can barely stay in existence and often need community support to break even. To require them to install expensive closed captioning technology at this time is an undue financial burden that may result in these theaters closing.
On the flip side of the coin is the National Association of the Deaf, whose chief executive, Howard Rosenblum, said that requiring half the theaters nationwide to comply is a bridge not far enough:
It would be akin to only requiring that 50% of buses should have segregation for people of color and the other 50% of buses should be integrated. We believe that providing equal services is a civil rights that should apply to all theaters and not just a fraction.
Eric Bridges, director of external relations and policy at the American Council of the Blind, said:
All of this sort of comes down to choice for us. We would like to have a choice in the movies that we go see that are video-described.
If I’m going to go out with another buddy of mine and I want to see a movie and I want to enjoy the movie equally with him, and he can see, we’re definitely not going to a chick flick even though it may be the only one described. It’s about choice. It’s about the cultural experience of going to and taking part in the cinematic experience.
As with so much else, the president is in the unenviable situation of having to make a choice of his own. If he sides with the advocacy groups and goes whole hog, he will need to explain to voters in blue parts of rural America why he had no choice but to shut down the local “picture show.” If he shows sympathy with small business owners (perish the thought!), his liberal base will be more furious with him than it currently is over his mishandling of Syria. In the meantime, The Hill notes, the White House has announced that it will extend its review by 30 days. Nothing like procrastination to make a difficult problem worse.
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