Glasses show captions for deaf, hard of hearing
BY CLAIRE BOSTON
June 15, 2014
LITTLE ROCK, ARK. — At two central Arkansas theaters, moviegoers who are deaf or hard-of-hearing have a futuristic way to experience movie dialogue.
Sony’s Entertainment Access Glasses seem like something straight out of a science-fiction flick – the oversized glasses superimpose holographic captions straight onto a movie screen. The captions are bright and clear to anyone wearing the glasses but invisible to everyone else in the theater.
They aren’t as stylish as other wearable tech such as Google Glass, but Entertainment Access Glasses are the latest advance in closed-captioning devices for moviegoers who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
The 3-ounce glasses, available at Regal Entertainment Group theaters, are large enough to fit over standard eyewear. They’re wired to a small transmitter box the user wears around the neck that beams captions onto the screen, right in a viewer’s line of sight. The captions’ location can be adjusted by shifting the movable lenses up or down.
For 3-D films, clip-on filters make the glasses work like a captioning version of the plastic 3-D spectacles. The glasses also support audio amplification for those who are hard of hearing and descriptive narration for people who are visually impaired.
Regal spokesman Christine White said the Knoxville, Tennessee, company invested more than $10 million in the glasses in 2012 because they provide multiple accessibility services for patrons.
“It was actually chosen because it’s multiuse,” White told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (http://bit.ly/1s8Cxx5). “It’s an amazing opportunity for us to use a newer technology.”
Jeff Prail, vice president of the Arkansas Association for the Deaf, first tried the glasses about a year ago at the Breckenridge Village 12. He said captioning technology allows him and his wife to be avid moviegoers. They recently saw Godzilla and are eagerly awaiting the release of Transformers: Age of Extinction at the end of the month.
“Since these technologies were made available in movie theaters, we have the opportunity to go at least two to three movies a month, depending on the movie,” Prail said.
Regal began phasing in the glasses across the country in April 2012. White said the glasses were distributed to theaters as theaters updated their projectors from film to digital, as the glasses only work with the newer digital technology. Beth Warren, general manager of the McCain Mall Stadium 12 in North Little Rock, said her theater received seven pairs of glasses in late 2012. Breckenridge received 10 pairs about a year ago.
It may be state-of-the-art, but the technology isn’t perfect: The gear feels heavy on the bridge of the nose, and captions move when a moviegoer moves his head. It’s not too hard to keep the captions still, but positioning them takes a bit of adjustment. The feature film is completely captioned, but previews aren’t.
Regal plans to stick with the technology in the near future but may upgrade the glasses as the technology evolves. White said that so far the glasses have been well-received.
“We’ve heard lots of really, really great things,” White said.
Neither theater tracks how many people ask to use the complimentary service, but White said that before the glasses were released, general managers at each theater looked at overall demand. The company used the mangers’ input and the number of screens to determine how many glasses to send to each theater.
So far, the two Regal theaters are the only theaters in the Little Rock area to use the glasses. Carmike Cinemas, which operates six theaters in Arkansas, also offers the technology, as do several smaller regional chains elsewhere in the country.
Other theaters, including the Colonel Glenn 18 and Tandy 10, offer CaptiView technology, a small device that fits on a theater seat’s cup holder.
Prail said he and his wife were accustomed to using CaptiView and another captioning technology called Rear Window Captioning when they first tried the glasses about a year ago. He said the technology took some getting used to and occasionally skips lines of dialogue, but ultimately helps them understand more of the movie.
“Our first reaction was we didn’t like having the captions displaying right in front of your eyes,” Prail said. “Now, we do enjoy the captioning glasses. … What we like about it is being able to enjoy the whole movie without glancing down and missing a scene like you do with CaptiView.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t explicitly require movie theaters to offer closed-captioning, but does include a provision saying that public accommodations must provide “auxiliary aids and services” to individuals who need vision, hearing or speech aids to communicate.
The Dickinson 9 is the only major theater in the area that doesn’t offer individual closed captioning, though the theater does have amplification devices for people who are hard-of-hearing.
In 2010, the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that closed-captioning and descriptive video fall under the auxiliary aids umbrella. Movie theaters may not provide caption devices if they can prove that captioning results in an undue burden for the theater or if captioning fundamentally alters the nature of the theater’s goods and services.
Prail said he and his wife frequent both Regal theaters and the Colonel Glenn 18. Curious moviegoers sometimes ask questions when they use captioning devices, but they’re happy to explain the technology to others.
“Their response always ends up being, ‘that’s cool,’ as they didn’t know these devices exist,” Prail said