Movie Accessibility For The Deaf
May 18, 2013

Movie Accessibility For The Deaf

Have you ever wondered how deaf people experience a movie? How do they know what is happening, especially in a movie where there are narrators, or off camera actors speaking, when they can’t read lips?

Sony and Regal Cinemas have been working on that problem, and the solution is coming out later this month. Sony Entertainment Access Glasses are sort of like 3D glasses, but for closed captioning. Regal will be distributing these glasses to more than 6,000 theaters across the country by the end of May.

NPR reports that the captions will be projected onto the glasses, but appear to float about 10 feet in front of the person wearing them. The glasses don’t stop there, however. They work for blind people too, with an audio track that describes the action on the screen, or the hard of hearing can boost the existing audio levels.

This is going to be a big boon for the deaf. Many of them haven’t gone to the movies in a long time because the available captioning screens are few and far between. Personal screens fit in cupholders, below the user’s eyelevel. They are bulky and tend to distract the other moviegoers.

I had a great aunt who was deaf, and I have a niece by marriage who is also deaf. I can’t wait to tell her this is coming, what 19 year old girl doesn’t want to enjoy the movies? Apparently, that same feeling was the driving force behind this innovation. Randy Smith Jr. is the CEO for Regal Cinemas. Smith has been working for a decade to solve this problem, “to develop a technology that would allow accessibility to the deaf and blind for every show time, for every feature.” Smith’s driving force? His deaf son, Ryan.

Ryan has been his home grown “personal guinea pig.” As tech companies sent Smith new prototypes, he and Ryan would go to the movies together to test it out. Ryan provided feedback on each model that allowed Smith and the companies to improve their product.

“We’d do that until we got to a point that we felt it was comfortable enough,” Smith says.

Smith received a letter from a parent that he shared with NPR, saying that the letter captured exactly how he feels. An excerpt:

“I’ve attempted to enjoy a movie with my son so many times over the last 26 years, but to no avail. After watching a movie I would try to discuss it with him. The comments he would make would in no way relate to the plot of the movie and at one point he finally confessed that as he watched the screen, he simply made up the story in his head. He didn’t really know what was going on. The fact that I can take my son to a movie when he visits at the end of June is literally bringing tears to my eyes. It would seem silly to most people but I would imagine you understand what it feels like.”

The only thing I haven’t seen mentioned is what it will do to the cost of the movie for someone to get the glasses, and what “deposit” they will have to put down to assure that the glasses are returned. Hopefully it is affordable for those who need them.

Image Credit: Brent Walker / Shutterstock

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