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Hawaii Movie Theaters Become First in the Nation to Require Open Captions


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Not shortly after Portland became the first state to require enabled captions in all public establishments, Hawaii has just become the first state in the nation to recognize the importance of accommodating a positive movie-going experience for the deaf and hard of hearing. The bill, introduced by Kauai Representative and father of a hearing impaired son, James Tokioka, was signed into law by Governor David Ige and is now in effect as January 1, 2016.

Although more than 6,000 theaters throughout the United States already have the option for movie-goers to view closed captions through Access Glasses, this bill requires a minimum of two showings a week of a motion picture produced with captions to display open captions. The difference being that the open captions will be on the screen for all viewers to see, rather than the need to wear glasses that are proven to be sometimes unreliable and uncomfortable for patrons.

The law will also require these theaters to provide an audio description track of any film produced with audio description.

“The law removes communication barriers and provides equal access to persons who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind or have poor vision through reasonable accommodations at movie theaters. It will also help seniors who have trouble hearing, as well as individuals who are learning English as a second language by providing the written dialogue on screen.” – Hawaii House of Representatives

The enacted bill is as follows:

[§489-9] Motion picture theater accommodation. [Section effective January 1, 2016. Section repealed January 1, 2018. L 2015, c 39, §3.]

  1. A public accommodation that owns, leases, leases to, or operates a motion picture theater in more than two locations in the State shall provide open movie captioning during at least two showings per week of each motion picture that is produced and offered with open movie captioning.
  2. A public accommodation that owns, leases, leases to, or operates a motion picture theater in the State shall provide, upon request, audio description of any motion picture that is produced and offered with audio description.
  3. A violation of this section shall be a discriminatory practice.
  4. This section shall apply to motion pictures that are produced and distributed with the necessary auxiliary aids and services, including captioning and audio description. This section shall not prohibit the showing of a motion picture that is produced and distributed without captioning and audio description; provided that a public accommodation that owns, leases, leases to, or operates a motion picture theater shall provide notice to the public if a motion picture offered for viewing is produced and distributed without captioning or audio description.
  5. For the purposes of this section, “motion picture theater” means a movie theater, screening room, or other venue in use primarily for the exhibition of a motion picture.

The first showing to accommodate the new law was none other than the box office titan, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The screening was attended by Representative Tokioka and associates of the Aloha Station Association of the Deaf.


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