Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Access to the movies

USDOJ finalizes rules for theaters and captioning

People looking at a movie screenBy Tim Wheat
Earlier this week, Attorney General Loretta Lynch signed a final rule related to closed movie captioning and audio description that will enable people with hearing and vision disabilities to have access to movies. The new rule revises the Justice Department's Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title III regulation to further clarify a public accommodations obligation to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services for people with disabilities.

The Final Rule requires movie theaters to: (1) have and maintain the equipment necessary to provide closed movie captioning and audio description at a movie patron’s seat whenever showing a digital movie produced, distributed, or otherwise made available with these features; (2) provide notice to the public about the availability of these features; and (3) ensure that theater staff is available to assist patrons with the equipment before, during, and after the showing of a movie with these features.

The rule does not require all theaters to provide captioning. Only certain movie theaters that contain one or more auditoriums that are used primarily for the purpose of showing movies to the public for a fee. The specific requirements of this rule, however, do not apply to any movie theater that shows only analog movies in all of its auditoriums. IMAX produced movies are typically “analog” and do not have description or caption tracks. Additionally, drive-in theaters are excluded in the definition.

Title III of the ADA requires public accommodations, including movie theaters, to provide effective communication through the use of auxiliary aids and services.  This rulemaking specifies requirements that movie theaters must meet to satisfy their effective communication obligations to people with hearing and vision disabilities unless compliance results in an undue burden or a fundamental alteration. A single auditorium should have 4 captioning devices and a multiplex should have increasingly more so that a sixteen screen theater would have at least a dozen captioning devices. Description devices are less frequent. One description device for a single screen and at least eight for a 16 screen multiplex.

An advance copy of the final rule, as well as an FAQ on the rule, are available on the Department's ADA website. The Department intends to publish the final rule in the Federal Register in the near future, and the final rule will take effect 45 days after publication. For more information about this rule, please visit the Department's ADA website (www.ada.gov) or call the ADA Information Line: Voice: 1-800-514-0301; TTY: 1-800-514-3083.