Film Lovers! The Department of Justice Wants to Hear from You About Audio Description

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On August 1, 2014, the United States Department of Justice issued the following notice of proposed rulemaking regarding Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability by Public Accommodations—Theaters, Movie Captioning, and Audio Description:

The ADA logo

Summary: The Department of Justice (Department) is issuing this notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) in order to propose amendments to its regulation for title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which covers public accommodations and commercial facilities, including movie theaters.

The Department is proposing to explicitly require movie theaters to exhibit movies with audio description and closed captioning at all times and for all showings whenever movies are produced, distributed, or otherwise made available with captioning and audio description, unless to do so would result in an undue burden or fundamental alteration.

The Department is also proposing to require movie theaters to have a certain number of individual closed captioning and audio description devices, unless to do so would result in an undue burden or fundamental alteration.

The Department is proposing a six-month compliance date for movie theaters' digital movie screens and is seeking public comment on whether it should adopt a four-year compliance date for movie theaters' analog movie screens or should defer rulemaking on analog screens until a later date.

Dates: The Department invites written comments from members of the public. Written comments must be postmarked and electronic comments must be submitted on or before September 30, 2014. Comments received by mail will be considered timely if they are postmarked on or before that date. The electronic Federal Docket Management System (FDMS) will accept comments until midnight Eastern Time at the end of that day.

Addresses: You may submit comments, identified by RIN 1190-AA63, by any one of the following methods:

  • Federal eRulemaking website: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the website's instructions for submitting comments. The Regulations.gov Docket ID is DOJ-CRT-126.
  • Regular U.S. mail: Disability Rights Section, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice, P.O. Box 2885, Fairfax, VA 22031-0885.
  • Overnight, courier, or hand delivery: Disability Rights Section, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice, 1425 New York Avenue NW, Suite 4039, Washington, DC 20005.

You can read the full announcement at the Government Printing Office website.

Questions and Answers about the Proposed Rule, Audio Description, and Closed Captioning

Excerpted from Questions and Answers about the Department of Justice's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Requiring Movie Theaters to Provide Closed Movie Captioning and Audio Description at ADA.gov:

What is the Department proposing in this rulemaking?

The Department is proposing to amend the regulation that implements the requirements of title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to require movie theaters to have the capability to exhibit movies with closed movie captioning and audio description, to require theaters to provide notice to the public about the availability of these services, and to ensure that theaters have staff available who can provide information to patrons about the use of these services.

What are closed movie captioning and audio description and how do they assist persons with hearing and vision disabilities?

Closed movie captioning and audio description enable persons with hearing and vision disabilities to have access to movies.

Closed movie captioning is the display of the written text of the dialogue of the movie and other sounds or sound makers only to those individuals who request it. When requested, the captions are delivered via individual captioning devices used by patrons at their seats. It does not result in captions being shown to all patrons by being displayed on the screen itself.

Audio description is a technology that enables individuals who are blind or have low vision to enjoy movies by providing a spoken narration of key visual elements of a movie, such as actions, settings, facial expressions, costumes, and scene changes. Audio description fills in information about the visual content of a movie where there are no corresponding audio elements in the film.

It involves a separate script that is recorded on an audiotape or CD that is synchronized with the film as it is projected. The oral delivery of the script is transmitted to the user through infra-red or FM transmission to wireless headsets.

What are the Department's reasons for proposing this rule?

Individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing or are blind or have low vision represent an ever-increasing proportion of the U.S. population. The vast majority of movies released by U.S. movie studios are now produced with movie captioning and audio description.

While there has been an increase in the number of movie theaters exhibiting movies with closed captions—and, to a much lesser extent, audio description—and several courts have found that the ADA requires theaters to offer movie captioning, the number of movie theaters with closed captioning and audio description devices varies significantly across the U.S. depending upon where you live and who owns the movie theater.

As a result, despite the availability of captioned and audio described movies, many individuals with hearing and vision disabilities still cannot fully take part in movie-going outings with family or friends, join in social conversations about recent movie releases, or otherwise participate in a meaningful way in this important aspect of American culture.

Under what circumstances does the rule propose to require movie theaters to provide closed captioning and audio description?

The proposed rule does not interfere with a theater owner's choices as to which movies to exhibit. Whenever a theater intends to exhibit a movie that is available with captions and audio description, then the proposed rule would require the theater to acquire and then exhibit that movie with captions and audio description at all scheduled screenings, unless doing so would result in an undue burden or fundamental alteration.

If a particular movie is not produced with captions or audio description, then the proposed rule would still allow a theater to exhibit that movie. The rule does not require movie theaters to add captions or audio description to movies that are not otherwise produced or distributed with these features.

You can read the complete list of questions and answers at the ADA.gov website.

More about Descriptive Audio and Descriptive Audio Devices

Descriptive video service (DVS) provides audio narration of key visual elements inserted into natural pauses in the film dialogue. Key visual elements are those cinematic features that viewers with vision loss would ordinarily miss and include movements, gestures, facial expressions, backgrounds, onscreen text, and costumes.

The new Sony Entertainment Access System (demonstrated in this YouTube video), is one type of device that can provide descriptive video service (or descriptive audio narration) for blind and visually impaired film-goers, as well as closed-captioning and volume control for deaf and hearing impaired audiences.

The Sony Entertainment Access System

The Sony Entertainment Access System

For patrons who are blind or have low vision, the system includes headphones that provide descriptive audio narration. For patrons who are deaf, the system includes lightweight glasses that project holographic subtitles onto the eyeglass lenses. The system also provides volume control for patrons with hearing impairments.

The Sony descriptive audio system has been available at approximately 6,000 Regal Cinemas since mid-2013. The service can be accessed on any film for which captions and descriptive text have been included with the digital print. You can check online at the Regal Cinema website for the availability of the system in your local area.

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