A number of movie theaters throughout the state of Delaware have banded together to make movies more accessible to patrons who are hard of hearing, by collectively agreeing to add open captioning to all first-run movies.
Most movie theaters already offer closed captioning on demand, meaning patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing can ask for a personal device that will show the dialogue as text. In the pilot program that began April 1, Delaware theaters have added open captioning wherein dialogue subtitles are shown directly on the screen where everyone can see it.
The Memo of Understanding originated from Daphne Werner, a language arts teacher at the Delaware School for the Deaf.
“Open captions are a cheaper alternative for theaters than purchasing and maintaining hundreds of individual-use closed captioning devices, and bear less risk of user error,” she said. “We must continue breaking down barriers and create a more universally accessible moviegoing experience.”
Werner brought her concerns about cinema accessibility to State Representative Ed Osienki. He assembled a team of consultants and stakeholders to bring together movie theaters in all three Delaware counties to come to the table.
‘We have the opportunity as a small state to make sure that every resident in the state has access to open captions at a nearby movie theater,” said Rep. Osienski.
Participating theaters include cinema chains like Cinemark and Penn Cinemas, and independent multiplexes like Milford Movies which opened in Milford last year.
Selected screenings of every first-run movie will be offered with open captions, and each theater can determine how many screenings they will offer it. The pilot program includes marketing and data collection for one year, after which the program will be assessed.
Some national cinema chains – such as AMC – have already started offering open captioning. This MOU across several chains in Delaware is meant to formalize the practice across the sector, and learn how effective it is.