State Cinemark to provide captioning

Photo: A legal center with a local office claimed Cinemark neglected to provide captioning.
A legal center with a local office claimed Cinemark neglected to provide captioning.

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Captioning systems will be installed in all Cinemark movie theaters in California by May 2012 due to a recent settlement between the theater company and a hearing loss advocacy group.

According to a class-action lawsuit filed Nov. 30 by Disability Rights Advocates, a non-profit legal center with an office in Berkeley, Cinemark at-large, as well as four of its Bay Area general managers, were cited as neglecting to provide captioning systems in any of their California theaters to patrons affected by hearing loss.

The lawsuit claimed that the lack of captioning systems not only violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act, the California Disabled Persons Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, but also that the defendants "intentionally ignored their legal obligation to provide closed captioning in its theaters for patrons with hearing loss," which prevented members of the deaf and hard of hearing community from partaking in "a major part of mainstream American life."

According to a joint statement released by the Association of Late-Deafened Adults and Cinemark April 26, an out-of-court settlement was reached and Cinemark has agreed to install captioning systems by May 2012 in all California theaters that offer showings of new movie releases.

"The defendants, Cinemark, were eager to sit down with us from the very beginning to talk about how to fix the problem out of court," said Elizabeth Leonard, an attorney at Disability Rights Advocates. "It was a very cordial discussion from the beginning."

Linda Drattell, one of two plaintiffs listed in the lawsuit and former president of the association, said she decided to file the case so that there could be more captioning for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Drattell chose Cinemark specifically because, at the time, the theater company - which the lawsuit states is the third largest theater company in the nation - offered no captioning to patrons whatsoever.

Drattell added that captioning systems in other theaters typically do not accompany new movie releases and any captioning that is offered is usually only available at unaccommodating times.

"They are either late at night or early in the morning on a Saturday or on a weekday," she said. "It had been really frustrating for us not to go to the movies like everybody else."

According to the association's statement, Cinemark's captioning will be provided by the CaptiView Closed Caption Viewing System, a method that has patrons pick up a "bendable support arm" from the theater lobby which fits into their seat's cup holder. The support arm contains a screen to display captions of the film's audio and can be used on any seat in the theater.

The system also employs a privacy visor to prevent impact on other patrons. Drattell said this system can be taken to any movie that has captions, meaning patrons will have access to a greater selection of films.

Though the settlement only concerns captioning in Cinemark's California theaters, Leonard said she is optimistic the company will continue to establish captioning systems and offer similar captioning devices in its theaters in other states as well. She added that Disability Rights Advocates is not currently bringing similar suits elsewhere.

"We're talking with other theaters, but I don't have any plans at this moment," Drattle said. "Our intention is simply to encourage more captioning."


Contact Sarah Burns at [email protected]

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