Closed-Captioning Could Be ‘Coming To a Theater Near You,’ Muse Says

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Proposed regulations could force some theaters to offer assistive technology for patrons with hearing and visual impairments, says veteran LeClairRyan attorney

Brian Muse

The proposed rules underscore the need for businesses of all types to be prepared for mandatory adoption of assistive technology.

The federal government could require movie theaters with digital screens to offer closed captioning for the hearing impaired, along with audio descriptions for people with visual problems, said LeClairRyan partner Brian Muse, who blogs about the Americans with Disabilities Act at ADAmusings.com. The proposed rules, he added, underscore the need for businesses of all types to be prepared for mandatory adoption of assistive technology.

“These changes could help thousands of theatergoers across the country have a better experience,” said the veteran attorney, who is based in the national law firm’s Williamsburg office. “However, some in the industry worry these proposed changes could drive up ticket prices.”

Under the proposed Department of Justice rules, which appeared in the Federal Register on Aug. 1, movie theaters with digital screens would not be required to create their own closed-captioning or other assistive aids, Muse noted. “Rather, when a movie is available with closed-captioning and audio descriptions, the theater would be required to buy that version,” he said. “In some circumstances, a theater could show films without these accommodations, but only if a compliant version were not available.”

The National Association of Theater Owners, for one, has expressed concern that the proposed requirements could potentially drive up ticket prices, as well as harm the ability of small and non-digital theaters to acquire first-run movies, Muse noted.

The rules would force owners to change their theaters in several ways, the attorney added. “For example, they would need to offer a proportionate amount of accommodative equipment based on the number of seats in the theater,” he said, “and such equipment would have to be available from a patron’s seat.”

According to the proposal, audio descriptive devices could be offered upon request. Theaters would also be required to modify and update their screens for compatibility with digital closed-captioning devices. Finally, the proposed regulations would also require theaters to train employees on the operation of accommodative devices and post a public notice of their availability, Muse said.

The government has issued no imminent timetable for implementation of the regulations. “However, they are yet another example of how technology is becoming the focal point of ADA compliance—for the DOJ, advocacy groups and plaintiff’s attorneys alike,” Muse said. “It is important for all businesses, not just movie theaters, to continue to stay current with assistive technology.”

About LeClairRyan
As a trusted advisor, LeClairRyan provides business counsel and client representation in corporate law and litigation. In this role, the firm applies its knowledge, insight and skill to help clients achieve their business objectives while managing and minimizing their legal risks, difficulties and expenses. With offices in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington, D.C., the firm has approximately 370 attorneys representing a wide variety of clients throughout the nation. For more information about LeClairRyan, visit http://www.leclairryan.com.

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Press Contacts: At Parness & Associates Public Relations, Bill Parness, (732) 290-0121, bparness(at)parnesspr(dot)com

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