The price of movie tickets could be going up soon. Under new proposed regulations issued by the Department of Justice, movie theaters with digital screens would be required to show films with options for closed captioning (for hearing impaired patrons) and audio descriptions (for visually impaired patrons). Movie theaters would not be required to create their own captioning or assistive aids. Rather, when a movie is available for distribution with closed captioning and audio description, the theater must purchase the version containing these accommodations. In some circumstances, a theater may show films without these accommodations if a compliant version is not available. The National Association of Theater Owners has expressed concern that these requirements would potentially drive up costs, as well as harm the ability of small and non-digital theaters to acquire first run movies.
Although theaters would not need to create the accommodative enhancement (e.g. create closed captioning text), the proposed regulations would require theaters to make changes to facilities. Theaters would need to offer a proportionate number of accommodative equipment based on the number of seats in the theater—and such equipment must be available from a patron’s seat for closed captioning devices. Audio descriptive devices may 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.
Although the implementation of these new regulations are not imminent, their issuance provides yet another example of how technology is becoming the focal point of ADA compliance—both for the Department of Justice and for advocacy groups and plaintiff’s attorneys. It is important for all businesses, not just movie theaters, to continue to stay current with assistive technology in their industry.