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Fire Alarm to Protest Against a Captioned Movie?

Recent news reported that in Maryland a 34-year-old man intentionally pulled fire alarm in an angry response to the popular “Avengers” movie that was captioned.

This is a very surprising reaction – especially that this movie was one of very few open-captioned ones offered at selected movie theaters at selected times that greatly benefit deaf and hard of hearing people. That man’s action shows his lack of awareness and empathy towards those who can understand movies only with captions on. Unlike deaf and hard of hearing people who have have such limited options to watch captioned movies, many hearing people like that man can choose to go to another movie theater or wait until next showtime with a movie that is not captioned.

Besides, many hearing people seem not to realize how much they take for granted the “luxury” they have to be able to attend any movie they want at any location at any time. Deaf and hard of hearing people had to put up with the lack of accessibility to captioned movies at theaters for many years and to wait for captioned VHSs and DVDs to come out until recently when more theaters started to show captioned movies at selected times. They are listed on Caption Fish website.

Not just that, many deaf people get frustrated when going to movies to find out that they are not captioned as listed even on theaters’ list of movies. Many managers forget to double check in advance if captioned movies work properly, and it’s easier for them to just refund frustrated deaf viewers with free tickets for future captioned showings. Sometimes the same theater forgets to ensure that certain movies are captioned next time.

Another thing to mention that the news did not describe the captioned movie accurately. It was not “closed-captioned”, but “open-captioned”. This is a big difference. Otherwise that man would not have seen captions in that movie to make him pull the alarm.

Open-captioned movie means that captions are turned on by default for everyone to see – usually if shown to a larger audience, i.e. you cannot turn them on/off. While closed-captioned movie means that captions can be turned on/off, usually if it is watched on an individual device, such as Rear Window Captioning device.

While individual devices are preferred by theaters because they are afraid to “lose” hearing patrons who might not like captions (even though they have no hard evidence to prove this), many deaf and hard of hearing patrons would prefer open captions over closed captions. Why would someone want to borrow a bulky device from theater’s customer services in exchange for their ID and to try to adjust it before watching the movie while others can just sit and relax being hands free? Also, what if there are more deaf patrons watching the captioned movie than the devices available? What about other patrons who are foreign language speakers or have other reasons to need captions? As discussed on this website, captions is universal access to the majority of people that include not just those who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Many hearing people would greatly appreciate captioned movies because they would also get frustrated when they can enjoy them with their deaf friends and family members only at selected times and locations. The economic model of disability is a great example of why captioning is universal design. If all theaters make all of their movies open-captioned, they would get not only more deaf and hard of hearing customers, but also their hearing families and friends.

Here’s a video showing why many people enjoy open-captioned plays, including those who have normal hearing. Hopefully, more people understand the importance of captions that also benefit them and more movie theaters would follow TDF’s example.

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