AMC Theaters Out of Compliance with Settlement to Provide Closed Captioning Equipment

Important email from John  Waldo, Wash-Cap attorney and lead attorney on the 2011 AMC Settlement with Association of Late-Deafened Adults for the provision of closed captioning equipment in their movie theaters. Please read and help if possible by notifying him of problems receiving captioning equipment when going to the movies at AMC theaters (email johnfwaldo@hotmail.com):

Dear Colleagues,

I’m writing this to my deaf and hard of hearing friends in the San Francisco Bay area to seek your help and participation in an important project.

As you know, through years of litigation, some settlements and finally, federal regulations, the major movie-theater chains are now offering personal caption-viewing devices that enable us to see pretty much any movie at every showing. (I know it’s not a perfect solution — lots of us prefer open captions displayed on the screen — but what we have is a whole heck of a lot better than what we had before). The problem, though, is that way too often, the devices don’t work as promised.

The AMC chain, which is now the largest theater chain in the country, appears to be the worst offender. AMC offers the CaptiView devices that are attached to flexible goose-necks with a heavy base that fits into the cup-holders. We’ve received reports from around the country that the devices frequently fail to display the captions, or in some situations, collapse physically. Sometimes, the staff can fix those problems, but because the pre-show materials are not captioned, any problem with the device usually doesn’t show up until the actual movie begins, which means that we have to disturb other patrons and often miss a chunk of the movie to alert staff to the problem.

AMC personnel generally try to deflect the blame, and sometimes say things like the movie does not come with captions. AMC then usually offers free passes to another show. thinking that will take care of the problem.

None of this should happen. When the devices are properly maintained and tested, and when the staff knows how to operate the devices, they are highly reliable. We have good circumstantial evidence of that because the Landmark chain, which operates a lot of “art-house” theaters, also uses the CaptiView devices, and their operations appear to be essentially flawless. It’s a function of management that cares.

AMC had been equally sloppy about maintaining the equipment used to provide audio descriptions to people with visual challenges. A couple of years ago, some blind individuals and organizations filed a California statewide class-action lawsuit against AMC seeking to remedy the situation. What came out of that was a settlement that required AMC to undertake a rigorous maintenance and testing protocol, to ensure that staff was trained to operate the devices, and to provide audio descriptions for some of the pre-movie material so that any problems could be detected prior to the start of the movie.

I’m working with some of the San Francisco attorneys who brought the audio-description case against AMC, and we want to achieve a similar result with the captioning equipment. Our objective is to ensure (to the degree humanly possible) that when we go to a movie, we’re actually able to enjoy it rather than be told, essentially, “come back another time.”

We need your help to make this happen. What we need is for a bunch of people in the Bay Area to go to a movie at AMC, to ask for the caption-viewing equipment, and to report back on whether the equipment works without any problem. If everything works fine, you see and understand a movie. If it doesn’t, you provide us with an opportunity to improve AMC’s performance.

I understand that in some parts of the area (like San Jose), people have had so many bad experiences with AMC that they avoid going there. I get the reluctance. But on the other hand, we can’t fix this if we can’t demonstrate that the problem exists, and that it is more than just an isolated, one-time deal.

I earnestly hope that some of you will undertake this challenge. As you know, federal and state disability laws have the potential to make the world an accessible place for those of us with hearing loss, but it’s basically up to us to make the laws work. We can’t let an industry leader like AMC simply ignore its obligations to us. And while these problems have been reported in a number of areas of the country, we think for a number of reasons that we want to address this in the Bay Area.

I’ll happily answer any questions or respond to any comments, and hope we can get this project rolling in the near future.

Oh, and please pass this along to any of your deaf or hard-of-hearing friends and colleagues.

John Waldo

Advocacy Committee Chair

Association of Late Deafened Adults (ALDA)

Advocacy Director and Counsel
Washington State Communication Access Project — Wash-CAP
www.wash-cap.com

Counsel
Oregon Communication Access Project — OR-CAP

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