Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Visually Impaired Arizonans Now Have Additional Access to Movie Theaters

Access to movie theatres has long been a challenge for individuals with hearing or visual disabilities.  Theatre operators have limited or no equipment available for patrons needing assistive technology.  But that is about to change for the nearly a half million Arizona residents who are deaf or hard of hearing and approximately 200,000 residents who are legally blind or have low vision.

Harkins Theatres ComplexAs far back as 2006, a class of individuals with sensory disabilities, with assistance from the Arizona Center for Disability Law, filed suit against Harkins Theatres.    The lawsuit sought installation of closed captioning and video description technology at Harkins’ Arizona movie theatres.  With this installation, a customer who is sensory disabled and needs closed captioning or video descriptions can enjoy movies by accessing the closed captioning or video description technology, as long as the movie has been captioned or described by the film studio that produced it. Major movie studios distribute many wide-release movies with captions and/or descriptions but theatres must install equipment for patrons to access the captions or descriptions. 

The case, which settled in late 2011, requires Harkins to install closed captioning and video-description technology at virtually all of its theatre screens by the end of 2012.  In addition to the technology installation, Harkins will also be expanding its employee training program to include instruction about assisting customers with the new technology, provide information about captioned and described movies playing at the theatres and the placement of the equipment, continue to ensure its website is accessible to individuals who are visually impaired and encourage patrons to give feedback about the new equipment.  Harkins has also committed to actively working with disability organizations to conduct outreach, promotion and marketing that will increase awareness and use of the technology.