We have a great little movie theater in our neighborhood. It has just three screens, but it always shows the newest releases. The best parts of the movie experience at our little theater are the food and the seating. We get to sit at tables in nice, padded chairs on a gently sloping floor. We can order real food to eat, including salads, burgers and chicken wings, regular and alcoholic beverages, and the most awesome chocolate, chocolate-chip cake (with ice cream, of course!) We used to not go to the movies very often, but our little neighborhood theater has drawn us back in. It is a whole new way for us to experience dinner and a movie.
The feds may change that for us, however. The government is readying new regulations that will require theaters to install equipment that will enable deaf and blind patrons to enjoy the movie experience just like hearing and seeing patrons. For the seeing impaired, there are headsets that verbally narrate the action on the screen. For those with hearing loss, glasses that provide closed captioning will help them keep up with the dialogue. This equipment requires that theaters convert to digital, which most theaters (about 90 percent) have already done, at a cost of approximately $70,000 per screen. Fifty-five percent of theaters already have the necessary equipment to accommodate those with hearing or vision disabilities.
It is most likely that the Justice Department will require a certain percentage of theaters to have the necessary equipment, but disability advocates would like to see them require all theaters to have it. Because a theater might be allowed to have the equipment for only one or two of their screens, it limits the choices a person with such disabilities would have. “All of this sort of comes down to choice for us,” said Eric Bridges, the director of external relations and policy at the American Council of the Blind. “We would like to have a choice in the movies that we go see that are video-described.”
Because sighted and hearing people have a choice, those with such disabilities should also. “If I’m going to go out with another buddy of mine and I want to see a movie and I want to enjoy the movie equally with him, and he can see, we’re definitely not going to a chick flick even though it may be the only one described,” he added. “It’s about choice. It’s about the cultural experience of going to and taking part in the cinematic experience.” In March, Senator Tom Harkins (D-Iowa) “released a bill calling for all theaters with two or more screens to provide the services for all movies at all showings. “
I am all for having lots of options and helping those with disabilities enjoy life to the fullest. However, forcing all theaters to have this equipment is another example of government making it difficult for businesses to remain profitable. Most theaters have already had the expense of switching to digital, a requirement for showing newer movies as well as for using this equipment, and now the government wants them to add more expensive equipment. How much more expense can the industry absorb? Will the large theaters survive this, while the smaller theaters are put out of business? Will this be like the pool chair lift requirement that has left many hotel pools with expensive lifts that are never used?
Hopefully, our little neighborhood theater is ready for the new regulations. Hopefully, too, they will be able to remain profitable while complying with yet another government mandate. And I hope that we will be able to continue to enjoy our dinner and movie without it costing us an arm and a leg to help pay for equipment that is seldom used. If not, we can thank our government, who is always there “to help us!”