Social Question

mrrich724's avatar

Do you think I am right, or insensitive regarding this ADA topic dealing with a deaf person?

Asked by mrrich724 (8522 points ) December 28th, 2011

A woman on a message board said the ADA should mandate that movie theatres require subtitles for all movies.

Her argument was that it’s a small sacrifice so all people can watch movies.

My arguments were multiple:

1) The ADA helps disabled people get opportunities when it comes to the necessities of life, and the movies isn’t a necessity.

2) Just b/c she thinks it’s a “minor” sacrifice, doesn’t mean everyone else thinks it’s that minor, and in fact, subtitles can really distract from the movie to most (including myself).

3) We should let consumer product formats be dictated by consumer demand, and it seems that the majority of people would opt for there not to be subtitles, so it isn’t fair to subject 99 people in a theatre for the needs of 1 person.

Obviously this would be different if we were talking about job opportunity or something else, but we’re talking about the movies!

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37 Answers

marinelife's avatar

Perhaps the hearing impaired could wear glasses with subtitles visible to them.

gailcalled's avatar

Personally, I have no objections to subtitles. I have some mild hearing issues in one ear, and, often, particularly with movies that have loud sound tracks, I miss a lot of the dialog. In those cases, I would love subtitles.

Recently, I saw The Social Network in a theatre with a bad sound system, and I had trouble hearing a lot of the dialog. The students were smart and glib and spoke very rapidly and/or over each other.

The ADA helps disabled people get opportunities when it comes to the necessities of life, and the movies isn’t a necessity.

We all enjoy many pleasures that are not the necessities of life. Why should not the hearing impaired have that opportunity, particularly since it is really not very onerous for the rest of us?

Last week I watched the DVD at home with closed captioning. It was a much better viewing experience.

rebbel's avatar

I think it is a fair point to have subtitles on all movies (even though it would be useful for a minority).
I can tell from my own experience (not because I am deaf, but because I watch a lot of programs on foreign channels) that it is not a nuisance to me anyway to have subtitles on the bottom of the screen.
I don’t notice them anymore after one or two minutes.
Talking about necessities; 3D is a load of non-necessary junk in the cinema (fortunately, as far as I know, you can choose to go to a 3D or non-3D edition of the same movie).

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Are you disabled? It’s possible that, if you’re not, you just ‘don’t get it’ as we say. It is a minor sacrifice if it’s even a sacrifice and I never understand the whole ‘there are so few of those people, who gives a crap?’ kind of argument – it’s used against me when I speak out on behalf of transgender people getting killed in NYC. In fact, we should give a hoot more about those on the fringe of society because that’s what caring should be about, not what the majority is doing. I don’t care about what the majority is doing and enjoying, sheer numbers don’t mean squat.

Aethelflaed's avatar

You get used to subtitles really quickly. I know I can’t watch many British shows without the subtitles on (especially because I am a bit uptight about catching every single word). It’d be fine. Maybe they could do a couple showings for the really big movies with multiple theatres that didn’t have subtitles that people could opt into.

CWOTUS's avatar

As @gailcalled mentioned, she was able to see a recent first-run movie with closed captioning. So the options are already there. I agree with you that there should not be a requirement that all movies be shown with closed captioning all of the time. It’s a quality of life issue for you, too (and for me).

As a matter of fact, I often prefer British movies with subtitles or closed captions, because the various British accents and vocabulary often escape me otherwise. As I age and my own hearing deteriorates, I may opt for the subtitle option more often in any case. But I don’t think – in fact I would vigorously protest – that all movies should be shown this way all the time.

Next we’d have to have all books published in large format, wouldn’t we? All of the time?

Mariah's avatar

I think it would be irritating to have subtitles on every movie, but I don’t agree with all your points. When you are disabled, you’re already giving up a lot of things. Sure this might seem like one little thing to you, not a “necessity,” but if we argued that the disabled should suck it up and deal with anything that isn’t a “necessity,” they’d be missing out on so much of life. I think it’s right to do what we can to help people with disabilities enjoy as many of life’s offerings as possible.

filmfann's avatar

I live in Contra Costa County, in California (not far from San Francisco), and there are ten theaters within 25 miles, many of them multi-plexes, that have captioning for the deaf.
It does not require special glasses, and it doesn’t bother the other patrons.
It is done with a wifi device that sets into your soda holder. A flexible arm allows you to position it so that you can see the captions, and the people around you cannot.
I sat next to my wife while she used this device, and wasn’t distracted at all. After the movie was over, I asked the people sitting behind us if they had any problem with it, and they did not.
These theaters agreed to put this in place as a settlement against a possible lawsuit from a group of deaf filmgoers. It was cheap for the theaters, and there is now an internet site devoted to helping you find captioned movies close to you, at Captionfish
In summation, it’s cheap, easy, doesn’t bother others, and lets a handicapped member of the community see and understand a film.

Blackberry's avatar

I don’t care. It would include more citizens to enjoy the same things most of us do. A person complaning about subtitles ruining their experience seems pretty trivial in my opinion, although I am aware suddenly seeing the captions can be distracting. But I see a person that can’t go enjoy a movie at all due to something out of their control instead as more important.

Bellatrix's avatar

I think it is about accessibility and equality. No going to the cinema is not a necessity but it is a pleasure and why should only people with no hearing impairment enjoy that pleasure? Would it really cause a problem for those who do not need subtitles if they were provided? I think in Australia they are going to start offering subtitled sessions. I would happily go to those as much as a non-subtitled session. I read sub-titles when I watch a foreign language film.

filmfann's avatar

Here is a picture of my wife holding the device.
If you can’t see it there, try here

Judi's avatar

I might have felt a lot like the OP until I started losing my vision. I remember thinking, ” I really can’t believe how insensitive I’ve been! (I had always had perfect vision.) I know that you can’t truly empathise with a disability until you experience it yourself.

mrrich724's avatar

I have a few comments regarding these comments:

1) @marinelife ‘s idea is a great idea

2) The statements regarding subtitles for foreign accents or languages, I don’t get the point of that . . . of course you will appreciate them, b/c you can’t understand the movie otherwise, so that doesn’t draw a parallel to me not wanting subtitles I don’t need. Understood that a deaf person would need them, but if out of a theatre of 100 people, only one person wants them, I don’t think 99 should be subject to that. And I can’t understand how that would compare to protecting the minorities on the fringes of society ( @simone) who are being killed due to hate crimes, I’m sorry to me that’s just completely different.

3) For anyone to say that it is a “minor sacrifice” is something I’m struggling to understand. Me for example, if I didn’t care about picture quality, I’d just stay home and watch the movie on DVD, I think part of the moviegoing experience to many is that they want to see it unhindered on the big screen. And who is anyone to decide for the majority what is and is not a minor sacrifice. Obviously if it was no big deal, it would already be available, would it not? B/C if it were no big deal, adding it would cater to an even larger crowd, am I wrong?

@Bellatrix I think your point is a great point, and a much more viable option.

I just have an issue with two extremes in the woman’s point. One being that the ADA should somehow be involved in this, that the government should be involved in this is just a little on the path to an Orwellian 1984 to me and that all movies everywhere should make this available is acknowledging the deaf person’s want/need at the expense of the (more than likely) many many many more people who prefer not to have to see them.

There are a hundred different things to think about regarding this topic, but the thing that really got me was the ADA part of it, why not let the market dictate what should and should not be available? If the film industry (and movie theatre industry) can’t find enough people to make this a profitable venture, why should they be forced to do it? If it will make more people leave the theatre than enter it . . . need I go on?

I’d love to make everyone have access to everything EVAR, but in reality that simply will not be the case, and so you go with what benefits the majority, no?

saint's avatar

If the people who make movies want to expand their market, they will produce movies with subtitles. If theatres want to expand their market they will show them. Since this would require a special theatre for those who needed the subtitles, and thus eliminate one other movie title that might be shown, the ticket price would reflect this accomodation. But, other than that, it sounds like a good idea.

mrrich724's avatar

@filmfann thanks for sharing, that’s an interesting device!

mrrich724's avatar

@saint that thought exactly is a part of my thought process, and the fact that it isn’t out now as a mainstream option just illustrates to me, the point that it’s OBVIOUSLY not making that major of an impact, that it’s not a venture identified as one that would generate revenues…

Mariah's avatar

A completely free market screws over the disabled. That is an unfortunate fact. It will probably always cost more to provide accommodations than you’ll earn from the expanded market. This is why organizations to look after the welfare of the disabled exist, because businesses won’t care otherwise.

When you are disabled you get screwed over at every turn, it’s not fair; shouldn’t we do what we can to alleviate that?

Bellatrix's avatar

@mrrich724 I am not sure what the ADA is, but I am guessing it is a government department? I am not really into the government mandating on these things either, but if it wasn’t for government legislation people with disabilities would probably still be unable to enter shopping centres and other public buildings. Educational facilities could still produce materials with little or no consideration for accessibility.

We live in a diverse society and meeting the needs of all citizens seems to me to be an important part of living part of democracy. Yes, the majority rule but if it does no harm to the majority, making decisions that create broader accessibility seems like the right way to go. I don’t think it will happen without some pressure though.

Also, in many countries we have ageing populations. While the majority might not need these things now, the chances are the percentage that do is going to grow over the coming decades.

mrrich724's avatar

@Mariah that is a good point. Which leads me to pose this question. . . where is the line? Is it at guaranteeing equal opportunity to get a job, or have access to the grocery store, or do we give over much more control, in this case to the point that theatres must use CC format? None the less, VERY good point.

Also, a cement ramp into a grocery store doesn’t FORCE able bodied people to use it . . . if the captions are directly on the screen there is no other option.

@Bellatrix It’s The Americans with Disabilities Act. So it’s a piece of legislation .. . if you google Americans with Disabilities Act wikipedia it will have much more info. So it’s not a deparment per se, but it brings attention to these issues in a way to guarantee rights for disabled Americans, a noble cause.

Mariah's avatar

@mrrich724 Thanks. I guess my answer to where we would draw the line would relate back to my first answer; I personally think we should do what we can to allow the disabled to enjoy as many of life’s offerings as possible. It is tricky when it involves a “sacrifice” for the majority but fortunately in this case alternatives that don’t hinder others’ enjoyment exist (like @filmfann‘s example). I could get behind having those mandated.

Our local movie theater has occasional captioned showings, and I think mandating those would also be reasonable.

I do agree it’s a weird thing to mandate, but like I said, pure free markets will screw over the disabled.

Judi's avatar

The key with ADA is “reasonable accommodation.” I think allowing hearing impaired people to borrow an amplification device like I have seen in many Churches, or glasses as @marinelife suggested, or even some sort of hand held device would be considered a “reasonable” accommodation.

gailcalled's avatar

There are a huge number of people who find the sound tracks of many movies pre-set to a deafening volume. Is that reasonable?

At my local indie theater, the management provides free earmuffs for those of us who don’t want to lose the hearing we have left.

Sitting in a theater and wearing ear phones to muffle the volume detracts from my movie-going experience many times.

CWOTUS's avatar

I think – have always thought – that the ADA was a terrible law as written. It was completely irresponsible, I think, for Congress to pass (and for the President to sign) federal law with a requirement that nearly the entire society should make “reasonable accommodation” for disability.

Please don’t misunderstand: I think it is excellent policy. If Congress had issued a proclamation that “reasonable accommodation” for disability should be a particular aim of the nation, or if the President had militated for it from his bully pulpit, and if federal procurement had been based upon contractors following specific, measurable requirements to make particular accommodations, I think that would have been fine. Wonderful, even. I am happy to see that things have started to change so that our entire society is becoming more and more accessible to more and more people. But for the term “reasonable accommodation” to exist in federal law is inexcusably lazy.

To the extent that contractors and business owners – but not Congress! – are essentially extorted into making more and more (and more and more expensive) changes, I think it’s bad law. If business owners want to appeal to wider groups of people, as @filmfann suggested above, then they should (and generally will) opt to do that. This kind of thing should not be extorted out of them, though. Not by our own government.

john65pennington's avatar

I wear hearing aids and have lost about 70% of my hearing in both ears, due to a gun battle with a criminal, in 1966.

Even when wearing my hearing aids, I still have some difficulty understanding some words spoken by people, especially on television and the movies.

Even with my hearing loss, I do not believe subtitles, in movies, should not

be a necessity. Subtitles are distracting, even with people that are totally deaf.

I say leave it alone for the time being.

Generally, the movie volume is so loud in a theatre, that subtitles are not necessary.

linguaphile's avatar

[redacted}

Soupy's avatar

I like having subtitles on when I watch TV, but I know it drives my family nuts. For that reason I would not mandate subtitles in theatres. While it’s a minor thing for some people, there’s a large group of people for whom it may spoil the movie.

linguaphile's avatar

@mrrich724 Here’s some background information. In many areas, captioned films usually are shown at 2pm on Tuesday, 10 AM on Thursday, or other empty theater times. The movie houses do hear the customers’ complaints about the captions interfering with movie viewing pleasure, but they tend to relegate captioned films to times when only SAHMs with kids or retirees can go, then use the lack of viewers to justify cutting back their offerings even further—it’s a Catch 22. It’s extremely rare, even in the Twin Cities, for films to be captioned from Thursday afternoon through Sunday night. The availability isn’t there and it’s ridiculous to expect us to patronize 10am showings—so some deaf people feel like going to the opposite extreme of requiring ALL films to be captioned is the solution. Then the people that don’t mind won’t complain, but the theaters will hear from those who don’t like subtitles, not the ones who don’t mind them.

In my opinion, there should be a compromise where more captioned films are offered during regular family movie viewing times and more frequently, but that there should be a notation when tickets are sold with a C inside a square so all moviegoers have the option to choose a different movie if the C’s bother them. Like others said, captions can also be appreciated by late-deaf or people who are losing their hearing so the C notation would give them that option.

There is something called Rear View captioning where you put a screen in your eyesight range and it reflects words from the back of the theater onto your screen. That would be like the “reading glasses” idea some suggested Problem- I’ve had many shows where the film tech in the back forgot to turn them on or they’d be out of sync. If someone wants to leave the aisle and knocks it off, I have to readjust, sometimes taking 1 or 2 minutes to relocate the caption reflection. it’s not the best option, but it seems to make most hearing people happier. This company is creating different options for filmgoers, including the magic glasses.

To get an idea of availability, go to the CaptionFish site Filmfann mentioned and you’ll see what I mean by availability. Big cities, not too bad, small towns zilch.

A happy medium would do.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@mrrich724 Thing is, I’m not sure it’s really 99% who find it disruptive, and only 1% who would like it. Based on this question (which is not by any means a scientific study), it seems more like 95% of people would be ok with it, and only 5% would have a problem with it. Now, again, not really a representative number, but let’s say it is – does your position still stand, that the fringes of society don’t count as much? And even looking at a number that’s probably closer to reality, it’s not just profoundly deaf people who like CC – seniors are a large part of the population, and at-home audio equipment that can blow out your eardrums makes seniors of us all. And then there’re the people who maybe don’t need CC so much, but are a minority in another way or sympathetic towards minorities and would like to take those concerns into consideration. So I’d be surprised if it wasn’t at least more like 20% that would be in favor of this, and not higher – is 20% a big enough number for them to have a voice?

mrrich724's avatar

@Aethelflaed if your numbers were the representative numbers, my position does not still stand.

I’m not sure I think the ADA should get involved in this kind of issue either way, BUT if the numbers stood to show that a majority of people didn’t mind, and would still go to the movies, my position would not stand.

Whether the numbers were 95% people minded, or 55% people minded, then I wouldn’t want it because in a case like this, where someone’s civil liberties weren’t being violated, then whatever benefits the majority should prevail. If 51% of the people didn’t want captions, then I wouldn’t think there should be captions, if it were 50/50 split, I’d think captions would be fine as it would allow all people to see it without affecting the majority

In any case, thanks for all the responses to this article, as I think every one of them were contributory.

Another thing to think about is what is a “reasonable accomodation” and who has the right to decide that? What some might consider reasonable, others might not…I’m not talking about in this case, but just in general…

LuckyGuy's avatar

In my previous life I worked in a large engineering center with about 500 people. Two employees were deaf. Whenever there was an all employee meeting they had two interpreters hand signing. I found it fascinating to watch their facial expressions and hand movements. So much so that I could not follow the actual presentation.
If I really wanted to listen to the presentation I had to seat myself someplace where I couldn’t see the interpreters.
I wonder how much those inerpreter cost the company.

mrrich724's avatar

@luckyguy that is a great example! When I used to go to church, they had a section for the deaf where there were several signers, and I would be captivated by those signers for the enogerty of the church service! Lol

But the signers are much more interesting than subtitles >)

JLeslie's avatar

My only hesitation would be wanting to know the cost to a company to add subtitles. I think I would only put into law a requirement for high budget films maybe? Not sure if that can be done. Overall I agree with @Simone_De_Beauvoir‘s basic point that the law is there to protect the minority, that is what our US laws are supposed to do. The majority easily gets their way either through democratic process or market demands. Many Americans have so much tied psychologically to the democratic pricess and market driven dynamics that they even tie morality into it, and tend to easily ignore the needs or demands of the minority.

A friend of mine who is Italian-Venezuelan once said to me if she ever had a disability she would definitely want to live in America, because here we do so much to accomodate everyone. She lived in FL, where ADA is very visable, because there is so much new residential and commercial construction, and large hotels and building, and there many times is more handicapped parking spaces than the minimum required. My Mexican MIL once commented on how in America we take out our downs syndrome children into public, or those with other disabilities (there was a family who had a teenage son with a bad case of tourettes who we used to see in parts of town) and how it allowed families with disabled children to not be confined to their homes. I mean really, we should be incredibly proud that we want everyone to live as free and independent as possible. That life, amd our ability to participate, is not over because the universe handed us a curve ball.

After @filmfann explanation that there actually is a device that provides subtitles for the deaf, or anyone who prefers subtitles, and the rest of the theatre can watch the movie without subtitles, that seems like a great solution.

I also don’t understand why subtitles are such a big deal? I don’t feel it disrupts the movie much at all. So much of the world watches our American movies with subtitles.

In summation, I feel when considering these types of requiremements we have to be aware of the practical side, the expense to business, how difficult it is to modify, and how it might impact the majority. But, I hope our gut reaction, or basic feeling is that we want everyone to be able to enjoy the movies; or whatever the topic is, movies, restaurants, shopping; and start from a place of wanting to accomodate those with disabilities. It is a there but the grace of God go I situation. It could be any of us in the same situation.

linguaphile's avatar

Just a little sidebar…. Everyone should see this video I really appreciate how this guy represents the international community.

CWOTUS's avatar

So cool, @linguaphile. Thanks for that. Where would you recommend that a noob start to learn ISL?

linguaphile's avatar

@CWOTUS You’re welcome and I’m glad you enjoyed it! Depends on where they are… a lot of community colleges offer American sign language but those vary in quality just as much as any other class. One thing to look for is whether the teacher has an ASLTA certificate. As for other countries, I am not sure but I can find out.

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