BOSTON - As the nation celebrates the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, hearing and visually impaired residents of Massachusetts will gain greater accessibility to movie theaters through a settlement reached by Attorney General Martha Coakley with the three largest movie theater chains in Massachusetts.
The agreement was reached with American Multi-Cinema, Inc. ("AMC"), Regal Entertainment Group ("Regal"), and National Amusements, Inc., d/b/a Showcase Cinema ("National Amusements"). Coakley announced the settlement at an event with disability advocates and state agency officials held at a movie theater equipped with the new technology located at the WGBH Studios in Brighton.
Under the terms of the settlement, each chain must ensure that every location in Massachusetts is equipped with accessible technology that will provide meaningful access to the hearing and visually impaired, including captioning technology and description technology. Captioning technology takes a movie's sound (dialogue, music, sound-effects) and converts it to a captioned format that a hearing impaired audience member can read. Description technology provides a narration of what is displayed visually on the movie screen (action, scene changes, facial expressions) during natural pauses in the movie's soundtrack through headphones worn by the visually impaired.
Today's agreements are part of Attorney General Coakley's ongoing effort to ensure that access for people with disabilities keep pace with changing technologies. AG Coakley's Civil Rights Division met with several deaf and blind residents alleging discrimination because of the absence of this accessible technology.
"Twenty years ago, this country signaled its unwavering commitment to the rights of people with disabilities, and today we take another step forward to improve access for all of our residents," said Attorney General Coakley. "Movies are a significant part of our social and cultural fabric and these settlements help ensure that the hearing and visually impaired have meaningful access to them and may enjoy them alongside friends and family members. Our office commends Regal, National Amusements and AMC for demonstrating their commitment to greater accessibility. The ADA requires accessibility to keep up with changes in technology and these agreements demonstrate the power new technology can have to increase access for all of our citizens."
"As the Commissioner for the Blind in Massachusetts, I am pleased that this settlement finally guarantees meaningful access to these movie theaters for deaf and blind individuals," said Janet LaBreck, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind. "As an individual who is blind, I look forward to taking advantage of this new assistive technology that dramatically enhances the movie-going experience with verbal descriptions of key scenes and actions on the screen."
"We applaud the Attorney General's efforts to increase access to the movies for the hearing impaired," said Commissioner Heidi Reed of the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. "Increasing the number of theaters equipped to show captioned movies ensures that deaf and hard of hearing people can meaningfully access the movie-going experience with their family and friends like everyone else. "
Steven M. Rothstein, President, Perkins School for the Blind, comments, "Anyone who loves going to the movies with friends understands the cultural power of making movie theatres accessible to everyone. Audio description technology makes it possible for people with visual impairments to experience the most universal of contemporary art forms. When theatres offer audio described films, Perkins students and all people with impaired vision not only get to enjoy going to the movies, they get to be more fully engaged in their community, society and modern culture."
The settlements announced today provide the greatest level of access for the hearing and visually impaired anywhere in the country. Specifically, the agreements ensure that 100% of these theaters ‘locations will have at least one accessible auditorium Moreover, hearing and visually impaired individuals for the first time will have a choice of accessible movie options at their theaters with 10 or more screens. As a result, the total number of accessible auditoriums will increase 450% from 14 to 63 and the number of locations with multiple accessible screens will increase from 0 to 27. Below are highlights of the settlements:
• New Accessibility Equipment Required for Existing Theaters: Within 90 days, the three chains will begin installing new accessibility equipment to ensure that all of their locations have at least one accessible auditorium:
• Multiple Accessible Auditoriums for Large Locations (10+ Screens): Theater locations with 10 or more screens are required to have at least two accessible auditoriums, one of which will be in the locations' largest auditorium. This ensures that hearing and visually impaired patrons do not have to wait for blockbuster films to make their way to the smaller auditoriums that have historically been equipped with accessibility equipment.
• Additional Equipment for Central Locations: A third captioning and descriptive video system at the AMC-Lowes Boston Common 19, and because of its centrality and convenience to public transportation, and an additional descriptive video system for the blind at AMC Harvard Square 5 and Regal Fenway 13because of their proximity to the Perkins School for the Blind.
• Newly Constructed or Acquired Theaters: The theater chains agree to install accessibility equipment in any theater built or acquired in Massachusetts going forward.
• Free Movie Tickets for the Visually and Hearing Impaired: The theater chains agree to provide over 200 free movie passes to the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind and the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to distribute to hearing and visually impaired residents.
• Community Awareness Events: AMC and National Amusements each agree to sponsor 2 community awareness events to promote the introduction of this new accessibility equipment to the disabled community.
As an advocate for civil rights, AG Coakley's Office enforces federal and state laws protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities, and works to eliminate discriminatory barriers to services and programs and works to ensure accommodations for people with disabilities. AG Coakley's Office works collaboratively with other state attorneys general, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, and various state agencies, local disability rights advocates, commissions, and independent living centers, among others, to address the needs in the disability community. Individuals who believe that their civil rights have been violated in Massachusetts or are seeking additional information about their civil rights are encouraged to contact the Attorney General's Civil Rights Division at (617) 727-2200 or (617) 727-4765 (TTY) or to visit the Civil Rights portion of the Attorney General's website.
This case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Adam Hollingsworth and Bethany Brown of Attorney General Coakley's Civil Rights Division.