Bills would make movies and in-flight entertainment accessible

Senator Tom Harkin has introduced legislation to require captioning and video descriptions at movie theaters and during in-flight entertainment

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Technologies like smartphone and tablets, and services like Netflix streaming and Amazon Prime, have exponentially increased the volume of entertainment available to many of us over the last few years. But, as I’ve written about before, many people with disabilities have been unable to access all of the TV shows, movies, online videos, etc. that are now available to many of us. New technologies have not only opened the floodgates of entertainment, but have also often excluded the hard of hearing, visually impaired or otherwise disabled consumers.

In-flight entertainment is usually not accessible

Image credit: flickr/zieak

Progress is slowly being made in some areas, thanks to legislation like the the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), which aims to make online video accessible via captioning. However, there are still other venues for entertainment where the decision to make content accessible has been left up to the service provider, with predictably poor results. Potentially good news came last week, though, in the form of two new pieces of legislation introduced by Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, that would require movie theaters and airlines’ in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems to provide captions and descriptions.

The first, the Captioning and Image Narration to Enhance Movie Accessibility (CINEMA) Act (Senate bill S.555), would require any theater with 2 or more screens to provide captioning (open or closed) and video descriptions for all movies. This would be an amendment to Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which already requires that any place of public accommodation (such as a movie theater) be physically accessible. Theater operators would have one year after enactment to implement these requirements.

Currently, hundreds of theaters across the country offer closed captioning and video descriptions, using technologies like Rear Window Captioning and DVS Theatrical, both of which were developed by the National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM). However, not every movie in these theaters offers captions or descriptions and many theaters do not offer these services at all. The CINEMA Act would require them at all showings at all theaters, other than single screen venues. The bill does not specify which particular captioning or description technology be implemented.

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