Business / Economy

Local theater listens to concerns of patrons with hearing loss

San Benito High School student's effort encourages Premiere Cinemas to expand closed-captioning offerings

Going to the movie theater is an activity that many people enjoy, as they simply select the movie they want to see and at what time and their choice is made. However, those choices are not so easy for members of the deaf community.

San Benito High School senior Rosario Valeria Duarte knows that deciding to go see a movie is not an easy task and that she must plan ahead. Duarte, who is hearing impaired, started a petition last spring to encourage Premiere Cinemas of Hollister to offer more closed-captioning devices. Four of the theater's 10 auditoriums are now equipped with closed-captioning readers.

Duarte, whose words were interpreted by Pat Green, said that the deaf community has access to closed-captioning at home on their computers and televisions, but they also want to have closed-captioning at movie theaters.

Closed-captioning helps those with hearing loss comprehend the dialogue, so they are not just looking at the visuals, but can understand the full scope of the film.

Premiere Cinemas Manager Craig Tankersley said the theater plans to list the movie titles on its website in order to show which ones playing that week will feature closed-captioning boxes. The site currently includes a message indicating that a closed-captioning system "is available in select auditoriums."

Duarte said her goal for encouraging the expansion of the closed-caption technology at the local movie theater is to provide “equal access to all the theaters." If a movie is only "at certain theaters, then what if the movie that I pick doesn’t have that captioning? I don’t think that’s fair, and it’s still not giving us equal access.”

When going to go see a movie with closed-captioning, Duarte no longer has to call in advance as she previously did. Now, all she has to do is request the device when she is at the box office. She also has to give her ID DMV card to hold as a deposit, of sorts, to ensure the return of the closed-captioning device. 

Access to closed-captioning devices at Premiere Cinemas, Duarte said, gives the hearing impaired a feeling of independence because they don’t have to rely on an interpreter, such as Green, in order to know what is going on in the film. Duarte shared that when she goes to the movies and is told the closed-captioning device is not available in that theater she has to rely on her boyfriend or another friend to tell her about what happened in the movie.

“I really like that we have closed-captioning boxes available at our local movie theater," Duarte said. "I enjoy going to the movies much better because I can understand what the movie is about. I do not have to ask someone to tell me what the movie said. I think more deaf people go to movies now because of closed-captioning."

Asked about the issue of closed-captioning devices at the local theater, SBHS Language and Speech Therapist and Circle of Friends advisor, Cassandra Guerrero, said she applauds Duarte's effort.  

“There is a large deaf community here and when they go to the movies whether they do have hearing aids or some type of amplification or not, the stereo systems make the sounds distorted, so even if the volume is cranked up all the way it doesn’t really help them hear and understand what’s happening in the movie," Guerrero said. "And then for the people who are completely deaf, obviously, they can’t hear what’s going on in the movie so the closed-captioning is really important to help them understand that."

Guerrero said she helped Duarte send a letter to Premiere Cinemas in order to raise awareness in the community about equal access to entertainment for all, including the deaf community. Guerrero said the theater staff is now better trained to work with customers who request the closed-captioning devices and Duarte and others have been able to watch and enjoy movies much more than they previously did.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities; doesn’t require movie theaters to provide closed-captioning for those with hearing disabilities, Guerrero said. However, Guerrero, Duarte, and Green said the appreciate the steps the local theater has taken and they hope that closed-captioning boxes will become available in all 10 of its theaters.

“Closed-captioning is very important for the deaf people," Duarte said. "We want to be like you —  included. That is fair."

Monica Ocampo