Approximately five years ago, movie patrons who have sensory disabilities were able to experience sights and sounds on-screen in an entirely new way. Moviegoers who are blind or vision-impaired are given a headset for the movie they are going to, and while the scenes are running, there is an audio description being narrated that tells the patron what the scene looks like, describes characters and their expressions, and fills in each scene when the dialog is silent. For patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing, there is a device that the patron wears like glasses that plays closed captioning, so that the patron can follow the dialog of the characters in the movie. If a patron is hard of hearing, they can use a headset that allows them to amplify the volume in order to hear the dialog better. While not every movie released has the audio description feature, most feature films do.
In 2016, legislation was put before Attorney General Loretta Lynch to make it a law that all multiplex theaters must offer these devices to people with sensory disabilities. This law was passed in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. Multiplex theaters have been required to be compliant and offer these devices since January 2017.
Unfortunately, both first-run movie theaters in Auburn do not offer these devices. When their management was questioned, they did not seem to know why or when they would make them available to patrons. A letter outlining the legislation and request for information was hand-delivered to both theaters and they were given 20 days to respond, in order to allow their input in this article.
Track Cinema, located at Fingerlakes Mall, did respond, and stated that they have looked into accessibility devices. However, the owners stated that the devices and initial setup were very expensive, running around $2,500 per auditorium. The theater has four auditoriums. They stated that this cost would be a burden. But they also asked about the potential for grants that would help them to implement the accessibility devices, as they would be willing to have them available if they received help with the costs.
To date, the Auburn Movieplex on Grant Avenue has not responded to the request for information on their theater. The cinema is owned by Rochester Theater Management, which also has theaters in Brockport, Canandaigua and Geneseo. Their listings on Fandango, a movie directory app, do not indicate that these theaters offer accessibility devices.
In summer 2012, my wife and I went to Fingerlakes Mall's movie theater to see Pixar's "Brave."
The 2016 U.S. Census identified over 7,000 people in Cayuga County who are deaf or hard of hearing, and over 5,000 people in the county who are blind or visually impaired. The closest theater that does offer accessibility devices is Movie Tavern in Camillus. It would be difficult for a person with a sensory disability to be able to travel independently out of the county in order to see a movie.
While this may seem like a small thing, much time and effort went into the passing of the legislation to make theaters compliant with these accommodations. As a disability advocate, I find it difficult to accept that I cannot go to a movie in my own county because the theaters here are not upholding the federal legislation that would allow me and thousands of others with sensory disabilities to access a movie here.
Track Cinema, under the ADA legislation, is allowed to claim an undue burden that would not cause them fines or legal implication for not being able to purchase accessibility devices. But this issue remains unresolved, presenting a barrier to the thousands of people in Cayuga County who have to go elsewhere in order to use a compliant theater and experience a movie fully.
There are thousands of barriers that a person who is disabled has to overcome, living in a world that is not designed for them. These technologies that break down some of the barriers allow people with sensory disabilities to feel whole when experiencing tasks or social situations. A day in the life of a person with a sensory disability is exhausting, in that they have to adapt to their surroundings while missing whole parts of vision or hearing. When the day is done, relaxing at the movies shouldn’t be problematic. Apparently, it was an important enough issue for the attorney general to spend her time on passing this legislation. We can only hope the local theaters are as invested in these protections to do what they can to make these accessible devices available to our county residents with sensory disabilities. While it is certain both theaters have reasons why they do not provide these devices to their patrons, this federal legislation needs to be enforced in order to ensure that this right is protected. In addition, implementing this accommodation would potentially increase movie ticket sales to the thousands of county residents who have sensory disabilities, as well as friends and family who would go with them to see a movie. An inclusive business is not only compliant, it makes good business sense.
“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” — Helen Keller