Movie theaters to show captions for the deaf

Suit settlement applies to only Washington area

May 07, 2004|By Paul Singer | Paul Singer,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - When Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry character sneered, "Go ahead - make my day," the line became such a cultural phenomenon that President Ronald Reagan repeated it in daring Congress to pass a tax increase he could veto.

But John Stanton and millions of other deaf Americans did not recognize the reference. The line comes from a 1983 movie that - like virtually all other American movies released since the end of the silent film era - had no subtitles or captions for the hearing-impaired.

Now a lawsuit filed by Stanton and two other deaf moviegoers against two major movie chains may change that, paving the way for a broad expansion of captioning devices for the hearing-impaired in theaters throughout the country.

In a settlement approved by a federal judge last week, the theater chains - AMC Theaters and Loews Cineplex - agreed to install individual captioning devices in a dozen theaters in the D.C. area over the next year.

"I'm probably going to be deaf for the rest of my life," said Stanton, a Washington lawyer. "I hope I'm going to live to see the day where almost every movie is caption-accessible. ... I think our settlement is a very good starting point."

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler approved the settlement April 30. While it applies only to the Washington area, it "will set the standard for what other communities, at a very minimum, should be offering," she said.

The deal calls for use of Rear Window captioning technology, designed to help hearing-impaired moviegoers without blocking others' view, that provides the user a small plastic panel attached to a seat's cup holder. The captions are displayed on the back wall of the theater, and the reflection is visible on the panel but invisible to patrons in adjoining seats.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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