AMC Entertainment, the world’s largest cinema chain, will offer open captioning at 240 locations in the United States described as “a real step forward for people with hearing problems or for whom English is a second language”.

Cinemas provide closed captioning on devices that some customers describe as inconvenient and prone to malfunction. However, open subtitles are displayed on the screen in a similar way to subtitles; Everyone in the theater sees the same subtitles on the same screen.

Deaf and hard of hearing attorneys have long sought more and better quality subtitles, but theater owners fear that people who are not deaf will simply not see subtitles in the cinema.

“In some cases, including on-screen open captioning reduces ticket sales for the film,” said John Fithian, president and executive director of the National Association of Theater Owners, although he noted that the evidence was mostly anecdotal. He said the industry, whose business was battered by the pandemic, was studying the relationship between open captioning and ticket sales.

Christian Vogler, a professor at Gallaudet University, a Washington school that serves the deaf, said in an email, “Critics of open captioning have often argued that the wider listening audience would rebel or that it would be a losing proposition for them Theater. “He praised AMC’s move was announced last week, said: “The fact that a major national chain has changed heart is significant and could even open the floodgates for others to follow suit.”

Other major theater chains, including Regal Cinemas and Cinemark, didn’t respond to messages asking for comment, and AMC didn’t say what sparked the company’s decision.

But Mr Fithian, whose group represents large chains and small theater owners alike, said the industry has been paying more attention to subtitling lately as supporters of the deaf and hard of hearing have raised concerns about subtitling equipment.

“AMC is the first to go public with what they bring to market,” he said. “But this is all part of an industry-wide effort to improve access by both making sure our closed captioning systems work and by expanding the number of voluntary open caption shows across the country.”

The announcement brought a measure of hope to the deaf and hard of hearing.

Megan Albertz from South Florida was at a brewery on Saturday with a titled version of the 1995 Robin Williams film “Jumanji” playing in the background.

Ms. Albertz, 29, was born with profound hearing loss and, after previously watching “Jumanji” without a caption, realized that she had originally misunderstood scenes or dialogues of the characters.

“Over the years I have watched subtitled films that I have seen in theaters on various streaming platforms and have always been overwhelmed by how much language or lines I have missed,” she said in an email .

She called AMC’s decision a step towards “accessibility for all”, but wanted the company and the industry to further expand the open caption options.

In recent years, due to litigation, laws, and pressure from advocates for the rights of people with disabilities, the theater industry has expanded the subtitle setting. This equipment includes the Sony glasses used by Regal Cinemas and the Captiview device, which attaches to the cup holder of a theater seat and displays captions.

“These devices have their fans,” said Dr. Vogler from Gallaudet University, “are also widely despised because of their tendency to failures, misconfigurations, empty batteries and their inferior usability and ergonomics” subtitles.

AMC said that only selected, clearly identified show times would be offered with open captioning and that the “vast majority” of its show times would continue to be offered with closed captioning.

The company’s CEO, Adam Aron, noticed that the expansion came on time for Marvel’s “Eternals,” which is slated to open on November 5th and features Lauren Ridloff, an actress who is deaf from birth and plays the first deaf superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

In an interview with the New York Times in August, Ms. Ridloff said that most cinemas are inaccessible to the deaf, who are often viewed as “an afterthought.”

“You have to use a special subtitle device to see subtitles in the cinema, and that is a headache because the devices usually don’t work.” she said. “Then you have to go back to the front desk and find someone to help you, and by the time they find that it’s not working – that it is not subtitled at all – the film is halfway through.”

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