Advocacy Groups, DOJ, Screen Actors Guild Support Audio Description in Movie Theaters

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This is a short post about a court case. A court in Arizona ruled against blind people who want audible information about movies. There will be an appeal. Many groups are trying to convince the court to protect the rights of blind movie goers.

The post here was written in advance of the federal court argument about captioning and description. Another post was written after the argument, and includes quotes from the Judges. Read about the hearing with Judge’s quotes here.

On January 13, 2010, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco will hear oral argument in an important case regarding the rights of movie-goers with visual and hearing impairments. The argument will be held in Courtroom 2 on the 3rd floor of the Federal Court building located in San Francisco at 95 Seventh Street at the corner of 7th and Mission. The phone number for the court is (415) 355-8000.

The appeal challenges a 2008 District Court decision out of Arizona holding that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require theaters to install descriptive video equipment. The federal district court in Arizona also ruled that captioning is not required for deaf or hard of hearing movie patrons. Harkins Theaters is the movie chain being sued for refusing to provide captioned and audio described films.

Descriptive video equipment, also referred to as audio description or descriptive narration equipment, is a technology that allows blind and visually impaired movie patrons to hear descriptions of visual elements in a movie through head sets provided at the theater. You can experience audio description directly by visiting a captioned and described clip from the Lion King prepared by the National Center for Accessible Media.

The Law Office of Lainey Feingold and co-counsel Linda Dardarian filed an Amicus Brief explaining why the court’s decision should be reversed. Contrary to the lower court’s ruling, the ADA does require movie theaters to install descriptive video equipment. The National Association of the Deaf filed a separate amicus brief explaining why captioning is required.

The amicus brief on the audio description issues was filed on behalf of several disability advocacy organizations, including the American Council of the Blind, the American Foundation for the Blind, and the American Association of People with Disabilities. Rio Popper, a nine year old girl who is blind and loves movies, also participated as an amicus.

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) joined the disability groups in urging the Ninth Circuit to reverse the lower court decision. In coalition with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) and Actors’ Equity Association (AEA), SAG is part of the tri-union IAMPWD (Inclusion in the Arts and Media of People With Disabilities) a disability rights campaign to improve and promote the accuracy, inclusion and access of people with disabilities in all areas of entertainment and news media.

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has also weighed in on behalf of the rights of visually and hearing impaired movie goers. Despite objections from the movie chain, the Ninth Circuit agreed to accept the DOJ’s brief.

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