Captioning in Theaters | Deaf Awareness Month

Open captions, OC for short, are king.

Today, for Deaf Awareness Month, I wanted to talk about different methods of captioning in theaters.

The worst method is Rear Window Captioning, abbreviated to RWC. The way it works is you put it in the cup holder, there’s a rod/bendy arm, and a large piece of glass that you have to adjust to reflect the back of the theater. They have a LED thing in the back that will have captions that show, but they’re reversed so the reflection shows correctly. Not ideal.

The next method is slightly better, but not by much. CaptiView. This, how it works, is basically, again with the cup holder. But instead of glass, it’s a LED box. It’ll show captions inside, with LEDs. It’s alright.

Next, the Sony glasses. How they work is the pieces of glass in front of your eyes, they will project – kind of like Google Glass. That idea, kind of. It shows the captions there, you can adjust up and down a little bit, you can adjust the distance. Kind of.

Then of course, we have open captions (OC) on the screen, right there for everyone to see.

Pretty much all of the deaf people I know prefer OC, for many reasons. I will go ahead and go through some reasons why we don’t like other systems.

First one, for all of them – RWC, CaptiView, and the glasses – they are limited to one person. Only one person can use these at a time. While with OC, everyone can see them at the same time. Meaning if you have a big group that wants to go see a movie together, you have to do OC. You have to. Because most theaters will have maybe five each – not each type, no – five total. If you’re lucky.

The problem with RWC is that it’s literally a piece of glass that you have to adjust yourself a lot to be able to get it right. And if you don’t sit in the right place, it can be really annoying to get it right. And once you’re set, you can’t move for the whole movie. Pretty much. The same applies to CaptiView, you can’t move. Same with the glasses, a little bit. Once you get it perfect, and you’re satisfied with how it’s set up, that’s your sitting position for the rest of the movie. If I want to relax, I can’t. Because I have to re-adjust it. Or…

Another problem with RWC and CaptiView, they rely on the cup holder. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes it will keep falling down, and I have to keep putting it back. Or the bendy part will not work that well, so it’ll be fine for five minutes then slowly droop down and stop working.

CaptiView and the glasses, both of them heavily rely on a signal from the theater itself, the individual room. Sometimes, I’ll sit down and find it connected to the wrong theater. I have to fiddle with it, change it and say no, I want theater 14, not theater 8. It’s usually not that bad, but the point is, it will connect to the wrong theater and give me the wrong captions. So I get annoyed and have to adjust it. Sometimes, I don’t even realize that until the movie starts. Looking at the screen, and the captions aren’t matching what they’re saying. Ay! Adjust it.

Another problem with both of those is that both of them require batteries. If the battery’s half alive, it will die in the middle of the movie. It will. Theaters aren’t always the best at making sure they have full batteries.

CaptiView should be able to do three lines of captions, but it doesn’t. Often, if the caption file is a little bit long, it will do two lines and there should be a third, it shows the next line, and skips that third line. It won’t show it at all, so I’m missing some dialogue sometimes.

RWC and CaptiView, I can lean my head, adjust my body a little bit, but I pretty much have to stay in line with where the devices are so I can see. With the glasses, nope. You have to hold your head still for the whole movie. Because the glasses don’t, like… It’s not like it’s projected on the screen and only the glasses can see, no, it’s projected on the glasses themselves. So if I tilt my head, the captions tilt with it. It’s really annoying sometimes, because if I’m just scratching my head, or I’m moving my body trying to get more comfortable, there’s moving captions. It can be a little bit disorienting.

All three are awkward to use, the first two use cup holders, they’re heavy metal, awkward to carry, getting them into the right place… The glasses are a lot lighter than the first two, that’s for sure. But. The glasses aren’t like these. These glasses are light and easy. But the captioning glasses, like I showed in the picture, they have these things on the sides that are the projectors. Those can get really heavy after a two, three hour movie. Often, when you take them off, you’ll have the marks on your nose left because they’re so heavy. Sore neck and everything. It’s not comfortable. And the glasses, not just that, they have a wire to a box that receives the signal and sends information.

All of those problems from those methods… Don’t apply to OC. Sometimes, sure, they’ll forget to turn on the captions. They’ll apologize and turn them on, go on like usual. But… I can’t remember an OC movie that I went into that had so many problems that I was frustrated watching the movie. I’ve always went in with OC, great, sit and enjoy the movie. I could move around, I was comfortable, no sore neck or eyes. That’s why deaf people really prefer OC over almost any other method, because there’s so few problems with it.

Right now in my area, Seattle, there are two theaters that do OC regularly. Independent theaters, I have to emphasize that, independent theaters. One is in Edmonds, called The Edmonds Theater. The second one is Ark Lodge Cinemas in south Seattle, the Columbia City area. Edmonds will do it roughly every other Sunday, sometimes they’ll add another time on Monday or… Depending on the movie, how popular, etc. Ark Lodge shows on Tuesdays. Every Tuesday, they will have one movie with OC. Now, the downside of that, I can only go during those times. I can’t decide, oh, I’m free on Friday afternoon, I want to go watch a movie. That is one, ONE, pro of the other methods. I can go in at any time I want and say hey, I want to watch this movie with the glasses, or whatever. That’s one pro. But… Honestly, I really prefer OC enough that I’m willing to figure it out, make time for going on Tuesdays at 7pm, or Sundays at 1 pm.

I don’t know about Edmonds, but I know that Ark Lodge is struggling financially right now. I wish I could go more often to support them, but… I just can’t, because it’s not accessible all the time for me. Which I understand! It’s a small independent theater, only three screens in that one. Edmonds has only one screen, so… The fact that they’re even willing to do OC is fantastic.

Generally, big theaters like AMC, Regal, and so on, don’t do OC any more, because they have either the glasses or CaptiView, or RWC. *shudders* So. Some will do it if you request it. Which I think is ridiculous. Because from my understanding, all theaters get the movie file, and there is already a caption file with the movie. They don’t have to request it, or pay extra, no. It’s already included in the movie file. So really, it’s as simple as clicking on, that’s it. So it’s a little bit frustrating that most theaters go “we don’t want to do OC, because we’ll lose money.” No you won’t! Another frustrating thing about theaters in general, if they say okay, we will do OC… They tend to pick the times that people are least likely to go. Like, 12:30 on a Wednesday afternoon, or 10 in the morning on Monday. Most of us have school, work, we have lives? So during the nights are best for us. You pick during the day, then say well, people aren’t coming. What do you expect?

It’s a lot of extra work for us. It’s exhausting.

This is the main reason why most deaf people don’t go to theaters, because it’s just so much work, it’s a hassle trying to figure out if there will be good captions. Often, if we go and end up having captions disconnecting, or not even working the whole movie, or the battery dies, or whatever reason. And often movie theater will say oh sorry, here’s a free ticket. Thanks, but I don’t want a free ticket. I want my money back. And most of the time, they won’t give your money back, because of policy or whatever, so.

That’s all I have to say for today. If there’s anything I didn’t say, go ahead and comment it down below. Let me know what your thoughts are on this. I know it’s really frustrating. I hope you learned something from this, if you didn’t know about this whole situation.

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Published by Rogan Shannon

Hello there! I'm Rogan, a queer deaf guy who has a passion for leadership and advocacy. I create YouTube videos about a lot of different topics - being deaf, queer, reading, language, and whatever else interests me!

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