May 10, 2013

Closed-captioning glasses aid hearing-impaired moviegoers

Regal installs special technology to transform the theatrical experience for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

By RICHARD VERRIER Los Angeles Times

Raymond Smith Jr. has been trying for nearly two decades to make the movie industry listen to the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing.

deaf moviegoers
click image to enlarge

Lisa Yuan, who is hearing impaired, wears glasses that show captions at a Regal theater in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Times photo

This month, the senior executive at Regal Entertainment Group will come closer to his goal.

His company, the nation's largest theater chain, will have nearly 6,000 theater screens equipped with closed-captioning glasses that could transform the theatrical experience for millions of deaf and hard-of-hearing patrons who have shunned going to the cinema because previous aids were too clunky or embarrassing to use.

The Knoxville, Tenn., chain has invested more than $10 million in the glasses, which were developed by Sony Electronics Inc. Resembling thick sunglasses, the device uses holographic technology to project closed-caption text that appears inside the lenses, synchronized with the dialogue on the screen.

The system also includes headphones connected to a wireless receiver, with separate audio channels, which play dialogue or allow visually impaired users to listen to a narration track of the film.

For Smith, the investment is the culmination of a personal journey. His son Ryan is deaf. The 23-year-old college student and aspiring screenwriter played an important role in Regal's decision to order the glasses last year.

"He was our guinea pig," said Smith, counsel and chief administrative officer for Regal. "Every time a new prototype came out, he gave me immediate feedback."

Until now, movie options for the deaf and hearing impaired have been limited. Initially, studios released few movies with captions. Exhibitors screened them infrequently, or at odd hours. When cinemas introduced closed-caption devices mounted in seats, many users found them clunky, conspicuous or incompatible with their hearing aids.

The new Sony glasses -- which cost theater owners $1,750 (including a receiver and transmitter) but are free to customers -- don't have such problems, advocates say.

"They don't stand out or make you look different, and people don't have to dip their heads to look at a screen and miss what's going on," said Nanci Linke-Ellis, a partner in Captionfish, a search engine for captioned movies and trailers. "The majority of people I know have not gone to the movies in 35 years because the technology wasn't available. This is a game changer."

 

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)