When Matthew Lake and his friends want to go to the movies, they drive an hour from their Toledo-area homes to Novi, Mich. If they are lucky, the movie they want to watch will be showing in open-captioning at the Emagine movie theater.
Matthew Lake, 19, has a severe to profound hearing loss. Born deaf, he has worn high output digital hearing aids since he was 5 months old. Unless a movie is captioned so he can read what the actors are saying to each other, he cannot understand, much less enjoy it, because he relies on lip reading.
Last week, Matthew and his friends drove to Novi to watch this summer's blockbuster Spider-Man 2. On the same day, Richard Lake, Matthew's father happened to drive by the Showcase Cinemas Toledo on Secor Road. He noticed that the theater had three screenings of the movie, none of which his son could watch and understand.
"It pained me that my son had to drive an hour away just to watch and enjoy a movie with his friends," said the father.
The first and last time the Lake family watched an open-captioned movie in Toledo was in 1998 when Titanic was released in captions at the Showcase Cinemas Maumee.
Jennifer Hanson, a spokesman for National Amusements that owns the Showcase theaters, said the Maumee theater screens open-captioned movies "about once a month," and the movies are advertised on the theater's Web site. The theater is installing a new captioning system that should be available in the fall, she said. Hearing-impaired people will be able to sit anywhere in any theater and understand what is going on in the film.
According to the Toledo Deaf Resource Center, there are more than 6,500 deaf and hard-of-hearing people in Toledo and Northwest Ohio. Sue Rosenberg, the center's executive director, said the deaf community in this area is such a hidden culture that "most people don't even know about it. A lot of them don't go to the movies because they can't understand what's going on."
Novi's Emagine theater has been screening open-captioned movies for the deaf and hard-of-hearing for more than a year. The movies are distributed to the theater by Insight Cinema, a company in California that specializes in captioning movies.
The captioned movies are generally screened within a week or two after their initial release.
"People can still catch them when they're hot in theaters," said Gary Butske, the theater's manager.
Since the theater started captioning movies, the deaf and hard-of-hearing in Novi have formed movie-going clubs and the theater frequently e-mails them listings of the movies and the times when they are showing in captions.
"We have had a very good response from the deaf community," said Mr. Butske.
Richard Lake, a heating and air-conditioning contractor has long accepted his son's disability. He even moved his family from Maumee to Lambertville to take advantage of the school system in Ida, where his son went to a school for the deaf and hearing impaired.
"Life is tough enough for these people. They face a lot of hurdles in life. Captioning in theaters shouldn't be one of them," he said.
In May, Judge Gladys Kessler of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, approved a settlement in a class-action lawsuit by deaf and hard-of-hearing movie patrons in the Washington, D.C., area against the Loews Cineplex and AMC Theater chains.
The theaters agreed to install Rear Window Captioning, after three deaf plaintiffs brought action against them alleging that a lack of captioning was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
With the new technology, the theaters can caption first-run movies without altering the nature of the movie. A hearing-impaired patron can use a transparent acrylic panel attached to a seat to reflect captions, which appear superimposed on the movie screen.
The reflective panels, which are portable and adjustable, allow the caption user to sit anywhere in the theater. So far, more than 70 movie theaters in the United States have installed the system, said Amanda Moment, a spokesman for the WGBH media group in Boston that developed it.
Yesterday, the National Amusements spokesman said the theater chain had decided to install Rear Window Captioning in its theaters. In Toledo, the system is anticipated to be installed in the Showcase Cinemas Maumee by the end of August.
"We have heard from area residents that this is an important issue in the community," said Ms. Hanson. She added that the system will also have the Picture Access component, an audio descriptive program that enables blind movie-goers to enjoy movies at the theater.
The Maumee theater will host an open-house event to launch the system's installation in the fall, said Ms. Hanson.
Contact Karamagi Rujumba at: