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For Immediate Release:  
For Further Information Contact:
March 2, 2005


Office of The Attorney General
- Peter C. Harvey, Attorney General

 

Lee Moore
609-292-4791

 
 

AG Announces Amended Discrimination Complaint Against Regal Theater Chain

State Seeks Installation of Digital Video Systems for the Visually Impaired

     

New Jersey Theaters Installing New Captioning Technology

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NEWARK – Attorney General Peter C. Harvey and Division on Civil Rights Director J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo announced today the filing of an amended discrimination complaint against Regal Entertainment Group, one of the nation’s largest multiplex theater companies, for failing to install technology that would provide access to first-run movies for deaf and hard of hearing patrons, as well as for the blind and visually impaired.

According to Harvey, the amended complaint contains a new accusation that Regal has violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) by not installing the DVS Technical System, a system that delivers narration for the blind and visually-impaired enabling them to better follow the action of a movie. DVS provides narrative descriptions through infrared listening systems, which the blind and visually impaired hear through audio headsets. Harvey said the descriptions heard by DVS users provide information about key visual aspects of films – for example, action settings and scene changes -- and therefore make the movie experience more meaningful for those with vision loss.

In addition to citing Regal for not installing DVS, the amended complaint reiterates an accusation from the State’s original complaint, filed in 2004 (see 9/15/04 press release), that Tennessee-based Regal has violated the LAD by failing to install certain captioning systems – Open Caption Projection or Rear Window Captioning -- that would allow the deaf and hard of hearing to enjoy first-run movies.

“Every adult and child -- regardless of his or her ability or disability -- should be able to fully enjoy the experience of going to the theater and experiencing a first-run film,” said Attorney General Harvey. “Movies are not only fun, they provide an important shared reference point in American culture, and are often the common thread that brings people together. For too long, this area of our popular culture has been virtually closed to the deaf and hard of hearing, the blind and the visually impaired, but we are committed to changing that.”

In September 2004, the Attorney General’s Office and the Division on Civil Rights reached voluntary settlement agreements with four major multiplex theater chains operating in New Jersey regarding the installation of new deaf captioning technology. Under terms of the settlement agreements, American Multi-Cinema (AMC), Loews Cineplex Theaters, Clearview Cinemas and National Amusements agreed to either equip their theaters with new captioning technology or, in multiplexes where the technology was already installed, to expand the number of screens offering such captioning. In each case, the four participating theater chains chose a form of closed captioning known as Rear Window Captioning, although the Attorney General’s Office has made plain that it views either Rear Window Captioning or another approach, known as Open Caption Projection, as “reasonable” accommodations for the deaf and hard of hearing, and has no preference.

According to Attorney General Harvey, the current estimated cost of installing Open Caption Projection equipment is about $12,500 per screen, while the estimated cost for Rear Window Captioning is about $10,000 per screen. The estimated cost of installing a DVS system is about $2,000.

Three of the four participating theater chains – AMC, Clearview, and National Amusements -- have also formally agreed to install DVS technology to accommodate the blind and visually impaired, said Division on Civil Rights Director Vespa-Papaleo. Regal has declined to install DVS, and has also refused to install Rear Window Captioning or Open Caption Projection to accommodate the deaf, apparently preferring to utilize a form of deaf captioning known commonly as ordinary “open captioning.”

Vespa-Papaleo said that the common type of open captioned films are unsatisfactorily limited in terms of providing the disabled “reasonable” accommodations. He said this common type of open captioning requires the captioning to be burned onto an individual reel of film, a process that is labor intensive and can take weeks, or even months, after the initial distribution of a movie. Because of the time-consuming process involved, Vespa-Papaleo explained, the deaf and hard of hearing must wait for extended periods after the initial run of a movie to view open-captioned films. Even when an open-captioned feature is shown in theaters, the Director explained, the film is usually screened only at occasional showings, and not during prime-time movie-going hours (for example, Friday and Saturday evenings). In addition, Vespa-Papaleo noted, there are typically a limited number of open-captioned film reels distributed throughout the nation. As a result, there may often be only one or two open-captioned copies of popular movies available per state.

“By contrast, a significant -- and growing -- number of first-run movies are being made which are compatible with Rear Window Captioning, Open Caption Projection and DVS technologies,” said Vespa-Papaleo. “Having these systems in place enables theaters to genuinely accommodate those with hearing loss or vision loss by enabling them to enjoy first-run movies during prime-time movie-going hours, just as everyone else does. Now for many people, they can attend first-run movies during peak times with their families and friends.”

“Our position is that Rear Window Captioning, Open Caption Projection and DVS are reasonable accommodations under the Law Against Discrimination,” said Harvey. “We believe they do not impose an undue burden on theater owners, because they are not exceedingly costly, nor do they require fundamental physical alterations. To their credit, other major theater companies operating in New Jersey already have their deaf captioning and DVS systems up and running.”

AMC, Clearview and National Amusements currently have their Rear Window Captioning systems in place and operational, as well as DVS Technical Systems to accommodate blind and vision-impaired patrons. Loew’s, the largest of the four theater chains to reach settlement with the State, was provided a more extended installation period, and is expected to have its Rear Window Captioning systems up and running in all theaters by April 1.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Harvey said the State is vigorously pursuing the litigation aimed at having Regal install new deaf captioning and DVS systems. In the coming months, he said, the State will seek deposition testimony from high-ranking Regal officials, and will be submitting a request for an extensive array of corporate documents.

Vito DeSantis, Executive Director of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, said the State’s amended complaint against Regal on behalf of those with vision loss is very important to furthering the cause of equal access for the disabled.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for blind and visually impaired people to have the same enjoyment from going to the movies as sighted people have,” said DeSantis, who has personally used the DVS system in New Jersey theaters since the recent settlement with several theater chains.

According to the most recent United States census, there are about 243,000 visually impaired persons living in New Jersey, approximately 39,000 persons who are legally blind, and about 8,000 who are totally blind. In addition, about 9 percent of the State’s 8-million-plus residents have some degree of hearing loss. Attorney General Harvey said the numbers suggest a significant cross-section of New Jerseyans with some degree of vision or hearing loss. He said their disabilities need not stand in the way of them joining others in the experience of watching a first-run movie in a neighborhood theater.

“Movie theaters are places of public accommodation and, under the Law Against Discrimination, those who own and operate such theaters have a duty to reasonably accommodate people with disabilities,“ said Harvey. “Our commitment is to make certain they do just that.”

Copies of the Regal complaint, copies of Consent Orders memorializing the settlements with AMC, Clearview, Loew’s and National Amusements, and other information pertaining to the State’s movie theater access initiative can be viewed on the Division on Civil Rights Web site at www.njcivilrights.org .

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