A Hearing Loss & Late Deafened Blog

A Night at the Movies

In Accommodations for Deaf, Hearing Loss on June 6, 2008 at 2:32 am

Last Saturday, I went to see “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” in rear-window captioning (RWC) with a friend. Though we got there early enough, the snaked around the corner by the time we found a parking space. When we finally made our way into the theater there were only a few scattered front row seats left. I have used Read Window Captioning in the past, and knew from experience that it wouldn’t work well in the front rows, since one needs to view the entire screen through the window panel.  Though theater staff insisted RWC “would work” throughout the theater, we decided to ask for a refund and come back.
My thoughts on this are that as “disabled” deaf people we should have been given priority seating. In fact there is “disabled” seating in the middle of the theater that people were using at the time.  None of them had canes, casts or wheelchairs with them.   I wonder if they would have been asked to move if we were in wheelchairs?  I’ll never know.

I have to say I actually feel a lot of anger toward the entire movie industry and Hollywood ever since they fought the ADA back in the 1980s.  I feel discriminated against. They are required to post Braille for the blind on their elevators and bathrooms. They are required to have wheelchair ramps for those who have difficulties walking, but captions are optional. Consequently, I don’t have Equal Access the way other disabled people do — and I’m pissed off about it. I can’t go to a movie with my family unless it is captioned in some way.  Movies in my area rarely are. 

SO– because the Cinerama offers captions out of the goodness of their hearts, I didn’t complain. We got our money back and decided to return earlier the next evening. The manager was even kind enough to refund the money spent on coffee and popcorn. Unfortunately, the $10.00 for parking and $4.00 for gas wasn’t refunded, not to mention the wasted time driving there.

Sunday night we arrived early and were among the very first in the theater. I quickly grabbed a manager for the RWC windshields while Loraine rushed into the theater to choose our seats. Our location was perfect. She found a spot smack dab in the center, right behind the wheelchair seating.
Next, we set up our viewing panels. You have to tilt them at just the right angle for the words to reflect. It had been a loooong time since I’ve used this contraption. The first and only other time was for the original Harry Potter movie back in 2002 or 2003 maybe. That time, the theater failed to show the captioned version that they advertised.  Hubby and I had to come back the next evening then too.

The words were up in the right hand corner this time. I remembered them being in the lower left last time. I think where you sit in the theater must determine where the words show up on your panel.  Or maybe things have changed since then.   I was glad we had left on Saturday as I wondered where the words would have shown up if we had been sitting right down in front.
Loraine and I discussed the fact that the words seemed to be in a strange spot for captioning and she suggested we might want to move to the “Disabled” seats with the wheelchairs on them. I didn’t feel comfortable doing that, as I felt those should be saved for people who have trouble walking.   Then, I watched in irritation as several able-bodied people plunked themselves down in the seats with blue wheelchair signs on them. They weren’t Deaf either, since they weren’t carrying the panels.
Anyway, I was pleased they had words up on the screen BEFORE the movie started so you could adjust everything. Then the new movie clips came on and of course none of those were captioned, as they never are. Consequently I have no idea if I want to see those movies or not. I could hear people laughing. This went on for a good fifteen minutes.
Finally the movie came on. I realized just exactly how important it was to adjust the windshield so the entire movie screen could be viewed within. At this point I was sure it wouldn’t have worked well had we been seated right down in front if we had stayed Saturday night. I wondered if any of the theater employees had ever tried the RWC panels out. If the manager had, he would have known how futile it would been for us sit in the front row. 

I have to say when it first came out, I was thrilled with the concept of RWC. After all, the Cinerama was the first theater in Seattle to offer captioning in any form. I had hoped theaters everywhere would pick up on it. But they didn’t. And now I’m glad.
I don’t like RWC compared to the Open Captioned showings at my local theater. Though they only offer their OC showings at odd hours, I much prefer viewing the screen without having to sit in a certain position for two hours and moving a panel around until it reflects the words just right.

 Secondly I don‘t like the way RWC fits into the cup holder. It’s in the way if you need to get up to the bathroom, and you have no place to put your drink because the RWC shield has to go in that spot. I also don’t like how dark the shield makes the screen. It’s gray, so looking through the screen is almost like watching a movie with sunglasses. The scenery wasn’t especially pretty in “Indiana Jones“, but I wondered how I would have liked watching other movies with spectacular scenic views through the panel. A few times I peeked over it to catch a glimpse of the scenery, and was struck by the
vivid color.

Another thing, every time I moved or changed positions I would have to readjust the panel. I ended up trying to sit as still as possible and left the theater with a stiff neck from sitting in the same position for so long. Finally, because of the forty-five degree angle I had to place the screen in order to see the words, the words themselves ended up a little blurry and small. All of this combined led to a less than thrilling theater experience.
The only advantage I can see for the RWC is that the Cinerama offers it for ALL its movie times, not just the off times like my local theater with their Open Captions. For example, I just checked the listings. The local Loews offers Indiana Jones next Saturday at 10:40am and 11:00 pm next weekend. Because I work every other weekend, I wouldn’t be able to attend either showing. It was nice to be able to see a movie at 7:45, rather than having to wait until 11pm.

The second thing I don’t like about Open Captions is no matter what colors they choose for the captions there are times the words are hard to see. If they’re printed in a dark color they don’t show up well against a dark background. The same holds true for light colored captions on a light background.
I hate to sound like such a whiner. Again, I am grateful that both theaters and a few others around the area offer any kind of captioning at all, because most theaters don’t.  But I can’t pretend we have equal access at these theaters when the Open Captioned theaters only show their movies at selected off-peak times, and the RWCtheater doesn’t give us priority seating so we can make the best use of the equipment. Additionally when you look at the many drawbacks of RWC, it’s clear to me that Open Captions are preferable.
Ideally, every movie theater showing should be required to have Open Captions, and the captions themselves should be placed on a strip below the movie, not against the background. If they captioned this way, instead of right over the background, I’m sure most hearing people wouldn’t mind it either.


  1. Thanks for sharing your experience. I always sit middle right (I like to put my feet on the rails), and that’s the only place I have tried the Reflector. (I am hearing, and work for a theatre with MoPix)

    Unfortunately, right now, many hearing people are distracted by subtitles – the experience of our theatre in 2003 before MoPix was that more people complained about subtitles, than praised it.

    It would be a good idea to send the text of this letter to your theatre, and the one you visited. Most have not tried the RWC, and don’t really understand the deaf experience.
    (Sort of self-congratulatory, that they provide RWC, not realizing the experience is diminished for the deaf.)

    Yes, RWC is good, more show times, and newer movies are good.

    It’s still good to have some OC showings. They provide a better experience for the deaf, and if more people were exposed to them, I think they would like them. My kids watch all their DVD’s with captions on.

    (I’m working on trying to get some for the theatre I work for)

  2. Interesting how you use RWC to see the entire screen through the panel. When you do it that way, the captions appear on (or overlaid on) the picture screen. Yes?

    I use RWC panels differently. I position the panel so, in my line of sight, I see the panel and the captions just below the screen. I prefer the heightened contrast between the captions and the black background that is just below the screen. The heightened contrast makes the captions easier for me to read. This way, too, I see the screen in all its original color; not darkened by the RWC panel.

    Like you, I prefer to sit near the back of the theater so the captions I see are closer to the display on the wall behind me and the captions are bigger in size when I see them reflected. I also prefer to sit with the caption display behind me, rather than to one side of the display.

    When I use RWC, the reflector panel is about 18-24 inches in front of my body and about waist/chest height in my seated position (not in front of my face).

  3. You know, I was a tester for the RWC back in the early 1990’s, and something else, and I commented that RWC was a pain, and that I liked the other one much better. My ideal is glasses with closed-captioning! 🙂 Now if I could only remember what that other product was that I tested…

  4. We may be testing captions on a pda, like this system:


  5. Bill– thanks for stopping by. I am planning to send a message to the theater, but will cut it down quite a bit.

    I agree with you that most hearing people can get used to captions if they open their minds a little. My family has been watching captioned movies for years.

    Thanks for the trailors.

  6. Hi Mom of Bilingual Deaf–
    If I go to this theater again, I’ll try it that way. Sitting where I was I actually tried positioning the screen so I could look over the glass, but the adjustable arm was too stiff and too long. That would definitely make a difference for me if I didn’t have to look at the screen through the entire panel.

  7. Jenny– You tested glasses with captions? Cool!

    Kim 🙂

  8. Just wanted to make a correction to Bill’s trailer. One of the sites should read as follows to access it:

  9. You had mentioned that you placed the RWC at the bottom of the movie screen. I have placed my RWC just below the screen, so that I can easily read the captioning against the dark, yet have the entire screen available to view without the captions. To date, I have only had a positive experience with the RWC – my major complaint is that ALL theaters should offer this, why they don’t is such a mystery to me. Do the theater chains think that the deaf and hard of hearing don’t enjoy movies?

  10. I have yet to try RWC and didn’t even know it existed until I joined SWC a few months ago. I have asked at theaters, over the years, if they had any captioned showings, but no one ever answered in the affirmative and I gave up going to movies altogether. The last movie I saw at the theater was “A Beautiful Mind” and what a different movie it was once I saw it on DVD with captioning.

    Thanks to everyone for the good info on RWC!!

    As for the hearing public being “…distracted by subtitles… and …more people complained about subtitles, than praised it.” I would like the movie theater owners to know that they are losing dollars from the vast population of HOH/deaf/Deaf movie goers by not making captioning readily available to those of us who need it. I never intentionally want to inconvenience anyone, but as a HOH person for most of my 49 years I contantly make concessions. I say let the hearing public get used to captioning–mainstream it. Maybe then those of us with hearing issues can be accommodated at least as much as others with different challenges. I too want that “Equal Access” that others with disabilities seem to get.

  11. Michele– Try fomdi.com. Type in your zip code and all the theaters that offer some form of captioning in your area will pop up. It’s a pretty cool tool. Our very own Tayler of DeafRead made it.

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