Closed captioning has been helping deaf and hearing impaired television and movie fans for decades - but the technology has mostly been limited to the home viewing experience. Going out the the theater has traditionally posed a problem for those who require captioning, since theater companies cannot accomodate their needs by putting captioning on all their films, for all to see.
But now, new technology is helping people with these special needs enjoy the theater experience. It's starting with Regal Cinemas, who by the end of May hope to have over 6,000 of their theaters equipped with new closed-captioning glasses.
The system is called Sony Entertainment Access Glasses, and they look like bulkier 3D glasses. What they do is project captions, which to the viewer appear to float about 10 feet or so from their eyes. This way, deaf moviegoers can watch the film and read the dialogue more conveniently. Previous systems for this have not fared so well.
The system can also help both blind and hearing impaired moviegoers. Headphones can be plugged into the receiver to boost the volume of the films for the hard of hearing. And the track can be switched to give a play-by-play of what's happening on the screen, visually, for blind patrons.
Any theater that offers the glasses should have every movie available for captioning, says Regal.
Regal first began introducing the glasses to American moviegoers in April of 2012. Earlier this month, they announced a milestone - more than 400 theaters equipped with the tech. And, as I mentioned before, they're planning a huge expansion in the next few weeks.
Regal Cinemas CEO Randy Smith Jr, who has a deaf son, describes the meaning of the accessibility to NPR:
"I've attempted to enjoy a movie with my son so many times over the last 26 years, but to no avail. After watching a movie I would try to discuss it with him. The comments he would make would in no way relate to the plot of the movie and at one point he finally confessed that as he watched the screen, he simply made up the story in his head. He didn't really know what was going on. The fact that I can take my son to a movie when he visits at the end of June is literally bringing tears to my eyes. It would seem silly to most people but I would imagine you understand what it feels like."