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Open Captions: Making Movies Inclusive

a picture in evening of a screen showing words "Tonight's movie feature captions, a popular request and we hope you enjoy the show". with highlights of parked cars below.
Mustang Drive-In

Last week, I posted a message accompanied by a video, asking a seemingly simple yet crucial question: “Where and when are open captions available at the movies?” This inquiry shed light on a relatively rare and often overlooked aspect of the movie-going experience, and it’s high time we addressed it. Open captions, or lack thereof, have a significant impact on the inclusivity of cinemas, and the emergence of cup holder caption devices poses an intriguing dilemma that deserves our attention.

Open captions, for those unfamiliar, are subtitles displayed directly on the screen, visible to all viewers. Unlike traditional closed captions, which require specialized equipment or glasses, open captions are available to everyone in the audience. However, their scarcity in cinemas makes them an underrated aspect of accessibility.

The rise of cup holder caption devices, designed to provide individualized captioning, has added a layer of complexity to the issue. While these devices may seem like a solution to the problem of accessibility, they can inadvertently create a dilemma for moviegoers. When using such devices, the viewer’s attention is diverted away from the movie screen to read the captions on their personal device. This not only breaks the immersion of the cinematic experience but also poses a safety concern, as it can lead to distracted viewing.

So, why should we champion open captions over these alternative solutions? The answer lies in the message they send to engage people to attend movies. Open captions are a clear and unequivocal statement that all moviegoers, regardless of their hearing abilities, are welcome. They break down the barriers that closed captions and cup holder devices create, ensuring that everyone in the audience has access to the same movie experience.

In my recent experience, I witnessed the power of open captions to draw audiences together. At the Mustang Drive-In in Prince Edward County (PEC), a surprising turnout occurred despite only one car in the lot having a deaf attendee. The presence of open captions didn’t just benefit that one individual (ME); it enhanced the experience for everyone present. It made the movie a shared experience, fostering a sense of community among the diverse group of moviegoers.

But open captions aren’t just about accessibility; they offer several reasons why people genuinely enjoy them. In an age when people are glued to their phones, scrolling through social media or watching videos with captions, open captions provide a familiar and comfortable viewing experience. They mimic the subtitles viewers are accustomed to on their phones, making it easier for individuals to follow the story without missing a beat.

Open captions have become a standard in the online video industry. From YouTube to Netflix, subtitles are ubiquitous because they enhance the viewing experience for everyone. They help non-native speakers better understand dialogue, aid in comprehension when the audio quality is poor, and make content more accessible for those with hearing impairments. This widespread use of subtitles in digital media has conditioned audiences to appreciate and even expect captions as part of their viewing experience.

To truly make movies more inclusive, it’s imperative that cinemas expand the availability of open captions to more showtimes and days. This means offering open captions not just on select occasions but as a regular feature of their screening schedule. By doing so, theaters can cater to a broader audience and make the cinema accessible to individuals with hearing impairments consistently.

Imagine the joy and inclusivity that could result from more theaters adopting this practice on multiple days and showtimes. Families, friends, and individuals from diverse backgrounds could come together to enjoy the magic of the movies without any barriers. It’s not just about catering to the needs of a few; it’s about making cinema a welcoming place for everyone, creating a shared experience for people of all backgrounds and abilities.

Open captions in movies are more than just a convenience for a select few; they are a powerful tool for promoting inclusivity and shared experiences in cinemas. While cup holder caption devices may offer individualized solutions, they inadvertently create distractions and fail to send the right message. Expanding the availability of open captions to more times and days is not only feasible but also essential in creating a more inclusive and enjoyable cinematic experience for everyone. After all, the magic of the movies is meant to be shared by all, regardless of their hearing abilities.

Now, it’s time to take action. Let’s raise our voices and advocate for open captions in cinemas across the board. Share your thoughts on social media, write to your local theaters, and support initiatives that promote accessibility in the film industry. Together, we can make sure that everyone can enjoy the enchantment of the big screen, no matter their hearing abilities. Let’s make open captions a norm, not an exception, and truly create an inclusive cinematic world for all.

A petition started by Adam Pottle, Provide open caption in Canadian movies theatre

1 thought on “Open Captions: Making Movies Inclusive

  1. Tired of having tech issues with the individual caption devices. They are always wobbly in the cup holders as well and so awkward. Tired of being stared at while trying to set myself up with the device and drinks/snacks. Time for a real change. Open caption provides accessibility for all. Deaf/HH/deafened and hearing. Inclusive, accessible and equitable.

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