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Deaf Moviegoers Provoke Wash. Theater Changes

(CN) - Cinemas in Washington state discriminated against deaf moviegoers by failing to provide closed captioning, a state appeals court ruled.

The Washington State Communication Access Project, or WashCAP, filed an injunctive and declaratory action against Regal Cinemas, AMC Entertainment and Cinemark Holdings.

Members of the nonprofit WashCAP claimed that their hearing loss is so severe that they cannot enjoy a trip to the cinema without closed captioning, even with the use of an assisted hearing device.

Most movies are distributed with the capabilities for open captioning, which are always in view, or closed captioning, which can be turned on or off. Theaters must still invest in the technology for the captions to be viewable.

WashCAP claimed that the theaters violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination by failing to make the technology available.

In early 2011, Regal and Cinemark converted their theaters to include the captioning equipment. AMC made captions available in three of its King County theaters.

The trial court ruled granted declaratory relief to WashCAP against all three companies and injunctive relief against AMC. WashCAP also received $404,000 in attorneys' fees.

The theaters appealed, but a three-judge panel of the Washington Court of Appeals in Seattle affirmed Monday.

"The theaters must take action that is reasonably possible to make their screenings, for which captions are provided by film distributors, understandable for deaf or hard-of-hearing patrons," Judge Ronald Cox wrote for the court. "The WLAD requires this."

"Cinemark and Regal's adoption of the new digital projection and caption technology demonstrated that compliance with the WLAD was technologically possible and monetarily feasible," he added.

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