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Movie Theater Caption Law in Hawaii Applauded

HONOLULU (CN) - Blind and deaf Hawaiians may soon have a better movie theater experience after Gov. David Ige signed a bill requiring theater owners to provide open captioning and audio description.

Ige signed HB 1272, now Act 039, into law on Wednesday, requiring movie theater owners across the state to accommodate persons who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind or have poor vision through the use of open captions and audio description.

The bill "requires a public accommodation that owns, leases, leases to, or operates a motion picture theater in more than two locations in the state to provide open movie captioning during at least two showings per week of each motion picture that is produced and offered with open movie captioning."

It also "requires a public accommodation that owns, leases, leases to, or operates a motion picture theater in the State to provide, upon request, audio description of any motion picture that is produced and offered with audio description."

The measure will take effect on Jan. 1, 2016, and sunset two years later.

According to Rep. James Tokioka, a Democrat representing Wailua Homesteads, Hanamaulu, Lihue, Puhi, Old Koloa Town and Omao on Kauai, the law makes Hawaii the first state in the nation to mandate broader accommodations to the deaf and blind communities. Tokioka introduced the bill.

"It will bring Hawaii closer to achieving full inclusion for our deaf and blind communities that was first initiated with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990," Tokioka said.

In a testimony before the Hawaii Senate, the Hawaii School for the Deaf and the Blind said open captioning provides real equal access. The deaf and hard of hearing should not be forced to wear or use special equipment to read the captioning, the school added.

"It is time to have open-captioned films in all movie theatres instead of having to wear closed-captioning devices such as glasses, or a rear-view plastic panel mounted on a flexible stalk to view the captioning, and other types of closed captioning devices," the school said in the testimony.

Open-captioning displays the spoken word, sound effects and any other audio portion of a film in text form. When a movie theater provides open captioning, the text form of a film's audio portion becomes available to everyone in the theatre, with hearing loss or not.

Closed captioning, on the other hand, uses headsets that narrate films for the blind and glasses that provide the closed captioning for the deaf, making captions and audio descriptions visible and audible only to those who need them.

About 55 percent of ADA-compliant movie houses in the country use closed captioning.

While Hawaii residents with disabilities and their families, lawmakers, nonprofits and the education community supported the bill, the Motion Picture Association of America did not - and predicted lawsuits.

"This bill is not necessary at this time," MPAA told lawmakers, adding that "the U.S. Department of Justice will soon issue regulations that will set forth a national standard for all."

The association said Hawaii's law would "cause a conflict with the rules that will be imminently issued by the DOJ".

The Justice Department issued its proposal in an August 2014 notice, calling for all movie theatres to provide closed captioning and audio description for persons with hearing and vision disabilities.

"Enacting the bill will likely invite a lawsuit, which will come at great cost to the state," the MPAA said.

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