New Law Creates More Inclusive Environment for those Hard of Hearing, Deaf or Learning English; Takes Effect Sunday, May 15

The Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD), the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME), and the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) are pleased to announce an open captioning requirement at NYC movie theaters, encouraging all New Yorkers to return to and enjoy the moviegoing experience. Effective May 15, 2022, theaters that are open to the public and show ten or more movies per week will be required to show a portion of their movies with open captions. This is the result of a new law that was passed by the City Council in December 2021.

Open captions are the on-screen display of a movie’s dialogue, speakers’ names and sounds. This policy creates a more inclusive environment for moviegoers, including individuals who are D/deaf or Hard of Hearing, or are learning English. Moviegoers can find the dates and times of movies that will be shown with open captions wherever a theater advertises movie times.

“This important initiative shines a spotlight on our administration’s commitment to strengthen and diversify New York City’s film industry, which means creating a more equitable way for audiences to experience film across the five boroughs. These new open caption requirements ensure a more inclusive viewing experience so that all New Yorkers can get back to the movies,” said Deputy Mayor Maria Torres-Springer.

“This new law will help make New York City fairer and more inclusive by helping to ensure that as we return to the movies, everyone has equal access and an enjoyable experience, including the more than 175,000 New Yorkers who are D/deaf or hard of hearing,” said Martha Jackson, Acting Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities.

“Accessible entertainment is critical to an equitable economic recovery,” said Department of Consumer and Worker Protection Commissioner Vilda Vera Mayuga. “DCWP looks forward to working with businesses and consumers to ensure the law is followed so everyone can enjoy a visit to the movies.”

To help the public and movie theater operators understand the law, MOPD, MOME and DCWP have issued a plain language guide and created public service announcements (PSAs) about the new requirement, which will be seen on TaxiTV. Both resources are available at Open captioning is the preferable alternative to closed captioning, which requires the use of a captioning device that can break, malfunction, be unsanitary and requires the user to view the movie differently from other audience members.

If a theater does not provide the required number of open caption showings, consumers can contact 311 and say “open captions” to file a complaint with DCWP.

“With over 200 languages spoken in NYC, open captions are a great step forward in cultivating an inclusive space for all New Yorkers, including those who are beginning to learn English,” said Manuel Castro, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Affairs. “We are excited that, as we return to the movies, New Yorkers will be able to see their favorite films with captions right there on the screen.”

“Having captions on movies brings us one step closer to creating a more age-inclusive city, one that’s universally accessible. This law will allow New Yorkers, including those who may have trouble hearing, to enjoy a day at the local movie theater with friends and family – an activity many of us take for granted. It also provides an unintended opportunity for children to read – yet another step towards an age-inclusive New York. I applaud this new law and its many benefits!” said Department for the Aging Commissioner Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez.

“Everyone should be able to enjoy a movie,” said Helen Rosenthal, former NYC councilwoman and author of the bill. “For some, that means reading words on a big screen. Open captions at movie theaters are a simple solution for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.”

“A night out at the movie theater is one of the best experiences families can have, which is why I am thrilled that Open Captions at New York City Movie Theaters will create more inclusivity for people who are hard-of-hearing or learning the English language,” said Council Member Linda Lee, Chair of the Committee of Mental Health, Disabilities, and Addictions. “Thank you former Council Member Helen Rosenthal for introducing this legislation, as well as the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment and Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities for coordinating to enhance the movie experience, bringing more New Yorkers back to our city’s theaters who’ve struggled greatly during the pandemic.”

“Our member theatres in New York City want all patrons – including those from the deaf and hard of hearing community – to feel safe and welcome as they return to the movies,” stated Joseph Masher, President of NATO, Theatres Owners of New York State, Inc. “Our theatre websites will indicate whether a movie is shown in open captioning format, and when it will be available for viewing. We look forward to seeing you at the movies!”

“We are excited that local movie theaters will be offering open-captioned movie screenings,” said Jerry Bergman, a member of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), NYC chapter. “This groundbreaking ordinance culminates years of efforts by advocates for the Deaf and hard of hearing to address problematic access to movies via the use of closed-caption devices. We are hopeful that open-captioned movies will result in increased movie attendance, drawing people to theaters who avoided moviegoing because of their hearing disability or chose, instead, to only stream movies at home.”

“We are thrilled that movie theaters will now be required to show a portion of their movies with open captioning,” said Laurie Hanin, Executive Director of the Center for Hearing and Communication (CHC). “People with hearing loss have had to struggle to enjoy the movies and it’s wonderful that this will no longer be the case.”

“On behalf of the Lexington School for the Deaf community, I would like to extend our appreciation to the many advocates, including the NYC Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, for their advocacy work in bringing about this new law,” said Russell O. West, CEO/Superintendent, Lexington School and Center for the Deaf. “The movies should be an enjoyable activity for all people, but for the Deaf, the experience has often been one of inconvenience and frustration due to the limitations of closed-captioning. With the popularity of so many Deaf actors – Nyle DeMarco, Millicent Simmonds, Lauren Ridloff, Troy Kotsur, and of course, Marlee Matlin – it’s more important than ever that movies be inclusive for all.”

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