Michigan Cinema Sued for Not Providing Closed Captions

August 25, 2016 BY PATRICK LOFTUS
Updated: January 4, 2018

On August 15, Celebration! Cinemas of Grand Rapids, Michigan was sued for failing to provide closed captioning for the movies it shows at its Benton Habor location.

The plaintiff, Graham Forsey, 23, is deaf and has made multiple requests for closed captions at the Benton Harbor movie theater only to be refused by the management.

The theater does not provide any closed captioning technology or service for viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing. This is a direct violation of Title III in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which requires that places of public accommodation (like movie theaters) provide assistance to people with disabilities.

Forsey filed the lawsuit alongside the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), which represents about 137,000 Michiganders who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The Response

Loeks Theaters, Inc. (which owns Celebration! Cinemas) released the following statement in response to the lawsuit:

The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) has been working actively with advocacy groups to clarify updated standards for supporting the deaf community. These standards are currently being reviewed by the Department of Justice, and we expect a ruling from them in the very near future.

Celebration! Cinema is committed to continuing to improve services for all of our guests, and we are looking forward to the approval of these standards so we can continue to invest in closed captioning technology. Currently, we have assisted listening devices in all locations and closed captioning in our Grand Rapids and Lansing, MI markets. Benton Harbor and other locations will receive captioning equipment in the coming months upon the adoption of the new standards.

The Problem: Too Little, Too Late

In essence, Loeks Theaters is aware their Benton Harbor location does not accommodate people who are deaf or hard of hearing, even though they are legally required to do so.

Under ADA legislation, the company is supposed to have had closed captioning equipment, or on-screen captions, readily available in the first-place. Waiting on new guidelines from the Department of Justice before implementing new captioning technology does make sense, but they were still not able to accommodate Forsey upon his multiple requests in the past. That is what matters most in this lawsuit.

Hawaii: A Model for Success

On the other end of the spectrum is the proactive approach. Hawaii’s state government recently passed a law requiring all of its movie theaters to include open captions on the movies they show.

While the ADA already requires some form of aural accommodation like cup-holder-mounted closed caption displays, or wearable glasses that display captions, Hawaii has gone above and beyond to ensure that all people with hearing disabilities can enjoy going to the movies.

Hawaii is the first state in the US to pass a law requiring open captions in movie theaters. It is a promising step forward in ensuring more people with disabilities in the US have full access to video content.

Read the official lawsuit document below:
Forsey, NAD v. Loeks Theaters, Inc.

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