Regal makes most movies accessible for hearing, vision impaired

10:05 PM, May 17, 2013   |    comments
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By the end of this month, every digital film playing in a Regal Cinema theater will for the first time be 100% accessible to all deaf and blind customers.

The company is rolling out new technology called the Sony Access System.

For 15 years, Regal Chief Accounting Officer Randy Smith has made it both a personal and a professional mission to see increased access for all movie-goers

Until receiving a cochlear implant in grade school, Smith's son, Ryan, was nearly completely deaf.

Randy says as a young child, his son was sufficiently entertained by the images on the screen.

"As he got older, and he started to understand that he couldn't understand; it became pretty apparent that movies were out of our lives," said Smith.

For years, the best option for movie lovers like his son, was to wait for a limited selection of open-captioned movies to be "bicycled" to their town.

With some new releases, a set number of films would have captioning applied directly to the movie, visible to the entire audience. But with a limited number of copies, movie theaters across the country had to share them, meaning they were in short supply.

Smith still remembers the experience of bringing deaf school children to the theater for a special screening.

"When you see these children and they're signing 'I love you', because they got to see a movie, if that doesn't motivate you to bring that to their lives, I'm not certain what would," said Smith.

Other technology in use allows people with hearing impairments to read captioning off a screen designed to rest on the back of a movie theater seat. But the need to constantly glance up and down meant Smith believed the technology could be improved.

He says the Sony Access System has done just that.

 "Any theater, any show time, any day. They're available to the deaf and blind," said Smith.

Guests can pick up on of the systems from guest services. When they enter the theater the device automatically picks up the information for the movie they're about to see. 

The system includes light-weight glasses that project holographic subtitles right on the lens. It keeps the captions within the wearer's direct line of sight, and only the person wearing them can see the words.

The system also allows people with hearing impairments to boost the audio by plugging directly into most hearing aids.

For people with visual impairments, headphones are also available that narrate the action on the screen, while falling silent for dialogue.

"It literally provides for the first time since 'the talkies' complete access for the blind and deaf communities," said Smith.

It's first generation of technology and Smith hopes it can be improved upon to become even lighter and more comfortable in the future.

But it has the seal of approval from someone who's tried it all-- his son.

"With the glasses I can go any time I want, any show time I want. Even opening nights," said Ryan Smith. "I'm pretty proud of my dad for helping the deaf community." 

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