New York City Mandates Open Captions in Movie Theaters.

[Note: If this looks familiar, it’s because it was published yesterday under a different title. Feel free to read it again.]

It’s nice to be able to end this generally awful year with some good news.

On December 15th, New York’s City Council passed a bill that requires movie theaters to provide daily showings of movies with open captions.

Goodbye Gooseneck!

Goodbye Gooseneck!

That means no more struggling with individual cupholder-anchored, gooseneck caption screens, or with captioned glasses that weighed heavily on your nose. Once the bill is signed into law, you will be able to see which movies are showing with open captions and at what time. You can walk into the theater, sit down with your popcorn, and watch a movie with captions running right on the screen.

Details are yet to be worked out, but the law requires that every theater offer every movie with open captioned showings on weekdays, weekends and in evenings. The ratio will probably be one out of every four showings.

You probably won’t be able to see captioned trailers or ads, but that might change eventually. I’ve always wondered why ads on TV don’t have captions – don’t the advertisers realize that people who use captions also have money to spend? Why do they ignore such a relatively large market?

If neither the outgoing mayor, Bill De Blasio, nor Eric Adams, incoming, gets around to signing the bill, it becomes law on January 15, 30 days following its passage. Theaters then have 120 days to begin complying with the open-captioned regulations.

The bill was co-sponsored by outgoing City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who has been behind a number of bills supporting the interests of people with disabilities over her eight-year (term-limited) tenure. Thank you CM Rosenthal.

Supporters of the bill, including HLAA members who testified at the City Council hearing where the bill was debated, point out that captions benefit far more people than simply the deaf and hard of hearing. Jerry Bergman, of HLAA, who has been working with theater owners on open captioning, said: “We believe that open captioning will benefit seniors with moderate age-related hearing loss, children learning to read, and immigrants for whom English is a second language.”

In the movie “True Grit” (2010) actor Jeff Bridges was so difficult to understand that parodies appeared suggesting various hilarious interpretations. Think how much even those with perfect hearing would have gained by actually understanding Bridges, who was nominated for an Academy Award in spite of his mumbling. The winner, ironically, was Colin Firth for “The King’s Speech,” in which King George VI learns to overcome a speech impediment.


In less happy news, this week saw the death of one of New York’s seminal supporters for people with disabilities. Anne Emerman contracted polio in 1944 and used a wheelchair all her life. In 1990, Mayor David Dinkins appointed her director of the Mayor’s Office of the Handicapped. At the same time, the name was changed to the more person-centered Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MoPD). New York’s current Commissioner, Victor Calise, said of Emerman: “She was fierce… She set a standard of advocacy in city government that is still going on today… She knew her stuff, and you weren’t going to mess with her.”

Like many disability rights activists, she bucked some powerful figures, among them Mother Teresa. Read the obit for details. And while you’re at it, read the obituary of another fierce New York City activist who died this year, Edith Prentiss.

Every New Yorker– not just people with disabilities – benefits from the work of these two determined women. Next time you take the ramp with your heavy suitcase instead of dragging it up the stairs, think of activists like Emerman and Prentiss. And as you settle in with your popcorn for an open-captioned movie, remember that they laid the groundwork for that kind of accommodation as well.

6 thoughts on “New York City Mandates Open Captions in Movie Theaters.

  1. The bill was written “by committee,” and some last-minute additions make it somewhat difficult to interpret. While it does require 25% of the showings to be open captioned, it also requires a maximum of four OC showings of each movie each week, and in practice, that “cap” is going to kick in almost all of the time. Jerry and I are working with the umbrella group for the NYC theaters to simplify and clarify the language before the bill takes effect on May 15, but we envision two weekend showings, one evening and one matinee, and two weekday showings, again one evening and one matinee.


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