It wasn’t until they moved to Frederick that Trudy Suggs and her family could go to the movies.
While it had a “deaf school and sizable deaf community,” the “small town” in Minnesota that Suggs lived in did not have a movie theater that provided any captioning services for people who are deaf like herself, her husband and their four kids.
“So when we came to Frederick and learned that there were both open-captioned [screenings] and glasses available, we were happy because now we could go see the newest films,” Suggs wrote in an email.
While that movie theater in Minnesota didn’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Westview Regal Cinemas does.
The ADA requires movie theaters to provide closed captioning devices for those who are deaf or hard of hearing, such as glasses that show captions in the lens or screens that attach to the seat.
In addition to closed captioning devices, the Westview Regal also provides open captioned screenings, which is when captions are shown on the big screen, even though it’s not required by law. It’s one of two Regal theaters in the state to do so, according to the Regal Cinemas website.
Nat Balsley, the unofficial liaison between the Frederick deaf community and Westview Regal, finds the relationship between the two “very unique.”
Each week, Balsley, who is deaf, sends requests for open caption screenings of films that are already in theaters. Once Westview sets the showtimes, he notifies the deaf community through the Frederick Deaf Moviegoers Facebook group and newsletters.
On blockbuster opening weekends, the open captioning screenings are typically “packed,” Balsley said. Screenings held after an opening weekend or for smaller films typically have about 20 to 30 people, he added.
The relationship is not without its bumps, though.
For example, when “Avengers: Endgame” came out, Balsley said that he requested showings for it, but the theater said that they could not offer an open captioned screening because a large number of tickets had already been sold for the caption-less screenings.
“And they wouldn’t convert a regular screening that people bought tickets for to an open-captioned screening in fear of people objecting to the words on the screen,” he said.
Westview eventually added extra screenings of the film with open captions, “which honestly is a rarity,” Balsley said.
Additionally, while Westview provides open captioned screenings several times a week, they provide only one a day, Balsley said.
“The biggest downside, if anything, is that deaf people can’t watch an open-captioned film at their own discretion,” Balsley said.
While Westview has generally been willing to provide open captioning, Balsley made the point that other deaf communities don’t have the same kind of relationship with their own theaters.
When open captioning is not available or provided, deaf people go to caption-less screenings and use the individual closed captioning devices provided by the theater.
At first, Suggs wrote she and her family liked these devices. “But we quickly came to hate the glasses,” she wrote in an email.
Suggs wrote that the glasses are dirty, uncomfortable and hard to use. She also worries that the sign-out system is not secure.
“A third [of the] time it worked fine, a third [of the] time it wouldn’t even show the captions when the movie came on,” Jon Craig, of Frederick, wrote over text. “Then the other times – the worst: stopping right in the middle of a climactic scene!”