A Hearing Sunday Afternoon Experience

In News, Weekly Stories by Linda Bilodeau

Last Sunday morning, my husband surprised me when he said, “Let’s go out on a date this afternoon.” After twenty years of marriage and ten years of dating before we wed, I still get all tingly when he says such things.

“What did you have in mind?” I asked.

“Movies,” he said. “And don’t worry, I’ve scoped it out. Captioning is available.”

In 2016, and after several law suits against movie theaters, the United States Justice Department deemed that all movie theaters need to provide closed captioning to patrons. According to the law, movie theaters are only required to make captioning available through the use of special devices. They are not required to have open captioning, the kind of captioning that appears on your television. Further, the law states that equipment must be on hand and in working order, and staff needs to be trained to assist hearing patrons.

When we arrived at the movie theater, we stood in line to pay for our tickets. When we reached the ticket counter, my husband asked about the closed captioning device, and we were told that we had to stand in another line. After a five-minute wait, I was given a head set with a pair of huge glasses and a device. We had to sign for the equipment. I was told to wear the glasses when the movie started.

After we were seated, I looked over the equipment and noticed that the lenses of the glasses were dirty and scratched. I wondered if they would work properly. Once the lights were dimmed and the sneak previews of coming attractions rolled by, I donned my “glasses.” They were quite heavy and uncomfortable. However, I could see captions at the bottom of the screen. Hurray! I would be able to understand the back-and-forth dialogue between characters. Unfortunately, problems arose. I realized if I moved my head, shifted my body, or crossed or uncrossed my legs, the glasses would slip, causing the captions to disappear. Yikes! I had to sit very straight and still during the entire movie.

When the movie finished, and as we were walking out of the theater, my husband asked about the glasses. I told him they were better than nothing, most of the dialogue was displayed properly and in real time, but it all came at the cost of a stiff neck and a sore nose. The glasses were so heavy that they left a mark on the bridge of my nose.

When returning the equipment, we voiced our concerns about the glasses to the person behind the desk. He shrugged, saying, “Sorry, that’s what we make available,” his way of telling us the theater was within the letter of the law.

I suppose one could say that the Justice Department made an important step in requiring movie theaters to accommodate those of us suffering from hearing loss. But honestly, I felt cheated. With all the technology out there, isn’t there a device that is comfortable to wear and able to accommodate a shifting body? Shouldn’t these devices be cleaned in between use?

All good questions. As we meander through the hearing world, I’m sure we’re all grateful for the strides that are made to help us hear, but we all need to bear in mind that we should make our feelings known about what is provided, otherwise those who follow us won’t have hearing access.