Hard of hearing, hardly hearing, hearing-impaired or hearing loss, it all could mean the same thing for those who enjoy going to the movies: less entertainment.
Fortunately, local movie theaters like the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter and the Sunset Cinema in Pequot Lakes offer their moviegoers ways to enjoy their films as those with normal hearing.
“We offer both headphones, which you can turn up to a volume you’re comfortable with, and closed-captioned devices,” Lakes 12 Theatre General Manager Steve Saurer said.
Added Shane Martin, owner and president of Sunset Cinema: “We do get customer requests for these types of (hearing) devices, and it’s wonderful to be able to help everyone experience the magic of movies on the big screen.”
Approximately 15% of American adults (37.5 million) ages 18 and older report some trouble hearing, according to the National Institutes of Health, but the closed-caption devices and headphones at the Lakes 12 Theatre can help that demographic enjoy movies like everyone else.
“The closed-captioned devices fit into our cupholders on each seat and you can read dialogue as the movie plays. Headphones are the more popular of the two,” Saurer said.
CaptiView is a small display with a flexible arm that can be attached to the arm of the seat. Closed captions are transmitted to the device and appear on the display screen.
“We are happy to offer these devices free of any additional charge so all of our customers can enjoy a good movie-going experience,” Saurer said.
Digital movie theaters are required by federal regulations to have and maintain the equipment necessary to provide closed-captioning and audio description at a movie patron’s seat whenever showing a digital movie produced, distributed or otherwise made available with these features.
“The closed-captioning devices are small screens contained in a viewer that displays the dialogue of the movie similar to the way closed-captioning works at home on your TV,” Martin said.
As of Jan. 17, 2017, movie theaters that have captioning devices must notify the public about the devices and have staff to assist patrons with the devices, according to the National Association of the Deaf.
“The viewers mount into the cupholder of the cinema seat, and the customer can adjust the screen into their line of sight so that they can both see the actual movie screen and the viewer screen that contains the closed-captioning,” Martin explained.
Sunset Cinema offers at no additional charge both closed-captioning devices and assistive listening devices for those who request the technology.
“Both types of devices are very simple and easy to use, and require no setup from the customer in order to use,” Martin said.
The assistive listening devices are headphone-type devices that can amplify the movie’s audio for the hearing-impaired or can offer descriptions of the action on the screen like a narrator for blind or sight-impaired individuals, according to Martin.
“There is infrared equipment in each auditorium that automatically sends the needed information to each closed-caption or assistive listening device depending on which auditorium the customer is in, so they work automatically,” Martin said.
One in 8 people in the United States (13%, or 30 million) aged 12 years or older has hearing loss in both ears, based on standard hearing examinations, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Martin said the closed-captioning devices and the assistive listening devices work with 95% of the product Sunset Cinema screens at the Jenkins theater.
“There may be rare cases where an older movie is not available in closed-captioning or for some special event product that doesn’t contain the digital code needed for the devices to work. But these would be rare situations,” Martin said.
Sunset Cinema also just updated its stair and aisle lighting in all of its auditoriums to make it easier to navigate inside dark auditoriums and last summer completed a stair railing project that added much-needed railings to its auditoriums for those with physical disabilities.
“We want to make sure everyone has the chance to enjoy movies at the theater,” Martin said of the almost $45,000 spent on building improvements related to accessibility issues in the last year or so.
The five-screen Sunset Cinema opened in 2006 before Martin came along and purchased the first-run theater in 2008.
Martin said of closed-captioning and assistive listening devices, “These devices will hopefully remove some barriers for folks who typically can’t or don’t enjoy going to the movies because they either can’t always hear the dialogue or their vision is impaired.”
Age is the strongest predictor of hearing loss among adults aged 20 to 69, with the greatest amount of hearing loss in the 60- to 69-year-old age group, according to the National Institutes of Health, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.