Americans with Disabilities Act Technical Assistance Letters


September 8, 1998

The Honorable Charles S. Robb

United States Senator

The Ironfronts

Suite 310

1011 East Main Street

Richmond, Virginia 23219

Dear Senator Robb:

This letter is a response to your inquiry on behalf of your constituent, Ms. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, who is deaf. Ms. xxxxxx believes that movie theaters should be required to present movies with open captions. Ms. xxxxxx contacted Mr. Clyde W. Matthews, Jr., Managing Attorney for the Department of Rights of Virginians with Disabilities, who informed her that such an action is not mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.

The issue of whether movies should be open-captioned was raised during the legislative debate on the ADA. Congress heard testimony from the motion pictures industry and from owners and operators of movie houses. Movie houses do not produce the movies they show. Instead, they have control of only completed films for the brief duration while they are playing. For that reason, it made little sense to place the obligation to caption films on movie houses. Thus, as Mr. Matthews explained to your constituent, movie houses are not required by the ADA to provide films with open captions, although they are encouraged to do so. Entities covered by the ADA that produce films are responsible for providing captioning or other means of making their films accessible to individuals with hearing impairments.

The motion picture industry has also suggested that providing open captioning might fundamentally alter the films they produce. Fortunately, emerging technologies and evolving ideas about captioning are likely to make such a suggestion obsolete and unnecessary. There are now several closed-captioning options for theaters or live performances in which the captions are made visible only to those who desire to see them.

Captions are either displayed on the back of the seat in front of the deaf patron, or in another location that does not require their placement directly on the film. These technologies are currently used by businesses and facilities open to the public. Here in Washington, for example, the Holocaust Museum and theImax Theater in the Air and Space Museum are using innovative applications of closed captioning, and the Arena Stage is using similar technologies for live performances. It is only a matter of time before these technological advances become widely available for use in movie houses.

As requested, we are replying in duplicate and returning the enclosure to your office.

Thank you for your inquiry. We hope that this information is useful to you in responding to the needs of your constituent.


Bill Lann Lee

Acting Assistant

Attorney General

Civil Rights Division


Updated August 6, 2015

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