Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the ADA*

* but were afraid to ask

The Americans With Disabilities Act signed into law on July 26,1990 by George H.W. Bush mandated that all places of public accommodation, including movie theatres, take all practical steps necessary to accommodate those with impairments to their visual, auditory and other senses.  In the days of film accommodating those with other than auditory impairments was largely impractical due to the technical limitations of the time.

The coming of digital cinema to the entertainment industry was a game changer.  Technology was now reasonably available to theatre owners to equip their venues with the tools needed to enable the blind or those with a profound hearing loss the opportunity to enjoy a movie.  After several years of discussions with individuals and groups of those representing the interests of the disability community as well as industry groups representing the studios and exhibitors, the Department of Justice released mandatory guidelines for the industry in November of 2016.

What do you need to know

  1. The Department of Justice released mandatory guidelines in November of 2016 with a set date for compliance.
  2. Compliance is mandatory.  The hardship clause has been deleted as well as the concept of grandfathering (which never existed).
  3. There is no “small town/venue” exemption.  If you show digital movies, you are required to comply.  The sole exception to this would be for drive-in theatres.
  4. All auditoriums must be equipped.
  5. You must provide the necessary appliances for:
    • Hearing Impairment – also called “assistive listening”
    • Visual Impairment – this is “descriptive narration” with a narrator describing the visuals
    • Closed Captioning – this is a “private” captioning system that uses either a personal reader or special glasses.
  6. These devices must be available at or above the quantities mandated by the guidelines.
  7. You must make the devices available at no charge to your patrons.
  8. While there are many companies making listening systems available outside of the cinema industry, there are none that we are aware of, other than the companies listed below, that provide a system that will encompass all three aspects of the requirement.  They are:
    • USL (a/k/a UltraPhonic) manufactures an IR based system that utilizes a single transmitter for all three signals.  Their proprietary headsets receive either/both the assistive listening channel and the descriptive narration channel.  They offer a choice of a portable armrest mounted reader or eyeglasses for the captioning information.  These systems are available through Total Cinema Solutions.
    • Dolby (Doremi) manufacturers two RF based systems, one for the auditory aspect and the other for the visual component, called “Fidelio” and “Captiview” respectively.  These require separate RF channels for each signal and auditorium.  The readers are programmed for a specific screen as they are handed out.  These systems are available through Total Cinema Solutions.
    • Sony manufacturers a proprietary system as their compliance option.  Information is available through your Sony dealer.

How Much Equipment Do I Need?

As stated above, there are three aspects that must be addressed:

In addition to the hardware that you need to transmit the signal, you will need the following receivers:

Assuming that the system that you use provides for receivers that can be used in any of your auditoriums for either assistive listening or descriptive narration, the number of headsets is based upon the total seat count for your venue. The table below details the number of receivers needed based on seat count. You should round up to the next higher number.

Unlike the headsets, the minimum number of captioning devices is based on the number of auditoriums. The minimum required number of captioning devices is in the table below: 

Please keep in mind that under the DOJ rulings, these are the minimums.

Total Cinema Solutions has an accessibility specialist available to assist you in determining which system would be most practical for your venue.  You may reach him at (888)422-4778 option 8 or at marc@totalcinemasolutions.com.

For additional information

New Accessibility Requirements

Accessibility Best Practices

Tax Credit Info

USL Product Offerings

Dolby Captiview

Dolby Fidelio