January 17, 2010

Rear Window Captioning at the Movies. Part One.

I was really happy when I read Banner Day in Court for People with Hearing Loss about how a movie theater chain's argument for why they should not provide accommodations for deaf and hard of hearing individuals was not received well. You can also read more about it on NAD News. Finally, we may be getting somewhere. Reading this reminded me of the first time I sought accommodations at a movie theater and used a rear window captioning device.

The first time I decided to try a rear window captioning device at a movie theater in New York City was an interesting, embarrassing, and disappointing experience. And of all people, Keanu Reeves was there to witness my struggles with the captioning device.

Ok, so I decided to go to the movies by myself on a beautiful warm sunny day in New York City. I wanted to see The Devil Wears Prada. I love Meryl Streep. But, I heard that Meryl Streep's character spoke softly and can be hard to understand. I thought that it would be a great opportunity to try out the captioning devices this movie theater offers.

Before buying my tickets, I noticed this very tall man in front of me. Then I realized that it was Keanu Reeves. Cool. I wondered what movie he will see.

I bought my tickets and then asked about accommodations for the deaf and hard of hearing. The guy mumbled something about going upstairs. I had to ask him to repeat himself several times. Geez, you would think that after I indicated that I am deaf or hard of hearing that he would attempt to speak clearly and a little louder.

I went upstairs to the customer service station where they provide accommodations. There was a smiling woman in the customer service station. I went over and said that I was hard of hearing and would like to see the accommodations they have to offer. She smiled and said that I have two options. One would be to wear headphones. I quickly said no to that. The other is to use the rear window captioning device. I told her I would be interested to see it. She bent down and sorted through various things. After a few minutes of this, she stood back up and with the device in her hands. Yes, hands. It was so big that it required her to hold it with both of her hands. And, I am not making this up, it was very dusty, and she tried to dust it off in a covert manner. It must not be very popular.

She went on to describe the way it works and how I should use it. I asked if there was a visual aid or something I could look at to understand how it works. She looked at me as if I asked her if she could help me strangle a baby seal. Clearly annoyed, she stooped down again, rummaging through various things.

Not wanting to miss the movie, I told her that it was fine. She got back up, looking embarrassed. "I'm sorry," she said. "I don't know where it is. I know we have it somewhere."

How in the world do they expect to explain to a signing profoundly deaf person how to use it without any visual aids or a printed guide? Obviously, she did not get many deaf people asking for this device. Perhaps, I was the first one. After looking at the large thing, I can understand why.

She handed the thing over to me. It was heavy! It felt as if she just handed me a 10 pound dumbbell. Not only was it heavy, large, and awkward to hold, I had to carry this thing across the lobby and up the stairs to the movie for everyone to see.

I can't even begin to describe what it looked like. It was half my size and it had a long metal neck with a clear plastic rectangle attached to the top. At the bottom was what looked like a small pot where you plant flowers in it.

From what I understood from the woman, I had to put this hideous thing in the cup holder and adjust it so that I have the window in front of me. The captions are supposed to appear on the little window. But, there was one crucial thing she told me that I did not do that would have helped me see the captions. I don't know if it was because I forgot or I did not hear her say it. I don't really remember. I'll explain this later.

The looks I was getting from people made me feel like I was a terrorist holding a bomb in my hands. I even saw some people whisper and point at me. I can't say that I blame them. I was lugging the thing beside me, trying so hard to hide it. But, there was no way I could hide it. Oh, look there is Keanu Reeves again! He was going up the stairs as well.

Nevertheless, as I was approaching the movie, I was excited about learning how this thing works.

See Part Two, to continue.

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