FilmScene adds captioned film screenings for deaf and hard of hearing community

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KWWL) – A non-profit movie theatre in Iowa City is making the movie experience a little bit more inclusive for its hard of hearing patrons.

There are many sights and sounds inside a movie theatre lobby from the popcorn popping, fountain drinks filling to conversations about the films about to begin.

The Indie non-profit theatre FilmScene is no different.

But what if that bustling noise experience was more silent? That’s the reality for the more than a million Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing.

“We always strive to make this a place that is accessible for everyone in our community, where everyone feels welcomed,” FilmScene Associate Director Andrew Sherburne said.

Every Wednesday night, the theatre screens open caption movies.

“Sometimes it just takes a member of a certain community to come to us and tell us what they need,” FilmScene Programming Director Rebecca Fons said.

The topic came up when a member of the deaf and hard of hearing community asked FilmScene for more accessible movies.

“[It was] something we could do right away was begin offering caption screenings so we’ve done it, on average, about one a week so far and we also offer ASL interpretation for the staff introduction before and we even offer ASL interpretation for the trailers too,” Fons said.

Fons said it was only a matter of switch of a button to make the change.

“It seemed like kind of a no-brainer to do it,” she said.

Already it’s catching on, Fons said.

“People who have driven in from Cedar Rapids or even further away because there’s films they want to see and they’re not able to see them otherwise,’ she said.

A simple switch to make movies a little more inclusive.

“That movie-going experience is something special. It’s different than sitting at home watching a film. So, this enables us to welcome everyone in the community,” Sherburne said.

Fons said they are considering adding a weekend option, too. He added that, based on enthusiasm to do so, the theatre could see more captioned movies in the future.

A new law also kicked in this summer for movie theatres to better accommodate people with disabilities. The law requires theatres to start providing captioning through individual means with hand-held devices or ones that clip onto seat backs.

It would make it so the captions are only visible to the patron in need.

Next year, FilmScene will expand to an additional location in downtown Iowa City in the new Chauncey Building. They hope by then to also provide audio description services for the blind.

Jalyn Souchek

Jalyn Souchek

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