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AMC adds onscreen captions in Pittsburgh and other theaters across the country

 AMC in the Waterfront has begun showing some movies with open captions.
Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA
AMC in the Waterfront has begun showing some movies with open captions.

The deaf, hard of hearing and others who prefer their movies with captions now have more options at the AMC Theater in the Waterfront. The location is among the 240 across the country that will offer certain screening with open captions.

Open captions are comparable to subtitles and appear on the screen. Closed captions, which are available at most AMC screenings, require devices available to customers upon request.

The move, announced by the country’s largest theater chain last week, is intended to improve the movie-going experience for those with hearing difficulties or for whom English is a second language.

“By adding open captions to the variety of presentation formats we offer, AMC locations become a more welcoming place for millions of Americans,” said Elizabeth Frank, executive vice president at AMC and worldwide programming and chief content officer.

The Center for Hearing and Deaf Services in Pittsburgh applauded the new format.

“If you go to a movie without captions and you can’t hear the dialogue and you can’t hear what’s going on, then you are completely relying on visuals and that really only gives you part of the story,” said Amy Hart, CEO of the Center for Hearing and Deaf Services. “Even if you’re trying to read lips… if someone turns their back you lose what they said.”

Moviegoers can find out which showings are offered with open captions by visiting the AMC website or checking the mobile app.

Apart from the new open captions showtimes, customers can request closed captioning devices or rent out an entire theater.

But those devices can be unreliable even when they do work, according to Anna Mei Schurer, a life skills instructor at the Center for Hearing and Deaf Services.

“The batteries die, you know, they don’t always charge them,” she said. “Then you have to walk out of the movie and go and ask to switch the device, so you miss half the movie.”

Schurer believes there is a long way to go to improve the accuracy of captions, too.

Even when there isn’t a technical problem, the captions can be hard to read on a device in your cup holder away from the screen, said Jessica Gould, who is also a life skills coach at the Center for Hearing and Deaf Services.

“That’s what the word accessibility means. That the deaf community can go any time they want and go to a movie. And they don’t have to worry about those frustrations and things not working,” Gould said.

Gould and Schurer both characterized the new format as a positive step forward for the deaf community.

“The deaf community will be [at the theater] way more often,” said Schurer.

The chain will consider evolving the open caption format depending on location and feedback.

“Initial consumer response has been very positive, and we anticipate strong demand with growing awareness of open caption showtimes at AMC,” Frank said.

Adam Aron, AMC CEO, noted on twitter that the new format arrives just in time for the premiere of Eternals. The film opens on Nov. 5 and features the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first deaf superhero, played by deaf actress Lauren Ridoff.

Both Gould and Schurer plan to see Eternals the next time they visit the theater in West Homestead.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.
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