National Association of the Deaf

Movie Captioning



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 When the age of silent films ended in the 1920s, deaf and hard of hearing people were effectively excluded from the experience of going to the movies.  Decades later, movie studios started to make captioned film prints available for occasional showings in movie theaters.  In 1996, the NAD established the Movie Access Coalition, which later became known as the Coalition for Movie Captioning, to advocate for increased showings of captioned movies.  Within a few years, new caption display technologies became available to provide access to movie theater services, without the need to produce captioned film prints.  

Today, there are captioned movies being shown every day in hundreds of movie theaters across the country.  These numbers are positive, but pale by comparison to the number of movie theaters in the United States.  In fact, only about 1% of all of the movies being shown in movie theaters today are shown with captions.  At the current rate that movie theaters are installing caption display systems, it will take more than 30 years for every movie theater to have one caption display system and over 200 years for every movie theater screen in America to be equipped to display captions.  Advocacy action at every level – local, state, and national – is needed to increase the pace of progress.

Digital movies hold the promise of providing captions anywhere at any time.  The transition from movie film prints to digital movie production, distribution, and display has been and is expected to be underway for many years.  It is expected that digital cinema equipment will be compatible with the caption display systems used in movie theaters today.  In addition, digital movies enable the display of captions without any caption display equipment.  Movie theaters should be able to select captions from the movie display menu, much like selecting subtitles for other languages or “subtitles for deaf and hard of hearing” people available on many movie DVDs today.

The NAD continues to advocate for increased showings of captioned movies, through existing and future caption display systems.  People who are deaf or hard of hearing want to be able to attend any showing of any movie in any theater at any time, to sit anywhere in the movie theater with their family and friends, and to have equal access to the movie soundtrack through high quality captioning that is consistently reliable.  The NAD is committed to achieving that goal.

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Recent NAD Action Highlights

  • The NAD filed a "friend of the court" brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit urging the Court to rule that the ADA requires movie theaters to display captions to ensure that deaf or hard of hearing individuals can participate fully and equally in the experience of going to see a movie.  A federal district court judge in Arizona had earlier ruled that movie theaters are not required to display captions because captions alter a movie by changing audio content into visual content.