Christina Goebel: Options for going to the cinema with captions in the US (and how they compare to here)

Posted on September 15, 2016

According to a previous The Limping Chicken post by Samuel Dore, he said the Sony Entertainment Access captioned glasses he tested didn’t work for him.

For the reasons he listed and more, the Sony captioning devices wouldn’t be appropriate for some.

Dolby CaptiView

Also here in the U.S., and maybe more common, is Dolby CaptiView.

The captioning base is placed in the theater’s cup holder, and the user adjusts the captioning box to the height and position he or she wants.

I prefer CaptiView because:


  • they’re not on my face,
  • I move the device and not my head to adjust captions,
  • the captions are fixed, and
  • they have larger and brighter captions.




With CaptiView, the cinema staff will program the device manually to receive captions for the theater where the user will see the movie.

If they’re not trained, this can result in the captions not starting when the movie does. This happened to me during one of the Lord of the Rings movies in a Texas theater, and recently when I went to see Star Trek Beyond in Colorado.

Despite the consideration that movie houses provide when they offer captioned devices, when you miss the beginning of one of those movies, by the time they troubleshoot the situation, you miss 10 minutes or more of the story line.

A Google/Sony solution?

Google and Sony have worked together for years and there’s the potential of Google Glass captioning everything a person hears one day, which would resolve the technology problem for businesses, but place an economic burden on the user to acquire the cutting-edge technology.

For those who thought Google Glass is dead, according to Google, the journey hasn’t ended.

Google Glass might still be a problem for people like Samuel Dore, who experienced dizziness with Sony glasses’ use.

My experience with Sony Entertainment Access glasses

In Aug. 2016, I went to a Colorado movie theater that is transitioning into the Sony captioning glasses. I was their first consumer user and they were nervous because the devices were expensive. I had to give them my contact information.

Christina Goebel

Christina Goebel

That day, I had an allergic stye and didn’t want to wear glasses—the previous week there I’d used CaptiView, but they were excited to see me test the new product. (This introduces another problem—glasses require greater sanitary methods because the user wears them. What if I’d had contagious pink eye or a cold?)

I watched Ben Hur with the Sony glasses. Sometimes, the captions faded against different film backgrounds, which doesn’t happen with CaptiView because it’s placed in front of the screen.

The glasses’ instructions said the caption size could be altered, but on the way to a movie beginning in a few minutes, I never had the time to learn. The captions were therefore half the size of CaptiView captions.

I advocated for them to retain several of the CaptiView devices because, as with Dore and those with vestibular disorders and other conditions, captions near the eyes could cause discomfort or dizziness. They said they would retain three sets. Something to keep in mind as this technology enters your local movie house.

Still, Sony glasses may have provided one of the keys for Google Glass to caption our auditory universe one day. To use them is to think that with more technology, you could wear them everywhere to caption everything.

Tips for using captioning devices

If you learn that your local theater is providing a captioning device, arrive early. They may have a system for signing out the device.

With new equipment, expect staff delays. You may have to walk around to find someone who knows about the equipment.

While you should arrive early, captions are rarely provided until the feature film begins. Here, some chains provide captions for previews, but I haven’t been to one that does.

If the equipment isn’t activated and you miss part of the film, advocate for the next user who is Deaf or Hard of Hearing. Ask to speak to the manager, who is responsible for staff training. You might receive free movie tickets for your next viewing.

Open Captions versus captioning devices

Open captions, which all viewers can see over the film, have been difficult for us to get here at the movies in America, with few scheduled times. The showing times were so prohibitive that I never saw an open captioned movie in a theater.

The hearing community doesn’t favor captions, primarily because they block some of the screen content. This limits our freedom to view movies independently with open captions.

You can get an idea of what’s being used in America and where at CaptionFish. Enter in any U.S. city to view. Perhaps they could add U.K. listings as more accessibility options open there.

They note if movies are open captioned, or the type of equipment that’s in use.

CaptionFish also provides captioned movie trailers.

Advocating for a more inclusive future

Whatever the solutions we need personally, I hope the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community in America and abroad advocates for user options. With the same hearing loss on paper, we adapt to our environments in different ways, based upon myriad factors.

Despite our unique accommodations, we’re in the best place to advocate for others whose condition we understand. We need the technology, as well as inclusion in all aspects of the moviegoer experience, including preview material.

By Christina Goebel, a cross-disability civil rights advocate and blogger for theSign Shares’ blog. Christina has severe/profound hearing loss and wears bilateral hearing aids. She earned a master’s degree in Journalism, having all courses live captioned.

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