For movie fans that are deaf or hard of hearing, activities as seemingly effortless as enjoying the latest blockbuster at the local multiplex can be frustratingly encumbered by the very characteristics that define the movie-going experience.
“I didn’t really think I had a problem with movies, but I go to many indoor theaters now, and with the surround sound system, I can hear every single sound effect except for the conversations,” said Oswego County Legislator Daniel Farfaglia, who was born 80 percent deaf in his left ear and 60 percent deaf in his right ear.
He feels that the general public
sometimes underestimates the challenges the hearing-impaired face at the
cinema. “Too many people have this misconception that all deaf and hard
of hearing people read lips, and that’s not the case,” Farfaglia
explained. “What makes it even more difficult is that if somebody is
speaking, and the camera’s not on them, then you’re completely lost.”
He feels that the general public sometimes underestimates the challenges the hearing-impaired face at the cinema. “Too many people have this misconception that all deaf and hard of hearing people read lips, and that’s not the case,” Farfaglia explained. “What makes it even more difficult is that if somebody is speaking, and the camera’s not on them, then you’re completely lost.”
For certain iconic movie characters, even camera placement doesn’t help. “Try reading Spider-Man’s lips,” he quipped.
Farfaglia recently made a discovery that makes the days of trying to understand dialogue through a superhero’s covered face a hassle of the past. Revolutionary devices called Sony Entertainment Access Glasses, recently made available nationwide exclusively through Regal Cinemas, including locally at Destiny USA, Shoppingtown Mall and Great Northern Mall, now grant him the ability to watch any movie being screened with captioning.
He stumbled upon the existence of the technology while going through his usual routine of browsing movie listings to see which captioned films were playing locally. “When I looked it up, it said that every single movie was captioned,” Farfaglia said. “I thought it was a misprint.”
His subsequent call to Destiny’s Regal Cinemas reporting the perceived listing error not only proved his initial assessment incorrect, but also revealed how this new revelation came to be. “They responded, ‘Sir, things have changed. We have captioning glasses now,’” Farfaglia explained. “And I went ‘What?’”
Anxious to try out the new technology, he traveled to Clay’s Great Northern Mall with his 5-year-old son Avery to see the animated Disney comedy Wreck-It Ralph. After obtaining the glasses from management at the concession stand for no additional fee, he was dismayed to find out that they weren’t functioning at the time with that particular movie as a result of a technical glitch that was occurring nationwide. He had better luck that evening, when he used the Entertainment Access Glasses without any issues to watch the horror film Sinister at Destiny.
The glasses harness holographic technology to create closed caption text within the eyewear that, to the viewer, is seemingly superimposed onto the movie screen. “I put them on, and was like ‘Whoa!’ because there’s green text, and no matter where you move your head, the text will be wherever it is that you’re looking,” said Farfaglia. The oversized glasses, which are attached by a wire to a small receiver box, can comfortably fit over any eyeglasses already being worn by a movie patron.
Viewing any movie being screened at the multiplex with captioning is a very welcome change of pace for Farfaglia. Previous to the Entertainment Access Glasses technology, movie theaters in the area only offered select movies with onscreen captioning at certain times. “You usually only had one movie to choose from, and you saw that or nothing at all,” he said.
Even after enjoying his experience with the glasses, he was amazed by the lack of local publicity. When he inquired with the theater manager about the Entertainment Access Glasses, he was told that only 12 to 15 people had used them since they were made available in mid-September. “These people who have used it up until now, I don’t know how they found out about it.”
The Entertainment Access Glasses don’t only show captions of movie dialogue, they also have the ability to provide descriptive audio via an earpiece for patrons that are blind or visually impaired. “They will be able to hear everything in the theater that everyone else hears, but they’re going to also hear additional items describing the scene,” noted Farfaglia. “Kind of like an old-time radio thing, where they describe it and you hear the dialogue.”
He feels that people with visual and hearing impairments aren’t the only moviegoers who may benefit from the glasses. “Senior citizens might be able to get some use out of this too,” he said. “My father is 65, so he’s a late-deafened person, as many people are when they get older, and he also has a hard time in theaters now.”
Farfaglia said that although each theater only has 12 sets of Entertainment Access Glasses available at the moment, a proven need or high demand may push them to get more. “I think all of the other theater chains, and the independent theaters, may offer these at some point. It’s inevitable,” he said. ”We’ve come a long way in a short amount of time, and I’m glad we’re where we’re at.”