By Niki White
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
After industry theatres converted from 35 millimeter projectors to digital cinema systems in mid-August 2010, a select group of Nevadans have no longer been able to enjoy a basic component of the movie-going experience.
In 2005, Regal Cinemas began its Descriptive Audio (DA) program, a system of pre-recorded narration conveyed through headsets describing visual scenes in movies for the blind and visually impaired. The feature made it possible for those without sight to attend movies, generally a week after theatrical release, after the narration was included in the screening. However, theatres in Nevada have stopped Descriptive Audio, even though it was the last state to receive the service and other states have continued it without interruption.
Shortly after the program was discontinued, dozens of concerned parents, adult DA users, and blind organizations sent e-mails to Regal Cinema, inquiring about the return of the feature. They received a response from Regal Cinema, but it was anonymous and did not directly address their concerns.
“We are working diligently to get our systems upgraded to once again make those films that come with descriptive audio available,” read the e-mail reply.
Users of the service have indicated that relying on a sighted person to describe visuals disturbs others and turns the activity of watching a movie into an experience of dependency. But when a DA narrator reads through scripts and the production notes, the listener can hear the film independently.
Meanwhile, as the majority of sighted movie goers in Nevada have continued to attend theatres without disruption, the blind and visually impaired community has had to wait to see if movies will ever be the experience they once were, or if theatres are in fact violating their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The reason for the discontinuation cited by the management of Regal Cinemas stems from upgrades in projector equipment that was not compatible with the technology needed for DA. Despite this problem, every other state managed to procure the required technology to continue the service with the equipment change.
“My purchasing department has identified the technologies need to get the descriptive audio up and running and has ordered some,” said Randy Smith, chief administrative officer and counsel of Regal Entertainment Group in an e-mail. “Once we have it, our technical department will give me a date for installation.”
In the past, the Nevada Blind Children’s Foundation (NBCF), 3811 W. Charleston Blvd, a non-profit organization whose primary goal assists blind or visually impaired children in the valley, had alerted its members to titles and show times of DA movies. NBCF has now requested status updates on the installation at the Red Rock Theatre.
“I’m asking for updates every two weeks,” said Linda Maneen, director of operations at the foundation. “I know it’s not a priority for the management over at Red Rock, so we have to keep reminding them.”
Smith’s indication that Red Rock is in the process of restoring DA features to their movies has already been received with enthusiasm by former users of the service.
“DA is transmitted through the wireless headsets so I could enjoy hearing the visual descriptions of the movie without anyone else being disturbed,” said Raquel O’Neill, a formerly frequent user of the now inactive service at the Red Rock Theatre. “I could also talk with friends and family more easily about the visual aspects of the movie making it a truly independent experience.”
O’Neill said she hasn’t enjoyed the movie-going experiences as much lately, since DA was discontinued.
“I have to now be careful about the movie I attend,” she said. “Now there’s always the fear that I will pay for something that I will not enjoy so much.”
For a sample of the Descriptive Audio experience, click here, an audio clip from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” provided by IFDNRG, a web and video hosting company <ifdnrg.com>.