NATO monitors and seeks to influence developments affecting exhibition under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and similar disability laws and regulations at the state and local level.  In 2010, the Department of Justice (DOJ) finalized regulations that have substantial impact on movie theater construction and operation in a number of significant areas, including wheelchair seating location, assistive listening devices, ticketing systems and processes, and other construction issues related to access and safety.  The DOJ has also proposed regulations recently to require captioning for the deaf and audio description for the blind.  NATO promotes development of reliable and affordable digital capabilities for accommodating patrons with visual and auditory impairments.  Closed captioning capabilities remain a critical facet to system requirements for digital cinema.

Improving Accessibility Fact Sheet

Service Animals in Motion Picture Theaters

The Department of Justice recently published a new 9-page ADA technical assistance document titled Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA (also available in PDF).  The document is a follow-up to the DOJ’s 2011 document Revised ADA Requirements: Service Animals.

NATO has created a handy one-page Guide to Service Animals in Motion Picture Theaters that can be printed and displayed in back areas of your theaters to assist theater staff in understanding how the ADA’s service animal provisions apply to them and theater patrons.

Department of Justice (DOJ) Notice of Proposed Rule

UPDATE:  The Department of Justice has indicated that the final rule may be public by May 2016.  NATO continues to monitor this regulation and will keep members informed.

NATO has filed joint comments with the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the Association of Late-Deafened Adults, the Hearing Loss Association of America, and the National Association of the Deaf regarding closed captioning in movie theatres.  This joint filing is available here:  A.G. Bell, ALDA, HLAA, NAD, and NATO Joint NPRM Filing.  NATO and its advocacy partners held a press conference to announce the filing. The press conference is archived here:  http://www.visualwebcaster.com/moviecaptioning.

NATO’s comments to the DOJ are here:  NATO NPRM Comments Final RIN 1190-AA63; Attachment A – NATO Survey Results

The Department of Justice (DOJ) released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in July 2014 addressing the requirements for captioning and video description of movies exhibited in movie theatres under title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Title III prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodation.

The NPRM requires 100% of digital screens to be closed-captioned and audio description enabled within six months of publication of the final rule.  In addition, the rule requires exhibitors to provide a certain number of closed captioning devices based on a percentage of total seat count in a theater complex.  Requirements for audio description devices are based on a per-screen count in places where Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs) do not have a channel for audio description.  The NPRM exempts drive-in theaters from these requirements.

Click here for a summary of the NPRM:  7.25.14 Memo on DOJ CC AD NPRM

The full text of the NPRM is available here:  DOJ-CRT Docket No. 126 

The public comments period ended on December 1, 2014.  NATO thanks its members who submitted comments to the DOJ on this important matter.

The history behind the latest NPRM:

An advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) was published on July 26, 2010.  In the ANPRM, the DOJ said it was considering a regulation that would contain a sliding compliance schedule whereby the percentage of movie screens offering closed captioning and video description would increase by 10 percent on a yearly basis—until reaching the 50 percent mark in the fifth year. NATO submitted comments in response to the ANPRM in which it argued that requiring that 25% of screens be equipped would provide wide-spread access for persons with disabilities.

Department of Justice 2010 Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking: DOJ-CRT-2010-0007-0001

NATO Response:  NATO StatementNATO ResponsesAttach A – DOJ-NPRM-NATO Comments 2008Attach B – NATO Amicus Curiae Brief

2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design

The DOJ’s 2010 Revised ADA Standards for public facilities, including movie theaters, were published in the Federal Registeron September 15, 2010. The Standards became effective March 15, 2011—six months after publication. Compliance with the 2010 Standards became required on March 15, 2012 for new construction, alterations and barrier removal. Between September 15, 2010 and March 15, 2012, covered entities were able to choose between the 1991 Standards or the 2010 Standards.

NATO Analysis (For information on key issues for exhibitors, including rules on ticketing, service animals and wheelchair accessibility)

ADA Title III Regulations

The 1991 Standards (printed as Appendix A of the title III regulation in the Code of Federal Regulations, July 1, 1994)

CINEMA Act (S. 555)

On March 13, 2013, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions Committee, announced legislation that would expand access to captioning and image narration in movie theaters. Specifically, the Captioning and Image Narration to Enhance Movie Accessibility (CINEMA) Act would amend Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) to require movie theater complexes of two or more theaters to make captioning and video description available for all films at all showings. Title III prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodation.

On May 14, 2013, NATO testified at a HELP Committee hearing in relation to the bill entitled, “The ADA and Evolving Technologies:  Improving Accessibility From the Movie Screen to Your Mobile Device.”

Testimony of John Fithian, NATO President and CEO
Harkin Hearing Testimony Summary


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