Why Closed Captions for Movies in Theaters and Airplanes Are More Important Than You Think

Usually whenever I am watching my favorite TV shows and movies, I make sure that I have the closed captions on. Even if I am able to hear with my cochlear implants, I still cannot understand most of the dialogue unless there is some visual of what is being said. Whenever I want to watch something on Netflix, Amazon Prime, or any other streaming service, I am able to find a lot of content that has closed captions. Because of closed captions, I do not have to stress about trying to decipher what is being said since they allow me to see the words that the actors are saying clearly.

I’m a huge movie buff and theaters are always the place to go for seeing the latest releases, but there is one big problem: they don’t have closed captions on the screen. This problem not only affects me, but it also affects the deaf community. Even if they have don’t have assistive technology to hear, they still need closed captions. This lack of closed captions is a big issue, as it denies access to the full experience of movies to the deaf community along with other people that rely on closed captions.


The American Disabilities Act (ADA) requires all movie theaters to have closed caption devices for deaf and hard-of-hearing customers. CaptiView is one of the devices commonly used at movie theaters. It has a screen and can be placed in the cup holder of the seat. The device displays the dialogue of the movie once its starts. Another device that has been recently seen in movie theaters like Regal Cinemas is the closed captioning glasses. When the wearer uses the glasses, they will be able to see closed captions. I have used the CaptiView devices before, but there are still flaws to the system. The CaptiView doesn’t sync up to the dialogues as I am watching the movie on the screen. It sometimes skips dialogues of scenes that I actually want to know what is going on. Deaf activist Nyle DiMarco tweeted his experience with the CaptiView during a screening of Black Panther and said the experience left him feeling “so disabled.” The device was skipping lines and not matching up to the scenes of the movie. Nyle DiMarco, along with the deaf community, are pushing for more “open-caption” screenings, which means the captions appear on the screen in real time.

As a deaf person, I can relate to these experiences very well. Many times I have had friends that would invite me to go to the movies with them and I would decline. It was because I was embarrassed that I would not be able to understand the movie or have to ask for the CaptiView or other assistive technology available. Sometimes the movie theaters wouldn’t have the devices available or they wouldn’t know what I was talking about. Open captions screenings would make my experience in movie theaters significantly better. When the acclaimed horror movie A Quiet Place premiered, some movie theaters released the movie with open captions, which brought in a lot of deaf people to the movie. The movie not only integrated American Sign Language (ASL), but it also allowed captions to appear on the screen simultaneously. I will admit that while I am not a horror movie fan, this is a victory for the deaf community. There should be more open caption screenings of movies, as it will create the experience that the deaf community deserves.

I have been an avid traveler since I was a kid. That includes flying on airplanes for long hours, which brings up the issue of in-flight entertainment. I always take books and work with me, but I always end up watching something on the plane. One thing I have noticed is that the movies I would mostly watch would not be provided with closed captions. This would be frustrating for me, as I couldn’t understand what was being said with the background noises that would happen on the flight. This becomes an even bigger issue with the new concept of personal in-flight entertainment. Recently flights have been using apps that we can access through our tablet computers and smartphones. I am able to access those movies and TV shows but there no captions, which makes the experience even more frustrating. I have noticed recently that flights that have screens in the seat have started to put closed captions on some content, but not all of them. Usually only recently released movies have closed captions, which is exciting for me, but but there are also old movies that I would want to watch with closed captions, too.

Closed captions provide a way for deaf people to enjoy TV and movies. The lack of captions in movie theaters and airplanes limits access to the deaf community. The ADA has required closed captions to be put on TVs and streaming services. It has also required DVDs to have closed captions for deaf viewers, too. So, why not put closed captions in movie theaters and airplanes? The deaf community deserves to have equal access, which means they shouldn’t have to struggle so much to enjoy something that everyone else is enjoying. I believe that having captions on everything I watch would be a great thing for me because I won’t have to worry about missing information. Closed captions are an important commodity for the deaf community. There needs to be change and more support for closed captions in movie theaters and airplanes.

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