Attorney General Eric Holder Signs Proposal to Improve Movie Theater Experience for Disabled Americans

On July 25th, 2014, the Justice Department released a statement announcing that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder signed a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that will affect Title III regulation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Title III of the ADA focuses on public accommodations, such as restaurants, hotels, theaters, doctors’ offices, libraries, and the like, and states that these establishments may not discriminate based on disability status(es).  The NPRM Attorney General Holder supports focuses on requiring movie theaters to provide closed captioning and audio description that will improve movie accessibility for those with visual and hearing disabilities.

Attorney General Holder made the following statement about the proposed amending:

This proposed rule will allow all Americans, including those with disabilities, to fully participate in the moviegoing experience.  With this proposal, the Justice Department is taking an important step to ensure consistent access for people with vision and hearing disabilities.  Twenty-four years after its passage, the Americans with Disabilities Act remains a critical tool for extending the promise of opportunity and inclusion for everyone in this country.

(Excerpt from the DOJ’s Press Release statement about proposed amendment.)

Interior of a Movie TheaterWhat do these proposed new accommodations mean for disabled moviegoers?  The closed captioning access would allow for captions to be delivered to a patron’s seat, and would only be visible to that user.  The audio description access would allow patrons with varying degrees of visual abilities to participate in the movie-going experience by making available a spoken narration of key visual moments in the movie; such as action points, setting locations, facial expressions made by the characters, costumes/clothing worn, and scene changes.  These descriptions will be transmitted via an user’s wireless headset.

The amendment proposed would establish a nationwide standard for movie theaters to showcase movies that would allow closed captioning and audio description to be made available to patrons would would benefit from the accommodation.  However, there are two caveats to this proposal:

  • The first being that theaters can be non-compliant if providing such accommodations would prove to be an undue burden or fundamental alteration.
  • Secondly, the DOJ is not requiring theaters to add the accommodations to movies that cannot be adapted with these features.

As someone who is hard of hearing (HoH) and uses two digital-style hearing aids, this proposal would greatly benefit me as a moviegoer.  Though my hearing aids assist me greatly, having the closed captioning option as an accommodating tool would enhance the movie theater experience for me, and others like myself.  Closed captioning and audio description features provide more social inclusion for those who would utilize them.  As we look ahead to the 25th anniversary of the ADA in 2015, this proposal is a great reminder that there is still a tremendous amount of work left to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access and opportunities, justice, inclusion, and acceptance in our society.  Individuals with visual and hearing disabilities, along with those with other forms of disabilities, are still in great need for more accommodations and accessibility to be made available to them – a few ramps, braille on elevator pushkeys, and wide bathroom stalls are not enough.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of AI Squared.)

Funding Free Tracking Devices for Children with Autism

Mom with Son Wearing Backpack 1Last week, the Justice Department announced that it would promptly make funding available to provide free tracking devices for children with autism.  The devices will be provided to families with children who are at risk or have a history of, wandering and elopement.  U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder stated that the Department already has the funding needed to make this technology available.  Police departments have been given the green light to apply for funding; departments can use the funding awarded to pay for tracking devices to be allocated to families that want them.  This new plan is modeled after the federal program in place that supplies similar devices to families of those with Alzheimer’s disease.

The wandering and elopement of children with autism have gained much attention due to the tragic passing of Avonté Oquendo, a 14 years old teen who went missing in New York in mid-October.  So many across the nation had hoped and prayed for Avonté’s safe return to his family, including yours truly.  Avonté’s story shone a spotlight on the thousands of children with special needs who are reported missing each year in this country.

The numbers regarding those with disabilities who are reported missing are astounding.  In 2012, there were 30,269 individuals with disabilities who were reported missing, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (the FBI) National Crime Information Center (NCIC).  Of that figure, 3,570 were those under the age of 21, and 26,699 were those age 21 and older.  The number of children missing in 2012 was noticeably less than what was reported in 2011.  In 2011, 6,340 of those reported missing with a disability were under the age of 21.  If we were to combine those figures, almost 10,000 children with disabilities were missing within the past three years.

The focus on those with autism is dire because children with autism spectrum disorders have a higher risk of wandering and eloping than children with other special needs.  It has been noted that about half of children with autism will wander and elope; close to one-third of these children are nonverbal, and are unable to communicate their identities to someone if they are spotted.  Children with autism who wander from safe environments such as their homes or school grounds have a tendency to seek bodies of water or may have interests in active highways, trains, and the like.  Any of these predicaments or fascinations could cause the child to place her or himself in harm’s way while they attempt to “explore” these new surroundings.

The action taken by the Justice Department and U.S. Attorney General Holder is encouraging; the needs of people with disabilities, especially our children, are in the consciousness of those on the federal level.  This new technology has the potential to save the lives of our children, as well as others who may wander from their safe environments.

What are your thoughts about this new initiative?  Is your family one of many in this country who could benefit from using these tracking devices?  If you are currently utilizing a tracking device to keep your loved one(s) safe, what benefits or drawbacks of this technology have you experienced?  Share your thoughts and stories regarding this subject with me.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of Digital Trends.)

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