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Harkin Introduces Legislation to Expand Captioning and Improve Access to Movies

WASHINGTON—Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Senate sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP),today introduced two bills that will expand access to captioning and image narration in movie theaters and airplanes.

“More than two decades have passed since the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and in that time we have seen a transformation of our physical landscape—from curb cuts to wheelchair ramps, buses with lifts to automatic doors—our communities are more accessible than ever for our neighbors with disabilities," Harkin said. "However, we still have more to do. These bills will allow Americans with visual or hearing impairments to enjoy going to the movies and watching in-flight entertainment, through captioning and video description, just as they can at home.”

The Captioning and Image Narration to Enhance Movie Accessibility (CINEMA) Act would amend Title III of the ADA to require movie theater complexes of two or more theaters to make captioning and video description available for all films at all showings. Video description is a process that allows an individual who is blind or visually impaired to have access to the key visual elements of the programming by contemporaneous audio narrated descriptions of the actions, settings, facial expressions, costumes, and scene changes during the natural pauses in the audio portion of the programming, usually through headphones.

The Air Carrier Access Amendments Act would amend the Air Carriers Access Act to require that air carriers make captioning and video description available for visually-displayed entertainment programming—live televised events, recorded programming, and motion pictures—that is available in-flight for passengers. In instances where the programming is only available through the use of an individual touchscreen or other contact-sensitive controls, the bill would authorize the U.S. Access Board to promulgate accessibility standards so that individuals with disabilities, including individuals who are blind or visually impaired, can operate the displays independently.