Joe Clark: Media access

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Cinema → Rollouts

Updated 2001.10.21

Accessible cinema rollouts

SUMMARY – If you own a cinema or a chain and are considering adding captioning and audio description, there are a host of issues – some small, some large – that You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know. This document aims to educate you so you can improve your knowledge and avoid mistakes that would not be apparent to those new to accessibility.


Movie accessibility for deaf/hard-of-hearing and blind/visually-impaired people is a hot topic in the exhibition industry now. Why?

The problem? The exhibition industry does not know a lot about captioning and description and does not have much experience dealing with the main communities involved – deaf/hard-of-hearing and blind/visually-impaired people.

It’s true that accessibility has been an ongoing issue for exhibitors for years. But that has taken the form of architectural or wheelchair accessibility and, to a limited extend, amplification systems for hard-of-hearing people. The addition of words to cinematic artworks – visible words in captioning, audible words in description – adds whole new areas of complication.

It also adds whole new ways to make mistakes. I wrote this document in the hopes of giving the most general advice on the issues you have to consider.

Community briefings

Even though captioning and audio description will provide access to big-name feature films, in fact you are dealing with a grassroots project, not a blockbuster one. You need good word-of-mouth well in place before an official launch. You need buzz before coverage.

Further, your accessibility project attempts to serve mutually-exclusive audiences (blind people can’t read captions and deaf people can’t hear descriptions) with a range of subtly differentiated identities. You need to get community members onside before doing a conventional media launch, though, as you’ll see, you will also embrace disability-specific media at this stage.

Among other benefits, the community representatives you meet can become part of the media launch, demonstrating the credibility of the project. Tasks in a community rollout include:

Media rollout

When covering the exhibition industry in general, the press has rightly focused on the declining fortunes of the business. That’s fair; it was news. But now you’ve got new news. You can offer journalists news about the exhibition industry that accentuates the positive for a change.

Needs assessment

Accessibility means more than wheelchairs, however much the famous wheelchair symbol for accessibility might imply a bias in that direction. You’re doing all the right things to expand accessibility into a much bigger tent than before, but, as it turns out, accessibility is an even bigger tent than that.

The right way to embrace accessibility is all the way. Don’t be half-pregnant with accessibility. Instead, access must pervade the organization. The goal here is to raise the consciousness within your company, elevating accessibility from something that staff are required to spend time on to something that staff gets or even loves – something cool. And yes, it can be done.

Needs assessment includes:

Where to go from here

I’ve provided this compilation as merely a listing of the issues you must take care of to ensure a successful launch. That says nothing of your staff’s ability to actually carry out the relevant tasks. For that, you can hire experts, like me.