Celebration! Cinema sued over closed captioning

Man who is deaf wants closed captioning devices at Benton Harbor theater

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Celebration! Cinema is being sued by a man who is deaf who says a Benton Harbor theater discriminated against him by failing to provide closed captioning for the movies it shows, despite multiple requests.

The lawsuit filed this week says the Benton Harbor Celebration! Cinema, owned by Loeks Theater, Inc., violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and says public accommodations cannot deny participation to individuals with disabilities.

“He wants to be able to go into movie theaters like anyone else,” said Michael Stein, one of the attorneys for the plaintiff, Graham Forsey.

“Mr. Forsey requested that the movie theater provide captioning and the movie theater declined to install captioning,” Stein, who is also deaf, continued.

Is that against the law? It depends on who you ask.

“The ADA is very clear that movie theaters must be accessible and captioning is required if necessary for effective communication,” Stein said.

Celebration! Cinema disagrees.

“It’s not a law, but it’s a service you want to give to your guest,” said Steve VanWagoner, Celebration’s vice president of marketing and public relations.

VanWagoner said Celebration has hearing impaired devices at all nine locations, but closed captioning at only a few. He said the Benton Harbor location was built in 1997 and converted to digital in 2008, so the technology is older and there’s a high cost to provide closed captioning. However, he said the devices will be available at the Benton Harbor location in the next few months.

HOW DOES THE CLOSED CAPTIONING DEVICE WORK?

“This captioning device is something you take right into the move theater with you,” VanWagoner showed 24 Hour News 8.

The device shows the closed captioning on a personal screen. The base fits into the cup holder and the screen height is adjustable. The device doesn’t impact anyone other viewers’ movie experience — it’s small and hardly noticeable.

Movie-goers can request a closed captioning device at the concierge desk. It will be set according to their ticket and sync with the movie once inside the theater.

Celebration hopes to soon have the devices at all nine locations.

When 24 Hour News 8 asked why Celebration waited for a lawsuit before adding closed captioning devices in Benton Harbor, VanWagoner said that was a mischaracterization of the situation:

“We haven’t waited until the lawsuit. That’s a misnomer,” he said.

He said Celebration was working to get captioning devices at Benton Harbor well before the lawsuit was filed.

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