The owners of movie theaters may find it necessary to install special equipment for patrons with
hearing and visual impairments under the Americans with Disabilities Act as a result of a federal
appeals court ruling that is viewed as groundbreaking.
The April 30 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in State of Arizona vs. Harkins Amusement Enterprises Inc. et al. largely overturned a lower court’s dismissal of the case brought by Frederick Lindstrom, who has severe hearing loss, and Larry Wanger who is blind in one eye and has trouble seeing out of the other.
The two filed suit alleging Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Harkins Amusement, which operates 21 theaters in Arizona, violated the ADA and state law when they could not see or hear a movie five years ago due to their respective disabilities.
For those battling hearing impairments, two out of Harkins Amusement’s 262 theaters have open captions on the screen, but it has no theaters with descriptive narration for the visually impaired. Another option for the hearing impaired is closed captioning, which employs a device connected to a seat, according to court papers.
A district court determined that neither the ADA nor the Arizonans with Disabilities Act requires movie theaters “to alter the content of their services.”
However, a unanimous three-judge appeals court panel did not agree.
“Because closed captioning and audio descriptions are correctly classified as ‘auxiliary aids and services’ that a movie theater may be required to provide under the ADA, we conclude the district court erred in finding that these services are foreclosed as a matter of law,” the appeals court stated in remanding the case for additional action.
The 9th Circuit panel, however, did concur with the lower court that the ADA does not require open captioning.
“Our holding doesn’t necessarily mean that plaintiffs will be entitled to closed captioning and descriptive narration in Harkins’s theaters,” the appeals court stated.
“Harkins may still be able to avail itself of a number of defenses, like the contention that the devices would fundamentally change the nature of its services or constitute an undue burden.” (workersxzcompxzkit)
In a statement, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard claimed the decision is groundbreaking due to the fact this is the first time an appeals court has ruled on this matter.
Author Robert Elliott, executive vice president, Amaxx Risks Solutions, Inc. has worked successfully for 20 years with many industries to reduce Workers’ Compensation costs, including airlines, healthcare, manufacturing, printing/publishing, pharmaceuticals, retail, hospitality and manufacturing. He can be contacted at: Robert_Elliott@ReduceYourWorkersComp.com or 860-553-6604.
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