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Movie Theater Captions

The deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing communities want to be able to enjoy accessible movie-going experiences at the same level as their hearing family members, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. At this time, local movie theaters provide some form of access through various captioning methods and not all of them are equal in providing accessible quality captions. These access options vary from limited showings that are captioned to using different captioning devices at select theaters. 

There are several ways a movie can be shown with captions, and different captioning methods are made available at select movie theaters. These captioning options include but are not limited to open captioning, where the dialogue and sound effects are displayed directly on the film itself; and user-controlled equipment such as seat-mounted caption screens that rest on a bendable arm where the captions are shown on the mini screen. These seat-mounted captioning screens include rear-view captioning which consists of a plastic screen reflecting the captions being shown from a wall-mounted captioning display on the back wall; and captioning, which consists of a three-line screen display showing LED captioning transmitted from a central location inside the theater. A third captioning option is captioning glasses where the user wears a pair of glasses that show the captions on the glasses lens. The captions are transmitted from a user-worn body transmitter that the user wears around the neck. 

Equipment such as seat-mounted caption screens and caption glasses do not meet universal design standards, and frequently have issues such as running out of batteries, repeating the same lines, being programmed to the wrong movie, and being physically cumbersome. This increases the movie-goer’s frustration level and discourages them from going to movie theaters in the future. This is lost income for movie theaters. 

While they are willing to provide access, movie theaters are concerned about the costs of providing captioned films. The truth is that if the movie itself already has captions or subtitles, turning them on has no cost to the theater and does not require additional equipment.

Another concern shared by theaters is how distracting the other patrons in the theaters might be by the captions. The Commission believes that people who currently find captions to be distracting will become used to them through exposure and awareness. Captions are the future and will become the new normal.

Who this impacts

  • People who are deaf, deafblind, or hard of hearing
  • People who are learning English as a second language
  • Children who are learning how to read
  • Anyone who is in a noisy environment where it is hard to hear
  • Anyone who is in an environment where the sound must be turned off
  • Movie theaters


The best way to make the movie-going experience accessible to our community is by providing open captions. Local Minnesotans who are deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing, with the support of the Commission, and local organizations that cater to the deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing populations of Minnesota, have been working with local movie theaters to improve access to movies by educating the theaters about the need for the least restrictive form of accessibility to the cinema by promoting the best option in favor over the more restrictive and cumbersome options that limit access to the users. The Commission is encouraged by those community conversations to increase awareness and cater to the needs of the community at large. 

As movie theaters embrace accessibility, their customer base will expand as people learn that going to the movies can be a pleasurable and accessible experience shared by everyone. 

What you can do

  • Ask your local theaters to turn on open captions. 
  • Educate your local theaters on the benefits of providing captioned movies. 
  • Write to your legislators and explain that you want accessibility at the movie theaters. 
  • Subscribe to MNCDHH newsletters to stay tuned on any future developments and progress. 

Who is involved

  • Community advocates, including Keenan Gao and Lilly Steinbruckner


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