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The world's largest movie theater chain is adding open captions at 240 U.S. locations

The world's largest movie theater chain is adding onscreen captions at hundreds of U.S. locations in an effort to make moviegoing more accessible.

AMC Theatres announced last Friday that 240 of its locations — in more than 100 U.S. markets — are adding open captioning to certain showings. The change took effect last week and is aimed at improving the viewing experience for people who have hearing loss and for whom English is not their first language.

"Inclusive programming is core to AMC's strategy, and we're proud to lead the theatrical exhibition industry by making some open caption showtimes available at hundreds of our locations nationwide," Elizabeth Frank, AMC's chief content officer and executive vice president of worldwide programming, said in a statement.

Open captions — similar to subtitles — appear on the screen and cannot be turned off, while closed captioning is displayed on electronic devices that customers must request. The company says the "vast majority" of showtimes will continue to be offered with closed captioning, meaning it will still make assisted listening devices available at all of its locations.

Every AMC market with at least two theaters will also make some open caption showtimes available weekly for all new releases, the company explained. Open captions will also be offered through AMC's private theater rentals program at certain locations.

Moviegoers at participating locations can search for open-caption showtimes on AMC Theatres' website and mobile app. They are currently available for a mix of weekend, weekday, evening and matinee showings, and the company expects them to evolve based on feedback and demand.

"Initial consumer response has been very positive, and we anticipate strong demand with growing awareness of open caption showtimes at AMC," Frank added.

CEO Adam Aron noted on Twitter that the open captions are coming just in time for the big-screen arrival of Disney's Eternals. The film is set to open in theaters on Nov. 5 and features deaf actress Lauren Ridloff as the Marvel Cinematic Universe's first deaf superhero.

Ridloff spoke about the moviegoing experience in an interview with The New York Times last month, describing deaf people as "an afterthought in movie theaters" and calling for change.

"You have to use a special closed-captioning device to watch subtitling in a theater, and it's a headache, because most of the time the devices don't work," she explained. "Then you have to go back to the front desk and find somebody to help, and by the time they figure it out that it's not working — that it's not going to be subtitled at all — the movie's halfway done."

Disability rights advocates have long sought to make theaters more accessible, from better audio dubbing to smartphone closed-captioning technology.

Many are praising AMC for its recent announcement.

Christian Vogler, a professor and director of the Technology Access Program at Gallaudet University in D.C., told The Washington Post that deaf and hard of hearing advocates "have been asking for expanded access to open captions since forever."

He also said that expanding accessibility could improve the experience of all moviegoers, noting that captions are useful in many scenarios and are being used in more and more places as the technology expands.

American Paralympian Chuck Aoki praised AMC's move as "absolutely phenomenal" in a tweet.

"Captions aren't harmful to the experience, but help millions enjoy the movie more," he wrote. "Well done!"


This story originally appeared on the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.