The story of nearly two dozen deaf and hearing-impaired individuals who were denied  closed-captioning at a Rhode Island cinema complex has gone viral because it's a sexy sounding story of corporate America turning a deaf ear, (pun definitely intended), to folks with special needs.  The Showcase Cinema was right to do what it did and here is why:

The Providence Journal reports that late Saturday afternoon 36 year old Tim Riker, an advocate for what the paper calls an "ad hoc group of hearing-impaired" individuals arrived at the theater unannounced in hopes of seeing the smash Disney hit, Beauty and the Beast.

The ProJo says Riker asked theater manager Dave Kunico to "switch on the open-captioning function embedded in the movie," which would have projected subtitles on the screen for their benefit.  The Journal says Konico refused the request suggesting that it would not be fair to those who had already paid to see the movie without subtitles.

Riker and the group left the theater without incident and without seeing the film.

The Journal article hints that Riker may have been looking to make a larger point as legislation is currently pending before the Rhode Island General Assembly that would require theaters with at least eight screens to accommodate customers with hearing or sight issues.  The proposed law would, among other things, require that any film that is equipped with open-captioning be shown at least twice a week with subtitles.

I am not comfortable with the government telling private industry how to run it's business.  It is possible that there might not be enough interest to support such a demand.  I do believe however, it is a great community service for the theaters to reach out to those with special needs.  Perhaps it could be done on request.

Riker, while well intentioned, has no right to just show up at a movie theater with a bus load of individuals with special needs and expect theater management to be able to immediately accommodate their needs.  Had Riker called in advance a special screening might of been arranged without much trouble.

The AMC Theaters at the North Dartmouth Mall regularly schedule special showings for autistic individuals that are well attended.  If it does not already do so, the Showcase Cinemas might want to consider a similar arrangement.

Editor’s Note: Barry Richard is the afternoon host on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from Noon-3pm. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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