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The exterior of the Athena Cinema, 20 S. Court St. (FILE)

Open Caption Mondays at the Athena Cinema to benefit students with hearing impairments

Imagine trying to watch a film and not understanding what is going on, all because the theater does not display captioning or provide the means for people who are deaf to understand the film.

Actions like this can be a day to day issue for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Doing something as normal as listening to a lecture or watching a movie can prove to be a struggle to overcome. The Athena Cinema has become more aware of this in recent years, and has started providing services for people with hearing impairments, like their Open Caption Mondays. 

“I came up with the idea for it [open caption nights] about 3 years ago,” Yang Miller, technical director at the Athena Cinema, said. “Closed caption, where the movies use a personal “stick” device that displays the captions for disabled patrons, are required by law. Open captions are voluntary, which we have every Monday night.”

The Athena Cinema services all people with different impairments, including hearing, visual and physical impairments, and provides the equipment to be used by impaired patrons. 

“The Athena may be a small movie theater, but they still have a conscience and are going to try to do their best and innovate,” Parker Laird, a junior studying psychology, said. “However, this should not be the end of increasing accessibility. I wish captions were even more normalized than just one day of the week, but Mondays is a start.”

The Athena Cinema is one of many businesses that perch upon the cobblestone road of Court St. However, it is a handful of local businesses that have made adjustments for modern structural issues concerning disabilities. 

Jilly Anderson, a junior studying war and peace, has lived with a hearing impairment her whole life and has experienced first hand the challenges of trying to live a normal life with a disability. 

“In Athens, there definitely is a lot of hearing impaired accessibility and accommodations at the university, but that doesn’t always translate to the businesses here,” Anderson said. “It definitely makes things difficult. Although there are a lot of positive things being done, all businesses of Athens County should be in compliance with the disability accessibility standards.”

While OU has been taking strides in making education and learning more accessible for people who are deaf and hearing impared, Anderson believes the same has not translated over into Athens businesses.  

“I went to a movie theater here in Athens that did not have any captioning services, which is illegal,” Anderson said. “And their solution to hearing impairment was headphones, which, with my kind of hearing disability, it’s not about how loud something is. Someone can be screaming in my ear, but I still can’t make out what they are saying. I shouldn’t have to pick and choose what theaters I go to because some don’t have accessibility.”

According to The National Association for the Deaf, closed captioning is required by broadcasters, television networks and cable companies, while movie distributors, producers and studios are encouraged to display captioning on a voluntary basis. 

Though people like Anderson believe hearing impairment equipment is needed to be installed in other Athens business, the Athena is making life a little more normal for those living with a disability. 

“Not a lot of people think about deaf communities, especially when it comes to the gray area of hard of hearing and what it means to be ‘impaired,’” Anderson said. “It’ll be a lot easier for me to go do normal things with people. Just because someone isn’t completely deaf does not mean I don’t need accommodations and I can just roll with it.”


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