Sunday, February 6, 2011

"Theaters show 'barrier-free' films for hearing, visually impaired people"

From today's Japan Today:

Two movie theaters in Tokyo’s Kamata district are offering what may be called ‘‘barrier-free’’ films for people with hearing or visual impairments.

At Theatre Kamata and Kamata Takarazuka, both located in a commercial and industrial area near Haneda airport, subtitles are shown on large displays and narration is provided through FM radio in the special services offered every Sunday through March.

More than 20 movie houses operated near JR Kamata station in Ota Ward during the golden age of the motion picture industry in Japan in the early 1960s. The two theaters, now the only ones in operation in the district, began offering movies for the benefit of hearing and visually impaired people last May on a trial basis.

On the second floor, large displays to show subtitles are provided to those with hearing difficulties. They can also bring portable audiovisual terminals such as iPhones and receive information wirelessly.

Users may have some difficulties deciphering whose subtitles are being shown on the display, though. And translating the movie’s sound effects into visual information is not easy.

Special headphones lent by the theaters are equipped with small displays while bodily sensation seats generate vibrations along with sounds in the movie.

For the visually impaired, the theaters offer a voice guide service via FM radio.

Sho Terada from Setagaya Ward, a 27-year-old student at a vocational school, watched a Japanese samurai drama with the aid of a small display at Kamata Takarazuka.

"I found it troublesome to look at the screen and display alternately but I got used to it fast," he said. "In terms of understanding the content of movies, it was the best film I’ve watched."

Terada frequently watches foreign movies with Japanese subtitles. He said he can now expand his scope of entertainment as he can watch Japanese films too.

The Media Access Support Center, a nonprofit organization in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, which began the special services, says the number of motion pictures with subtitles directly printed on films has been on the rise in Japan thanks to efforts by major movie producing companies.

However, it said, the number of such films accounted for only 10% of the 488 shown at theaters in 2009, with most of them available only in urban areas for limited periods of time on an irregular basis.

An official of an organization supporting hearing impaired people said the situation is far from where the disabled "can see films at anytime anywhere."

MASC director Koji Kawano said, "We rely much on business corporations and organizations as well as local government subsidies in carrying out support projects."

He said major movie producers also find it difficult to promote projects to print subtitles on the film given high costs.

The situation in Japan is in stark contrast with the United States where the disabled are guaranteed the right to take in art and entertainment under the law, he added.


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