Beginning in March, Ragtag Cinema opened its doors to a wider audience with two new accessibility enhancements.
As of January 17, 2017, the ADA required movie theaters to have equipment providing closed captioning and audio description at a moviegoer’s seat. Most large movie theater corporations, such as Regal Cinemas and Goodrich Quality Theaters, were able to purchase and provide this equipment within a year of the change, but smaller locally owned theaters had a harder time funding this technology.
Barbie Banks, Ragtag Cinema's director and chief people officer, says that Ragtag has wanted to add these enhancements for the last couple of years — both for legal reasons and because it was important to Ragtag to be accessible. This year, they made it a priority.
By working closely with the Columbia Disabilities Commission, the Ragtag crew was further educated on the needs of those in the community who are visually or hearing impaired. Ragtag purchased CaptiView, a personal closed-captioning device, and Fidelio, a wireless audio receiver that delivers description narration, after receiving the commission's advice and support. Both devices are now available to the public.
CaptiView offers a way for those who are hard of hearing to view the movie without having to put captions on the main screen. The personal devices are viewable only to those using them, so they don’t affect other moviegoers's experiences.
The audio description device, Fidelio, can amplify the sound of the film, verbally describe what is going on, or do both of these actions at the same time by amplifying in one ear and describing actions in the other. Banks says that the descriptive feature is a huge benefit to those who are visually impaired.
“It sounds a bit overwhelming, but it’s actually very helpful,” Banks says. “The descriptions don’t happen over any audio in the film. It happens in between the audio.”
Disabilities Commission member Gretchen Maune went blind in 2006 and has been frustrated with the lack of accessibility features at theaters within the Columbia community. Although Regal and Forum 8 theaters offer these devices, Maune says staff members often don't know how to work them.
“I don’t even get my hopes up anymore to try and go see a movie,” Maune says. “I go to the AMC theaters all the way in Kansas City and St. Louis because the staff does a good job there.”
As of now, Banks says they are working on getting each and every staff member trained on how to use the devices in order to avoid this issue.
Some films, such as smaller films or foreign films, don’t offer descriptive audio, but Banks says that most of the larger films do. Information about the availability of the equipment for any given film showing at Ragtag will be available online.
Now that Ragtag has added these new enhancements, Maune says she is thrilled to be able to attend screenings there.
“I’m so excited to be able to laugh at the same time the rest of the audience does,” Maune says. “This is the closest thing I can get to seeing a movie.”