By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
BENTON TOWNSHIP — A Michigan theater chain is being sued for allegedly not providing captioning options for the deaf and hard of hearing.
A St. Joseph resident – along with the National Association of the Deaf – filed suit Monday for a lack of closed captioning options at Celebration Cinema in Benton Township.
Graham Forsey, 23, filed the lawsuit against Loeks Theatres Inc. – also referred to as Celebration Cinema – after several attempts to address the issue with the Benton Township theater.
Forsey and the rest of the plaintiffs claim that without captions, deaf and hard-of-hearing patrons can’t understand movie dialogues and soundtracks. Forsey said he is forced to drive an hour to another company’s theater if he wants to watch a movie with accessible captioning.
“I’ve contacted Celebration Cinema multiple times about captioning for the movie theater close to where I live,” Forsey told The Herald-Palladium in an email. “Celebration Cinema has still not provided captioning. Captioning technologies are widely available to allow deaf people to understand and enjoy movies just like any other movie goer.”
Forsey, who was born deaf, is a business analyst at Whirlpool Corp. and co-founder of AVID – the employee resource group known as Awareness of Visible and Invisible Disabilities. Forsey has led a few community awareness events for the deaf and the hard of hearing, including teaching an ASL class at Whirlpool.
The lawsuit states that by not providing captioning options at the movies, the theater chain is in violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act.
Steve VanWagoner, Celebration Cinema vice president of marketing, released a statement saying the company is aware of the issues surrounding the complaint and that the Benton Township location will soon receive captioning equipment.
“Celebration Cinema is committed to continuing to improve services for all of our guests, and we are looking forward to the approval of these standards so we can continue to invest in closed captioning technology,” the statement read.
VanWagoner said Celebration Cinema has assisted listening devices in all its locations and closed captioning in the Grand Rapids and Lansing markets.
Michael Stein, an attorney representing Forsey, said the lawsuit’s intent is to require all of Celebration’s theater locations to develop and comply with accommodating procedures and practices.
In the prepared statement, VanWagoner said the National Association of Theatre Owners has been working with advocacy groups to clarify updated standards for supporting the deaf community. However, VanWagoner said the standards are being reviewed by the Department of Justice.
“Technological solutions for visually and hearing impaired guests are evolving at a rapid rate,” the statement read. “We look forward to working collaboratively with NATO and advocacy groups both locally and nationally on this topic.”
The lawsuit is being handled at the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. Loeks Theatres is based in Grand Rapids.