Clayton Theatre offers captioned movies for hard-of-hearing

Date Published: 
January 5, 2018

The writing’s on the wall at the Clayton Theatre. The Dagsboro movie theater is making the arts more accessible to people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing by offering open-captioning matinees.

“The deaf community is a vibrant community,” said Barbara White, who suffered progressive hearing loss in her youth. “I’m glad that we’ll finally be able to see a top-rated movie with open captions.”

Open captioning works just like subtitles. While in closed captioning the text is broadcast via signal, usually on those familiar black bars across the television screen, and can be turned on and off, in open captioning, everyone can see the words shown directly on the screen with the rest of the picture.

White encouraged theater owner Joanne Howe to try open-caption nights, which began in November with showings of the firefighter movie “Only the Brave” and continued in recent weeks with “The Star” and “Wonder.”

“I didn’t realize we had such a large hard-of-hearing community out there,” Howe said. “It’s been interesting. I’ve enjoyed working with them. I hope we can do some more in the future.”

But people don’t have to be deaf to benefit from captions. It helps English language learners, seniors losing their hearing and children learning to read.

“One woman commented to me, when she goes to the movies and they’re speaking in accents, like British accents, she has a hard time understanding,” Howe said. Captions could help her, too.

It’s not hard to do. With the Clayton’s new digital projection system, the staff simply choose the captioned option from the movie hard drive, and a technician ensures the picture fits the screen.

Howe hopes to host one or two open-caption showings per film.

“We’re happy to be able to do this,” said Howe.

The next open-caption screening will be Wednesday, Jan. 10, at 2:30 p.m. for “The Greatest Showman” (PG). The musical spectacular, starring Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron and Zendaya, re-imagines P.T. Barnum’s creation of spectacle and the modern show-business.

Details are available by calling the Clayton Theatre box office (302) 732-3744; on the calendar at, on their Facebook page and in newspaper ads.

“We had hearing and non-hearing families at the last event, for ‘The Star,’ and they seemed to be fine with the fact that words were on the screen. It’s very interesting for me, being a hearing person, to see the captioning on the screen and how people react to it,” Howe said. “We let people know, going in, that it was open-caption.”

Coming from the Maryland and Washington, D.C., region, Barbara White said that, in her retirement to Sussex County, she was disappointed in the lack of communication access for the deaf and hard-of-hearing — less movie access and fewer interpreters.

“Every time I came here to the area, I could not see a movie with my family because it was not accessible to me,” White said.

She said she rarely bothers to watch movies without captions, because reading lips and guessing at the plotline is too frustrating, especially for the price of a ticket.

Movie theaters also offer special eyeglasses that show digital closed-captioning just for the wearer. But White has never bothered, because other moviegoers call the glasses cumbersome. “Also, the theaters only sometimes have five pairs. So, if you have this big group going there, a lot of us would be left out.”

Although Joseph Innes has “tolerated” these glasses, “There’s no comparisons with the captions on the screen. That way, I have full access. I can sit back, relax and not have to spend my time adjusting my glasses up and down and over. I like to hold my popcorn and have my drink and not worry about all that other stuff. It’s an experience, you know? The experience is not the same.”

Before the open-caption premiere, dozens of people enjoyed dinner at the nearby Porto restaurant, including members of the Delaware Deaf Senior Citizens of Sussex County and the Delaware Association of the Deaf.

“Everyone is very excited. Finally, they can go into a local movie theater and have equal access to the movie,” Innes said. “We’re finally coming into the 21st century!”

“Really, tonight is special for the deaf and hard-of-hearing,” said White, who hopes this ball will keep rolling. “We feel that we just need to educate the community.”

Here’s a tip to everyone else: Don’t say “hearing-impaired.”

“It’s outdated,” White said. “Deaf people don’t feel that they have an impairment, because they’re not broken. … We’re constantly educating people.”

Several years ago, the Hawaii State Legislature first required movie theaters to host open captioning, once per film per week. They also required that eyewear and audio descriptions (if produced) be available upon request.

Nationwide, most other digital movie theaters will follow similar rules this summer, as the U.S. Department of Justice now requires similar accommodations under the ADA.

“We are very excited about the community partnership opportunities that we never had before. I hope this partnership and tonight’s event will extend to other opportunities,” said Billy Bowman of Ocean View, also representing Delaware Association of the Deaf. “We love movies. We are working on improving access at the hospitals, doctor offices, as well as schools.”

Interviews for this story were done with help from interpreter Brenda Kelley-Frey.