Help for the deaf is aim of R.I. bills

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — While the federal Americans with Disabilities Act is supposed to guarantee equal opportunities and public accommodations for the disabled, advocates for the deaf are arguing that Rhode Island needs to go further to make that standard a true reality.

Bills pending before the General Assembly would address everything from how the deaf and hard-of-hearing order at a restaurant to how they watch films.

Rep. Arthur Handy, D-Cranston, has sponsored a bill requiring movie theaters to provide open captioning during at least two showings per week of each film. During a hearing before the House Health, Education and Welfare Committee last week, Handy said that as the son of two deaf parents he’s familiar with the closed-captioning glasses that are available at movie theaters. The glasses allow only the person wearing them to see the captions, but Handy said the devices can be hard to use and hardly constitute equal access.

Lobbyist Terrance Martiesian, representing the Theater Owners of New England, argued that the “vast majority of people do not want to go to movies and see subtitles,” and that forcing them to do so could cause the theaters to lose money.

Daniel Vieira, the organization’s executive director, said theater owners believe in full accessibility, and some demonstrated the devices they’ve spent thousands of dollars on.

“I appreciate you’re spending $1,000 on [one device], but it would be a lot cheaper to turn on the captioning,” Handy said.

Another bill by Rep. Robert Nardolillo, R-Coventry, would require any restaurant selling food or drink at a drive-through to install equipment to assist the deaf and hard-of-hearing at the ordering stations. He said he sponsored the bill after witnessing a deaf mother with young children come into a fast-food restaurant and struggle to order.

Nardolillo said his research showed such equipment would cost less than $1,200, including installation.

“In the grand spectrum of things, I think we should be considerate of every individual,” he said.


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On Twitter: @JenniferBogdan

Help for the deaf is aim of R.I. bills

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