Let’s ALL Go to the Movies!

Open Captioning

Kauai Representative James Tokioka (right) addresses the crowd during a post-screening celebration hosted at Dave and Buster’s, as Jan Fried (left) provides American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation

House Bill 1272 was signed into law by Hawai’i Governor David Ige in May of 2015, making Hawai’i the first in the country to accommodate the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing at motion picture theaters statewide by providing open captioning. The landmark law was authored by Kauai Representative James Tokioka (Wailua Homesteads, Hanamaulu, Lihue, Puhi, Old Koloa Town, Omao).

On January 2, 2016, over 100 members of the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing community celebrated at Ward Consolidated Theaters, commemorating this pioneering moment in the disability rights movement. The event was hosted by the Aloha State Association of the Deaf (ASAD) and the first open-captioned showing was of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. A post-film reception took place upstairs at Dave and Buster’s.

“Open captioning affords our community maximum inclusion at movie theaters,” ASAD President Billy Kekua explained in a press release. “With this new law, we finally feel part of the film industry.”

“Hawai’i’s unprecedented requirements in movie theater access for the Deaf, Hard-of-Hearing, and Deaf-blind is a true win-win for moviegoers and motion picture theater companies,” Kekua said.

The enactment of this law was also praised by the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing community nationwide.

“The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) commends Hawai’i for being the first to pass legislation that requires open captioning in movie theaters and looks forward to the law becoming effective on January 1, 2016,” said NAD President Christopher Wagner. “We hope that this legislation sets the trend for the rest of the country.”

While the law has resulted in significant gains for the Deaf and Blind communities, it turns out open-captioning has also been a hit among moviegoers without hearing or vision challenges.

“There was a group of hearing people at the [Star Wars] movie who absolutely loved having the captioning,” said Joel Matusof, President of the Board of Directors for Signs of Self. “Sometimes in movies like Star Wars, where it is action-packed and characters have strange accents, the captioning makes it easier to follow the dialogue.”

The law signed by Governor Ige contains a sunset clause, which will repeal the bill on January 1, 2018. There is currently a measure in the state legislature – House Bill 2727 – that aims to remove the sunset clause, which would make the open-captioning mandate indefinite.

View the original bill