A cinema for everyone
Just go to the cinema – no problem, right? This is not so easy for the hard of hearing and deaf people. Their requirements for the structural and technical equipment of cinemas have mostly not yet been met. Cinema operators should take these requirements into account, especially when it comes to renovations and new buildings. Because participation for everyone also means that cultural offers are equally accessible and tangible for everyone.
Cornelia Zolghadri (CZ): Dear Mr. Mourgues, builders today have to make decisions for tomorrow and define years in advance what will be put out to tender and then built later. So planners today need answers in order to build sustainably barrier-free now and in the future. When I talk to planners or operators about the topic of cinema and hearing loss, two questions always arise. First: Are induction systems still sustainable in the age of Bluetooth technology? And secondly: There are now apps that enable subtitling of movies on your own smartphone. Is not that enough?
Klaus Mourgues (KM): Yes, the argument keeps coming up. But there is a very clear answer to this: No, that is not enough. These apps are an emergency solution, but not an alternative to integrated subtitles, good technical equipment and modern and well-planned induction technology. The hard of hearing and deaf people simply need these things for a good cinema experience.
CZ: It sure is exhausting to follow the subtitles on the small display of a smartphone parallel to what is happening on the big screen, right?
KM: That’s correct. In addition, other cinema-goers often feel disturbed by the brightly shining smartphones. Not to mention the fact that the range of current subtitled films in these apps is quite limited.
CZ: So in a “cinema for everyone” there should definitely be subtitles on the big screen?
KM: I am speaking here for the hard of hearing and the deaf. Reading from the face image supports the residual hearing ability; but it is not enough because you only get a third of the information. Mistakes quickly arise between visions and the meaning of words – this can lead to serious misunderstandings. Bad or reflective lighting conditions in rooms and in films also make it difficult to read the face image. Therefore, subtitles are very important to us. Only when all films are shown in all cinemas with subtitles can we choose from what the cinemas have to offer without barriers. We are still a long way from that.
CZ: What are the barriers to communication?
KM: Admittedly, the subject is complex. Most deaf people perceive sign language as their mother tongue and would like the assistance of a sign language interpreter in as many communicative situations as possible. But the vast majority of people who are hard of hearing, later deaf and old-age deaf hearing are not competent in sign language. Sign language is an independent language with its own grammar. Like a new language, you have to learn it first. Most people who are hard of hearing or deaf communicate in the spoken language they are used to. Some hearing-impaired and deaf people are helped with supporting gestures accompanying the spoken language, but by no means all.
CZ: And what does that mean for the “cinema of tomorrow”?
KM: The perfect cinema of tomorrow should of course take both needs into account. That after sign language interpretation and that after technical support and subtitles.
CZ: Let’s come to the structural requirements: When I give advice, I always ask about the acoustic equipment of buildings in the listening area. These include, for example, sound reflections on the wall-ceiling-floor, possible interference, acoustic ceilings or sound absorbers, induction systems or whether, in addition to the acoustic emergency call, visual emergency call and alarm systems for the hard of hearing, deaf or deaf people have been thought of.
KM: Yes, all of this is fundamentally important. We have been talking about this for a long time.
CZ: If you are not affected yourself, it is difficult to understand what it is like to hear with technical hearing assistance. Please explain to us why induction loops are so important to you?
KM: Many hearing impaired and deaf people use technical aids such as hearing aids or cochlear implants (CI), sometimes with accessories. Modern devices are compatible with Bluetooth, but this does not replace good interior equipment with induction loops. The sound of good induction loops is usually better than that of Bluetooth devices. In addition, induction loops have a better range in large rooms. Bluetooth devices can fail. The same goes for smartphones. In addition, many hearing aid and CI wearers cannot afford expensive Bluetooth devices. Older people or children in particular often do not get along so well with the newer technology.
CZ: So are bluetooth devices and subtitling apps just a technical hype?
KM: Everything that actually allows us to participate better today is not hype, but belongs to the development process of participation opportunities. However, we would like planners, the film industry and operators to further improve our opportunities for participation. Apps can be seen as a supplement, but not as a replacement, for structural hearing support.
CZ: Finally, and as an outlook into the future, a specific question asked: What technical infrastructure should a cinema operator already provide in the existing building and plan for renovations and conversions so that it remains barrier-free and thus competitive in the future (e.g. in 2023 and of course beyond)?
KM: Subtitle every film, modern induction technology and well-planned sound insulation in all rooms, good lighting and induction-capable microphone systems in checkout and service areas, alarm and emergency call systems at least based on the two-senses principle (see, hear and / or touch) in rooms and elevators, a duo workstation for two speech-to-text interpreters (e.g. for premieres, live events) to the side of the cinema screen with table and technical connections as well as good work surface lighting and facial illumination of people speaking or signing. Also very important: Reservations for cinema tickets must be barrier-free online, by e-mail or by fax and not just by phone!
CZ: Thank you very much, Mr Mourgues! They gave us an important insight into the world of hearing with impaired hearing and deafness and gave us all a lot of helpful tips. Especially in the building world and those who advise and plan today in terms of accessibility.
This specialist article was created in cooperation with the Association of the Hard of Hearing eV.