San Francisco, CA – February 16, 2016 – Several blind individuals, the California Council of the Blind (CCB), and the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired (LightHouse) filed a nationwide class action lawsuit today in federal court against AMC Theatres to challenge discrimination against movie-goers who are blind or low-vision. The lawsuit alleges that AMC is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. The individual plaintiffs are Scott Blanks, Leah Gardner, Charles Nabarette, Robert Schulenburg, and Empish Thomas.
The lawsuit alleges that AMC movie theatres are failing to provide properly functioning audio description technology. When properly working, audio description technology enables people who are blind or low vision to participate in and enjoy the experience of going to the movies. This technology lets these movie-goers know what is happening in scenes without dialogue or scenes with significant visual elements. To use audio description at the movies, an individual wears a headset and listens to an audio description track that contains narration of the visual elements of the movie that is synchronized with the movie. Movie studios create the audio description tracks and provide them to AMC and other theaters. Without audio description, individuals who are blind or low vision watching a movie do not know what is happening in scenes without dialogue and can misinterpret the meaning of other scenes.
While AMC claims to provide audio description services at many of its theaters, AMC regularly fails to ensure the devices are properly functioning. AMC does not adequately maintain, charge, or correctly program the equipment it has. AMC has also failed to adequately train its staff to set up and troubleshoot the equipment. AMC often gives movie-goers who are blind or low vision audio description equipment that does not play any audio at all, is programmed to play audio description for the wrong movie, or that works only briefly before the battery dies. Movie-goers who are blind or low vision often miss parts of movies trying to troubleshoot this faulty equipment, or simply give up on using the malfunctioning audio description equipment.
Plaintiff Scott Blanks commented, “I was so excited to take my sighted sons to see their first theater movie – The Good Dinosaur. Unfortunately, my excitement quickly turned into disappointment once the movie started and the audio description track kept starting and stopping and then stopped playing altogether. Because the equipment failed, I could not fully enjoy my first movie-going experience with my children.”
“Millions of individuals go to AMC theaters each year to enjoy movies, but AMC fails to make this experience accessible to people who are blind or low vision because AMC does not provide properly functioning audio description technology that would allow these movie-goers to fully access movies,” says Jeff Thom, President of CCB. Millions of Americans are blind or low vision. This is the first class action lawsuit of its kind to address audio description in theaters on a nationwide basis.
Plaintiffs’ co-counsel Rebecca Williford of Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) explains, “AMC has the technology and capacity to provide properly functioning audio description equipment that would end the discrimination that blind movie-goers encounter. This makes it all the more disappointing that AMC has failed to take meaningful steps to ensure that blind movie-goers can actually enjoy the theater experience that AMC claims to offer.”
Plaintiffs are asking that the court issue a permanent injunction under the ADA requiring AMC to take the steps necessary to provide properly functioning audio description equipment and services for individuals who are blind or low vision in their movie theaters. Plaintiffs are not seeking damages.
“Other theaters have been able to make this technology work for their blind patrons,” notes plaintiffs’ co-counsel Michael Nunez of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld. “It’s time for AMC to step up to the plate and do the same.”
Bryan Bashin, Executive Director/CEO of the LightHouse concludes, “AMC’s failure to provide access for blind movie-goers contributes to the technical and social divides that blind people experience when companies like AMC give short shrift to the needs of the blind community.”
Selected Media Coverage
AMC Theatres Being Sued for Discrimination Against the Blind, Variety, February 19, 2016
AMC Theatres Sued for Discriminating Against the Blind, NBC News, February 19, 2016
Lawsuit Filed Against AMC Over Broken Audio Description Headsets, ABC7 News, February 17, 2016
Rebecca Williford, Disability Rights Advocates, (510) 665-8644, firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Nunez, Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld, (415) 433-6830, email@example.com
About Disability Rights Advocates
Disability Rights Advocates is one of the leading non-profit disability rights legal centers in the nation. With offices in Berkeley and New York City, DRA’s mission is to advance equal rights and opportunities for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. To advance that mission, DRA regularly advocates for greater access to modern technology. DRA has negotiated access improvements to several types of popular technologies including Redbox self-service video rental kiosks. For more information, visit www.dralegal.org.
About Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld
Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP is a private law firm that specializes in complex litigation, including with respect to business disputes, employment matters, institutional reform, and civil rights. For more information, visit https://rbgg.com/.
About the California Council of the Blind
California Council of the blind (CCB) is a non-profit membership organization composed of Californians who are blind or have low vision. CCB’s mission is to gain full independence and equality of opportunity for all blind and visually impaired Californians. To read more about CCB visit: http://www.ccbnet.org/
About the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired
The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired (the LightHouse), a San Francisco-based non-profit corporation, is California’s oldest organization serving the blind and visually impaired community. Through training, mentorship and recreation, the LightHouse is dedicated to aiding blind and visually impaired individuals in leading productive, enriching, and independent lives. For more information visit www.lighthouse-sf.org.