Rachel’s Law: Students Advocates for Better Closed Captioning

Monica Horner

Staff Reporter

This semester, the American Deaf Culture class was assigned a Community Service Learning Project, and sophomore Rachel Hansell saw an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the Deaf and hard of hearing in Maryland. Closed captioning allows people who are Deaf and hard of hearing to have access to television programming by displaying the audio portion as text on the television screen. Most entertainment venues still do not provide closed captioning. “When closed captioning isn’t provided, it is impossible for me to enjoy a movie in a theater,” explained Hansell. “There have been so many great films that I wanted to see, but I had to wait until the movie was available on DVD. By the time I actually get to see the movie, I already know what happens, because all of my friends have already seen it!” said Hansell.

Hansell contacted Maryland Delegate Kevin Kelly to enact a Legislative bill, which will require movie theaters, stadiums, and other venues to provide appropriate closed captioning accommodations for patrons who are Deaf and hard of hearing. Closed captioning technology for movie theaters is very different than subtitles. The captioning system displays reversed captions on a light-emitting diode (LED) text display, which is mounted in the rear of a theater. Deaf and hard-of-hearing patrons use transparent acrylic panels attached to their seats to reflect the captions, so that they appear superimposed on the movie screen. The reflective panels are portable and adjustable, enabling the caption user to sit anywhere in the theater. The hearing patrons will not be distracted by text on the screen and probably will never take notice of the technology. The bill was introduced to the House of Representatives on Feb. 26, 2010. A petition will be placed in the Hoover library so Maryland residents who are registered to vote can sign up and display their support! When approved, Rachel’s Law will be enacted by the General Assembly of Maryland on Oct. 1, 2010.