Vinnies Ability Links Cinema Captioning project started in early 2017 with Sutherland Linker Mark Burgess approaching the GU Film House Cronulla with the aim of securing an open captioned movie every fortnight. The primary target audience was the Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities.
The Deaf/HoH community has largely not enjoyed the cinema experience since closed captioning was introduced in 2010 through a captioning system called CaptiView – a small screen attached to a pole and inserted into the cup holder. The introduction of CaptiView was designed to increase accessibility for Deaf/HoH people but most Deaf/HoH Australians did not like the device. There were a lot of faults and issues with the device that cinema staff were not trained to fix. Viewers complained of eye strain and headaches from having to look up and down between device and screen. Open captioning is therefore the preferred option for the Deaf community. There are benefits to open captioning beyond making the cinema experience accessible for people who are Deaf/Hard of hearing. For example, open captions also help people learn English.
GU Film House Cronulla was supportive of the project and by July 2017 had committed to one film a fortnight being shown with open captions. The film was chosen by the Deaf community through a Facebook poll which helps ensure there is an audience for the session. Initially numbers were low for the sessions, but as more people learned about it the audience grew, including other members of the community.
The project was then picked up by a Linker in eastern Sydney, Michael, who approached the Ritz Cinema in Randwick about starting captioned screenings. In August The Ritz Cinema started weekly open captioned screenings. Mark and Michael worked to promote the captioned screenings online, including through Deaf networks. Audience numbers continue to grow and The Ritz now has two open captioned screenings a week.
One member of the public stated, ‘ The inclusion of captioning and promotion of access to the joy of the cinematic experience is much welcomed. The room was filled with people from all walks of life happily experiencing all that the cinema has to offer. Being in this environment with my child was also recognised by her as one of inclusion and support.’