The Ken Mason
In 1972, WGBH, Boston's public broadcasting station, revolutionized television and video for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing by providing program dialogue as text or "captions" on the lower third of the television screen.
WGBH then worked to develop a technological tool to enable people who are blind or visually impaired access to visual images. The result was the introduction of Descriptive Video Service® or DVS® in 1990. DVS provides narrated descriptions of key visual elements during pauses in the soundtrack of a program. Together these two technologies enable thirty-six million people to fully enjoy television programming independently.
Building on its past success in pioneering access solutions, in 1992 WGBH began researching captioning and description in movie theaters to enable independent access to films. WGBH successfully developed two innovative technologies that make it possible to provide closed captions and descriptive narration for deaf and blind patrons, without the need for special prints or screenings or altering the experience for the general audience. Collectively these systems are known as Motion Picture Access or MoPix. Early development and evaluation of MoPix systems was funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), U.S. Department of Education, under grant #H133G40048.
The patented Rear Window® 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 Rear Window System was co-developed by WGBH and Rufus Butler Seder of Boston, Mass.
DVS Theatrical® delivers descriptive narration via infrared or FM listening systems, enabling blind and visually impaired moviegoers to hear the descriptive narration on headsets without disturbing other audience members. The descriptions provide narrated information about key visual elements such as actions, settings, and scene changes, making movies more meaningful to people with vision loss.
DTS Digital Cinema, now Datasat Digital Entertainment, enabled WGBH to bring these technologies to conventional movie theaters. A reader attached to the film projector reads a timecode track printed on the film and signals the Datasat player (XD20, XD10 or CSS) to play the audio synchronous to the film. For the Motion Picture Access efforts, Datasat adapted its technology to include the caption and descriptive narration tracks on a separate CD-ROM, which plays alongside the other discs in the Datasat player. In turn the player sends the captions to the LED display and the descriptive narration to the infrared or FM emitter.
In November 1997, closed captions and descriptive narration were available for the first time, as part of a regular feature film presentation in a movie theater. The Rear Window Captioning System and DVS Theatrical made their debut at the General Cinema Theater in Sherman Oaks, California, during the November 1997 presentation of the Universal Pictures film, The Jackal. General Cinema Theatres, Universal Pictures, Digital Theater Systems, and WGBH collaborated to make this historic event possible. This pioneering effort has led to accessible presentations of hundreds of major motion pictures in time for their theatrical release. These technologies are also available in speciality theaters such as IMAX theaters, National Park Visitor Centers and Disney Theme Parks and Resorts.
Based on the tremendous industry and consumer response to Rear Window Captioning and DVS Theatrical, exhibitors of all sizes have installed hundreds of these systems in cities across North America. WGBH works with all the major Hollywood studios to caption over 100 filmes a year and describe 70 or more of those. WGBH also works with studios, equipment manufacturers, digital cinema packaging houses, exhibitors and technical standards committees to ensure the progress made in accessible moviegoing continues as theaters transition from projecting 35mm film to digital cinema, or digital projection of films. We encourage exhibitors to adopt these technologies and for studios to make closed captions and descriptive narration available for even more films.
We also encourage consumers to contact theater chains, Hollywood studios and the trade organizations which represent them— the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) respectively— to thank them for providing access to films and to let them know there is an audience of movie fans eager to enjoy more films in more locations.
John Fithian, President & CEO
National Association of Theater Owners (NATO)
750 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002
(202) 962-0370 fax
A. Robert Pisano, President and Interim CEO
Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA)
1600 Eye Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006
(202) 296-7410 fax
Initial activities for Motion Picture Access were funded by a grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, a division of the U.S. Department of Education. The research and development was guided by disabled consumers and representatives from the motion picture industry, including the Motion Picture Association of America, the National Association of Theater Owners, the International Theatre Equipment Association, Digital Theater Systems, General Cinema Theatres and Boston Light & Sound, Inc.
For its efforts to make movie theaters accessible to all moviegoers, WGBH received the 1995 Ken Mason Inter-Society Award, the 1999 Excellence in Access Award from the Association of Access Engineering Specialists and the 2006 da Vinci Award for Accessibility and Universal Design from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Michigan Chapter.
Media Access Group at WGBH
One Guest Street
Boston, MA 02135