A group of blind movie patrons filed a federal class action suit this week against AMC Theatres, one of the nation’s largest movie theater chains, alleging that AMC discriminates against blind moviegoers.
The lawsuit claims that AMC fails to provide working audio-description devices for visually impaired kids and adults, instead offering broken devices or ones with dead batteries, as well as frequently handing out devices meant for the hard of hearing instead.
Audio-description devices for the visually impaired consist of a simple headset and audio track that relate key visual elements of the movie. “Without audio description,” notes the lawsuit, “blind individuals watching a movie do not know what is happening in scenes without dialogue and may misunderstand the meaning of other scenes.”
The proposed class action suit, filed by representative plaintiff Scott Blanks of San Francisco, claims that AMC, which owns and operates over 300 movie theaters across the country, “fails to adequately maintain the equipment for playing audio description, fails to adequately train its staff on maintenance, set-up, and use of the equipment, and fails to adequately keep equipment charged and properly programmed.”
AMC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In one example cited in the lawsuit, a blind woman who went to "The Imitation Game" was given multiple non-functioning audio devices. When she finally received one that worked, she discovered that it was playing the audio track for "Fifty Shades of Grey" instead. In another incident, a group of blind children being taken to a Spongebob movie could not enjoy the film due to issues with their devices.
"We all want to have the same experience, the same escapism, the same access to entertainment," Blanks said.
Additional plaintiffs include the California Council of the Blind, Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, plus several other blind individuals. Together, they are seeking a court declaration that AMC discriminates against blind and visually impaired movie patrons, an order that AMC ensures its equipment works properly, and attorney's fees and legal costs for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.