After years of persistent advocacy the HLAA New York City Chapter has succeeded in making the HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival (in midtown Manhattan) fully accessible for people with hearing loss. On July 4, 2016 a screening of Top Gun became the first open-captioned movie since the Festival began more than 20 years ago.
In 2009, a member of the HLAA New York City Chapter wrote to Festival organizers requesting open captioning. Chapter members, along with HLAA Director of Public Policy Lise Hamlin, began working with Commissioner Victor Calise from the NYC Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities and Ted Finkelstein from the NYC Commission on Human Rights to research captioning alternatives, and provided that information to Bryant Park and HBO officials.
There were some successes along the way. Technical limitations prevented on-screen captioning at that time, but they were able to be streamed to smartphones. A few years later live CART captioning was provided, but that also had its limitations, as both required looking back and forth from captions to the screen.
In 2015, the Festival began using digital projection, which allowed for on-screen captions. They continued to offer CART, but at the beginning of the 2016 series they also provided captions on a screen below the main screen. This too had limitations, as it was mostly unreadable due to its location. Chapter members continued to advocate, and on July 4 the initiative culminated when people with hearing loss were given full access with clear on-screen captioning.
The HLAA New York City Chapter would like to thank its members for attending Festival screenings to evaluate and support captioning. Thanks also to Commissioner Victor Calise and Ted Finkelstein for their support in working to provide equal access to the Festival; to Lise Hamlin for providing constant support and advice throughout the entire process; to Lauren Schechter (CART provider) and Matt Kaplan (Globetitles) for providing interim access; and to HLAA Member Marjorie Weiss for helping to initiate this project and for researching captioning options. Special thanks to HBO and the Bryant Park Corporation for their commitment to provide the most effective accessibility to people who have hearing loss or are deaf.