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Deaf, Blind Moviegoer Wins Accommodation Appeal

By William Vogeler, Esq. on October 11, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

What's the fun for someone sitting in an empty movie theatre?

Exactly, there is none. That's the point the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals made in reversing and remanding McGann v. Cinemark U.S.A., Inc.

The plaintiff, who was deaf and blind, had a right to experience a movie through special interpreters. The theater needs to accommodate him or explain why it cannot, the court said.

Tactile ASL Interpreters

Paul McGann was born deaf and began losing his sight when he was five years old. He communicates through American Sign Language, signing to express himself and feeling an ASL interpreter's hands to receive messages from others.

For years, he has experienced movies through this tactile ASL. He attended a local theater that provided interpreter services upon request.

In 2014, he wanted to attend a presentation of the movie Gone Girl. But his local theater was not showing it at the time, so he inquired by email at a nearby Cinemark venue.

The Cinemark Robinson Townshiup and XD Theater denied his request for interpreters. Because the movie was complex, it would have cost about $400 for two interpreters to provide the service.

ASL an Auxiliary Aid

McGann filed suit, alleging the theater violated the American with Disabilities Act. A trial judge ruled for Cinemark, reasoning that tactile ASL was not an "auxiliary" service required under 42 U.S.C. § 12103(1).

The Third Circuit disagreed. The panel said the interpreter service qualified as an example of an "auxiliary aid or service" under the statute.

The appeals court reversed and sent the case back to determine whether the cost of providing the service was an undue burden. The judges also questioned, rhetorically, the value of selling tickets to customers who cannot experience the entertainment.

"As Cinemark acknowledged, customers do not pay these entertainment venues for tickets to sit in an empty auditorium." the court said. "They pay to experience the entertainment being offered."

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