Movie chain discriminates vs. blind, deaf, suit claims

posted by Michael Zoldessy on December 6, 2006 at 4:50 am

TUCSON, AZ — With so many other amenities to focus on, even I frequently forget what’s essential to others that aren’t as fortunate. AMC is under fire in Arizona for almost entirely ignoring their blind and deaf patrons.

Arizona has filed suit against AMC Entertainment Inc., alleging the movie theater chain is discriminating against blind and deaf customers.

The suit, filed last week in Maricopa County Superior Court by the Attorney General’s office, claims AMC is violating the Arizonans with Disabilities Act by not having enough devices and services to allow the hearing and visually impaired to enjoy its shows.

To read more, go to The Tucson Citizen.

Comments (24)

KenLayton on December 6, 2006 at 5:25 am

Another case of big government run amok. Why can’t government leave private businesses alone?

9262692 on December 6, 2006 at 4:36 pm

Courtesy the liberals at the Church of Liberalism and the ACLU, the worst organization at defacing American values and private business.

telliott on December 6, 2006 at 6:32 pm

This reminds me of the case up here in Toronto when a disabled group led to the Ontario Human Rights organization ruling that Famous Players who at the time operated the historic Uptown and Eglinton theatres ruled that the company needed to upgrade those theatres to make them fully wheelchair accessible. The company chose to close them instead, the Uptown being demolished and the Eglinton while saved from the wreckers ball, is now a banquet facility. The whole thing could have been avoided since as we know films nowadays never just play at one location and anyone with a disability could have gone to any number of theatres that are fully accessible. Too bad we lost 2 historic site to movies forever when it wasn’t necessary.

JohnMessick on December 6, 2006 at 10:43 pm

Any smart person would vote with their wallet and go elsewhere if they weren’t happy.

Mikeoaklandpark on December 7, 2006 at 1:52 am

I don’t understand this lawsuit. Usually theaters have hearing devices for the deaf and why would a blind person go to a movie? AMC is not one of my favorite chains since they were at the root of all our old historic theaters disappearing with there twining and now mutilplexes, but they are getting a bum rap here.

9262692 on December 7, 2006 at 2:16 am

Nobody understands the liberal mind—not even the liberals!

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on December 9, 2006 at 12:57 am

Mikeoaklandpark, your thinking about blind people not going to the movies is the reason for this lawsuit. People with closed minds make disabled people’s lives impossible and Audio Description IS ALL ABOUT LEGALLY BLIND PEOPLE GOING TO THE MOVIES.

Although I agree that AMC is getting a bum rap from disability groups who are ignorant of the economic reality of buying and using these systems, the posters on this site going on about liberals are clueless of the real issue; The fact is that millions of senior citizen movie-buffs have stopped going the movies because they can’t hear or see as well as they used to.

Subtitles and Audio Description bring the cinema experience back for many in a retirement destination like Arizona.

If only liberals are the ones fighting for this, then thank god someone still has a brain left.

ErikJ on July 27, 2007 at 1:12 pm

With most of these comments you can tell that none of you have disabilities. To the African Americans in the crowd, why did you fight for equal access to restaurants, buses, schools, etc? You “could have gone to any number of” places that would serve you in 1960. But because you knew you were equal and deserved to be treated as such, you fought for your rights.

Oh, and Bernstein, what American values are being defaced by making theatres accessible?

As far as the “economic reality”, AMC’s own investor web site states they have 5314 screens worldwide and have annual revenues of 2.5 billion dollars. That translates to $470,455 per screen, and that’s if you include their theatres in other countries (about 13% of their screens, according to their web site), which wouldn’t be affected by the lawsuit. The average cost of making a theatre accessible to the blind and deaf is a one-time cost of less than $20,000, leaving them with a profit of $450,000+ per screen.

By the way, liberals aren’t the only ones fighting. Blind and deaf moviegoers on both sides of the political fence are fighting.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on July 27, 2007 at 3:04 pm

Two points, Erik.

Revenue is not profit. Most cinema operate on very slim profit margins that can lead to loss at year end even after a great summer.

It is fair enough to target cinema but where is equal the outrage against legitimate theatres, restaurants and government offices?

Cinemas get punished because they try hardest. If AMC had never put AD into any screen there would be no lawsuit.

Next time you go to Broadway, try to see play in a wheelchair.

ErikJ on July 30, 2007 at 10:19 am

I’m well aware that revenues aren’t profit – I didn’t mean to use the word in the last paragraph. AMC has an enormous amount of business expenses. I may not be a student of finance, but if AMC’s profit is so razor thin each year they can’t afford the cost, why do they have investors? Investors don’t generally invest money if they’re assured of taking losses year in and year out. At some point, there has to be profit – and generally more often than loss.

Second, there has been equal outrage against theatres, restaurants and government offices – the reasons that hasn’t been in this thread is because that wasn’t what the article referenced, and because many restaurants have already made changes, sometimes as the result of a suit. As a matter of fact, restaurants have generally been more common targets of such lawsuits, since there are virtually no acoustic or visual issues to make the changes unreasonable – it’s been primarily about mobility access. And most traditional theatres have either already made changes because they’re easier to alter – usually only one show playing in a given playhouse at a time, so whatever’s playing can be made accessible easier – or are small and independent enough to fall victim to lawsuits from lesser places as the AG’s office, so those suits fly under the press' radar.

AMC is not being “targeted” – there have been multiple lawsuits in the last decade of various large corporations that have really done next to nothing since the ADA was passed 17 years ago. And if you really believe that AMC has “tried hardest”, I think you might be a victim of propaganda. The reality is they, like many of other businesses currently out of compliance, have actually done very little beyond expressing their “commitment” to providing a wonderful experince to people with disabilities. Cinema gets more press for three reasons I can think of off the top of my head: First, because movies are more popular than plays and government functions, so more people will care. Heck, most Americans have trouble knowing state capitals, much less going to them. Second, most movie theaters are generally owned by large corporations, so they catch more people’s eye. Third and perhaps most unique, because cinema is entering a new phase – we’re no longer talking about a ramp or some other accommodation for people in wheelchairs, which is what most people think about when they hear the word accessible. It’s exposing us to new levels of accessibility that most Americans aren’t as familiar with – audio descripition and captioning. And when we’re exposed to new things, we generally raise the cry of “unfair”, because we simply haven’t thought of it and put it in our budgets. The same thing happened when the idea of ramps and grab bars came into consciousness. Eventually, through actions like this, they became commonplace, and we stopped finding reasons not to do it. Call it the growing pains of progress.

You are absolutely correct in saying that AMC doesn’t post as much profit as people think. But to say they don’t post enough to make much more progress than they have just doesn’t make much sense.

By the way, I have seen shows on Broadway, back when I lived on the East Coast. I had a great time in my wheelchair.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on July 30, 2007 at 12:07 pm

Any theatre chain will invest in growing and profitable locations. The rest will simply close if pressured to incur even more expense when they are already operating at a loss.

I have seen the appalling seating options for wheelchairs at even the newest Broadway theatres. If that made you happy then maybe AMC should revert to 1960 standards and give you a discount, two choices and then make you wait until they become “available” on some Wednesday afternoon, if you let them know in advance. I thought it was precisely THAT demeaning practice which disabled lobbyists were fighting.

Were you able to go to a signed or Audio Description performance? Most show don’t bother and those that do only do so on request for large groups.

Did you get to use the New York subway system? I guess not. Only 53 stations out of over 460 have accessibility. Did you visit the public library? I guess not. In a network of over 89 libraries only a handful can you past the front door. The government is easy on themselves when they pass legislation, you see.

Did you go to the AMC Empire? It is almost 100 per cent accessible for many disabilities WITHOUT letting them know what your needs are.

Shame on AMC for bothering!

ErikJ on July 30, 2007 at 5:27 pm

Wow, I seem to have struck a nerve! You’re response seems suddenly emotional.

The point of the accessible seating in those Broadway theatres is to give me access to the entertainment presented, not to give me the best seat in the house. Customer service alone should motivate them to provide better seating options, and someday, they may, if enough patrons with disabilities raise their concerns backed by entertainment dollars. At least I could enjoy the show. The point of the AMC suit is not to give them the best possible moviegoing experience ever; it’s that they don’t have access to the accommodations they need to experience the movie in fundamental ways.

As far as your question about Audio Description and signed perfomances, the answer is no. That’s precisely the reason that people with disabilities in the New York area need to put more weight into their advocacy efforts if they want to participate in theater events. And whether or not I can get an accessible seat on a given day or night is not about whether or not it is even there, but whether or not it has already been sold. No one will fault a profitable business for already having sold the product. That’s like getting angry at a theater for being sold out when you called to get a front row seat on opening night. It’s not reasonable to expect.

As far as your other examples, the point of any accessibility modification is can I reasonably accomplish what I set out to do(i.e, enjoy the movie)? The subway is not the only form of transportation in NYC. There are other, more accessible forms of transportation in the same areas that the subway goes, so the subway becomes less important. Several of the library’s branches, as well as its web site, do accommodate many different types of disability, including visual and auditory. Also, with the popularity of the Internet, fewer and fewer people are actually physically going to the library, whether they have disabilities or not, so everyone can access their services online – most reasonable people would agree that sitting in the library itself is not the essential experience, it’s the reading of the books. They’ve made themselves more accessible by alternate means. That’s the meaning of reasonable accommodation.

I’m glad AMC has made it’s NYC theater accessible without threat of a lawsuit, but now it’s time to do it in more places. Would you applaud McDonald’s for hiring Latino or gay or (insert minority group here) employees in one of its restaurants, but not the others? Or would you wonder why it wasn’t a companywide policy?

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on July 30, 2007 at 7:22 pm

The “people” in New York attacked movie theatres and soft peddled everything else.

ErikJ on July 31, 2007 at 10:41 pm

There are moronic zealots in every movement. Doesn’t invalidate the efforts of everyone else trying to achieve the objective, including those of the ones in Arizona, which is what we had been discussing.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on August 1, 2007 at 5:46 am

The people in Arizona have bigger fish to fry. A cinema chain with accessibility in one site and not another is being punished. Their competitors who installed nothing are not.

Although their disability point is justified, the approach in Arizona is a stupid as it can get. If AMC removed AD/subtitling from all Arizona theatres they are off the hook, because the laws are written as clear as mud and do not address anything except wheelchair ramps.

Actions such as the one in Arizona ARE the reasons these systems are not being installed elsewhere.

My point is that only those who try to do the right thing get burned by short-sighted disability groups who undermine their own national efforts with local nuisance lawsuits against the very companies who try. The politicians who opposed the local city office elevator because it costs too much are then cheering them on against AMC and the disabled groups are actually greatful to them.

Morons indeed.

ErikJ on August 1, 2007 at 1:29 pm

When you used the word “attacked”, I assumed you meant violent action. That’s is why I called them morons, because violence will get you nowhere and causes you to lose whatever credibility and public sentiment you may have had.

If you think AMC or any theatre chain (a similar suit is either about to be filed or has just been filed against Harkins Theaters) can avoid these issues by actually removing accessibility devices, you don’t have a clear picture of the law. Both the the Rehab Act and the ADA are very broad laws that cover about as wide a variety of accommodations as there are (that broadness is the very reason judges are hesitant to interpret it). If any actually removed accommodating technology, it would have gotten sued sooner. Removing a disability accommodation that once existed is going to be interpreted in legal circles as sign that the company no longer wants to serve them, and they’d be in violation of several anti-discrimination laws.

The lawsuit in Arizona is more likely to motivate companies to find room in their budgets to make accommodations because they don’t want to get sued – investors don’t like it, and, as I alluded to in a previous message, given the right company, the press will jump all over it. And don’t think the politicians are going to get off easy either. Disability advocates will only applaud them as long as they need them to lean on existing businesses or encourage incoming businesses to make the accommodations. Once they’ve oultived their usefulness, those same advocates will turn their sights to them and ask why they haven’t practiced what they preached.

This lawsuit is but one event in a long struggle for equal access. Everyone knows one lawsuit isn’t going to fix the whole system. It’s just one step of a larger trip. The people in Arizona are already “frying other fish”, as you put it, and have been for a long time. As to which fish is bigger, that depends on how much importance you attach to each fish. Most people would rather have access to a movie theater than City Hall.

I also notice that you keep referring to how hard AMC has tried. Once again, if there was only public access to some, but not to others, or only if you lived in a certain part of town, that hardly represents much of an effort.

Oh, and by the way, suing for access to a public event or service is no more of a “nuisance lawsuit” than a lawsuit against a company that only served Caucasians. A nuisance lawsuit is some idiot suing a fast food chain because the coffee he spilled on himself was hot. Of course it’s hot – that’s how coffee is generally served.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on August 1, 2007 at 2:33 pm

The way the law is written, if you can prove that the disability adjustment creates a financial hardship, you need not do it. No theatre can financially justify AD/subtitling because it is expensive and gets very little use. The law is hasty and poorly written and it hurts disabled people more than the targeted businesses, so getting companies like AMC to cooperate is crucial. That is what makes this group’s efforts so pathetically stupid. AMC is one of the few companies who installed them.

Since 90% of the people who use the system do not consider themselves disabled, AMC could remove them all tomorrow and gain financially from doing so. When the business gets slow, PR be damned. No other theatre chain will bother now.

These lawsuits are even more uselessly frivolous than the hot coffee contingent. This is equivalent to those who sue McDonald because they got fat. DON”T EAT AT McDONALDS! Why don’t disabled people rally around AMC’s competitor? Because they didn’t install them anywhere, that’s why. Where is that lawsuit? There is none because there is no law that says they have to.

These disability activists need a reality check and the ability to take control of their own lives and government instead of whining at easy PR targets like AMC. It is a short term strategy that makes it impossible for those who have made inroads with companies like AMC to get them to do the right thing in the future. The best message is to make the system pay off at the box office and they don’t, because for all the whining, most disabled people watch movies at home like everyone else.

Why didn’t they just drive to the other AMC and show financial strength or take on city hall and then someone might take this seriously. I bet you can hear tumbleweeds at the subtitled showings in Arizona anyway and this is all counterproductive posturing by a group that already sold out to their real enemy, City Hall.

By the way, Broadway show giving you a discount for sitting in a specific segregated place is the modern equivalent of the black peanut gallery. At many business you can go in the back entrance on your wheelchair. I am amazed you think this is just dandy and that this lawsuit is not frivolous.

ErikJ on August 2, 2007 at 1:26 pm

Where you’re getting your facts from is anybody’s guess. And several of these statments indicate you’re not only reading half of my comments anymore.

I will say that you are correct in that if you can prove financial hardship, you are not required to make the accommodation; but I also believe chains like AMC and Harkins (the other chain I talked about in my last post and the answer to your question “What about that lawsuit?”) will have a hard time proving significant enough hardship not to, at the very least, double or triple their accessible theaters over the next year or two, based on the results of previous lawsuits.

Oh, and as far as your argument that at least AMC is trying, AMC didn’t do anything until they lost similar lawsuits over accessible seating in other states a few years ago (they couldn’t prove financial hardship then). It was and still is a case of big companies saying, “We’ll throw you a bone, and you people should be happy with that.” And they don’t budge until they’re sued.

Lawsuits like these are about having the ability to use a particular public service. The frivolous lawsuits like the McDonald’s ones are about people already overusing a particular item or service and then suffering the consequence because it wasn’t good for them, and they refuse to take responsibility for themselves for going there too often. The AMC lawsuit is about being able to use the movie theatre to watch first-run movies like everybody else. It’s the exact opposite of the McDonald’s lawsuits.

And it stands to reason that many people with disabilities watch movies at home, because they CAN’T enjoy them in the movie theatre! That’s like saying everybody would use FedEx to mail their tax documents if the post office replaced their front doors with concrete walls, so why blame the post office! You can climb in through the window (provided you’re tall enough to reach it)! The assistive technology just isn’t there, except maybe on ONE out of 12 or 24 screens, and that one may not be showing the movie someone wants to see. If you hear tumbleweeds in a captioned or auoid described show, it’s because that one screen is showing movies like “Gigli” that no one cares about. So they and their money are staying away in droves, but the theatres don’t mind because everyone without need for the assistive technology is still using their theatres. AMC doesn’t need the blind and deaf communities to generate revenues, because there’s a large enough portion of the general population to support them.

Throughout our discussion, you’ve been talking like AMC has been singled out for a lawsuit, asking why we don’t go after other targets. Nothing could be further from the truth. A short list of lawsuits won by the Department of Justice in just the last two years (the law’s been on the books for the last 17) alone includes:

Regal Cinemas
National Amusements
University of Chicago
Jo-Ann Fabric and Crafts
Washington Hospital Center
The city of Detroit Department of Transportation

AMC isn’t being singled out, and where City Hall (your interpretation of our “real enemy”, a dubious conclusion) is a problem, City Hall has been sued (in the 90s Arizona state and local governments were frequently the defendant in several lawsuits). These suits aren’t a new thing, you know, and they are not the first step in trying to create the change they seek. The ADA was passed in 1990, and when companies don’t comply AND don’t respond to complaints by potential patrons, they get sued. The fact that AMC went as long as they did without a lawsuit is a sign that advocates did go after those “bigger fish” first, and now it comes down to quality of life. Can I go see a movie in a move theatre with hot buttered popcorn and a large soda in the comfy chairs, or do I have to wait til it comes out on video so I can watch it on my 19" TV?

In your last post, you say that “90% of the people who use the system do not consider themselves disabled”. Where are you getting that statistic? If they did not consider themselves to have a significant hearing loss or vison loss, why would they use captioning or audio description? Most people who don’t consider themselves to have a significant hearing loss or vison loss don’t even know those technologies exist. Maybe you meant that 90% of the people that go to AMC don’t have disabilites, but that would just prove the point I just made a few paragraphs ago – the dollars in the blind and deaf communities are expendable to them.

By the way, your last comment is preposterous. First of all, I never said it was dandy. But I also recognize the kind of action required to physically alter an existing space. Sure I would have loved to sit in the dead center of the auditorium, but for the theatre to have to make the kind of physical renovation to its existing structure would require it to be shut down for weeks, possibly months. That represents a serious threat to its livelihood. Having an accessible seat toward the back or the side of the theatre is a lot less costly, and stil provides a viewing experience with no line-of-sight or acoustic problems, and I can still sit with my non-disabled friends and not experience any segregation at all. Now the next time they do an overhaul of the building, I will insist upon seating options in every pricing area, as long as it doesn’t alter the visual or acoustic qualities of the theatre. But until then, I CAN experience the show the same way as the guy sitting in the middle of the auditorium.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on August 2, 2007 at 1:54 pm

Keep thinking that way and you will win some battles but have already lost the war.

Most people will become disabled in some way before they die withoutt ever once associating themselves with disabled causes. THAT is AMC’s market. Ignore that economic fact and all other efforts are useless.

I have been working with disability groups for twelve years. What is your background?

ErikJ on August 3, 2007 at 8:22 am

You don’t have to sell them on it as a “disability cause”. If you tell them it’s a way to get the devices they’ve been using on more screens, they’ll buy in. At least they did in AZ.

Seems like we have similar backgrounds. I’ve been working for disability organizations for aboout 12-13 years myself.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on August 3, 2007 at 10:02 am

So we are agreed on the problem and disagree on the solution. We found that working with companies like AMC and Regal get the cause much farther that suing or giving bad PR. They can only afford to buy so many units and because people should not have to advertise their disabilities, there is no proof of actual use. When pressured, companies will move them along where poeple bitch the most and solve nothing.

Compares to other industries, cinema chains have been extremely cooperative. It is shame AMC is being targeted this way in Arizona because it makes impossible to gain their trust elsewhere again. Soon they will just do like Broadway theatres did and tell us all to f*ck off.

ErikJ on August 6, 2007 at 2:33 pm

I guess they respond different ways in different areas. Several disability groups out here tried working with companies like AMC for years, but they only gave lip service until they got hit with the suit.

In contrast, playhouses out here with a few exceptions tend to bend over backwards to work with us.

TLSLOEWS on February 26, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Thats our government for you.they do the best that they can do with our money,spend it.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on July 3, 2010 at 8:24 am

“WHAT?"How can this be? Oh,this is sue happy America.

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