Movie theaters above a certain size in Maryland will have open caption movie screenings after Gov. Wes Moore became just the second governor in the U.S. to sign a bill requiring them into law.

The new law means movie theaters with eight or more screens must show open caption screenings — specifically, they must have at least two screenings with open captions of any film that they show five times. This requirement only applies during the first three weeks after the film’s premiere at the specific theater.

The only other state with open caption requirements is Hawaii, according to the Maryland Open Captioning Movies Committee. The group has been working through multiple legislative sessions to get the bill passed.

“Three years of advocacy for open captioned movies has made a difference for anyone with accessibility needs, neurodivergent conditions, and language comprehension goals,” said Deanna Tilden, a committee member.

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For those used to hearing about closed captions, but not open captions, a quick explanation: Closed captions require the use of a physical device or equipment, such as caption glasses or devices that go in theater cup holders. Open captions are embedded on the movie screen.

Jacob Leffler, the vice president of the Maryland Association of the Deaf, said the bill makes movie theaters more accessible for all people — including moviegoers who are learning the language spoken in a movie or people who want or need enhanced visual support for comprehension. Open captions also provide additional context for all moviegoers, he said, “especially in scenes with background noises or unclear dialogue.”

Moore said he was proud to sign the bill into law.

“For some, this might not sound like a big deal, but for those Marylanders with hearing difficulties it means they will now finally be welcomed in places where they struggled to be accepted before,” Moore said in a statement.

In a joint statement, Del. Harry Bhandari and Sen. Benjamin Brooks, who sponsored the bill, called the law a “groundbreaking legislative milestone.”

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Most who spoke or submitted testimony during the legislative hearing process for the bill supported it. But, notably, representatives from a few movie theaters, including Regal Theaters, AMC Theaters and Horizon Cinemas opposed the law.

Horizon Cinemas said they respond to and accommodate open caption screening requests. AMC said seven of their Maryland locations already offer open caption screenings, and Regal said it plays open caption screenings upon request at all 10 of its locations and daily at “several” of its locations.

The law will take effect on Oct. 1 this year.

Cody Boteler is a reporter on The Banner’s Express Desk, reporting on breaking news, trending stories and interesting things in and around Baltimore. His work has appeared in The Baltimore Sun, USA TODAY, Baltimore magazine and others.

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