HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A blockbuster change for Hawaii's deaf and hearing impaired is about to debut on movie screens statewide: Open captioning starts this weekend.
"This allows anyone in the deaf community to read the captioning on the screen," state Rep. James Tokioka said.
Tokioka helped pass the law mandating open captioning in Hawaii theaters, a first-of-its-kind measure in the nation. Up to now, deaf movie fans relied on closed captioning.
What's the difference?
At the movies, viewers must wear special glasses to see the words on screen. Open captioning is on the screen for everyone to see.
Billy Kekua, who is deaf, stopped going to theaters because he felt the closed captioning was unreliable and the eyeglasses were uncomfortable.
"I had to wear the glasses on top of my eyeglasses. It was never a good experience for me as a deaf person," he said through an interpreter.
Kekua and thousands of hearing impaired people in Hawaii will now be able to read the dialogue and see sound symbols on the screen without needing the special glasses.
"The movies will have the sentences there, and it's open for everyone," Kekua said.
The law mandates theaters play at least two showings per week of each movie produced with open captioning.
"It's every movie that has the captioning and the descriptive audio in there too because there's also descriptive audio for the blind," said Tokioka, whose son is deaf.
Consolidated Theaters has been testing open captioning.
"They started it a month ago but only during the weekdays. They haven't done it on the weekend yet," Tokioka said.
"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" will be the first official premiere of open captioning. Consolidated Ward Theater's will show it Saturday at noon.
Kekua and his family will be there.
"I'm excited to see the movie. It's time for the deaf and hard of hearing to enjoy the same experience with people who can hear," he said.
The state law expires on January 1, 2018. Tokioka believes a federal mandate will be in place by then.