Athol Cinemas 8 offering sensory movies

  • Sign greeting moviegoers at Athol Cinemas 8 describes technology available to assist those with hearing or other disabilities. Kathy Chaisson

  • The assisted listening headset works with two controls, one for volume to enhance the sound, and the other for audio description (AD). Kathy Chaisson

  • Kathy Chaisson

Staff Writer
Published: 3/26/2019 10:00:12 PM

ATHOL — The movie business is going strong at the North Quabbin Commons, according to Athol Cinemas 8 General Manager Terri Michalec-Beam, as it has served the community since its opening last May.

Michalec-Beam said one thing she’s noticed is how interconnected people are in this region, often witnessing moviegoers hugging and catching up with family members or friends they’ve spotted in the lobby.

Having an extensive background working in movie theaters, she said “I love this job and everything I learn about it still after all these years,” and admits she could talk for hours about movie history.

Her multiple duties include staying up to date with cinema technology and regulations. In 2017, a nationwide rule issued by the U.S. Department of Justice under the Americans with Disabilities Act took effect requiring that all cinemas showing digital movies must have closed movie captioning and audio description devices, provide notice to the public about the availability of these features, and have staff to help assist with them.

When Athol Cinemas 8 opened last year, it was equipped with the required readers and assisted listening devices when the projectors were installed.

The closed captioning reader is a monitor that fits in a theater seat cup holder and translates the movie dialog into digital text as the user watches the screen. The assisted listening headset works with two controls, one for volume to enhance the sound, and the other for audio description (AD), which, for example, will say there is a dog barking in the distance, coinciding with the movie. Both systems can be requested through the box office. The borrower’s driver’s license will be held until the device is returned. The devices are sanitized before being used again.

Since July, Athol Cinemas 8 has also been providing sensory friendly screenings of current movies for individuals on the autism spectrum on the second Saturday of the month at 11 a.m. “We fix it so lights stay up for the whole feature and the sound is turned town,” Michalec-Beam said. Since some of the autistic children are more active, “we don’t discourage them from walking around,” she said. They are also allowed to sing and dance.

A recent sensory friendly showing of the computer-animated feature, “Hotel Transylvania” was sold out (60+ seats). While most of the audience comes from the North Quabbin area, Michalec-Beam is hoping a Worcester-based organization that contacted her about the sensory showings will be able to participate.

Michalec-Beam said the Trunk or Treat event hosted by Athol Cinemas 8 last Halloween was a big success and she hopes to do it again this year. She is also considering ideas for the Christmas holiday season.


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