WAIMEA — Movie theaters on Kauai don’t have to comply with a Hawaii law requiring twice weekly showings of movies with open captioning for the hearing and vision impaired, but the historic Waimea Theater is doing it anyway.
The law, which was signed in May 2015 and went into effect Jan. 1, only applies to theaters that have more than one location in a given county.
That didn’t stop Thomas Nizo, manager for the Waimea Theater, from taking the initiative.
This weekend, the theater will begin subtitle Sundays with an added 3 p.m. matinee showing of its current movie, “Kung Fu Panda 3,” with open captioning.
“We’re in it for the community, and we’re going to roll out the red carpet on Sunday,” Nizo said.
Lucy Miller, a Lihue-based expert in sensory research and member of the state Disability and Communication Access Board, praised the Waimea Theater.
“Their voluntary action to provide open captioning for some movie screenings, making films available not only to deaf and hard of hearing patrons, but to many people who may have language difficulties, is to be applauded,” Miller wrote. “Waimea Theater is showing the best kind of aloha there is by doing right for an often overlooked population of residents and visitors.”
She said she regrettably won’t be able to make it to the Sunday showing, but will be attending future screenings.
“Even though this theater was exempted from the state regulations by virtue of being an independently owned theater, we will be able to attend and enjoy movies with our families and friends,” Miller said.
Kauai Rep. Jimmy Tokioka, D-Wailua-Koloa, championed the bill and Nizo is a family friend.
“It’s touching that he called me and told me what he was planning,” Tokioka said. “I’ve known Thomas for 20 years now and I’m appreciative of what they’re doing.”
Tokioka said he introduced the legislation because the topic is close to home — his son Pono, now a junior at the University of Hawaii, is deaf. The family frequented the movie theater when Pono was young.
“As he got older, he didn’t want to go because he was missing so much of it,” Tokioka said.
Prior to the movie law, theaters had two options for hearing-impaired individuals, a bulky box that sits in the cup holder and offers subtitles, and a heavy headset that streams subtitles across the bottom of a pair of glasses.
“The one was embarrassing because you have to put this big thing in the cup holder and then you’re looking back and forth between the screen and the box,” Tokioka said. “The glasses just hurt. After 10 minutes of trying to read something that close and then looking back at the screen, you get a really bad headache whether you’re deaf or not.”
The fact that most movies are now made with subtitles included, rather than with a requirement for subtitles to be added to them, is what prompted Tokioka to introduce the legislation.
“It’s kind of crazy that the law exempts movie theaters on Kauai because we don’t have two locations,” Nizo said. “Jimmy and Pono are from our island so I felt I needed to support Jimmy and make this thing happen — get equal access throughout Waimea for all things.”
For Sunday’s event, Nizo said he’s looking forward to having Tokioka at the inaugural showing, as well as other members of the community.
Tokioka said he is looking forward to it as well, but there’s one other person, besides Miller, that won’t be able to attend.
“Pono has to be back on Oahu for golf practice, so he won’t be able to be there,” Tokioka said. “But he was at the Star Wars showing on Oahu and that was heart-warming. Over 200 people showed up.”