Captioning at Disneyland

This article was originally published in September 1998 as a “Gary Robson on Captioning” column for a magazine called Newswaves for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing People, which is no longer in publication.

A recent vacation with the family turned into a research project when I took a look at the Disneyland park map and saw “CC” and “RC” (reflective captioning) notations for some of the attractions.

Many of Disneyland’s attractions (such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin) don’t need captioning. Other attractions are almost pointless for deaf people without them.

Two rides (Space Mountain and Star Tours) and one show have CC, but not the NASA movie in the Mars exhibit, the slide show at the Indiana Jones ride, or the many other places that could really benefit.

When I approached one of the people working “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” about the captioning, she had no idea what I was talking about. A second worker told me that I had to go to City Hall for a remote. A third said “Don’t bother, it’s broken today.”

I went to City Hall anyway, and they provided me with a remote control for a $20 deposit, which was returned at the end of the day. They also provided a second set of batteries, just in case.

Next stop: Star Tours. In line, none of the numerous screens and “mini-shows” have any captioning. Some text appears below the big screen, but it is sporadic and doesn’t match what they’re saying. At the front of the line, there are several monitors above the doors. It took a few tries pushing the remote’s button (and eventually changing the batteries), but I did get captions. They were traditional except that they were in upper- and lower-case rather than all caps.

Star Tours is a simulated ride with a big screen in front. The ride itself has no captioning at all. Personally, I think captioning would have been far more valuable during the ride (or in the one-hour line) than during the two-minute preview video!

Reflective Captioning

Unlike CC, reflective captioning (RC) is offered in the show itself. The guide lists it for the Country Bear Playhouse, Honey I Shrunk the Audience, and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.

We set off to the Country Bear Playhouse for the next phase of our research.

The RC system uses a large display in the back of the room that shows the captions reversed with bright green letters. If you request RC, they give you a floor stand with a piece of glass on a flexible neck. You place the stand in front of you and adjust the glass so that the caption text is reflected in it for you; nobody else sees the reflection. I set mine so the captions appeared right under the stage, and it worked pretty well.

There are eight reflector stands for the two “Country Bear” theaters. If you have a large group, let them know in advance so that they can get extra stands from another attraction. Sharing is difficult unless you’re with someone about your height and you don’t mind cuddling with your heads close together. Otherwise, it’s almost impossible to adjust so that you both see the caption text.

The captioning was well done, with speaker identification so that we knew who is talking (or singing). Unfortunately, the live speaking, like the “Exit to your left and check for your belongings” at the end, is not captioned.

Overall, the few Disney people who understood captioning were very helpful. Most of the staff had no idea what captioning is, and the amount of captioning could best be described as a “good start.” Next time you go to Disneyland, don’t forget to tell them about the importance of captioning. Hopefully, we’ll see a lot more of it there soon.

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