On second thought: Block E theaters will have state-of-the-art technology for people with disabilities

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May 14, 2002 // UPDATED 1:20 pm - April 30, 2007
By: David Brauer
David Brauer

The developer and theater operator of the new 15-screen movie complex in Block E have decided to outfit two of the theaters with state-of-the-art technology for people with disabilities.

The blind will benefit from an infrared system that broadcasts detailed narration, not just the soundtrack and dialogue, to a Walkman-like headset. Those with hearing impairments will be able to view an enhanced captioning system that doesn\'t interfere with what other moviegoers see.

The technologies are not widely available; currently, the closest theaters featuring them are in suburban Milwaukee.

Dan McCaffery, president of Block E developer McCaffrey Interests, said he and movie operator Crown Theatres decided to outfit one theater each after a Skyway News cover story in March.

The story detailed how disability-rights activists and Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) had been rebuffed in their quest for the equipment in the 600 Hennepin Ave. complex, which is receiving $38.5 million in public subsidy.

"Your article annoyed me, and I took it upon myself to get involved," said McCaffery. "It is not acceptable to me or Dan Crown to shut people out. This is the right thing to do."

Crown Theaters executive vice president David Clifford said his company initially balked because there is no accepted standard by the theater industry trade association; however, he vowed to install the advanced technologies, which cost $15,000 per screen, anyway.

"We said, 'we'll have a state-of-the-art facility in a state-of-the-art project, so let's do a couple of auditoriums and make them as [disability-] friendly as possible," said Clifford. "It's not always a return-on-investment thing."

He expects the specially equipped theaters to open when the rest of the 600 Hennepin Ave. complex does, probably in mid-August.