There’s a witch-hunt taking place in Frankfort, but it has nothing to do with Halloween festivities.
Anita Dowd — a woman with profound hearing loss who filed a complaint against Chakeres Theatres Inc. and received a $5,000 settlement — said she feels as if she has a target on her back.
Dowd filed the complaint in July 2011, alleging the Frankfort movie theater failed to provide her with auxiliary aids or captioning services. The Human Rights Commission ruled there was probable cause that discrimination occurred, and the company agreed to compensate Dowd, although it maintains it did not violate any civil rights law.
The commission’s press release about the settlement also included a line about the Franklin Square theater’s fate: “The company informed the commission that it plans to cease doing business in the Franklin Square Theater in Frankfort in January 2014.”
When The State Journal originally reported the news, it drew a large and heated response online and on social media — much of it anger and blame directed at Dowd.
A few Facebook users shamed Dowd for “doing it to make a buck.”
One person posted a link to her Facebook page, another user pointed out what town she lives in.
Dowd called it “unfortunate” that the news of the violation and the news of the theater’s closing were tied together.
“Five thousand dollars did not close this theater,” she said. “It’s easy to blame it on me, and it’s very unfortunate that these people have taken this information in that way.”
No one from Chakeres Theatres has explicitly said the theater is closing because of the settlement, and officials at the company’s headquarters in Springfield, Ohio, have not returned multiple phone calls from The State Journal.
Victoria Stephens, a spokeswoman with the HRC, said the only reason the original press release included a line about the closing of the theater was to outline the terms of the conciliation agreement: if Chakeres Theatres Inc. were to continue operations in Kentucky, it is required to provide auxiliary aids and services as necessary, comply with all civil rights law and undergo commission compliance monitoring.
“To our knowledge, we have heard of no connection between the closing of the theater and the conciliation agreement,” she told The State Journal.
Dowd said she was never in it for the money, and she certainly was not trying to profit from her disability.
“My motive was to provide equal access to the movies for me and my children and all of the other individuals in the area that attended that theater,” she said.
Dowd said she had stopped going to the movies when she was a kid — it didn’t do her any good.
“I’d twiddle my thumbs, I didn’t know what was going on,” she said.
But that changed when her youngest daughter started attending elementary school and wanted to go to the movies with her peers. Her daughter was too young to go to the movies by herself, so Dowd once again found herself staring at a big screen without context.
“I wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for her,” she said, laughing at the fact she had to sit through a movie about Justin Bieber. “But with the passage of federal laws, the Civil Rights Act and the American with Disabilities Act, I have the right to equal access. That’s my right as an American.”
But it’s a right that was denied at the Chakeres Cinemas when the theater failed to provide her captioning service, she said.
“The manager made me feel, in front of my children, like I was trying to get something for nothing,” she said. “I was trying to advocate on behalf of myself, and he was trying to accuse me of trying to get something for nothing.”
By filing the complaint, Dowd said she hoped to teach her children how to advocate for themselves — both of her children have hearing loss, but she’s always taught them not to let the disability define them.
“By no means do we walk around saying, ‘Oh, pity me,’” she said.
Dowd said she never requested a hearing aid — as originally reported in The State Journal — but she had asked the theater for captioning service.
Movie theaters are legally obligated to employ some sort of technology to provide auxiliary aid or captioning service to those with hearing loss, which could include a flexible viewing screen that rests in the cup holder or glasses that scroll the captions right in front of the users eyes.
She said hearing aids are personal devices that individuals are expected to provide for themselves.
“If I go to the movie theater with my hearing aid, I would probably be able to hear some noise, but I don’t understand the movie, I don’t get the dialogue,” she said.
Captions make sense of that noise, she said.
“Other theaters have this, and it is fantastic,” she said. “With the technology, I can enjoy movies.”
There are 7,630 people in Frankfort who are deaf or hard of hearing, according to the 2000 Census, and Dowd said those people, too, would benefit from the services.
She said she’s visited theaters in Lexington and Louisville that offer captioning or auxiliary services, as well as accommodations for the blind.
“But I didn’t want to drive to Lexington, I did not want to have to take my business to the next town over,” she said. “Shelbyville is just 20 minutes down the road, but this is my home.”
Although she’s hurt by the reaction, she said she hopes her situation serves as a teaching moment.
“If I could do something with the $5,000, I would pay for my children to be able to hear so they’re not ridiculed, so they don’t suffer frustrations, so they have equal access to everything and they’re not isolated,” Dowd said. “Nobody wants to have to ask for something extra, but at the same time, no one wants to sit at home and not have access.”