Rear Window Captioning

Kate Johnston

c 1999

On the last day of a family trip to Disneyland in Southern California, I looked at my guide to Disneyland for "Guests with Disabilities", and discovered there were not one, not two, but THREE attractions with rear window captioning!

I'd been curious about rear window captioning ever sinceI'd heard about it, but hadn't had a chance to use it. How could I pass this up?

I couldn't.

Before I could direct my family in a direction I wanted to go, my husband announced he wanted to go see "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. Wow! Can you believe this?  This was one of the three attractions with rear-window captioning!

I told one of the workers when we went in I wanted to try the rear-window captioning. He told me to sit down, and he would bring it to me.

Imagine a music stand, but at the top of the pole is a flat, thick, smoked-glass plate.  The plate is long and thin, maybe.. hmmm... trying to guess its dimensions.... let's say, 5 inches by 12 inches?  The plate is adjustable.

In back of the room, high above everyone's heads, is what looks like, and probably is, a teleprompter. If you turn to look at it directly, the words appear in mirror image. And here is where this smoked-glass plate comes into use.

The plate reflects the words in the back. You adjust it so you can get the words from the back of the room. The plate is see-through in the light, but when the lights are out, and you are reflecting the words, you see only the words.

Problems?  Hmm.. A few.

1) Adjusting the plate: It took me a while to learn to adjust it so I could see the words and sit comfortably. I missed a few words at first while I was learning how to use it.  On the other hand, the second time I used it, I was able to adjust it quickly.

I suggest you get to a theatre early for the first few times so you can learn exactly how to adjust the reflecting plate. Both times I tried this system out, the teleprompter was stating something nondescriptlike, "Rear-window captioning," giving me a chance to adjust before the show started.

2) if someone in the seat next to you moves, they can block the words. I had an antsy son in the seat next to me, and I had a few problems. But I don't think most people move around as much as he did.

3) You're stuck. If you decide you're bored, and want to leave, it's not as easy to just leave. If you're in the middle of a long row, you now have a big heavy pole to carry along.

4) It was a little awkward, getting used to seeing the captions at about shoulder level, and then looking up at the screen. Maybe I just didn't have enough time to adjust it right. But I did get used to this, just as I'm used to the closed captions on my television screen now.

Afterwards, as we were leaving, my (hearing) husband commented that it seemed to be an awkward way to get the captions. I agree. However, I think rear-window captioning may be the coming attraction.


Rear-window captioning seems to be the answer to theater-managers' woes that HOH/deaf people want captioning, and hearing people don't want it. Rear captioning allows both groups of people to happily watch the same film at the same time. You only get the captioning if you have the reflecting plate.

If you go to Disneyland, be sure to visit Town Hall on Main Street, and pick up a Guide for Guests with Disabilities. (There is a Town Hall at Walt Disney World, too.) They have every attraction marked with what special accomodations are available. There are some attractions for which closed captioning, and infrared are used. I never got a chanceto use these. For the IR, I had to carry the unit around myself, but somehow my family never gravitated towards those attractions using them, or I forgot to check my Guide when we were there.

For more information about rear-window captioning, check out:

For information on captioning in general, see: