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2016 Fox Theatre

The Fabulous Fox Theatre in 2016 in St. Louis. Photo by Huy Mach, hmach@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS — The Fox Theatre must provide captions for the deaf or hard-of-hearing at performances whenever a patron asks, not just one matinee performance per Broadway run, an appeals court said Wednesday.

The 2-1 opinion from a panel of the 8th U.S. Court of Appeals found “that the Fox’s one-captioned-performance policy denies persons with hearing impairments an equal opportunity to gain the same benefit as persons without hearing impairments, and that deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals therefore do not have meaningful access to the benefits the Fox provides.”

The decision upholds a lower court ruling from April 2018 that said the theater had to provide captioning, intended to assist the deaf or hard-of-hearing, whenever it received a request at least two weeks in advance.

It comes in a 2016 lawsuit filed by an Illinois woman, Maria C. “Tina” Childress, who said that the Fox had refused to provide captioning for a specific May 2017 performance of “Rent,” instead telling her she could attend a scheduled sign-language interpreted show, the court’s opinion says.

The suit says Childress, from Champaign, is an avid theatergoer and member of a group that advocates for captioning, the Association of Late Deafened Adults.

After the suit was filed, the Fox began offering a single prescheduled, closed-captioned matinee performance of each Broadway production, as long as one was requested two weeks in advance. They also bought six tablets and offered hands-free holders, with captioning provided by a court reporter who transcribed the performances in real time, the ruling says.

The Fox website says the theater currently offer audio description services for the blind, sign language interpreted performances, head sets, open captioning devices and wheelchair seating, as well as allowing service animals.

The appeals court did say that “if the volume of captioning requests in the future rises to the level of an undue burden on the Fox,” they could file their own lawsuit to modify Perry’s order.

Attorneys for the Fox did not respond to a request for comment.

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