Regal to let deaf moviegoers see what they've been missing

"Did litigation force us into this? No," Smith said. "We decided well before the litigation what we were going to accomplish and we did it."

In fact, Smith's commitment to the cause sprang from his own experiences raising a deaf child. Smith says his son loved movies as a young boy but was often disappointed when he couldn't join his peers to see the latest release because the film print was not captioned. He also recalls how awkward Ryan felt watching a movie for the first time with the help of a rear-window screen.

"He was very uncomfortable," Smith said. "It became apparent that there had to be a better way to do this."

Smith became an advocate for more close-captioned movies. He arranged for periodic movie screenings with students from the Tennessee School for the Deaf at a Regal theater in Knoxville. And when new captioning devices became available, Smith organized meetings with groups including the National Assn. for the Deaf to solicit their feedback.

He also invited his son to join him in theaters to test various devices and glasses.

"I would come home and say, 'We're going to the movies tonight,' and he was more than happy to assist me," Smith said. "If he said to me he didn't like it, it was a non-starter."

Ryan Smith did like the Sony glasses, but suggested a few improvements after testing an early prototype, including making them lighter, adjusting the nose pad to make them more comfortable and enlarging the size of the captions.

"I was one of the first people to test the device out before it was put in Regal theaters across the United States," the younger Smith said. "Knowing that my opinion really mattered because I am a deaf customer, I did my best to give my honest opinion. It was one of the coolest things I've ever done."

richard.verrier@latimes.com