Subtitled Youtube access for deaf people

Happy day. Youtube have confirmed there will be automatic subtitling on its English videos.

Back in November, Google announced it would be aiming to do this. Today’s announcement confirms it for Youtube. The story has already been covered on BBC news and the National Deaf Children’s Society has done a statement on it..

It’s not going to be 100% accurate, as no speech recognition software is perfect. Not ideal but I know that many deaf children and adults are quite adept at filling in the gaps and working out what was meant to be said. And, of course, telling everyone about the funny bloopers. My favourite blooper is when someone on TV said “Help yourself.” The subtitles reported it as “Help your elf.” I still chortle thinking of it.

Anyhow, the Youtube announcement now puts the pressure on others to follow suit. I won’t name names because everyone knows about my grudge against the BBC’s lack of online subtitles, even for stories about deaf people. Some good news as we go into the weekend though. Are others happy about the news too?


Are we too nice to cinemas?

There was an interesting comment (see, I do read them!) to my blog about subtitled spectacles suggest that we’re too nice to cinemas and that deaf people should be demanding the right to watch subtitles films at convenient times, not just at quiet times when hearing people don’t want to go.

On the one hand, cinemas say that the UK leads the world on accessible cinema and they provide more and more subtitled films – even though low attendance numbers mean they rarely make a profit out of it. It’s claimed that hearing people won’t see subtitled showings. Their line is that cinemas need to make a profit at the end of the day and they can’t do so if they show subtitled films at peak times.

On the other hand, if access means anything, it means being able to go and see a film at a reasonable time, maybe on a Friday or Saturday along with my hearing friends. There is very little meaningful choice. If I happen to be busy on the one Tuesday that a subtitled film is showing in central-ish location, I may find myself never getting an opportunity to see a film I really want to see. As Alison said, the policy of only showing subtitled films at twilight zone times rather feels like forcing a wheelchair to come in by the backdoor.

My conclusion is that if the cinema industry is serious about providing access, it needs to find ways to provide meaningful choice. If they feel they can’t do this without driving away hearing customers, then they have a responsibility to come up with innovative ways around this – like subtitles spectacles or rear view windows or whatever, anything that works for everyone.

What do you think? Are we too nice to cinemas? How do we respond to their justifications for not going further?

Deaf power at the cinema after another subtitles cock-up

I went along to see a subtitled showing of the new Star Trek film last night with my fellow deaf trekkie geek friend. As is so often the case, it was the only showing in central-ish London this week and not at a particularly convenient time of 5.30pm on a Monday. But I was so keen to see it that I arrived at work at 7.30am so that I could bunk off early from work.

Clearly, I wasn’t the only deaf trekkie in town and the showing was well attended with around 15 deaf people, all very excited.

And then all extremely mutinous and outraged when there was – once again – a five minute delay in the subtitles appearing on the screen. I half considered ripping my chair out and throwing it at the screen.

Instead, a large group of us went outside to berate the man in the projector booth and demand that they restart the film. Initially, he said it was impossible. But we stood our ground and continued to demand what we had paid for – a subtitled film. After around ten minutes, the manager appeared and agreed to restart the film. Clearly, not so impossible.

I was quite proud of the group for making a stand and refusing to give in easily. The error was inexcusable and there should have been no debate about restarting the film and making sure people got what they paid for. One guy remarked that he’d driven 2 hours to come to this cinema to see the film.

I’ve emailed the cinema to ask what happened. I’m fairly resigned to the fact that it will happen again and again. But at least we know what to do next time. My hope is that deaf children as well will feel equally emboldended to go on a riot in a cinema if something like this happens to them.

Deaf power! Rarrgh!

BBC online video news stories: that deja vu feeling…

Today, I am mostly experiencing deja vu. This is because the BBC news online have put up another online video news story about a deaf child… without subtitles or a transcript.

Like last time when this happened, I am quietly outraged. This is a story about deafness – apparently about hearing dogs for the deaf – and yet as a deaf adult I have no idea what points are being made. I have no way of responding and am disempowered on a matter which personally affects me. I suspect the same is true for the deaf child featured in the news story.

What makes it worse is that the Guardian have shown that it IS possible to have subtitled online video news stories. So if the BBC were pretending before that the technology isn’t available, their cover is blown.

I’m also miffed by the assurances that I received last time that the BBC news online team would work to make sure all the relevant staff were aware of this issue. Doesn’t seem to have worked. It’s not exactly rocket science anyway. If you’re doing a story about deafness, make sure deaf people can access it. Doh.

I have emailed them again to complain so we’ll see what they say. If you’re as outraged as I am, you can complain at:

PS Thanks to Tina and Smudge the hearing dog for spotting this.

Update on Slumdog Subtitles

I mentioned in my last blog that I emailed the cinema chain responsible for showing a subtitled Slumdog Millionaire in Fulham… with no subtitles for the first five minutes to complain.

The cinema emailed back to apologise and say it took “customer care” seriously. It sent another email later to say this was being investigated internally by the cinema management.

They did also offer me two free cinema tickets as means of apology. Which is nice. I resisted the temptation to take a cheap shot at the lack of cinema showings at reasonable times, meaning that it would probably be a while before I could use the tickets.

Overall: the replies were sufficiently contrite and sounded as if it was being taken reasonably seriously. Sadly, I suspect it won’t be the last time a similiar experience happens…

Slumdog subtitles at the cinema for deaf people

Slumdog MillionaireI popped over to Fulham on Sunday afternoon to see a film I had been dying to see for ages – Slumdog Millionaire. Despite being one of the most popular films around at the moment, this was the first opportunity I’d had to go and see the film at a time which wouldn’t require me to bunk off from my job and that wasn’t so far out of London that I might risk entering… *shudder*… suburbia.

The only other opportunity came around a month ago when it was shown at Barbican for, apparently, one night only and which clashed with the night of my anniversary. I’m not sure my partner would have approved if I’d suggested popcorn for a romantic dinner – though given how few subtitled screenings there are, I did think about it…

Anyhow, finally got a chance to see Slumdog Millionaire. Bought some popcorn, met my friend, settled down, lights dimmed, film started. And then what happened? No subtitles.

I was furious. My Hearing Friend for a Deaf Person, Catherine, went out to make inquiries and was told that the projector wasn’t working. Catherine told me though that the distinct impression given was that someone had just forgotten to turn the subtitles on. After about 5 minutes, the subtitles finally came on.

It was only 5 minutes, and I did stay and enjoy the rest of the film. But it didn’t alleviate my fury. It’s just not good enough to show virtually no subtitled screenings of this film in central London at a sensible time and then screw up the subtitles. If the sound had been off, I’m sure all hell would have broken loose and people would have demanded the film be restarted. This film just carried on as if it was a minor whoops-a-daisy mistake.

I’ve written to the cinema to complain and will let you know how I get on. But deaf children and adults clearly have a lot longer to wait for genuine access and proper customer care.

Subtitled films at the cinema: where next?

I had a useful chat earlier this week with the people behind which provides listings of all subtitled films in the country. As an avid, but often frustrated, film-goer it was quite interesting to get an insider view…

Which is, overall, there has been an explosion in the availability of subtitled films in the past 5 years. In 2003, there were about 20 cinemas which could show subtitles. Now the figures stands at around 300. Nationwide, there are about 2,000 English language subtitled films every month. To someone who grew up with the choice of going to see a film and not have a clue what was being said or waiting until about 6 months until it came out on video, and missing out on hanging out on my friends, this is an impressive leap. I still remember the time I tried to make sense of the plot in the Mission Impossible film…

That’s the good news. But I wouldn’t be deaf if I still didn’t have major gripes about it all. The big one is the lack of choice. Subtitled films are not (apparently) popular with other film goers. A good cinema will show around 2 films with subtitles a week – and these will be at quiet times, and rarely at times when a deaf child’s hearing peers might want to go and see a film. I, for one, personally resent having to arrange my social life around the scheduling of subtitled films, or not being able to see a film at the same time as my hearing friends.

Are personalised caption screens the way forward? These are small screens that are set up in front of a cinema seat, on which captions are shown through some clever infra-red technology. They would be unobstructive to other cinema goers who would not see any subtitles on the main screen. Apparently, the technology is still developing but I couldn’t hope wondering if it would be a better way of realising the ambition of deaf children being able to walk into a cinema at any time and see any film with subtitles of their chosing… Should we be pushing for faster develoment and roll-out of this technology to see deaf children genuine choice at the cinema?

The Cinema Exhibitions Association has a Disability Working Group and we’re hoping this will be one of the items for discussion at the next meeting in December. So watch this space.