Update: BBC online still failing deaf children

Back in December, I conducted a little experiment on BBC online and found that most video stories featuring deaf people were not accessible. Transcript? Nada. Subtitles? Nada. I fired off a complaint, and finally got a reply the other day from the Head of the BBC newsroom, no less.

It was contrite and apologetic. The examples I pointed out were of “great concern” and staff have been reminded about the need to provide subtitles and/or transcripts with all news video and audio material that might be of interest to deaf audiences.

Apparently, the problem still largely lies with BBC regional teams. So the overall editors of the news website are going to be working closely with the regional teams to ensure they are more consistent.

It was good to have this engagement with the BBC, and at such a high level. However, we have been here before, as they noted. I’m going to keep checking the BBC online website from time to time to make they finally get on top of the problem. If you come across any examples of video news stories about deafness not being accessible, please drop us a line.


BBC news online still failing deaf children

I decided to conduct a little scientific experiment today. It was very illuminating. But depressing. If you want to try out my experiment, repeat the following steps.

1) Take what is probably the most famous online news website in the world – BBC news online – and insert the word ‘deaf’ into the search engine at the top of the page.

2) On the right hand side column, look for a box on ‘news and sport clips’ and view results for all of the recent online news videos or radio stories about deaf people.

3) See how many of these online clips feature any kind of access for deaf people.

4) Ask colleagues to put on their goggles and observe for your eruptions of fury. From a safe distance, obviously.

The results of my experiment? Well, of the first ten clips that came up:

* Nine were video clips and one was a radio clip.

* Only 2 of the videos had subtitles. A third had signed interpretation but no subtitles (which isn’t much use to deaf people who don’t sign)

* None of the clips, including the radio clip, had any kind of transcript or anything more than a cursory summary of the story.

* Four of the stories featured deaf children, of which two featured NDCS. None of these stories were subtitled or signed.

For an organisation that is paid for the public, including deaf people who don’t get any kind of discount for their TV license, and who have a remit to serve the public, this is pretty outrageous. What makes it worse for me is that I now feel pretty disempowered to be unable to comment on a story that is about deafness and features deaf children. The deaf children in the video clips won’t have a clue what is being said about them.

It’s not as if the technology isn’t there, as google have now proved.

Earlier in the year, I wrote to the BBC about this and was given some assurances that all of the above would soon be a thing of the past. So, as well as disempowered, I now feel like a complete muppet too for believing this.

I feel a very stroppy letter coming on. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Breakthrough on BBC online video news stories

I’ve now had not one but two replies from the BBC about my complaint about BBC news online putting up online video stories about deaf children without subtitles or a transcript. The guy was open, helpful, apologetic and seemed as frustrated as I was that this had happened again. The explanation? Regional reports and producers and the online journalists failing to get it, and there being no one person to knock heads together to make sure they all do this. BBC bureaucracy, apparently.

And then in the second email, I was told that he’d spoken to the head of our regional newsrooms who sees no problem in trying to resolve the issue and will be asking staff to address this and make sure access is provided to video stories about deaf children.

Victory! I’m very happy. It’s not often I get a reasonably positive response to a complaint I’ve make. So hats off to the BBC. I guess being an angry deaf person can get you results sometimes…

I remain vigilante though… And if you spot any more examples of BBC online news stories without access, please let me know.

Deaf children on Guardian online video… and no subtitles

The Guardian is not having a good week.

I’ve already blogged about how an article was published that was derogatory to BSL users.

And now the Guardian have done a very interesting article about a young group of deaf children who have formed a music band… and uploaded a video of an interview with a band to the website. With no subtitles. And no transcript.

I don’t quite understand. The BBC did the same thing a while back. Does it not occur to people doing these video stories about deafness that without subtitles or a transcript, it will be completely inaccessible to deaf people? It’s not as if the technology isn’t out there.

It’s incredibly frustrating. And almost disrespectful. So I’ve written to the Guardian to complain – and will let you know how I get on.

UPDATED: After writing this, I discovered that the Guardian have now put subtitles on the online video. Which is great news, very impressive. I’d like to think it’s all down to my complaint… but I’m sure they had always intended to do so.

I look forward to the day when all online video content is subtitled!

I feel bad for having a go at them now…

Update – BBC’s online video content: where are the subtitles?

A nice man from the BBC emailed me very quickly after I complained about the lack of subtitles on an online video story about deaf children and cochlear implants, which I talked about in my most recent blog. Here’s what they had to say:

I’m afraid we simply don’t have the technology to provide subtitles on online videos, although I know that a limited pilot project is still under way. We could and should have added a transcript but that’s really down to lower staffing levels.

This has been discussed in the past and I admit not much progress has been made. The simple answer is for the people who make the reports in the first place – this one came from Nottingham – to be aware of the issues and to make a copy of their written scripts etc available. Interestingly this is the second complaint on this topic I have dealt with today.

I will take this up and will speak to my colleague who looks after disability issues to see if there’s some way of communicating to all our journalists the importance of providing a more accessible multimedia version of stories such as this.

Many thanks for raising it.

On the one hand, at least they recognise the problem and sound sufficiently contrite.

Still… its depressing that even after at least three people have complained about it, there is still no transcript on the webpage accompanying this story. Deaf children and adults are still being denied access to a story about deaf children, and denied a right of reply if they disagree with the report. And there remains the principle of access to all online video content, and not just those which are of particular interest to deaf people.

Accessibility of online video content is going to be an issue I suspect will crop up again and again. It’s now on NDCS’s campaigns radar and is something I hope to do some research into.

In the meantime, we’ll be keeping an eye out for more examples of inaccessible online video content.


A still disgruntled viewer from Bermondsey

BBC’s online video content: where are the subtitles?

It doesn’t take much to turn me into an angry deaf man, but to do it in super-speedy-time, all you need to do is say these three words:

Online video content.

By which I mean those little videos snips that you can now watch online on many news websites. Technology is amazing. Yet not quite so amazing that any of these websites launched their online video content without working out how deaf people were going to access it and actually putting it into place before they launched it. I very very rarely see any online video content with subtitles even though the technology to do this now seems to be out there. And what makes me doubly annoyed is that there is often no written content to accompany it, like a transcript or a summary.

I’ve been feeling a bit disgruntled about this for a while but yesterday I saw a video piece on the BBC online news website featuring some deaf children and cochlear implants. Without subtitles! Or any written content!

To put it in other words, there is a very good chance that the deaf children featured in the story would not have been able to understand what was being said about them.

I also understand that at the end of the piece that the reporter suggests that cochlear implants are controversial with “sign language users”. Well, if a deaf person wanted to question this or clarify this, the lack of subtitles means that the BBC has effectively denied a right of reply.

I personally think it’s outrageous and incredible that the people who put this on the website didn’t realise this, or if they did, put it on without a transcript. And it’s also really disappointing because the BBC does have a really good story to tell on access. They’re the first channel to subtitle everything on TV on their main seven channels. Their producers have really made an effort to engage with deaf children and to understand their needs. And they do seem committed to working out a solution to providing subtitles on online content.

But clearly there is still some way to go. And someone needs to have a word with the people who put this video on.


Disgruntled viewer from Bermondsey, London

PS. At the time of writing, there were still no subtitles or written transcript online so if you want to complain about this, you can do so here.