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?


Funding for deaf access to cinema to be cut?

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I spotted last week that the UK Film Council are doing a consultation on their future priorities, and I’m glad I did.

There’s no mention of access to the cinema for deaf children and adults in it. For a moment, I suddenly thought that we now live in a world where deaf children and young people can go and see any film they like with subtitles at any time whenever they like . But then I saw the pigs flying by the window and I realised I hadn’t missed an important memo somewhere. We don’t live in such a world and cinema access for deaf people, whilst much better than it used to be, could still be a lot better. So it’s pretty depressing to read that it’s not a priority for the UK Film Council.

And it’s get worse. There’s no mention of funding for existing initiatives that aim to widen access. As I understand it, existing UK Film Council funding for the award-winning one-stop shop website is being cut. If I didn’t have access to the website, it would be a lot harder for me to work out what subtitled films are showing where. I probably wouldn’t bother in the end. On top of that, capital funding to allow cinemas to buy equipment to show subtitles is also being cut. In fact, according to the consultation, only around 0.5% of the UK Film Council’s future expenditure will go towards “diversity and inclusion”, and there is no mention of anything of direct benefit to deaf children and young people. Nada.

I know I’m not alone when I say there is insufficient choice of subtitled films at convenient times at local cinemas. A lot of cinemas seem to think that deaf children’s schools are quite relaxed about them bunking off to watch a film judging by the times they schedule some subtitled films. Instead of making cuts, shouldn’t the UK Film Council should be looking at ways to widen access, by funding research into on-demand technology for subtitled films?

The consultation closes tomorrow so if you’d like to respond to their online survey, you need to be very quick. NDCS’s response can be dowloaded from here.

Be good to hear your thoughts. Are you surprised / disappointed that the UK Film Council are not making access to the cinema for deaf children and adults a priority? Leave a comment below to say what you think.

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.

Review of 2009 for deaf children… and predictions for 2010

Well, we’re already a week into the new decade / ice age, but for my first blog post of 2010, I’d like to look back at some of the highlights / lowlights of NDCS campaigns in 2009.

The big one has to the campaign victory on acoustics, which dominated most of our campaigning activity from the past year. It was great to see all of our work, including a parliamentary event, briefings to MPs and mentions in parliamentary debates, reports on how lots of local authorities didn’t have a clue about the quality of acoustics in their new schools, all make a difference. The Government announcement in October that it would take action to require testing in new schools was a delicious moment which will make a big difference to the quality of education for deaf children.

Although it was quite a long time ago, the announcement back in January last year that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) would recommend cochlear implants as an option in one or both ears for all severely / profoundly deaf children was another biggie for deaf children. It follows lots of concerted and co-ordinated lobbying by NDCS and other deaf charities. A year on, nearly all local health bodies seem to be doing a good job with getting on with implementing the recommendations.

And although the dust hasn’t really settled on it yet, the Lamb inquiry into the special educational needs system offers the promise of lots of significant changes for deaf children and their parents. Laws are being changed as we speak by the Government to implement some of its recommendations.

For me, personally, the highlight is supporting and watch deaf young people campaigning in action for NDCS, whether at party conferences or our parliamentary events. It’s always good to see parliamentarians walk away realising what deaf children can achieve, providing they’re given the right support. It was also great to see Louis Kissaun, a deaf young star, on Shameless, the Channel 4 programme, this year.


The continuing failure by the BBC to provide access to its online news content continues to be depressing, especially on news stories that feature deaf children and young people. Quite a few people clearly seemed to have skipped class the day they were covering disability awareness training at the BBC.

And the continuing problems with Phonak Naida hearing aids are also a bit of a worry, though it’s good to see that the powers that be are working hard on this problem as we speak.

Predictions for 2010?

Apparently, there’s going to be a general election in a few months. Whatever the result, there are going to be a lot of new faces in Parliament and lots of new ideas for how schools and hospitals should be run. NDCS will be busy getting to grips with the new political landscape and making sure deaf children are high on the agenda.

It also looks as if we’re going to be doing a lot more campaign work around audiology services this year. More to follow on this, but a range of issues are cropping up, for example, on the training of audiologists. NDCS will be on alert making sure deaf children get the audiology services they need.

Here’s hoping it’s a good new year for deaf children and NDCS campaigns. Please do keep sending in your comments, thoughts and any stories about how deaf children in your area are doing. We’ll do our best to respond and incorporate into our campaign work. Happy new year!

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.

Enjoying 3D subtitles at the cinema

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I had a very exciting night out on Tuesday when I popped down to Greenwich to see the first ever film to be subtitled AND be in 3D!

Apparently, getting subtitled in a 3D film poses a whole range of technological challenges that it’s not been possible to fix until now. I’ve even been told that if the subtitles appeared wrong, people will throw up – without it even being a recent Eddie Murphy ‘comedy’ film. A quick glance at the screen without my 3D glasses revealed why – the subtitles have to be printed on the screen in overlapping text (and thereby impossible to read) in order to be viewable clearly in 3D.

The film that gets the honour of being the first ever 3D subtitled film is Disney’s A Christmas Carol so a big hats off to Disney. I felt obliged to go and see the film having provided a quote for a Disney press release welcoming it, but I’m pleased to say it was a very enjoyable film and the 3D effects were, as I believe the kids say, cool. When it was snowing on screen, it almost felt as it was snowing inside the cinema. That said, I remain of the firm belief that the Muppets Christmas Carol is the definitive film version of the Dickens classic.

It’s great news for deaf children and young people, who might otherwise have missed out on the opportunity to see the latest 3D films along with their hearing friends. The hope is that even more 3D films will be subtitled. I’m told that the up and coming big film, Avator will also be in subtitles and 3D.

My only gripe – and it’s not meant to detract from the achievement – is that virtually all of the showings of the film in London were either on a Sunday and Tuesday. Luckily, I was free on the Tuesday, but I did find myself grumbling “Bah! Humbug!” at the lack of choice over when I could see the film.

But in the meantime, well done to Disney for a real Christmassy treat!

PS You can find out where A Christmas Carol is showing in your area with subtitles by going to the ever helpful website.

Google takes gigantic leap on access to online videos

Sometimes you come across a piece of news for deaf children and young people so good that it takes a while for it to sink in. That was the case for me when I found out that Google has developed speech recognition software that has the potential to ensure more online videos on most of its websites will now be subtitled. Including Youtube videos.

Personally, if you’d asked me a week ago about universal online subtitles, I would have said it’s a great idea, but probably technologically impossible. Well, thanks to deaf leadership at Google, I’ve pretty much been shown to be a complete Luddite.

The importance for deaf children and young people? Well, to give one example, listen into a playground conversation and I bet many children will be talking about the latest youtube craze or embarassment. Now deaf children and young people can be involved in those playground chats.

Hopefully, everyone who uploads videos will make use of the new software. And that all other providers of online subtitles will take note and follow suit quickly. I am particularly thinking of BBC news online and their continuing abject failure to caption stories featuring deaf children, despite assurances to the contrary…

As it uses speech recognition software, there are bound to be some painful (and amusing) typos. But it still a massive step forward. If there was an award for most promising and exciting technological development for deaf people in 2009, this would have to be one of the contenders. Maybe the 21st century is about to arrive for deaf children and young people after all?