Posts Tagged ‘DeafBlind’

Flipping the Script on Audio Description: NO ONE WILL SAVE US

Wednesday, September 13th, 2023

Graphic: Amidst the isolation of a barren island and beach, an eerie scene unfolds. The darkness is punctuated only by the desperate silhouette of people, grasping towards a distant beam of light in the starry night sky. The text reads: NO ONE WILL SAVE US.

Going beyond the mainstream audio description conversation is the objective of Flipping the Script. But if that conversation is promoting advocacy, then it just makes sense for the podcast.

In this two part series we’re looking at what we, all of us who appreciate AD and want to see it improve, can do about those things jeopardizing it’s future growth.

Today, we deal with what seems to be the inevitable comparison of audio description to captions. Michael McNeely, a Toronto based Deafblind lawyer, joins us to talk about captions. Are they really the North star that should be guiding how we advocate for audio description?

Listen

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

What’s up Reid My Mind Radio family.
Thanks for joining me this week.

In thinking about this episode, I decided to open the vault.

— Sound of a large vault door opening/ closing

— Music begins; a joyful fun mid tempo groove.

This podcast has been in existence since 2014 so yes, I’m referring to the archives as the vault because I think there’s value in what’s going on 9 years of episodes.

In 2015 when all of the episodes were really being produced for Gatewave Radio, I produced a couple of episodes on audio description. One was about Marvel’s Daredevil and what many believed was a bad move by Netflix in releasing the series without providing access for Blind viewers in the form of audio description.

We learned later that behind the scenes, even before the release of Daredevil, there were conversations taking place that helped lead to the success we enjoy today.

Less than ten years later, the future of AD doesn’t feel as bright as it did back then.

Who do we turn to? What do we do?

Sometimes it feels like “NO ONE WILL SAVE US”!
That’s up next, but first let me protect the archive and close the vault!

— Sound of vault closing as the kick drum of the intro music.

— Reid My Mind Theme Music

TR
Today’s conversation, ultimately is about advocacy.
And we know this isn’t new.
It feels like so much of what we as disabled people want;
access to employment, art & culture, transportation… you name it, requires a significant amount of advocacy.

This is Flipping the Script so we’re specifically talking about audio description,
but personally I feel there’s lessons that go beyond AD and apply to us all no matter the specific disability.

One form of advocacy is making space for the conversation.
That’s not a one time thing. It requires re-visiting and hopefully bringing in new people and new ideas.

Sometimes, we have to challenge the ideas that are put forth.

Like when in conversation with other Blind people on the subject of improving and increasing audio description, someone inevitably says something like;

TR in Conversation with Michael:
Why can’t audio description be more like captions?

What’s your response to that idea that oh the Deaf community has it all together captions are great, blind people need to learn from that to get audio description, to meet that same sort of level?

Michael:
Yes. That’s a great question. I think, first of all, it’s one oppressed group talking badly about another. I think an oppressed group is doing better than they are, which, unfortunately, is one of the hallmarks of oppression in general. So when jealous of someone else with a disability, then that’s part of the problem. Secondly, I don’t think captions are as commonplace as they should be. I really do try and advocate for both captions and audio description. And both of them just need advocacy throughout.

TR:
That’s Michael McNeely.

Michael:
I live in Toronto, Canada. I work as a lawyer for the Department of Justice. I’m also a filmmaker and a film critic. I provide film criticism for AMI TV, which is a new station in Canada.
I have about 6000 listeners for my film criticism. And I have also released a film today. It’s called advocacy Club.

TR in Conversation with Michael:
Tell me about it.

Michael:
It’s a documentary about my former work place which is called Canadian Helen Keller Center. It’s also located in Toronto. It’s a training center for people who are Deafblind. And it’s a residential center.

I was an advocacy instructor. And now I’m just a lawyer on consult.

I was helping clients with any issues that they had with regard to just standing up for themselves, or advocating.

It’s about why these people need to stand up for the issues that they keep having in their lives, and how we became closer together as a result.

TR:

According to the film’s web page, Michael is the first Deafblind person to direct a film. You can learn more about the film at AdvocacyClubFilm.com.

TR in Conversation with Michael:
Tell me a little bit about your relationship to disability. I don’t get too much into the diagnoses and all that, but whatever you want to share around your relationship with disability.

Michael:
I don’t even remember my diagnosis. I just remember that my geneticist is really excited about me, because she seems to have discovered a new disease. I told her to name it after me.

As far as I know, I’ve always been disabled my whole life. This is who I am. This is what you get. I’m actually fascinated by how other people perceive my disability.

So sometimes people think that being deafblind is the saddest thing in the world. I don’t think it’s the saddest thing in the world. There’s a lot of things that I do have privilege. And I’m happy to use my privilege for the common good.

TR:

If only more people thought about their privilege that way. That’s another story, but for now back to the question, are captions really the north star for access?

(Michael:)
So in Canada, we have movie theaters that are mostly run by Cineplex, I would say they have a monopoly set up that uses the CaptiView machine, which is a device that you can put into your cupholder and watch captions that way. Not all movies work with this.
So it really depends on institutional knowledge, as well as the movie has been made compatible with the technology. Unfortunately, for a lot of people with vision challenges, the CaptiView device, would not be accessible to them, since it’s quite small. So you have to be able to read the words in the caption of your machine to gain any benefit from it. Let’s talk about open captions.

TR:

Open captions don’t require any specialized technology, they’re on screen for anyone to see.

(Michael:)

Just like when you go to the gym, people can’t hear the TV. So you read the caption.

I think open captions will change the dialogue of captioning in general. Because you should be able to see a caption anytime you watch a movie.

TR:
That visibility normalizes access.
No longer is it hidden away and others will be able to report when captions aren’t working properly or even available.

Similar to many of our experiences with AD, captions aren’t always available. Sometimes it’s the technology, other times it’s a film that was delivered without them all together; in theater and at home.

TR in Conversation with Michael:
How about the streaming captions?
Michael:
Good question. So I’ve been buying a lot of different subscriptions to streaming services, and I cancel them.
If I remember, within a trial subscription period, but I try and do that just to see how good the caption is, and how reliable it is. I think Disney plus is pretty good at that Netflix is doing captioning very well. Amazon sometimes does not have things captioned. But I emailed the customer service. I’ve asked them to put captions in. Sometimes they listen, sometimes they haven’t. I try and make an argument that if I pay for a subscription service, than I’m paying for 100% accessibility.

TR:
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Amazon’s subscription service is tied to Prime. Nor do I think it’s a coincidence that Michael has experienced a lack of captions on the platform.

For many disabled people however, cancelling a service like Hulu is much easier than cancelling their Prime account.

The latter makes purchasing all sorts of products accessible and extremely convenient. And I don’t doubt that they are fully aware of this.

We discussed access in movie theaters , at home on television and streaming… film festivals?

(Michael:)

Some are better, and some are worse. I’ve actually filed a human rights complaint against the film festival that was not attempting to be accessible.

You just want to know how much of the content is accessible. So if you can say 100% of the films have closed captioned in 30% have audio description now might be a good way to advertise before buying tickets for it.

One of the recommendations I’ve made was can film festivals to provide discounted passes for people with disabilities, not just because people with disabilities t to make less money, but also because the content is less accessible. So for example, if the Toronto International Film Festival has 300 movies, but only 200 of those movies are accessible , I suppose then should only be paying for those 200 movies instead of a full market price.

TR:

Advocating with our dollars as well as our voices. I support it!

I’m starting to think that ubiquitous captions aren’t actually a thing.
And even though captions which are indeed more widely available in comparison to audio description, similar to AD, it doesn’t guarantee quality.

Yes, quality and consistency isn’t now. But I know it’s not the captionist fault.

I have great respect for the Captionists.
I’ve seen them work in person, especially in the court system. They probably don’t have time to think about the content. They just have time to type in as fast as they can.

TR:

It’s not about blaming one party. Every role in the process plays a part. Executives set the standard by creating a climate of inclusion. Insisting that access is a part of the culture from the beginning. Making sure to include the community to determine what’s good access.
Choosing not to procure services solely by price and paying attention to quality.

As Michael said, we can use the power of our dollars by not supporting services offering poor quality. And sometimes that just means walking away altogether.

Michael:
I stopped watching reality TV, and I stopped watching news, because the captions wasn’t doing it for me.

Michael:

One of the things with watching live entertainment is that the captioning doesn’t keep up.
I was watching the news. And I was reading in the caption that a serial killer was on the loose and had killed a few people. When I looked at the TV I was interested in what the segment was about. It was a senior quilting festival so I thought maybe there was a serial killer loose at the seniors quilting festival.

I haven’t been able to watch the news since.

TR in Conversation with Michael:
Wow. Wow.So the captions were that bad, frequently?

Michael:
it’s better to watch a documentary. Because you know that there’s been Yes. post production done with it.

TR in Conversation with Michael:
What about automated captions?

Michael:
Oh my goodness. We use the automated captioning on Zoom. And I can tell you that it never gets it right. It is one of the most distracting things I could ever imagine. It comes up with the most ridiculous things that I’ve never said or would ever say.
For example, it said something about a whale’s anatomy. I wasn’t even talking about whales or anatomy.

TR:

One of the problems around automated captions is context. Even when it does properly transcribe what someone is saying, it doesn’t include the speakers name.

Michael:

So that can be hard sometimes. As a lawyer, I need to know who I’m speaking to sometimes.

as you probably noticed, I have an accent, I have a deaf accent. So sometimes the captioning doesn’t understand my accent. And it can be insulting. Because it reminds me that I have an accent, it reminds me that I have speech problems. So it’s one of those things that makes me feel like I’m taking a step backwards.

On another note, if you’re asking someone who’s deaf or hearing impaired to try and interpret the caption you’re asking them to make themselves tired before 10am.

if I play , let’s guess the word Thomas said, the game gets pretty old, there’s no prize. I don’t know if I win or not.

TR:

I feel similarly about watching content without AD.

I can try to follow along as best I can but I won’t know unless I’m in conversation with someone who had full access or research online. Not really the way I personally like to watch movies.

My choice? Well crafted culturally competent description written with love that centers the Blind community. And the best way to make that happen?

Michael:
Making the film at the beginning with an awareness of descriptive audio.

Let’s say I was going to make a slasher film. And what I did to ensure that my audience understands what’s happening, I’m probably going to put in some pauses, I’m going to put in some reflective periods, I’m going to not have that action happen all at once. It’s never going to be a bit longer movie, but it’s going to be more accessible. And it’s going to make the point that everyone can enjoy this kind of film. We don’t expect blind people to go see this slasher movie, but perhaps they can if it was accessible for them.

TR:

That’s audio description not only as access, but something we promote here quite often; seeing audio description as a creative tool rather than a mandated requirement.

Michael:
When you’re talking about compliance, it’s already too late to actually make much of a difference.

If you’re talking about compliance, it sounds like you’re leaving it to the last minute. it just comes off as not caring enough about people with disabilities. It’s just checking off something. It’s just doing something that a computer does, by itself. It’s not actually useful unless you go in and check it yourself.

TR:
See how the lines just got blurred?

This is true for both audio description and captions.

We talk about the opportunity to be more creative with AD and have seen a range of examples of that. Opportunities exist for captions as well. For example, color coded fonts to represent different people or emotion. However, some of the creative ideas like moving the captions off the bottom third break access.

Michael:
Because if you don’t know where the words are on the screen, then it’s not really helping anybody.

Imagination is unlimited. But one of the challenges is, how can you be creative and accessible in the center?

TR in Conversation with Michael:
I also heard about the lack of description of all things sound in captions, would you say there’s like a need for improvement there? So for example, when music plays how descriptive are they about the music that’s in the background? Do you get that at all?

Michael:
If there’s a fight scene, and the caption says birds chirping in the background, I’m like, who cares? Unless the bird is actually involved in this fight.

I’ve seen captions that when there’s a person walking on the street, it says street sounds. When the person driving, it says driving sounds. Obviously this person’s driving, and obviously that’s making sounds so give me some new information about that.

It’s that classic philosophical question. How do I describe blue to you as a person who is completely blind? How would you describe sound to me?
Not every person is the same.

TR in Conversation with Michael:
Right. Depending on what the film is, when he’s talking about describing blue, is the color blue important? Or is it more about the feeling?
Is this relating to the Blues as in sadness, or is this something else?

Michael:
100% I’ve just been learning about the color aspects of filmmaking. If you want someone to feel relaxed then they use lots of greens and blues. If you want someone to feel angry or violent you’d probably use red. That kind of thing.

TR in Conversation with Michael:
So, what would you like to see more from caption writers?

Michael:
Let the caption writers introduce themselves at the beginning and provide a contact.

I think that’s always something that made me feel better when I was at court , because I knew it was Joanne that was doing the captioning. And Mark , that was doing the captioning. And it was a human being.

TR:
It’s not surprising that those companies producing solid AD t to include their company name and both writer and narrator in the credits. One has to wonder why this isn’t standard practice for both AD and captions.

Michael:
I think it’s about accountability, providing the service.

I think we just get this tendency where people with disabilities are supposed to just accepts what’s given to them, just because we don’t have anything better.

We assume that everything we receive is okay, everything that we receive, gives us the equal playing field, it gives us better advantages than other people in life. That’s definitely Because there’s a lack of transparency and communication about the accommodations that have been delivered.

TR:
Michael even suggested a feedback form where folks could comment on the quality of the captions.

I talked about something similar for AD during one of our BCAD Chats.
That’s Blind Centered Audio Description Chats which you can find in this podcasts feed or head over to ReidMyMind.com.

Shout out to my fellow BCAD Chat partners Nefertiti Matos Olivares and Cheryl Green.

I have some pretty good ideas around how such a feedback form, well really a full website could function. Providing not only a means for feedback but community as well.
Anyone wanting to finance such a project, hit me up at ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com.

Now that we heard from someone quite familiar with captions, do you think that’s the bar we as advocates for audio description should be striving to reach?

Think about that while I bring on our next guests

— Music begins, a bright mid-tempo beat!
Eric
Hi, my name is Eric Wickstrom. I am the director of audio description for international digital center. pronouns are he him?

Rhys
Hi, my name is Rhys Lloyd. I’m the studio head for Descriptive Video Works. My pronouns are he him.

TR:
When anyone asks me for examples of quality audio description tracks for networks and streaming platforms, IDC and DVW are the two I tell people to check out.

Are their others? Yes. But they don’t check off the boxes that these two do.
Let’s keep it real! IDC helped kick off the inclusion and hiring of Blind narrators. Their not the first, but to my knowledge they’ve done the most. If I’m wrong, please educate me – ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com.

DVW also is doing the same and employs Blind QC.

I asked each of them to bring three to five issues that most threaten the future of AD and some thoughts as to what we can do about them.

That’s next in part two of this episode of Flipping the Script on Audio Description I’m calling;
“NO ONE WILL SAVE US”

Big shout out to my guest, Michael McNeely , for shedding a little light on captions.

Make sure you tune back in for part two of this conversation.
The best way to do that;
Follow or subscribe to Reid My Mind Radio wherever you get podcasts.
There’s transcripts and more over at ReidMyMind.com.
Remember, you got to spell it!
That’s R to the E, I D!

Sample “D, and that’s me in the place to be!” Slick Rick

Like my last name.

— Reid My Mind Radio Outro
Peace!

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Reid My Mind Radio – The Braille Captel Phone

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

Telephone technology in its basic form hasn’t really changed since its inception. Two people speak to one another on each end of the line. Of course we have wireless phones, cell phones and internet based phones, but the basic idea is still the same…two people speak with one another. Ultratec, a technology company changed this when they introduced the CapTel phone opening this communication to those with hearing loss. What about those with both hearing and vision loss? Ultratec has just introduced the Braille CapTel.

Listen below and help spread the word about this device that can really present improved communication possibilities for an entire community.