Listen – We Have Something To Say!

pop-on-captionsDeaf people are speaking out in unison. They have finally had enough of the slow, almost non-existent trickle of progress and are letting people know what they want. I speak, of course, of the campaign to increase captioning in cinemas. The Cinema Industry has applied for a 2.5 year exemption in the need to increase access to captioned cinema. To pacify the deaf and hearing impaired people of Australia they have offered a minimal increase in access. They have offered captioning at 35 cinemas 3 times a week. The way this currently works they only offer captioning for one movie a week and nearly always for off peak movie sessions. This minimal increase is for a potential 4 million customers. If any other industry treated 4 million customers in this way they would be out of business in no time.

In fact at the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) web page, consumers are invited to view and comment on the Cinema Industries application for exemption. If they so desire they can then submit whether they oppose or agree with the application for exemption. To date more than 100 people have chosen to submit a response. The vast majority are violently opposed to accepting the exemption. Further they are clearly fed up and angry with the lack of real progress and real increase in access to captioned cinema. The community is speaking clearly and one would hope that their views would be respected. Apparently not!

You see, despite so many people voicing opposition, some within our deafness sector are prepared to accept the Cinema Industries application for exemption and the minimal increase in captioning that has been offered with it. There is a train of thought that some increase is better than no increase. There is a belief that even if we oppose the exemption it will be granted anyway AND if the exemption is not granted then any gains that have been made will be lost.

And believe it or not, some of our leaders within deafness sector are actually angry that consumers are so violently opposed to accepting the exemption and the fact that the community is dismissive of the minimal gains that have been made. In some ways this is understandable. Imagine having worked for several years on lobbying for increased access to cinema captioning, getting some minimal gains and then being told it wasn’t good enough by us and then have to go back to square one. It would not be a pleasant feeling.

Some of the leaders have actually become quite defensive. They are claiming the rejections are personal and that it’s because certain organisations and individuals are not liked. They are asking why the community did not complain before when it mattered and are only now stomping their feet and protesting. They claim that if more people had made complaints we wouldn’t be where we are now.

And believe it or not they are actually prepared to go against the majority of over 100 people who have submitted a response to the cinema industries exemption application. The community, they say, do not understand the strategic approach that is being used. The community were too passive for too long they say … this is the agreement – like it or lump it. I would like to ask one question of these leaders and organisations – WHO ARE YOU REPRESENTING?

Consider that there are potentially 4 million people who are Deaf or hearing impaired in Australia who require captioning to access movies. Consider also that as part of the lobby for increased captioning, Blind and vision impaired people have also asked for the introduction of audio descriptions in movies. How many more people that the blind bring to the table I do not know. I imagine that by making cinema more accessible to the deaf and blind you have the potential to provide access to five million more Australians.

In this sense providing access isn’t just the right thing to do; it makes good business sense. If a business had the potential to get 5 million more customers don’t you think it would be prudent to invest in their needs? Of course it would. Instead the cinema industry is claiming that it’s too expensive. To me, 5 million people spells PROFITS … any outlay will be returned very quickly by the increase in customers.

But to get the returns, the cinema industry needs to invest in access properly and I dare say, aggressively. The cinema industry is currently claiming that captioned cinema is, at present, poorly attended. Well DUH! Of course it is. They provide access to only one movie per week to selected time slots. These movies are usually at off peak times when no one can attend. While the general populace has a wealth of movies to attend the deaf have a choice of ONE. Whether it is crappy or of no interest to the individual is of no importance; if we don’t attend it is seen as a lack of interest in captioned cinema. OH COME ON!! It does not take Einstein to see what is happening. If you provided one movie at 3 pm only on Thursdays to the general populace, how many would attend? I would hazard a guess that it would be VERY FEW!

And did you know that if the exemption is granted that it will mean that for the next 2.5 years no one can complain about cinema access. If the minimal gains that are on offer are accepted and the exemption is granted, that is our lot for the next 2.5 years. No complaints will be allowed. In a nutshell, agree to this exemption and the paltry gains on offer and the right to increased access for the next 2.5 years is gone. We will be powerless. What is more – we will have to hope that our lobbyists, who have not been able to get any substantial gains in the last few years, will get an agreement to further gains when the exemption runs out. Will they? Don’t bet on it.

My advice is – TOUGH IT OUT. Oppose and reject the minimal gains that have been offered. Oppose strongly the application from the cinema industry for exemption from increased captioning access. Let these people know that Deaf and hearing impaired people are not a COST but are people to be valued. Let these people know that it will not be until we are invested in properly that the financial gains will flow to the cinemas. Let these people know that we want access to cinema at near to the same level as everyone else and not a mere dribble of progress that will lead to full access, according to Arts Access Victoria, in 1000 years. Let them know that we are SERIOUS about access and that access is not just a feel good handout. And most of all let our deaf sector organisations know that when we speak, as we have on the AHRC page, THEY SHOULD LISTEN. Remind them that they represent the views of the consumers. Because, after all, is this not why they are there?

8 thoughts on “Listen – We Have Something To Say!

  1. email to Media Access Australia from Bobbie Blackson – Printed with permission. No response has been received to Ms Blackson’s email to date.

    Subject: Twilight

    Hello Sara

    It has been a while since we caught up!

    I received your media release via Deafness Forum this morning regarding revised captioned versions of Twilight.

    Coincidentally, I saw this movie yesterday, I was able to follow the overall story because I had read the book. The reason I am writing in is that I note that the first captioned movie will be out just before Christmas – which is a clear difference of at least five weeks. I quote from your media release:

    “accessible films generally lag behind their non-accessible version due to the post-production nature of access features.”

    Yes, I know about the additional time and work involved in ensuring that access features are added. I have huge respect for the staff involved, as it is not easy work. What is the lag time in America for accessible films? If they are shorter than five weeks, then can we match that? In fact, I have this impression that captioned versions are released very quickly following the original version of some movies I have seen in the past, so I wonder if there is a standard or a benchmark that is followed.

    When are the access professionals brought in to start working on captions/audio? Don’t they have access to scripts any earlier than post-production? Maybe my questions are naive, but I would like to understand the whole arrangement a little better.

    Look forward to hearing from you


  2. Submission to Australian Human Rights Commission in regard to Cinema Industry exemption application. Printed with permission.

    Michael Small
    Director Disability Rights Policy
    Australian Human Rights Commission

    I hereby express my objection to any further delay in the provision of equitable and accessible cinema, we have waited far too long and the excuses are no longer valid.

    Throughout our recent history every attempt to eradicate every form of discrimination in Australia have been argued against, citing costs are unreasonable or technologies unachievable. These same delaying arguments have been applied to cinema for far too long. The technology is there and has been for a long time, the will is not.

    I am hearing, and my life partner and wife is a Deaf woman who needs captions to participate in cinema. For us the cinema is much more than just a form of entertainment:

    – it is (potentially) a social opportunity to share a pleasurable experience together or with our grandkids
    – it is a source of information about culture and community values and issues
    – it becomes a pivot point for later discussion and social interaction with friends and workmates “Did you see that movie?, What did you think of…?”
    – It is a great way to get out of the heat!

    As a hearing person I am able to check the newspapers or the web and am presented with a broad range of movie options in convenient locations and at times that fit our busy life. If, however, I want to share that experience with my wife or our whole family I am limited to very few theatres, inconvenient locations that usually involve expensive travel or parking costs, and a choice of one movie instead of 20 or more.

    The vast majority of contemporary cinema titles NEVER make it to captioned showing. In the past twelve months we have been unable to enjoy any captioned movies as those highly restrictive set of criteria have not aligned. For those who don’t live in capital cities the situation is dramatically worse.

    We are forced to choose foreign language films or wait until the movie is no longer “hot” and hits DVD. This not not equate to the real cinema experience and ironically Australian content is usually not captioned on DVD anyway.

    If the industry is concerned about becoming less competitive or that it disadvantages independent theatres perhaps we should look at how the National Relay Service is funded. It is feasible to place an annual levy on all cinema providers, with their contribution proportional to their market share . This fund could then be used to offset conversion costs for all cinemas, including small and independent operators.

    It is important to recognise that for every one person who may directly need access to theatres, there are many family, friends, partners, and peers who are also impacted by this lack of equity. Do the maths.

  3. I write in reference to the Application for exemption under DDA section 55: Cinema captioning and audio description.

    I wish to draw your attention to the information that was previously submitted by Phil Harper and Carla Anderson.

    ? Jointly, these exhibitors have 1,182 screens across Australia.
    ? They show approximately 30 movies per screen every week.
    ? That’s a total of 41,370 screenings per week (1182 screens x 5 sessions per day x 7 days)
    ? Of these, only 105 will be captioned and audio described. This is equal to less than 0.3% of all movies

    Clearly the level of access that is being granted to people who are Deaf, hearing impaired, Blind and vision impaired is not adequate, nor is it acceptable.

    I further would like to draw your attention to the information provided by the Disability Discrimination Legal Services inc in Melbourne, Again in an earlier submission.

    “In considering an exemption application the Tribunal must do so in the light of the Charter. In particular, the Commission referred to the observations of Justice Bell in Lifestyle Communities (No. 3) [2009] VCAT 1869 at paragraph 96 that the purpose of the Equal Opportunity Act ‘did not permit the grant of exemptions in order to achieve convenient, economic and practical outcomes, but that the true purpose was to promote equal opportunity and prevent discrimination’

    I am of the view that the exemption that has been applied is based purely on economic reasons and offers no realistic equal access nor does it address what are clearly discrimnatory practices occuring from the Cinema industry. There is no clear aim as to what further increases will occur at the end of 2.5 years. In short the application is nothing more than a stalling tactic.

    Further there are close to four million Deaf and hearing impaired Australians and countless other Blind and vision impaired Australians who, if offered realistic access, would attend captioned cinema or cinemas providing audio description. If the access was realistic and flexibly the costs for implementing access would be largely offset in increases in numbers of the targeted people who would attend the cinema.

    I further believe there exists technology and strategies to implement access for the targeted stakeholders. It is already happening in comparable countries around the world and for a country as wealthy as Australia it is well within their financial capacity to provide.

    Based on this information and a clear madate in rejecting the exemption from people who have taken the time to submit to this process I object to the granting of any exemption.

    Gary Kerridge

  4. This is certainly turning into a big issue – well over a hundred submissions now and today’s aren’t posted on the AHRC website yet.

    This struggle to get captioned cinema predates me even becoming deaf so I don’t know a lot of the early history of it. The trouble is I don’t know a lot about the recent history of it either. I knew it was an issue but thought there would be a consultation process.

    I am sure both Deaf Australia (DA) and Deafness Forum (DF) have done their best in what must have been a really wearing process over years. I’d like to know why they made the decisions they did from them, either face to face or at least on a website somewhere.

    Maybe I am all going to be shocked all over again and find out that the AHRC approves this DDA exemption but I think, based on the big response, this application will be rejected.

    I’d like to know what happens next. Will Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum just go back into negotiations with the cinemas ? Given that there isn’t currently agreement between DA, DF and those of us who have made submissions whose view will they be arguing for ?

    Also, what if the exemption is granted ? What will happen then ? I would really like to know the answers to these questions and hope that these two organisations are going to respond to them soon, because we need to decide amongst ourselves what we are willing to accept.

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