Deaf 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?