It's All In The Numbers – By Dean Barton-Smith

Nearly 110 years ago, a small group of people got together to discuss certain matters of their lives with particular regard to their rights. Their discussions revealed a disturbing picture and they came to the conclusion that something was very wrong with their situation. They then spent the next 20 plus years writing, talking, lobbying and eventually (after much frustration) protesting publicly. They went as far as chaining themselves to a fence in order to get their message across. What were they protesting about? The right for women to vote!

Almost 20 years ago, a small group of people got together to discuss certain matters of their lives with particular regard to communication. As they discussed and compared the picture of their lives to those of like people overseas, they concluded that something was very wrong with their situation. They then spent a number of years writing, talking, lobbying and eventually (after much frustration) protesting publicly and nationally. They went as far as buzzing thousands of people across Australia with a TTY. What were they protesting about? The right for Deaf, hearing impaired and speech impaired Australians to have access to the telephone.

20 years later it was a different type of situation. People attending the cinema concluded that although what was on the screen looked just fine, not knowing what was happening on the screen was unacceptable. Like the pioneers before them, they discussed and compared their lives with those of like people in similar countries and decided something was very wrong. From their discussions a protest eventuated on Saturday13th February at 11.00am (local time). Protests were held all over Australia in front of selected cinemas. The protests had a clear message, that Deaf and hearing impaired Australians wanted access to “All Films, All Cinemas, All Sessions.” And they want it “NOW!”

The cinema industry’s refusal to provide full access impacts on approximately 4 million Deaf and hearing impaired Australians. If you consider that for each one of these 4 million who are directly impacted, it also affects their family and friends who would like to attend the cinema with them. If one friend and one family member from these four million people are affected, then this is a further 8 million Australians potentially affected.

The protest strategically targeted inaccessible cinemas across the country. Over 450 people attended these protests. They were waving creative and colourful banners that vented their frustrations at being denied access to the cinema. Whether it was a banner, a T-Shirt or simply a verbal testimonial, their passion and desire for change was clear for all to see.

At the Melbourne protest, over 20 people came forward and spoke publicly to the gathered protesters. They shared personal stories of frustration, disappointment, sadness and expressed their anger at the violation of their human rights. Many of these stories came from parents, children and friends of the affected. It was clear that it was not just the Deaf , hearing impaired and visually impaired protesters who were affected. It is not an exaggeration to say that 8 to 10 million Australians could be directly and indirectly affected by the lack of access to cinemas.

One hopes that the marketing people, shareholders and directors attached to the cinema franchises are beginning to realise the revenue that they are missing. If 8 million people pay $15 a ticket to attend just one movie a year, this is $120 million of box office takings missed out on annually. Yet the cinemas cry foul, citing unjustifiable hardship. What hardship, when they have missed out on a potential $700 million profit in the 6 or so years that they have been negotiating with our advocates such as Deaf Australia?

It is difficult to understand the cinema industry’s protestations. The cost to make a cinema accessible is .00125% of the total box office taken in a year. This is mere ‘petty cash’ in the corporate world. Any shareholder of any business that would miss out on a potential $700 million in profits would demand the resignation of their bosses. Yet still the cinema industry cannot see the big picture.

It has been 20 years since a large scale national protest such as this one has been seen. It took an enormous amount of work to bring it all together. There were hundreds of emails, and postings on Facebook. There were countless number of text messages and phone calls. High profile people were contacted for support as well as the media. Numerous meetings were held and people travelled hundreds of kilometres to attend. Yet despite the mounting evidence and overwhelming voice that screamed for change there were doubters and naysayers. How wrong the doubters were.

At the campaign the Channels 2, 7, 9 news crews arrived to record the event for the national news. Channel 2 made the campaign a national news item that was over 2 minutes in duration. This news item received saturation coverage all over the country. Local and state newspapers conducted interviews and there were even radio interviews. There were messages of support from leading ex-politicians, entertainment icons, community leaders and MPs.

So successful was the campaign that rural and outer suburban areas wanted to organise their own campaigns. Interest was expressed in areas as diverse as Ballarat, Parramatta, Cairns, Townsville, Rockhampton and Darwin. In fact there is a strong call for further nationwide protests. Several organisations that were at first uncertain and seemingly unwilling, are now fully backing the campaign. Emails are still coming in commending the campaign from as far as away as New Zealand and the UK. The sentiments expressed are usually along the lines of “Onya Aussies!!”

Federal Ministers and relevant advisors are continuously receiving email and hard-copy letters and postcards asking them to support the campaign against the cinemas. With this year being an election year it is essential that the energy generated by the campaign is flamed and maintained. We need to let the MPs know that OUR VOTE COUNTS!

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) will very soon announce its decision to either accept or reject the Cinemas’ request for a DDA complaints exemption. At the time of writing, the cinemas have yet to respond to any of the questions that AHRC compiled from the 450 submission made against this exemption. The question remains – Just what will the cinemas do? What are they thinking? Will they demonstrate Corporate Social Responsibility? Will they listen to their current and future market? Or will they just ignore us all?

It remains to be seen. At the current time we understand this campaign has generated around 250 discrimination complaints to the AHRC in regard to cinema accessibility. Will the AHRC show us all that they have some teeth or will they once again bow to corporate pressure?

We have possibly 10 million Australians directly affected by the lack of cinema accessibility. The AHRC has received 450 formal submissions rejecting the exemption submission. 250 individuals have lodged a formal complaint against the cinemas. Can the message be any louder or clearer than this? Will they take heed, not just for us, but for the future generations to come?

Just as the women of today look back and say thanks to those women who chained themselves to walls all those years ago for the right to vote, may the future generations look back on what we have done and say “Thank you for making my life that much better, not just for me, but for everyone around me.”

 One, who earns leadership of the masses by working ceaselessly for people’s welfare finally realizes that he has been rewarded with many added advantages.

Atharva Veda

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4 thoughts on “It's All In The Numbers – By Dean Barton-Smith

  1. Interesting article,

    The big 4 will contiune to prologue the rights being given, due to this is because they want to kept earning so much profits with miminal expense.

  2. I just wanted to congratulate everybody who has stood up against the inequity of cinema access for the Deaf, hearing impaired and anyone else who is happy to watch captioned movies (i.e. learning English as a second language is so much more fun if you are watching a beautiful actress!)

    Thanks particularly to Dean and his team of active supporters who organized it all and made things happen.

    Finally, I just wanted to say that I recently turned 40 and I have only seen 1 accessible movie in those 40 years! Simple economics suggests that the cinemas, by turning a blind eye to this sizeable market of hearing impaired and the Deaf, are foregoing huge amounts of revenue here.

    If things don’t change this time, why don’t the various Deaf and hearing impaired organisations get together and buy / establish an accessible “cinema” in each capital city/regional centre? We know they are profitable businesses and it could be staffed by volunteers from these communities, etc etc with all profits put back into the business (by setting up new locations/screens, being the first to try new technology (such as 3d type glasses that enable captions to be read using the same principles of invisible ink, etc etc)

    • No doubt it was, point being someone lobbied hard for it and the rest of the world followed 🙂 And if Australia could see fit to follow world trends and give votes to women then improving its captioned cinema supply should be a dandy!

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