Stand Up and Be Counted

Well, well, well – It is now public. the Cinema’s have made their offer and the consultation has begun. Deafness Forum have got the ball rolling and have put a poll on their website to see if people are happy with the offer.  I for one must say I am EXTREMELY impressed. Having said that this is just the first step on the way to fair and reasonable access for deaf and blind people at the cinema.

Below is the substance of what the cinemas are offering. This has been taken from the Deafness Forum website.

  • By the end of 2014 captions and audio description would be available in at least one screen in every one of the 132 cinema complex run by these operators.

What this means is that every cinema owned by the major cinema companies will have at least one cinema that can show captioning for the deaf and also provide audio description for the blind. Keep in mind that some cinemas have more than one cinema in a cinema complex. However under the offer from the cinemas they have committed to ensuring AT LEAST ONE MOVIE THEATRE in the complex will be able to provide access.


  • In addition captions and audio description would be available in:

– one screen for every complex with 6 or less screens

– two screens for every complex with 7 to 12 screens

– three screens for every complex with 13 or more screens

This would equate to captions and audio description being provided at 242 screens in 132 complexes compared to the current situation where only 12 screens in 12 complexes provide captioning. AND I believe none of these twelve screens provide audio description for the blind. It is a vast improvement.

The cinemas have proposed a roll-out of their proposal. This is what they are suggesting.

A timetable for achieving this goal might be:

  1. By the end of 2010 access would be provided in 24 screens (10% of proposed total)
  2. By the end of 2011 access would be provided in 73 screens (30% of proposed total)
  3. By the end of 2012 access would be provided in 145 screens (60% of proposed total)
  4. By the end of 2013 access would be provided in 194 screens (80% of proposed total)
  5. By the end of 2014 access would be provided in 242 screens (100% of proposed total)

    One must remember that initially the cinemas were offering JUST 35 cinemas for a two and a half year exemption to discrimination complaints WITH NO PLAN as to how to improve things at the end of this two and a half year exemption.

    With the roll-out that has been suggested by the cinemas they calculate that the following levels of access will be provided.

    • Captions and audio description would be available at every session of a movie that had captions or audio description showing on those screens. For example, the initial roll-out of 10% of the screens would result in 840 shows per week of closed captioning and audio description content (ie. 24 screens at 35 sessions per week).
    • Industry proposed that the technology used to deliver captioning and audio description would initially be CaptiView, but noted that like in other areas of technological change, improvements would occur and alternative improved technologies would develop over time. Industry acknowledged that the implementation of CaptiView would not preclude the adoption of improved technology in the future.

    This means that every cinema that has the technology to provide captioning and audio description will provide captioning and audio description FOR EVERY MOVIE that is shown in that particular movie theatre. That wont be every movie because, for example, some cinemas have up to ten movie theatres in a complex.  Under this proposal by the cinemas, if a cinema complex had ten theatres at least two of these will provide captioning and audio description for the movies shown at those two movie theatres. BUT access will be provided at every session shown at those theatres – everyday and at every session.

    Considering that  the initial proposal was only offering access at 35 cinemas with no suggestion as to how many sessions would be available this is an enormous increase in what the cinemas were offering.

    But why has there been this dramatic change of heart. Part of this has been the introduction of the CaptiView system.  This is technology that the user has to set up at their seat … it means they watch the captions at their seat and not on the screen. There will not be open captions. The cinemas have been very opposed to open captioning stating that it takes away from the cinema enjoyment of those patrons that don’t require captioning.

    Their are mixed reviews of the CaptiView system.  Some believe that it takes away from the enjoyment for the deaf person. They say that watching a movie with the system means the watcher must coordinate looking at the captions and the screen and that this can be difficult. To try and reassure people the cinemas have agreed to a consultative process so that patrons can provide feedback about the system. I believe they cinemas have also agreed to regular reviews of the technology and upgrades of the technology when appropriate.

    Perhaps at this stage it is a bit premature to celebrate because we do not yet know how deaf people will react to the CaptiView system. The same will not apply to blind patrons because they will have a headset where they listen to the audio description direct to their ear. Blind patrons will not have to coordinate watching the movie and captions at the same time.

    So there we have it. The first step to better cinema access. There is one lesson that we have learned from all this and that is that we must always CHALLENGE decisions that are made for us. If we had sat back and accepted what was on offer, if we had accepted what our advocates had agreed to and if we had not made a protest we would not be in this situation.  Having said this we must also appreciate the work of people that managed to negotiate the original proposal.  Weak as it was they battled hard on our behalf. The cinemas played hard ball but they kept the cinemas at the negotiation table.  Their part in this process should not be underestimated.  BUT still we must challenge if we do not agree we must say so – If we do not change never happens.

    There are cynics that claim that the Cinema protest is a small fish. People who claim that there are bigger issues and more important issues. All of this is very true but one needs to remember that the cinema protest has set a PRECEDENT. It brought the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) to the table. It provided the AHRC with ammunition to hold the cinemas to account. The benchmark has been set – The cinemas were told, that based on their profits, what they were offering was not acceptable and that they were not meeting their responsibilities. If the cinemas can be held to account, what then of the Government that doesn’t provide proper access to education? What then of big multinationals like Telstra  who charge through the nose for data plans that for many deaf people are the only means to access telecommunications to an equitable level of their hearing peers?

    Do not underestimate the impact of this cinema campaign. The precedent has been set.  We must now keep the fire burning!

    One thought on “Stand Up and Be Counted

    1. I am strongly in favour of adopting this offer from the cinema industry in good faith.

      I do, however, offer the following points and observations that may generate some more discussion amongst members of the community (and particularly those who are Deaf or deaf (with a hearing loss).

      Point 1:
      The cinema industry has continually made reference to the fact that this group or collective of cinema exhibitors only accounts for approximately 25% of cinema locations in Australia.

      To rely on this data is very misleading in my view.

      Based on my analysis of the cinema industry data on the Screen Australia website (via MPDAA) and also on the cinema exhibitors’ own websites, this group accounts for almost 60% of all screens which show movies in Australia (during 2009) – which gives a very different picture of the “clout” this group of cinema exhibitors wield in the Australian marketplace.

      Point 2:
      When I reviewed each of the cinema exhibitor group’s websites to quickly “cross-check” that there actually was 132 cinemas operated by the group I came up with a slightly different number of 142.

      Straight away this made me question whether the overall commitment should always be expressed in percentage terms?

      Such an approach would allow for new locations being added (or removed from) to the group and / or independent operators being taken over / acquired by the group, etc – to be included in the “accessibility makeover program”.

      Obviously, this means that the overall percentage would need to be set at 100% to take into account the above operational and market changes that may take place in the period to 31 December 2014 – but there shouldn’t need to be any major adjustments to the proposed staggered implementation approach of 10% / 20% / 30% / 20% / 20% over the 4.5 years remaining to 31 December 2014.

      Point 3:
      It wasn’t clear to me how the existing 12 screens that currently exhibit “open captioned” sessions (and which are under the control of the Big-4 cinema exhibitors) would operate once this offer was accepted and work towards providing the new systems commences.

      Will it be possible for the technology previously used to exhibit “open captioned” sessions to be made available to other independent cinemas in the same proximity or possibly even to local community organizations to enable “open captioned” screenings to continue during the transition? I assume the projectors will be obsolete and no longer used operationally by the Big-4 cinema exhibitors?

      Already I have noticed that some members of the community have expressed a view that they were really happy with the accessibility that they have been receiving via “open captions” and they are now very worried that the CaptiView technology will not be as easy for them or provide a similar level of enjoyment in terms of their cinema experience.

      I also understand that the CaptiView product was demonstrated to the delegates at the last meeting and that it was positively received.

      Notwithstanding the above and the fact that there will be more trials conducted shortly, I still think there is a real need for additional clarity to be provided around this area for community members so they are fully informed.

      Perhaps there needs to be a separate website maintained purely for the purposes of keeping the community informed on the progress of the offer, the implementation plans, how CaptiView works, etc etc?

      Point 4:
      I am comfortable with the advisory group model.

      I also note that Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia (MPDAA) have been put forward as a potential member of the advisory committee.

      Looking at the MPDAA’s website, they have stated that they are a “not-for-profit” organization which was formed way back in 1926 and it originally had amongst a number of objectives, one object:

      “…to make donations to charitable or benevolent funds directly or indirectly connected to the motion picture industry.”

      Is there any possibility of additional funding for this cinema captioning / AD accessibility initiative via this source?

      Point 5:
      Finally, you stated that the cinema exhibitors appear to have made it very clear that they consider “open captions” as reducing the enjoyment of cinema patrons who don’t need them.

      Is this really a “non-negotiable” issue for the cinemas?

      Where is all of the “evidence” (i.e. market research, empirical research, or indeed any sort of “research”) that supports this position?

      And what about the enjoyment of the patron who is Deaf or has a hearing loss? I had one of the most enjoyable experiences at the cinemas in George Street with my wife last year (even though the movie was a bit iffy) and this screening was provided in an “open captioned” format.

      Open captioned screenings are a proven technology (particularly for the customer who is Deaf or has a hearing loss) and I think we need to ensure there is very rigid controls around ensuring that this experience is not reduced by the use of the new CaptiView technology (which may certainly be more palatable to the cinema exhibitors).

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