This is one of the most famous misquotes of all time. In the movie Apollo 13 James Lovell is reporting back to base. There is a technical problem and Lovell utters the immortal line “Houston we have a problem…” In actual fact Lovell said, “Ok Houston, We’ve had a problem here … “ But for dramatic effect the writers of the movie changed this and as a result the line is now humorously used to begin description of any variety of problems. In the case of us deafies it is “Houston we have a problem, no one listens to us …”
This article is about cinema captioning and indeed HOUSTON WE DO HAVE A PROBLEM because many DEAF PEOPLE THINK THE NEW CAPTIVIEW SYSTEM IS CRAP. Captiview is the system that the Big Four Cinemas have introduced to provide captioning in cinemas. I confess, I have not yet used it, but I have heard enough negative reviews to be very reluctant to cough up my hard earned money to access it.
To understand what I am talking about we need to journey back a little bit. Regular readers of The Rebuttal will remember the famous campaign to throw out the Big Four Cinemas’ application for exemption to disability discrimination complaints under the Disability Discrimination Act. In return the Big Four were offering a pathetic increase in captioning access that amounted to something like .125% of all screenings that they put on. Australian cinemas have over 40 000 screenings of various movies per week. Deaf people get access to ONE of these movies once a week if they are lucky and almost exclusively in capital cities. The Big Four Cinemas’ proposed that they would increase this to maybe three a week. Deaf people, the paying customer, said go jump – we want more.
Nearly 500 people placed online submissions to the Australian Human Rights Commission website. Nearly all of these opposed the Big Four Cinemas’ application for exemption. There were blind and vision impaired people who also opposed it. Part of what the Big Four Cinemas were offering also included Audio Description. It was a big sacrifice for some blind people to oppose the application for exemption because at that time they received absolutely no access at all.
The simple message that the paying deaf customer gave to the Big Four Cinemas was, “we want more, take us seriously.” Our advocates at the time were up in arms. They urged us all to accept what was on offer. If we didn’t, they argued, we might end up with nothing. Indeed our advocates Deafness Forum Australia and Deaf Australia and Media Access Australia actually submitted online to the AHRC that the offer for exemption should be accepted. This was a kick in the face to the many hundreds of individuals and ORGANISATIONS that made it very clear that they did not want to accept what was on offer.
Just who were our advocates representing? Were they representing us or were they representing themselves? How Deaf Australia can look its member organisations like VCOD and QAD in the eye after these organisations told them that they opposed what was on offer and yet still Deaf Australia went ahead and endorsed the Big Four Cinemas’ exemption application is beyond me. To this day the response of our advocates is still the most incredibly dumb thing I have ever witnessed in over 20 years in the Disability sector. To rub salt into the wound Media Access Australia actually congratulated the Big Four Cinemas’ on their application for exemption to the DDA. The response of our advocates was either incredibly dumb or they were leaned on in a big way by the powers that be.
In the end the Australian Human Rights Commission, to the surprise of our advocates, threw out the Big Four Cinemas’ application for exemption to DDA complaints. The AHRC basically told the Big Four Cinemas that what was on offer was an insult and that millions of Deaf and hearing impaired Australians, as well as Blind and vision impaired, deserved better. It was pointed out the Australian Cinemas were among the most profitable in the world AND THAT THEY COULD DO BETTER.
Almost immediately the Big Four Cinemas came back with a new proposal. After nearly eight years of baulking and avoiding access they suddenly turned around and said “we have the solution!”.They advocated the introduction of a captioning device known as Captiview. This is basically a box device that you set up at your seat and Captions are beamed to the device. The system , I believe, did not allow for the transmission of Audio Description for the blind so a separate system needed to be in place.
The Cinemas put forward a plan to 2014 and they cited that this would solve everyone’s problem even though they had yet to consult with the community. They proposed that Captiview would be rolled out en-masse providing dramatic increase in access. The twist here is that there appears to be a hidden trade off in that Open Captions would no longer be provided. True to their form they adopted the Fawlty Towers approach, “Don’t mention the war” and in this instance “Don’t mention Open Captions” throughout their proposal.
Hang on! Houston We Have a Problem! Many Deaf people preferred open captions and the Captiview was not yet proven. Many people were sceptical and urged that the device be trialled as an option rather than introducing it en-masse. The argument was that if the device proved not suitable feedback from a trial would indicate whether the device was suitable or not.
BUT NO! The Cinemas, and indeed the Government, notably Bill Shorten, were keen to get the system out there. For Bill Shorten it was a public relations coup. He had actively intervened to assist get the original application for exemption thrown out. ( Although he will never admit this because the AHRC are supposed to be beyond influence.) Indeed there are whispers that the AHRC were leaned on to make the decision that they did. Deaf and hearing impaired people, the paying customer, said LETS SEE CAPTIVIEW FIRST, the Big Four Cinemas insisted that Captiview was the answer.
WAIT said us ….. No said our advocates. Our advocates insisted that if we did not accept what was on offer that we stood to lose everything. (Where had we heard that before?) And the mad rush to introduce Captiview began. Deadlines were set up, promises were made and of course none of them were kept. Technical problems, health issues and plain stupidity meant that the introduction of Captiview and much vaunted increase in access happened at a trickle so that basically nearly a year on we are not really all that better off.
Early reviews of Captiview were promising. Media Access Australia was among the first to offer a review. Strangely they sent a hearing member of staff to review it. The hearing member of staff, to the surprise of no one, gave it the thumbs up. Truth be known, reviews of Captiview are, at best, mixed. The word lackey springs to mind when discussing MAA.
If you want an unbiased appraisal of Captiview you need to look no further than Facebook. My wife has used the system and found it to be, “not the best, but ok.” Another friend, Jas, found that with attention to detail, finding the right seats and proper placement that Captiview was manageable. Others have been far less flattering. Houston We Have a Problem, too many paying customers are not satisfied.
Consider Ryan’s appraisal of Captiview –
“its a useless ineffective technology that just disadvantages the people its supposedly for.”
Kylie didn’t like it either saying that,
“.it’s hard, you can’t focus on both at the same time. It’s one or the other and can be straining on your poor eyeballs”
More damning was Tam who pulled no punches,
“They only have 4 Captiview at Forest Hill. I have used it twice & will never use it again. It’s a useless device esp for deaf children.” ( Forest Hill actually have 6)
Tam wasn’t finished’
“It’s no laughing matter… This is serious as we are going backwards in regards to technology for movies. I’ve already put my complaint in. Obviously I’m not being heard… We need more ppl to give feedback. What is the steering group ‘doing about it?”
Mike had little positive to say either,
“..its hard work trying to read the captions. You miss half the captions while watching movie. It’s actually hard work rather than enjoying yourself and relaxing. I couldn’t handle it.”
Indeed the system uses what was termed as 1980’s calculator font and many felt that this detracted from the enjoyment of the movie. But worse, and Houston are you listening, the Captiview introduction has arguably decreased access not increased it.
Why? Well because there are a limited amount of devices available. Now if Deaf people call their friends, say 20 of them, and say let’s go see Harry Potter, and twenty turn up at Forest Hill to see the session … Only six devices are available. What happens to the other 14 people? Do they all huddle around the 6 devices straining to see the captions?
HOUSTON WE HAVE A HUGE PROBLEM! Because all of these issues were raised before Captiview was introduced. Typically the people that PAY, in other words US, were ignored. All in the interest of progress!
Now what I see the danger of happening here is that Deaf and hearing impaired people will switch off in droves. Attendance will be low and the Big Four Cinemas’ are going to say “Well we did our bit but nobody came.” Everything will be wound back. Access will continue to be minimal and it will be OUR FAULT because we did not want to pay to use an ineffective device! Any improvements in Captiview technology later will pass us by.
So what do we all do? Do we accept and adapt or continue to remind the Big Four Cinemas’ and our advocates that as the paying customers we want a say? Whether we are paying membership to our advocacy organisations or paying to see a movie the age old adage is that THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT. Not in our case it seems. We are all just a pain in the butt. We are all a bunch of whingers who do not appreciate anything. According to them that is the case anyway. HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM – The ears that are deaf are not ours!