Accessible Cinema – Important Information. By Gary Kerridge

Firstly in starting this article I would like to offer a formal apology to Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum. I have been guilty of overly aggressive and unprofessional comments that have not been necessary. In particular I have told people in public forums to give Deaf Australia the middle finger over their refusal to give more support to the anti-CaptiView lobby. I have also suggested that people take their membership dollar elsewhere from Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum. In both cases this is highly inappropriate. Although we hold differing views both Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum do a lot of great things for Australians who are Deaf and hearing impaired.  They deserve a lot more respect than I have dished out. I apologise unreservedly. While I will not agree with Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum’s position on CaptiView I respect it is their right to hold a different view. This whole CaptiView debate has become far too personal and I offer this apology under no pressure from anyone. It has not been demanded of me but I feel it is appropriate that I offer it.

I wanted to use this article to inform people of a few things about CaptiView. We know that the “Big Four” Cinemas (the four major chains: Hoyts, Events Cinemas (Greater Union/Birch, Carroll & Coyle), Village Cinemas, and Reading Cinemas) are committed to much greater access to cinema by 2014.  A large number of these cinemas will have Closed Captions by 2014, with at least one accessible screen for each of their cinema complexes.  It will depend on the size of the complex but all going to plan Deaf and hearing impaired people will have a greater choice of movies by 2014. While it is not in dispute, that the cinemas are committed to this access, it currently appears that this access will be entirely through the implementation of CaptiView technology.

This is the sticking point. While Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum believe that CaptiView is the best available technology many Deaf and hearing impaired people have informed Action On Cinema Access group that they do not believe CaptiView is the best available technology to suit all requirements and provide broad access. Based on the feedback from these many people who are Deaf and hearing impaired the Action On Cinema Access (AOCA) group feel that there are better options and believe that alternative options should be provided in conjunction with CaptiView. AOCA is committed to presenting an argument on behalf of these people who are deaf and hearing impaired that suggests trialling of other technologies and that retention of Open Captions in some instances is crucial, particularly for children and those with other access needs such as people who are deaf who have vision impairments. AOCA asserts that there is better technology available or will become available very soon such as Rear Window and the Sony ‘subtitle glasses’.  AOCA is of the view that the cinemas are 100% locked in to the introduction of CaptiView and nothing else.

The only real difference between the AOCA and Deaf Australia/Deafness Forum is on this issue of trialling. All three groups want better access and as indicated in the Accessible Cinema Implementation Plan … CaptiView is the one area where opinions differ. Before locking in CaptiView technology AOCA is requesting, on behalf of many people who are Deaf and hearing impaired, that comprehensive trialling be implemented and feedback obtained from the paying customer as to the the effectiveness of various technologies and options. This feedback should then guide the cinemas as to which technology or options that they should be investing in. And, of course, AOCA feels, as do many people who are Deaf and hearing impaired, that there is an important place still for open captioning.

For people who are not quite up to speed with what is happening all this has come about from the conversion to digital technology. In the past cinemas rented movies in those great big cans, loaded them to movie projectors manually and showed the movies. Captioned films either had the captions burnt directly onto the film strip or projected simultaneously from an alternative projector. Nowadays, all movies are downloaded over the Internet to a cinema’s digital server. At the Big Four cinemas these are downloaded to a Doremi server. The Doremi server is excellent technology. It allows the transmission of a variety of accessibility files including Open Captions, Closed Captions, and also Audio Description for people who are blind. Caption files come in different formats. There are data files that can be used with a variety of different devices.

What people need to understand is that the caption files are, as this author understands it, provided as part of the rental agreement when cinemas rent movies from distributors. It appears that they are not an extra cost; the cinemas just have to request and activate them prior to screening a movie. For example the new Margaret Thatcher movie that stars Meryl Streep is rented by the cinemas. If they have CaptiView they just need to ensure that when they rent the movie that they request  the data files for transmission of the Closed Caption files to the CaptiView device. If they have Rear Window, they request the equivalent Closed Caption data file for the Rear Window device. If they have, in the foreseeable future, Sony’s ‘subtitle glasses’ they request the same Closed Caption data file for the Sony glasses. And so on. Likewise, Open Captions have a data file that just needs to be requested and activated for the cinema to project it onto the screen. All of these options can (or will soon be able to) be used with the Doremi server. All it depends on is that the cinema has the devices to receive the captions be it CaptiView, Rear Window, Sony ‘subtitle glasses’, or whatever. It is the cinemas choice. One would expect that they would choose a device that the customer is responsive to.

Let’s emphasise here, these data files are at no extra cost, the cost is purely in the purchase of the device that receives the captions. Paradoxically for Open Captions there is no extra cost for a device hence no extra cost to transmit Open Captions. However the Big Four Cinemas believe Open Captions will lead to them losing money as Open Captions deter hearing customers.

Hopefully that does not sound too complicated.  But what all this means is that the cinemas have the capacity to trial other devices and get viewer feedback as to which one is most suited to the Deaf and hearing impaired viewer. It does not have to be CaptiView, but can be any number of devices including the option of Open Captions. The sticking point may be the cost, but at this stage the author has no clear information about the cost difference between devices.

Of course the cinemas are reluctant to retain Open Captioning, stating that they feel it deters other customers. AOCA believes, as do many people who are Deaf and hearing impaired, that this assumption lacks any science and is calling for proper research on Open Captioning to properly gauge public perception of Open Captions before Open Captions are completely dismissed out of hand. After all, cinemas were full at the recent French Film Festival, and in showings of ‘A Separation’, which are all open captioned and attended by hearing people.

Anecdotal evidence from many people who are Deaf and hearing impaired suggests that, at this time, the CaptiView device is not well accepted. There are some people that tolerate it, even like it, but many others do not. Children who are Deaf and hearing impaired (and parents) have reported finding it very difficult or impossible to use. Hence the strong call for trials of alternate technology before there is further investment in CaptiView. If at the end CaptiView is seen as the best, then that is fine, but at the moment feedback from many people who are Deaf and hearing impaired to AOCA suggests that there is much resistance to CaptiView.

The reality is that AOCA wants to ensure that the roll out of accessible cinema is successful, as do all of us. There is a real fear that using CaptiView alone, without first trialling other technology, will mean that many people who are Deaf and hearing impaired will stop going to the cinemas . This other technology might even be iPads or smart phones that have the capacity to receive captions.  The problem is that at the moment there is no hard data as to which technology is the best suited for access to all.

Remember that if CaptiView is not the device of choice it will not impact on Audio Description for people who are blind in any way. For those that do not know, the roll out of Audio Description for people who are blind is a large part of the Accessible Cinema Implementation Plan. Technology for this is currently being rolled out in conjunction with CaptiView. Audio Description, at the moment, is transmitted with an entirely different data file and device (currently Doremi’s Fidelio system). If, for example, Rear Window replaces CaptiView, this will not change anything for the roll out plans for accessibility for people who are blind.

The bigger issue is that there is a real fear that deaf and hearing impaired viewers simply will not attend the movies if CaptiView continues to be rolled out despite such negative feedback. This will mean the Accessible Cinema Implementation Plan for Deaf and hearing impaired will very likely fail and we will be stuck with CaptiView for a very long time once the roll-out is completed. Cinemas will simply argue that there is no demand due to lack of attendance/use of CaptiView and refuse to invest in alternate technology This is a very valid concern.

Hopefully, this article makes the Action On Cinema Access stance a little clearer. If the author has made errors please feel free to point them out and present alternate information. Above all let’s stop the disrespect for each other and enter into informed and calm debate. WE encourage readers to investigate the views of Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum and come to their own conclusions.

Again apologies to all that might have been offended by previous articles on this subject but if we were not passionate about things in life nothing would ever change.

With respect.

*I would like to dedicate this article to all that are out there fighting for better access for all of us. Particularly I would like to thank AOCA for the technical information within and their dedication to ensure people like children and those with physical and vision issues who are also deaf have a strong voice at the national level.

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One thought on “Accessible Cinema – Important Information. By Gary Kerridge

  1. A very clear and logical argument, Gary. Makes crystal clear and absolute sense to me! Maybe you should forward this article to the Technology Editors at the papers etc etc??

    Cheers!

    Pete

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