Its Christmas Time …

bobBut in our world of plenty, we should spread a smile of joy!
Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time
But say a prayer – pray for the other ones
At Christmas time, it’s hard but when your having fun
There’s a world outside your window …..

Oldies among us will remember the song Do they Know Its Christmas Time. Back in the mid-eighties lead singer of the Boom Town Rats, Bob Geldof, saw horrific film footage of the famine in Ethiopia. It wasn’t pretty. Inevitably the footage would focus on the kids. It was heart breaking. These starving skeletal kids, with bloated bellies, would stare helplessly at the camera. There dark eyes, large and beautiful, pleaded with us to make it better. This vision shook us to our core. Geldof was so moved that he was inspired to organise one of the largest fundraising events that was ever to be seen.

So moved was Geldof by the film footage that he flew to Africa to witness what was happening first hand for himself. He then flew home wrote the song, Do They Know Its Christmas Time. He then convinced a whole host of pop stars to produce it as a record. The stars included Paul Young, Bono, Boy George and Phil Collins. It is still the biggest selling UK song of all time. The song was the catalyst for a number of concerts, The Band Aid Concerts. This fundraising initiative, sparked by Geldof, was to raise over 100 Million Pounds Sterling. Geldof was later Knighted for his efforts. The memory of Band Aid reminds me that humans are basically very decent folk.

In 2012 a lot of angry words were written about the lack of cinema access. But when I looked back on 2012 I realised that mostly my fight for access was a successful one. It reminded me that there is a lot of good happening out there. Not necessarily by mega rich organisations like the Big 4 cinemas but by your every day Joe Blow and Cathy Can. The types of people that have a desire to simply make things happen. Most people, like Sir Bob, CARE!

Tamara Trinder-Scacco, for example, long ago realised that the Big 4 Cinemas were unlikely to provide the captions on the screen that were needed by her deaf daughter to access movies on the big screen. She decided to find another way. She approached the Lynbrook Residents Association that provide monthly outdoor movies for families. The Association had purchased, by hook and by crook, an inflatable movie screen and a digital projector. Tamara asked them if they would put the captions on for the deaf and they did. Why? So that everyone could access the movie. It really is as simple as that.

And then last week I approached one of the departments at my work that puts on films and cultural events in semi-rural areas. I had discovered that they had spanking new Digital Projectors installed at community hubs throughout the region. At these hubs they show some of the latest movies, art house movies and theatre. I asked if they would consider putting on captions for the deaf. Their response blew me away.

Now the technical guy had been told by his film distributor that to watch captions they needed an external device like CaptiView. I explained to the technical guy that this was not accurate and that recently a company had worked out how to put files designed for such devices on the screen. “Cool”, he said, “Ill make some enquiries and we can meet again in January to discuss how we can train the projectionist to do it.” It was as simple as that.

I started talking to the tech guy and his manager about how we might provide access. I suggested that they simply advertise some sessions as captioned and generate some interest among deaf cinema goers. The manager asked, “Why would we do it like that?” I explained because there might be some cinema goers put off by the captions on screen. The manager just scoffed and said, “Who cares? Let’s just have system where if a deaf person wants the captions turned on they tell the box office person who will then call the projectionist and make sure they’re turned on.”

After the last three years of listening to a myriad of excuses from the mega rich Big 4 as to why captions on screen cannot happen I was blown away by the attitude. One would think that this small little cinema would be frightened of losing customers. But the attitude was simply that it was access for all or access for none. It was totally refreshing.

The manager started to ask me questions about the blind. I explained about audio description. She was impressed by this and directed her technician to investigate how they might introduce audio description. She also asked about theatre and if it was possible to make theatre accessible. I explained about the Captioning Studio and the work they do to for captioned theatre. So she is going to look into that too. She is going to see if a touring theatre group want to work on getting their show captioned so they can offer captioned sessions for other regional areas too. It was easy and I was completely blown away by the ‘can do’ and ‘let’s do it’ attitude.

As I look back on the year and I realise that because I had been so wrapped up in the disgraceful attitude of the Big 4 cinemas that I had overlooked all the good things that had happened. When I looked back on the year I realised that it was virtually only the Big 4 Cinemas that had been obstinate in their refusal to take accessibility needs seriously.

For example my work involves capacity building. I must analyse access needs in the community that I work for. This might involve access to footpaths, access to buildings or simply access to information. I realised that throughout the year NO ONE had said no. I asked for different departments to accept responsibility to pay for interpreters so my own budget was not stretched. No problem! I asked that the wider community be consulted on footpath access. So seriously did they tackle this request that “Access Walks” have been organised where a group of people with disabilities will work with an Urban Planner to help him identify access problems on pedestrian routes. I asked for improved access to public toilets through the installation of adult change tables and hoists. It’s not as easy as it sounds but capital works are now engaged in a feasibility study to see how they can make this happen.

What astounded me is that all these people saying YES had absolutely no background or knowledge of disability. They didn’t have millions upon millions of dollars to play with either. All they had was an attitude that wanted to see improvements in access for people with a disability. I pointed out to one of our managers that there are economic benefits for improving disability access.  “Oh I don’t care about that”,he said, “It’s just the right thing to do.”

So this Christmas let’s remember that human beings are, in the majority, good folk. Most people just want to see a world that includes everyone. They want to see a world where people are all equal. It is unfortunate that the minority get most of the attention because there is so much good happening out there. The sad thing is that it is often this minority, blessed with resources and profits, which have so much power and control.

BUT Christmas is a time to celebrate. It is a time where the best in human nature is on display. In the words of Sir Bob,

It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid
At Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade
And in our world of plenty, we can spread a smile of joy!
Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time ..

Keep up the good fight people!

Happy Xmas everyone and if you don’t celebrate Xmas just celebrate because!