A Plethora of Choice and Access- Not!!!!

thBoxing Day is a movie extravaganza in Australia. Cinemas release all of the new blockbuster movies hoping to entice people to the post Xmas showings. Boxing Day 2012 was no exception with Les Miserables and The Hobbit being promoted to the hilt.  With the much vaunted Accessible Cinema Roll-Out it should have been a virtual smorgasbord of choice for deaf and vision impaired cinema goers. You see since 2009, with the support of the Australian Government, Australia’s Big 4 cinemas – Hoyts, Village, Reading and Event – have apparently been rolling out accessible cinema like there is no tomorrow. Closed Captions for the deaf through a device known as CaptiView and Audio Description for the vision impaired are now, supposedly, available for a plethora of movies. Deaf and vision impaired cinema goers could now enjoy the Boxing Day Movie Blockbusters. Or could they?

Parliamentary Secretary for Disability, Senator Jan McLucas, would have us believe that the Accessible Cinema Roll Out is the bee’s knees. In a media release Senator McLucas has been expounding the benefits of the Roll Out. Said Senator McLucas in the release, “Catching a movie is something that many of us don’t think twice about but the fact is there are many Australians who haven’t been able to enjoy this popular past time,” Shamelessly she gives the Government the mandatory plug, “The Australian Government has invested $470,000 to help cinema chains with the rollout of accessible closed caption and audio description screens, improving cinema access for people who are visually or hearing impaired.”  Leaving us with no doubt that the Accessible Cinema Roll Out is a wonderful thing Senator McLucas continues to wax lyrical, “It is fantastic to see local deaf people here today enjoying the movies for the first time and able to get involved in the Aussie tradition for many of seeing a movie on Boxing Day.” (Of course before the Accessible Cinema Roll-Out we never ever went to the movies did we?) http://janmclucas.fahcsia.gov.au/node/325

Now I cannot speak for my vision impaired colleagues but I certainly can for my deaf colleagues. The Accessible Cinema Roll Out has been anything but the bee’s knees. This is a fact that Senator McLucas is well aware of. She has received numerous complaints from individuals and groups of people who are deaf about the difficulties and limitations of the CaptiView closed captioning technology. The problem is, publicly at least, Senator McLucas stubbornly refuses to acknowledge that this closed captions technology is, to put it mildly, a dud!

For those that do not know, the CaptiView device is placed in the seat cup-holder. On a small screen the captions appear in front of the deaf viewers eyes. The problem is that the deaf viewer must constantly refocus from the big screen to the device. This requires intense concentration and multitasking. Deaf viewers complain that that this multitasking is exhausting and for many results in severe headaches and eyestrain. Senator McLucas is well aware of this but nowhere in her media release does she acknowledge this.

There are complaints that the device is inaccessible for many. People who are deaf that wear glasses have complained that adjusting focus to coordinate reading the captions and watch the movie requires that they constantly remove and replace their glasses. There have been complaints that children who are deaf lack the concentration to be able to use the device effectively. People who are tall have complained that the device means that to watch the captions that they must slump in their seat to get the device at eye level thus causing them great discomfort. Senator McLucas is well aware of these stories but refuses to acknowledge this publicly in her media release.

In fact CaptiView has been nothing but a nightmare for cinema goers who are deaf. Very few, although there are some, have anything positive to say about it. There are stories of it not working. There are stories of captions dropping out and of cinemas staff not knowing what CaptiView is. There are stories of patrons being refused the device because they lacked the proper ID. There are many documented incidences of sessions being advertised as captioned but then no captions were available. These stories are not exceptions but they are close to the norm. Did Senator McLucas acknowledge any of this in her media release? No; of course not.

So Boxing Day was supposed to have been Utopia for cinema goers who are deaf. Supposedly there were choices of movies galore. Feedback at The Action on Cinema Access Facebook page demonstrates the actual reality. Said Becky of her child who was attempting to use CaptiView, “ He was leaning so close to it to read and said it’s too small… ended up asking me so many questions…” Said Gemma on taking her family to the movies, ” … We had to give our ID’s and they made us carry three devices while we were juggling a toddler, popcorn, drinks bags, doll and blankie Then the three devices DIDN’T work!!”  Said Dean on trying to find a movie on Boxing Day that was accessible, “They told us that our preferred movie starts at 9.10pm had Closed Captions and the other film with Closed Captions was Wreckit Ralph starting at 9.30pm.” Spoilt for choice? Who is kidding who? An accessible kid’s movie at 9.30pm? Are they for real????  Said Trudi who had called in advance to see what sessions were captioned, “Movie n dinner date with my hubby is ruined. Can’t believe we came up all the way to Maroochydore  Event Cinemas to watch closed captions movie. Bought tickets and the usher orangised it but just the before the movie started, we were told there were no closed captions for this movie!”  Finally Nerissa had this to say,I just can’t understand how anyone could call two lines of text on a small screen ‘access’. “  And this was just the Xmas Feedback. It makes a mockery of Senator McLucas’s claims.

The Accessible Cinema Roll Out has failed the deaf. Arguably it has actually made access worse. Movies are still shown primarily at off peak times. Choices are still limited. What is more there are only six devices per screen meaning people who are deaf cannot go to the movies as a group of more than six people.  It is a well documented fact that the CaptiView device is inaccessible for many and that the advertising of caption sessions is either wrong or non existent. There is no doubt that the Accessible Cinema Roll Out has failed the deaf.

Yet Senator McLucas, in what can only be described as a political stunt, claims that collectively the Government, cinemas and our representatives, “…. have worked together to find a way to better meet consumer demand for access to cinemas.” This is misleading because Senator McLucas and her cronies are well aware and continue to ignore the constant and negative view of people who are deaf towards CaptiView. The Senator and her partners in crime are well aware that many, many people who are deaf regard CaptiView as a backward step but she still refuses to acknowledge this. Her media release is an insult to all people who are deaf who have taken the time to provide her and our representatives with honest feedback. A bit of honesty on her part would go a long way!  At least publicise the good along with the bad.

Not good enough Senator McLucas!  Access must meet our needs, not your political gain!