I think I have reached an age that I can be called a gnarly old advocate. I’m an old dog that chews at the bone constantly. I put myself out there. I challenge people and am not afraid of conflict. Some people love it, some people hate it and others despair. It’s funny because the public persona of me is one of some kind of rabid dog. My public persona and my professional one are poles apart. In fact when I left my last job, I was described as a fine diplomat and not sarcastically either. Usually there is a method to my madness. I do not always get it right but more often than not, I do. I would not have lasted 25 years in the disability sector without just a little nous. Often people contact me for advice. They ask how to approach things or deal with certain people. I feel quite honoured when they do. It makes me feel rather like an elder.
An elder is what I am. Because I write the Rebuttal, which is very popular, I am very much a public face. But let me tell you, out there are some unsung heroes. These are the people who simply hammer away at an issue that is important to them. These people are making important inroads, particularly in the area of cinema access.
Now cinema access and that dreaded CaptiView device have been very much in the forefront of deaf advocacy in recent years. The CaptiView saga is a really sorry tale that has oft been told on these pages. But the positive of CaptiView is that it has inspired some people to do something. Some people simply were not content to put up with sub-standard access and decided to do something about it.
Of course as the Big 4 hastily rolled out the CaptiView dud two things became clear. Firstly, it was clear that the device was loathed by many. Secondly, it was clear that there was a lot of technical information that was not understood. For a long time, for example, we were told that open captions were not possible with the new digital technology. It is here where one of our first unsung heroes came into play.
The first of our unsung heroes is the delightful Joanne Beckwith. Ms Beckwith is the mother of a deaf child, the equally delightful Monique. Joanne was a proud mother when Monique recently represented Australia at the Deaflympics in swimming. Ms Beckwith is a photographer of the filming kind. She has some awesome contacts in the film and cinema industry. She was perhaps the first person who told us that it was rubbish that open captions were not possible with digital technology. She worked tirelessly to provide Action on Cinema Access with technical information about captioning and how it worked with digital technology. Without her I very much suspect we all would still be in the dark. Take a bow Ms Beckwith.
The second of our unsung heroes are the owners of Twilight Cinemas. The Twilight Cinema business provides a mobile cinema. They travel and provide films in open settings or in venues like town halls where there is no permanent cinema. Twilight Cinemas demonstrated that captioning on screen was possible. I use the term captioning on screen here because technically they did not use open captioning files. What they did was get hold of the caption file that is usually used for CaptiView and switch it on so that the captions appeared on screen. They were actually quite brave in doing this. I am pretty sure that in doing so they put a few noses out of joint in the industry.
Who can forget that balmy evening at Hays Paddock? In partnership with Vicdeaf and Arts Access Victoria, Twilight Cinemas screened the awesome movie Life of Pi. Some 600 people attended the open cinema event. They even demonstrated to me how they switched on the captions. It was not rocket science. As I said, Twilight Cinemas pushed the boat to make it happen. In doing so they inspired many of us to find ways to watch movies with captions on the screen so that we could be rid of the horrible CaptiView device.
Then of course we have the quite brilliant Anton Sammons, co founder of the Deaf Cinema Club. Anton was responsible for organising the screening of the Oz the Great and Powerful with captions. Anton took the initiative to contact an independent cinema. He asked whether they would show captions on screen if he booked a private screening. He worked tirelessly to publicise his initiative and filled up a 34 seat cinema. I believe the file for CaptiView captions was again used to show captions on the screen.
Anton remains an active advocate to get captions on the screen for deaf cinema goers. But the great thing about Anton’s work is that he has inspired others. Up in Queensland, in sunny Ballina, Michael Lockrey was inspired to set up his own Deaf Cinema Club. He also has negotiated with his local independent cinema and has been responsible for getting regular captioned sessions for deaf cinema goers in his region. Michael has been an active captioning advocate for a long time. He was one of the first to suggest that we should target independent cinemas. Anton and Michael – two more unsung heroes!
Last but not least we have Buffy Harrison and Jane Dunn out in Horsham, just over 300 kms from Melbourne. Buffy is herself deaf. Jane is a mother of a deaf daughter; the very cheeky but fabulous Cate. These two people approached their local cinema in Horsham and asked if the owner would show captioned sessions for people who are deaf. The owner did a bit of homework and managed to find out that there were actually open caption files designed for showing on screen with digital technology.
The first captioned session was shown three weeks ago and was attended by 45 people. Sleepy little Horsham is leading the way for cinema access for people who are deaf. All because of the initiative of these two people, Buffy and Jane. So successful have these two been that the cinema owner has started to advertise regular captioning sessions. This coming weekend there are not 1 but 2 movies with captions – and at decent times too. How cool is that? It is worth noting that both Buffy and Jane attended the screening of Oz the Great and Powerful that was organised by Anton – It’s not hard to see how these things take off is it?
As a gnarly old advocate I take my hat off to these people. They wanted something and they went out and got it. Rather than watch the “elders” like me quibbling and ranting they simply went out and showed us all how it was done. It is a lesson for us all. Take a bow!