A Call to Arms

In 2013 I bought a new car. It was a shiny black Nissan Xtrail. The model was being run out as a new model was coming in so I got it relatively cheaply. It’s always exciting to get something spanking new and expensive like a car. That new car smell is lovely. Turning on the engine for the first time and seeing that the Kms driven are under 50 KMs is strangely satisfying. As you turn on the new car you are struck by how quiet it is. Being deaf I couldn’t hear this car and it was so smooth that I could not even feel it. As you drive off there is an absurd sense of pride. You have worked so hard for this it and it makes you realise that the hard work is all worthwhile. I was feeling all these emotions as I drove off in my new car. This feel good factor was soon to be shattered.

You see less than 23 ooo kms later the clutch on the car went. Not a problem I thought. Repairs will come under the three year warranty. But Nissan were having none of it. You see the fine print says that the clutch warranty is only 10 000 kms. So I had to pay to have it replaced. 25 000 kms later the clutch went again. Apparently I drive the clutch and its my fault. Interestingly enough 65 000 kms later the third clutch is still intact, touch wood. At 75 000 kms the engine nearly fell out of the car. The engine mount cracked. Nissan thankfully considered this under the warranty and fixed it. They fixed it and my first drive out the gear stick came off because they hadn’t attached it properly. It’s fair to say the car was a lemon. By this time I hated it with a passion.

The point is that when you achieve something like buying a spanking new car you expect nothing to go wrong. OK – perhaps a car crash is unavoidable but endless mechanical issues in a new car are not. It simply should not happen. One expects newness to be rewarded with trouble free enjoyment of the product. I can tell you my XTRAIL has given me nothing but trouble and very little enjoyment.

And so it is with Australian Deafies as it relates to cinema access. You see back around 2010 they were promised the Utopia of cinema access. Prior to 2010 the cinemas had applied for an exemption to Disability Discrimination Complaints for five years. The cinemas initially proposed an increase in access that amounted to something like .014%. Australians Deafies were outraged at this pathetic offer. They campaigned relentlessly against the application for exemption. Surprisingly, on this occasion, they won and the exemption application of the major cinemas was rejected. This is a very rare thing indeed.

As a result the Cinemas negotiated a deal with the Government. They proposed the installation of a system known as Captiview that would allow Deafies who are cinema goers to access closed captions on a device that attached to their drink holder at their seat. They demonstrated this technology to Deaf and hard of hearing advocacy groups. A few people that tried Captiview at this demonstration were skeptical and had reservations about the device. You see they only received a ten minute demonstration. Questions were raised about what it would be like in full length movie.

Nevertheless our representatives agreed to give Captiview a try. Now originally, and I have seen letters to this effect, there was to be a trial of the technology and feedback sought from consumers. This original agreement was soon forgotten. The Government of the day pumped in $470 000 to assist the cinemas with installation of Captiview. The installation cost was purported to be $2.2 million.

The Cinemas and our representatives drew up an agreement. The agreement basically outlined how the technology would be rolled out and the milestones that were to be achieved. No longer was it a trial. It had become a full-scale roll-out. Consumers could provide feedback but the cinemas were under little obligation to have to listen to the feedback or act on it.

Australians who were Deaf or hard of hearing were excited. You see the roll out promised unparalleled access. You see the Cinemas were proposing that there would be 242 screens that were accessible with Captiview around Australia by 2014. You can read this agreement HERE.

It was almost Utopia for Deaf or hard of hearing cinema goers. The agreement stated that by 2014 the larger cinema complexes would have THREE screenings of movies with captioning at anyone time. We Deafies were rubbing our hands with glee. Choice of movies and session times. No longer did we have to wait for one movie a month to have open captions and usually at some godawful time that no one could attend.

Captiview was the spanking new product that was being offered. Deafies, like me with my new car, were excited and proud. Excited at the possibilities and proud of what we had achieved through our skilful and relentless lobbying. And then, like my Xtrail, the product was proved to be crap. So crap, in fact, that Captiview earned the unflattering name of Craptiview. All of this could have been avoided with a proper trial as originally proposed, but hindsight is 20/20 vision as they say.

Very soon after the roll-out commenced complaints came in. Captions dropped out or didn’t work. The device was uncomfortable to use. It caused eyestrain and headaches. Some people that wore glasses had to put their glasses on and off from screen to device so that they could get the right focus. Tall people couldn’t use it well because they had to slump in their seats. Stories abounded of devices going flat mid-movie or not being charged when needed. While some people were happy to tolerate the short comings of Captiview most people hated it with a passion.

And the Cinemas didn’t care. Staff were unprepared and often untrained. Captiview devices were not maintained and often broken and in disrepair. The whole roll-out was an unmitigated disaster. It was not long before Deafies who were cinema goers began to cry out for the return of open captioning on the screen. The spanking new Captiview device was a dud. The disappointment of Deafies that had built their hopes up so high was uniform around Australia.

And what is worse is that the cinemas did not hold up their end of the bargain. The promised three continuos captioned movies everyday in bigger complexes is but a fantasy. Indeed, so fed up were Deafie cinema goers, that they actually set up heir own movie clubs and organised private open caption showings of movies. A recent showing of the New Star Wars movie in Adelaide was attended by 140 Deafies. Shortly before this the same movie had a full-house at the Jam Factory. And this after the Cinemas had lied through their teeth telling us that open captions were no longer possible.

And now Deafies are angry. They have been short changed. They have been lied to. They have been disrespected and ignored. They have had enough and they are fighting back. The Cinemas have breeched their agreement under the Cinama Access Implementation plan that they negotiated with the Government. It is now 2016 and access to the cinema, to put it mildly, is as shit as ever. The promised choice and flexibility to attend multiple sessions that Captiview was to deliver is but a distant dream.

The time has come for us all to fight back. It is time for us Deafies to launch DDA complaints against the cinemas enmasse. It’s time for class action and media campaigns through social media and the mainstream. Whatever it takes Deafies need to fight back because they have been treated with utmost disrespect!

No more – let’s fight back.

*** Start using the hashtag #cinemaccess-Imattertoo – Let’s show Cinemas and the Government that we matter.

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