Deja vu, Part 2

Image is of an empty cinema. There there is dim light and rows of seats. The blank white screen is prominent at the end of the rows of seats.

Hello readers. I am here again. It’s kind of Deja Vu. As retirement beckons I have this overriding sense of DeJa Vu. I have worked the best part of 35 years campaigning, fighting and convincing the powers that be that life is not fair if you are Deaf, hard of hearing or have disability/s. I would like to look back and think, yeah its good, life is better now and feel an over-riding sense of achievement. Instead, I feel this incredibly oppressive sense of Deja Vu.

Melanie was on Facebook last week. She was having a moan. And good on her for that. But it’s sad that she is moaning about the same things that I was moaning about 15 to 20 years ago. (For the record, Melanie, I mean moaning in the nicest possible way.) Her moan was about cinema captioning. She started her moan with a question:


Indeed, why cant we? Melanie and her family had wanted to watch a movie at the cinema with captions. She has a Deaf husband, a Deaf child and they just wanted a night out as a family. Perhaps a quick stop at their favourite takeaway. Perhaps a little evening stroll while slurping an ice-cream on a warm evening. Maybe sitting on a park-bench together as the evening cools and the sun sets in an iridescent haze. Then to the movies, family time at its best. Something that families all over Australia enjoy on a regular basis.

Alas, wishful thinking if you are Deaf or hard of hearing in Australia in 2023. Melanie and her family had to travel more than forty minutes to see a movie. Unlike most people, because they are a Deaf family, they cant just rock up at their local cinema. They have to hunt through the newspapers or online to find a movie that is open captioned. If they are lucky, the cinema will have remembered to advertise that the session is open captioned.

And you know, most people have a choice of movies that they can watch. Hoyts are your best bet. They have Cinemas everywhere. Unfortunately, very few open- captioned options (I couldn’t find any today, this day 22/01/2023). You can try Eastland, Chadstone, Broadsmeadows, Forest Hills, Northlands etc etc – But today there are no open captioned sessions, none! Plenty of closed captions sessions with Captiview, yes of Craptiview fame, but no open captioned sessions.

Why would her family want to chance Craptiview. They would need three of the devices. She and her husband would need to set it up for themselves and their Deaf kid. What are the chances that the the cinema does not have enough devices? Or the devices are flat. Or the signal is crap. Or that their kids cant focus from device to screen. And that mandatory ice cold Coke or choc-top ice-cream, where do you put it when the device takes up the cup-holder. Nah, I fancy Melanie and her husband just said to themselves, “FUCK THAT“. If you want to see just how bad Craptiview can be, just watch this video. It was made in 2013, but from what I hear, nothing much has changed.

Since that time cinemas are now providing more Craptiview options. The problem is that most in the Deaf community loath it for all the reasons I have highlighted and that are shown in the video. They just want to go to a movie, any movie, close to home, sit back and enjoy it. They dont want to go to the ticket office, confess that they are Deaf, ask for the device, hand over their license as proof of ID and walk into the Cinema with these horrible and bulky devices. They just want to rock up and enjoy the movie!

To avoid the scourge of Craptiview they have to scour the Internet and newspapers in the hope of finding a movie that has open captions. THEN, they have to hope that the movies is one that they actually want to see. They have to hope that it’s a genre that they enjoy. In Melanie’s case they need to hope, also, that it’s family friendly and age appropriate for their kids. And then, if by chance they actually find a movie that they like, the likelihood is that they will have to travel an hour or more to get there, factoring in Melbourne’s appalling traffic and parking that comes at a premium and often at an exorbitant price. BUT WAIT, THERE IS MORE!!

Last year Thomas from Queensland entered the lottery to find an open captioned movie. Lucky Thomas, he found one! Alas, like Melanie, he had to travel 40 minutes to get there. Luckily, Thomas didn’t have a family to worry about. It was just for himself. Probably, knowing the Deaf community, Thomas let his Deaf friends know and his Deaf friends were going to meet him there. Open captioned movies being at a premium as they are, many in the Deaf community take what they can. Even if its a crap movie.

So Thomas went about his day. No doubt looking forward to the down-time he was about to experience at the movies. I fancy he was looking forward to catching up with Deaf Dick and Tracy too. Covid restrictions being gone as they are, we can actually meet people. At the appointed time, Thomas set out to the cinema. Braving the traffic and the elements as you do.

He arrived to meet his friends. Hugs and chatter all around. Tickets bought, into the movies they went. No captions, WTF! It was advertised. Thomas and his friends had come all this way for nothing! Angry, they seek out the manager only to be told that there are no captions. Why? Because the cinema had been sent the wrong caption file. FUCK!

This is what Deaf and hard of hearing people all over Australia have to endure everyday for the simple pleasure of watching a movie at the cinema. Is it any wonder many, myself included, have simply given up the ghost and prefer the comfort of our own home and streaming options like Netflix and Stan. We have become hermits, rarely venturing from the comfort of our armchairs because it is just not worth it.

And for me its Deja Vu. I was among the many who campaigned hard for better cinema access for Deaf and hard of hearing people. We started in the early 2000’s campaigning hard for many years. We fought the cinemas, the Government and even each other. (My wife famously got told, very publicly on Facebook, to shut up in a debate over Craptiview.) Some of us thought Craptiview was better than nothing. Others, like myself, thought Craptiview unacceptable and wanted more access to open captions more often and at more cinemas.

We fought the good fight for many years. We attended meetings. We negotiated with cinemas. We sat on Government committees commissioned by the Government and met in Canberra. Hell, we even joined forces with our friends in the Blind community in campaigning for Audio Description for the Blind. We set up the Action on Cinema Access Facebook page. We worked hard!

We did so with high hopes that future generations would have better access than we did. The gains have been marginal. The problems of access, the problems of choice and the tyranny of distance are still there. And Craptiview is still crap. And when Melanie and Thomas post on Facebook about the very barriers we fought so hard to break down, there is an overwhelming sense of Deja Vu!

Never mind, there is Netflix and retirement that beckons for me. As for the younger generation, the fight continues. And fight you must because it is just not fair. My advise to this younger generation is be prepared for the Deja Vu because the hearing community, particularly big business, are not well known for their empathy and willingness to change! Good luck, I’ll watch you all keenly in my retirement!


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