Universal Accessibility Needs Expanding.

By Elliot Yates

Captioning in New Zealand is a farce and in a crisis. It is an inequality that is endured by many people in need. It is not only Deaf people that have borne this inequality. It is all of you. Yes, even the hearing people.

What? You ask, blinking disbelievingly. How am I suffering from a lack of captioning if I am not affected? Let’s start with the concept of universal accessibility. Some of you have heard and read of this. Good, if you have.

Universal accessibility is the concept that all kinds of spaces are accessible to all, regardless of ability and circumstances.

It is not only buildings, not only footpaths, but language that is in need of simple and universal accessibility. Language and communication is a simple yet vital part of humanity. So if all or most movies were made entirely in sign language rather than spoken language, and it was not subtitled or made to show an explanation for what is being discussed, by then, it would have been within your rights to require subtitles to clarify what is being said.

In a world where sign language was the main form of communication at the movies charges of distractibility, “aesthetic ugliness”, and that hobgoblin of an excuse, “this was always the way it was done and I don’t want to change just because.” would melt away in the face of that concrete injustice.

How are spoken language movies any different? D/deaf people, elderly people with reduced hearing, people with auditory processing disorders, and people from foreign countries who are trying to learn a second language are trying to understand these movies we all otherwise hold dear.

It is not only these people who need justice done in terms of communication; but also the average hearing person who is trying to discern what an actor who is speaking too fast, too jumbled, too loudly or softly. It’s also the dialects, the accents, and the pace of the script that requires reading and re-reading as much as it requires hearing, and re-hearing.

Of course, there are moments in life when you cannot always hear, not always discern what is being said and sometimes you are just too much plain on drugs to be able to meaningfully engage the film.

Sometimes, you have to go off the beaten track. To appreciate a non mainstream or non English film like a Fellini or Kurosawa film. Spoken dubs may not always replace the auditory, linguistic and cultural quirks in these kinds of films.

Sometimes, subtitles are the best solution for appreciating these movies. These types of subtitles incidentally benefit D/deaf, elderly and people with auditory processing disorders. Actually, art house & foreign language films were the most commonly subtitled films in cinema theatres and still is.

It’s only that we need more subtitles, ironically, to appreciate the mainstream and mass cultural films such as Transformers or Twilight.

Bring on the subtitled robots versus vampires fight!

The worst injustice of this current arrangement is nobody can discuss films we have watched or experienced. It is not confined to films and the cinema theatre alone. There is a chronic shortage of subtitles on mediums such as TV, DVDs, streaming services and Internet video clips (shame on you, Youtube with your automated subtitles!!! Even no subtitles are better than automated Youtube subs.) Quality is as important as quantity in subtitles. Yes, we do notice, so don’t serve us this automated & Captiview rubbish.

It is not only us D/deaf, elderly, people with auditory processing disorder that have missed out on this, but us as a whole. Culture & art are the poorer without a fuller understanding of themselves, and by extension, ourselves. The nature of culture & art is such that, the more groups that take part in these, the richer and deeper it is. Subtitles in movies, TV, DVDs, on the Internet are only the beginning of the movement towards an inclusive culture & art.

To bring it back to captioning in cinema theatres and New Zealand.

The current trend of subtitling movies in the cinema theatres of New Zealand is that we are trying to separate subtitled from non subtitled movies; essentially separating D/deaf, hearing impaired, AUPD (Auditory Processing Disorders) people from the hearing by instituting a Captiview machine which was foisted upon these communities without real consultation or research of the actual constituents who are using this godforsaken machine. And it’s not even reliable or always accurate.

I have tried these machines twice and walked out twice. It was difficult to use. I had to visually connect a small black box flashing in green tinted subtitles with the action on the big screen. I had to constantly adjust the black box to comfortably watch the movie without pain in the neck, had to keep the whole machine in place in the drink holder lest it keels over, and all this to not to miss out on a hyped movie.

It takes considerably more effort to enjoy the movie knowing that the cinema theatre thinks it is more convenient to keep people segregated in enjoyment of the same movie, considers it more profitable to do so, and reduces the regularity of open captioned and reduced the variety of theatres open captioned screen in order to realise that convenience of segregation and thirst for profit at the expense of the people who needs the services the most. This resembles the odious practice of Institutionalisation of disabled people, keeping disabled people out of the eyes of the able bodied, so not to disturb anybody’s sensibility.

The worst part? They are screening Captiview machines far more regularly than open captioning in New Zealand and probably elsewhere. Open captioning does not mean straining your neck, it does not mean you lose out on part or the whole of the movie’s content thus lessening your capacity to discuss the movie you just watched with your friends. It does not mean that you feel shrunken and guilty for having the human right to access captioning. Best of all, it does mean everybody experiences the same thing and can thus talk about the same thing whether it be in real life or on the Internet.

I realise the cinema theatre is fading out; it is losing out to TVs, DVDs, streaming services and etc.

However, it is better to go out on a high note rather than a grubby note.

Why don’t you in charge do us the courtesy of being fair-minded? Please try to widen the experience and the thrill of watching a much hyped film on the big screen to anybody who require its contents to be open and revealed to them without making them strain their neck and to adjust the medium for subtitles. Cinema on the big screen then would be remembered more fondly by us.