The ability to adapt is a very human characteristic, and us deafies are no exception. Thanks to the various barriers thrown at us, we often have to think up ways to get around them. I have a small example – last night I attempted to use my shiny new Subtitles app, which I frothed about yesterday, to watch Season One of Sanctuary, a TV series.
It was rubbish. Turns out; it’s great for films, not so good for TV series made a few years ago. It was all over the place, incomplete, misspelled and just… rubbish. But I was not about to be thwarted when I was so close to finding out what actually happened in the first series of Sanctuary. I tried having a look at online subtitle download sites, but was defeated by technical jargon which seemed to rely on me having downloaded the thing to watch, rather than watching it on a DVD.
So I went old-school. I used my iPad to find online transcripts of the show, found an episode guide with full transcripts, matched transcript to episode and went on a Sanctuary binge.
It was a little more effort than the subtitles app, but it worked. I had to keep looking from iPad screen to laptop screen, but positioning iPad just so on my laptop keyboard allowed me to flick the transcript onwards and read it quickly before darting back to screen. It required a little more concentration, and it helped to skim the transcript before watching the episode and using said transcript, but the episodes made sense and I got all the quick-witted one-liners, which I would surely have missed without this wonderful toy.
However, just because I’ve managed to find a way around the woeful lack of subtitles on some DVDs doesn’t give production and distribution companies a free pass. I’ve been forced to adapt by the lack of access; how much easier would it be for me and for millions of people who for various reasons have trouble following speech if all DVDs had subtitles? Not everyone has a laptop and an iPad. Not everyone has a wi-fi connection. But everyone should be able to access mainstream entertainment.
What made the lack of subtitles on the Sanctuary Season One region 2 DVD even more bitterly disappointing is that the lead actress and executive producer of the show, Amanda Tapping, a woman whose work I really admire, is a patron of Hearing Dogs for the Deaf and in response to an online chat question revealed she had spent a summer learning to sign for a role in a production of ‘Children of a Lesser God’.
If even a DVD of a show exec produced by someone with such deaf awareness pedigree doesn’t have subtitles, what hope is there? I did email the UK distributors to ask about the lack of subtitles but got only platitudes back.
Me, I’d make it a law that all DVDs distributed in UK have to have subtitles and audio description, to guarantee access for anyone who wants to watch them. There are roughly 9 million people in the UK with some form of hearing loss, and roughly 2 million with sight loss, so it’s not like there isn’t a market. If anything, it’s got to be cost-effective in terms of increased distribution. In fact, I wonder if there may be a case under the Equality Act 2010…