Category Archives: DVDs

Access for all?

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…

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Heavenly Delights

Ooh dear. The last few posts have been fun to write, and very cathartic, but I wonder if I’m getting too down on the world. Really, it’s not that bad. I was led to realise this last night, when I settled down to watch LoveFilm’s latest offering, Nina’s Heavenly Delights. I recently bought myself a post-xmas present, from me, to me, an iPad2. This will become relevant to the story. I put the DVD in my laptop. I made myself comfortable – Penguin biscuits; check. Cushions; check. Refreshing drink; check. The menu screen came up. Play Movie, Scenes, and Play Trailer. No setup or audio options. No hidden button (that I could find anyway) saying “for subtitles click HERE”. Sighing and wishing that LoveFilm made it more clear on their listings whether a DVD is subtitled or not, and plotting a new email asking about such, I took out the DVD, put it back in its envelope and got ready to seal it, ready to send it back the next day. Wait a minute… hold the phone.

Didn’t I download an app a few days ago…? Quick, have a look… yes! Yes! Yes!

Subtitles! That’s the name of the app, Subtitles, and it has access to oodles of files of subtitles for oodles of films. Simply search the title of the film and the app will find subtitles for it. Not only that, once you’ve downloaded the subtitles, the iPad will display the subtitles in sync with the film (just make sure you start them at the right moment). Literally, portable subtitles. This is fantastic. Who came up with this? I need to know so I can nominate them for a medal. But the test – would the app be able to find subtitles for a film so apparently low-budget that they couldn’t even be arsed to put subtitles on the DVD, despite it being made fairly recently in 2006?

Yes it could! So the DVD got a reprieve, was put back in the laptop, and I was able to enjoy a film that didn’t come with subtitles for the first time in… well, ever. Ever. And I checked, and it seems that it also has subtitles for Sanctuary, a DVD I bought many moons ago only to be bitterly disappointed when I discovered it wasn’t subtitled. I’m so happy about this I’m actually giddy.

True, it wasn’t perfect, the subtitles weren’t totally in sync so occasionally I had to tap the button to skip on a bit, or rein them back. It meant I had to concentrate a bit more on keeping up with the film, but that’s not the point. The point is that I was keeping up with it, a heavenly delight indeed! And enjoying it, despite a tendency to fade to black just as things were getting interesting. What a marvellous app, just needs a little ironing out and it’ll be perfect. Portable subtitles. Marvellous.

And this led me to consider; the 21st century in the UK isn’t so bad for the deaf after all. True, we still have to put up with a certain amount of ignorance; if you doubt me just read some of my previous blogs. But look what we have now. Smartphones. I couldn’t live without my BlackBerry now. Emails, text messages, Whatsapp, Facetime, Skype, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, there’s so many alternatives to the humble telephone now that I wonder why most corporations still haven’t caught up. My mother is also deaf, and tells me that attitudes have really improved since her time; some of her stories are worthy of a blog post to themselves. Subtitles on a lot of TV content, even if it’s going backwards at the moment with the current fashion for ‘live’ subtitles – what utter crap. Why live subtitle something that’s not being broadcast live? It just annoys. I digress. Subtitled cinema, and now for those films that aren’t subtitled, portable subtitles. Did I mention the portable subtitles? Now we need a version of that for plays and theatre, oh wait, we do, StageText. Big events like Sencity and Clin d’Oeil. iPads with all their wonderful apps and delights. There’s so much going for deaf people right now that we’ve got to capitalise on it and try and make this world even better.

More subtitled cinema! More captioned and interpreted plays! Banks that routinely offer text message services to deaf customers! Legal requirements for DVDs to be accessible! Sign language lessons for children! More interpreters! Dream big!

We’ve already got smartphones, emails, social websites and portable subtitles. How can we improve things tomorrow? If you’re like Charlie Swinbourne, you’ll set up a new website for news, info and opinions about and for the deaf community, and call it – what else? – limpingchicken.com. Naturally. 🙂

Doctor Who, subtitles, and Elisabeth Sladen

I love Doctor Who, and like many who have any passing association with this creative, ingenious, deservedly long-running programme, I was shocked and saddened by the news of the passing of Elisabeth Sladen, an amazingly talented actress who brought one of my favourite Doctor Who characters ever to life.

The truth is; I would never have got into Doctor Who without subtitles. Deaf as I am, sentences such as “I’m doing a fold-back on the temporal isometry” and “We’re jumping time tracks in the slipstream!” would have entirely passed me by. And just how do you lip-read a Dalek? Or a Cyberman, for that matter?

Without the subtitles to hook me in, I would never have been bemused by a box that seemed to be bigger on the inside, seen Jon Pertwee vault a table, cloak flying, or seen Tom Baker with his floppy hat, incredibly long scarf and mad grin being chased by (dare I say it, slightly unconvincing) floating sentinels, or seen Sarah Jane Smith rescue the Doctor before promptly declaring that “This isn’t a rescue, it’s a capture!” and having him dragged off by a bunch of locals.

I must have been about eight or nine when I saw those BBC repeats in the early nineties, and whilst those early memories of Doctor Who are hazy, I was hooked. When the new series began, I was all aquiver, and became a hopeless Doctor Who fan once again, having been briefly distracted by Stargate, Farscape and Buffy, and soon discovered the DVDs on Amazon – and everything came with subtitles as standard! I won’t disclose how many Doctor Who DVDs I have now, let’s just say it’s a few.

When Sarah Jane Smith’s return to Doctor Who was announced, I was thrilled that a character who represented some happy childhood memories would be in my favourite show, and I was not disappointed. She argued, fought and ran like she’d never left, but managed a few tender moments in between telling off the Doctor for being such a thoughtless bastard (not a direct quote) and a great catfight with Rose. Elisabeth Sladen played it all perfectly.

She thoroughly deserved her own show, and yes I watched it, and yes I enjoyed reliving some of my childhood with it. I loved seeing “Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, at your service” in it, and Nicholas Courtney (“Chap with the wings there – five rounds, rapid!”) is another sad loss. I have no idea what’s going to happen now, but one thing is for sure – Sarah Jane Smith will not be forgotten.

I’m glad that subtitles gave me the opportunity to appreciate the show and characters as much as anyone else. Elisabeth Sladen, I salute you, and my thoughts go out to all those who knew you.

A reflection on ‘SO unfair’

I have now had some time to reflect on why I was so deeply irritated by the lack of subtitles on the DVD release of Sanctuary Season 1.

One of things that gave me pause for thought was someone who, when I posted a status update on facebook expressing my annoyance, asked me why I hadn’t simply checked to see if there were subtitles before buying it. Such an obvious question.

Why didn’t I? The answer is; I assumed.

I assumed that in 2010, a DVD box set of a popular-ish sci-fi show, produced in a rich country, would come with subtitles. A few years ago I would never have made this assumption and would have suspiciously scrutinised every potential DVD purchase to confirm the presence of subtitles before handing over my cash. But years of nearly always finding subtitles on DVDs has made me lazy.

I assumed that a DVD box set of a show produced by someone who’s a patron of a deaf-related charity would come with subtitles. I realise now that this is no guarantee, and hey, what do patrons actually do? Apart from raise thousands

I assumed wrong. This is, if anything, a timely reminder that access for the deaf is not yet universal. Take online tv streaming for example. iPlayer is wonderful, with subtitles on most programmes, yet it has its failings, for example on The Bubble and Mock the Week, they seem to be insisting on using ‘live’ subtitles for recorded shows, which are 30 seconds late, mis-spelt and so annoying that I don’t have the patience to persevere. But they’re still easily outperforming the other channels – I’ve yet to get the 4oD subtitles to work and ITV and 5 don’t seem to bother at all.

One needs to remain on one’s toes and keep complaining if one is to get anywhere. With this in mind, I have emailed both the UK and Canadian distributors (thanks to Kaylee for the info) of the Sanctuary DVDs expressing my disappointment and asking if there are any subtitled region 2 DVDs out there (sadly the one in Australia turned not to have subtitles after all – thanks to the seller for such a prompt response) and I look forward to their replies.

SO unfair.

I am a sci-fi nut. I love Doctor Who, Firefly, Star Trek, Supernatural, X Files, Stargate, Babylon 5, Space Precinct, and I don’t care who knows it. I am geek. A new series that I took an instant shine to is Sanctuary, from Canada, an innnovative show shot mostly on green screen, simply because of all the effects, but they have good stories too.

Recently I gave into temptation from Amazon and purchased Season 1, as there were a few episodes I missed, and I wanted to catch up, right from the beginning. It arrived yesterday, I got back late in the evening and immediately put disc 1 in, eager to watch the pilot episode in all its glory.

Wait… Where are the subtitles? I frantically searched through set-up, episode selection, even scene selection, desperately looking for that magic word “captions”. Then I examined the box minutely for any possible clues. In the end I was forced to accept that there were no subtitles.

It was at this point that I realised I’m spoilt. This DVD was released last year, in 2009. Silly me, I had assumed that a popular sci-fi / fantasy show, produced in the 21st century, the lead actress and executive producer of which, one Amanda Tapping, is a patron of Hearing Dogs for Deaf People (no, seriously, she is) would be released on DVD with subtitles.

Duh. How stupid do I feel now? And now, I discover, after some online research, that the Region 1 DVDs of Sanctuary are subtitled, but region 2 is not. What? That is so unfair. I mean, why? Why release one region with subtitles and one without? What, are deaf people who happen to live in region 2 not worthy of captions?

Now I’ve found a possibility, a non-region specific subtitled DVD set – from Australia. I’m stalking it on ebay and considering how far I will go in order to get subtitles. The answer is: a long way, and possibly as far as $50 AUS, which is what it will cost to buy and ship it to the UK. In the meantime, I’m going to try and recoup my costs on ebay – Sanctuary season 1 for £15, anyone? – and look for the official Sanctuary website / email address so I can complain. I mean, why? Why subtitle region 1 and not region 2?

SO unfair.