Tag Archives: access

America is so far ahead.

Not in economic terms, but in terms of how deaf people are portrayed in mainstream TV, particularly those who use sign language. In America, signing deaf characters have featured in The West Wing, CSI, Law and Order:SVU and ER, to name but a few. Whilst here in the UK, Shameless has shown that a signing deaf person can be as conflicted, unpredictable, independent or even downright psychotically angry as any hearing counterpart with the character of Danny, very few other British shows have had such strong signing deaf characters. Danny’s leaving scene in Shameless was as stunning for the fact that a deaf person (Shock! Horror!) was shown being so incandescent with rage they actually beat their own father to death (but it seems the guy may have had it coming) as it was for the violence – nothing graphic, but a hell of a lot of beating. Good for you. That’s a deaf person doing it for themselves on national telly, that is.

Finally, being a geek has paid off. The Big Bang Theory has rewarded my years of loyalty with a signing deaf character – and not the kind that’s ever so brave, and deals with the world despite all that is thrown in their way etc, but the kind that got her claws into Raj and took him for everything she could get. Go girl! Most of the jokes were funny, though I did feel uneasy at all the talking to each other while the girl looked on, vaguely puzzled, while the boys got laughs, it just seems that the type of gal who would chew out Penny and Howard with a lot of *somethings* and stomp off in a huff would wanna know what was going on. That aside, she was independent, she was sassy, she was pretty, and in the end she was ruthless, breaking Raj’s heart when it became clear the supply of money had dried up. And she did it in a funny way. And she taught Raj to sign. Was there anything she couldn’t do?

And I loved the way that Penny’s claim that “Disabled people are nice. Everyone knows that.” was challenged for the generic fallacy it was; not that we aren’t nice, but aren’t we allowed to have bad days and be grumpy like everyone else? Assuming disabled people are nice all the time is like saying we’re not allowed to be as moody and unpredictable as ‘normal’ people. Just ask the train station guard I had a brief word with yesterday when I discovered that both the assigned disabled access gates (the ticket operated things that let you access the platforms) were letting people out, but not in. There was tutting, and there was a “what’s the big idea?” and a muttered, half-hearted “thanks” as I was finally allowed to hobble through. I doubt he’ll be voting me for the ‘genteel spice’ award anytime soon.

The Big Bang Theory – well written, hilarious, and good kudos for a strong signing deaf character and for challenging preconceptions. Clearly, the natural next step is to show a deaf or disabled scientist /  geek. We’re out there, you know.

Unusual Skills Week!

A couple of weeks ago, in the last week of July, I was lucky enough to attend Unusual Stage School’s skills week. A Disability Arts Cymru project, and with me based in Cardiff / Wales for my degree, I was able to gate-crash an amazing week with an amazing bunch of people. We worked on script development, performance, voice, singing (yes, singing) movement (where I tripped over the instructor) improv and physical theatre (not, as I had imagined, a sort of hippy wafting pretending-to-be-trees exercise, but in fact a type of improv). My fellow skills week attendees all knew each other with a couple of exceptions, but I was made to feel so welcome it was incredible. Usually, I struggle a lot with socialising with non-signers, but this lot were so patient, apparently happy to repeat themselves ad infinatum, and even better, a few of them knew a couple of signs and the manual alphabet, which in some cases can make or break a conversation. I even ended up staying over during the course, despite my misgivings (leaving my parents unsupervised and I typically don’t handle hearing social situations well) and I can honestly say that at the end of the week I didn’t want to leave. I wanted another week! Hell, I would have stayed for a month. We could call it ‘Big Brother DAC’ and sell the TV rights to the BBC…

One of the happiest moments had to be sitting on a makeshift bench in Cardiff Bay with the usual suspects, nibbling ‘starters’ we’d got from Tesco’s (chargrilled mushroom pasta and three bean salad, mmmm) and chatting in the evening sun while waiting for our accommodation to prepare our (somewhat unimaginative) supper. The less said about Hamgate, the better. But I couldn’t really complain as we were staying round the back of the Millennium Centre, an incredible location, and I was staying with a great bunch of people. Have I already said that? Well they were. From the bass tones of Richard, to the sweetness of Gwilym, to the cuteness of our youngest member, to the outgoing Laura, well you get the idea, I’d better stop here or I’ll make myself sick. But I loved them all, I really did. From my Persian General to the PAs.

And let’s not forget the reason we were all there – skills week! I now know that I naturally sing in a low pitch (no Katherine Jenkins then) that my speech / vocal pitch range is wider than I had thought, that there are many, many ways to say ‘yes’ when really you mean ‘no’, that physical theatre doesn’t necessarily involve pretending to be trees and improv in all its forms can be a lot of fun.

I learned that coffee and toffee are a nice combination for ice cream, that a buffalo burger actually tastes quite nice, and that a Strawberry Capirinha is a lovely cocktail. I also learned that it’s possible to put on four pounds in five days. I’ve lost those extra pounds though, thanks to the virus I picked up as a souvenir. One of those viruses that reduces your IQ level by half and makes it hard to think while you sniffle into your tissue.

It was still worth it though and I’d happily do it again! Love you guys!


Ahead of the game – for once!

Last weekend, I popped up to Preston to attend the leaving do of a former lecturer, and it was great to catch up with faces I haven’t seen in years. Preston seems like it’s hardly changed at all, and I daresay I could still find most of my student haunts (read: pubs and nightclubs) without too much difficulty. Eventually though, it had to end, and I found myself on a train back to Bristol.

Let me give a little background detail here; whilst I regularly use trains to get about, they’re far from perfect. Announcements over the tannoy are incomprehensible, and leave me reliant on random members of the public. Ticket inspectors may or may not be deaf aware, and methods used to attract my attention have included tapping my newspaper, clicking fingers and waving a hand in front of my face. As my legs get less reliable, so I’m finding train stations less and less accessible, with lifts often to be found half a mile down the platform. And so it is, that I reserve a special place in my heart for Birmingham New Street.

Ahem. So I’m going home to Bristol, a journey that requires me to change trains at Birmingham New Street, a prospect I didn’t relish. But then – a problem. We sat, unmoving, outside B’ham for 30 minutes before an announcement was made that (according to the man two seats away) there was a fire on the tracks and we would be delayed. Would we really? 10 minutes later, a further announcement that (according to the nice young man opposite me) we would be going back to Wolverhampton for alternative transport. Not great news, but at least I was keeping up, and the other passengers were equally as lost. At Wolverhampton, we were all herded onto a different train and sent back to B’ham. So far , so good.

At B’ham, I got off the train and immediately homed in on the nearest departure screen – thank you B’ham upgraders who put departure boards on EVERY PLATFORM, bless you – which indicated that the next train to Bristol was leaving from the platform I’d just disembarked onto in ten minutes. However, the train I had come in on, which was itself horribly delayed, showed no signs of leaving. So I patiently waited for the screen to change, which it did, sending me to platform 4. However, it appears that an audio announcement wasn’t made at the same time, meaning that as I turned on my heel to march to the correct platform immediately, the hearing were still a little behind me. In fact, I was able to get on the train, pick a seat and settle myself before a small horde of hearing people swamped the train.

Speaking as the one who is usually left behind as an entire platform walks away, the one who has to try and find someone easy to lipread to find out what is going on, or throw myself on the mercy of station staff, as the one who is usually last to receive any useful information, it was wonderful – just this once – to be ahead of the game.

Captioned Theatre at the Bristol Old Vic

Last weekend, I had the fortune to go to the Bristol Old Vic’s first captioned performance, ‘Juliet and her Romeo’, which was basically a reworking of Romeo and Juliet with old people in the title roles and the younger members of the families raising objections, all set in a nursing home.

It was an interesting take on a Shakespearean classic, and I’ll admit it here – I sniffled at the final scenes of ‘Romeo + Juliet’ with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. After the play though, my eyes were watering for a different reason – watching the captions as the actors spouted line after line of Shakespearean dialogue, of which – this being Shakespeare – there was a lot.

Whilst it was great to able to enjoy a play here in Bristol, where captioning in theatres hasn’t really taken off yet, I got a crick in my neck from turning to look at the captions and a headache from all the speed-reading. Not to mention flicking my eyes between the captions (off-stage right) and the action, which felt slightly like watching two different things at once, so split was my attention.

Having said all that, it was a good play, with good actors, and some funny one-liners – the script was tweaked here and there to adjust to the change of scene from 16th century verona to modern-day geriatric antics. All of the actors were good, but I liked Juliet and the nurse. Romeo killing Tybalt was a bit drawn-out, what with the change of weapon from a dagger to a pillow, and the part where Romeo learns of Juliet’s ‘death’, rants at the unfairness of it all and rushes to her side was glossed over with some on-the-spot jogging from the elderly lead that impressed me with his levels of fitness. The acting was good, the actor’s memories incredible, and it was interesting to approach the classic doomed love affair from a completely different angle.

I merely have some suggestions for improvement – moving the caption screen to just below the stage a la TV subtitles style and making the screen longer so your eyes aren’t constantly snapping back and forth reading the lines. Apart from that, jolly good show from the Old Vic, and here’s hoping that having done it for the first time and discovered that it didn’t cause anything to blow up, and indeed that they sold out the audience, a significant percentage of whom were wearing hearing-aids, they’ll do it again. And again. In fact here’s to many more captioned plays at the Bristol Old Vic!

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 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.

Post Script – distributors never did get back to me.

Don’t forget to check your DVDs for subtitles!