I've long argued for the inclusion of the deaf and hard-of-hearing into cyberspace through internet captioning. With the recent news about Susan Crawford, a pioneer of network neutrality, joining the transition team at the FCC, I felt it necessary to e-mail her. Here's the text of my e-mail below:
I recently read that you were heading the transition team for the FCC, and I wanted to extend my congratulations to you on that. I thank you for taking the time to read my e-mail. I'm writing to you expressly about the need for network neutrality, as it impacts the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. I am deaf with a cochlear implant, and I rely extensively on web video chats with my loved ones to communicate. It is my concern that without network neutrality, that the deaf and hard-of-hearing community will face possible prohibitive fees for the use of internet relay systems and web video chat systems to communicate. I favor network neutrality, as most do that I know of in the deaf community.I also asked her to look into internet captioning of mainstream media that is now being delivered onto the internet from companies like Netflix, Hulu.com (which streams content from mainstream media), Apple TV, and a myriad other companies, including cable shows like the Daily Show and Keith Olbermann that put video clips of their shows online.
I also have another passion which I care about deeply as a deaf person. It's the issue of captioning, which has revolutionized the deaf and hard-of-hearing community in terms of access to the outside world and information about that world. I'll never forget when I was able to get captions on my television shows. I was nine years old in 1991 when my mother brought home this big, clunky caption decoder set-up box, and this was before televisions were required to have caption decoders built right into the sets. I was able to watch "Beauty and the Beast" for the first time with captions. I no longer had to rely on my older brother to interpret the cartoons, shows, and movies for me. I could watch "Willa Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" with him without having to do the usual pestering of a younger sister to know what was being said.
Now, almost all of the shows that I like are captioned, including my guilty secret, Desperate Housewives. However, there are myriad problems with digital captioning, as written about by Rob Owen with the Pittsburgh Gazette here:
I also want to extend my thanks to Bill Creswell, a hearing blogger who has worked tirelessly to provide captioning for the deaf and hard-of-hearing of his own volition on movie trailers posted online. He's a true hero to those in the deaf community. There are very few like him that do it voluntarily. He's compiled a series of links to sites that do internet captions on their videos:
Now, this is known as open captioning, where the captions are added into the screen.
And you can see that the subtitles are added below the screen, instead of on the screen itself. This is known as subtitles.
All of this is great. However, a majority of internet videos produced by mainstream media for profit do not have captions. Netflix has streaming media that does not have subtitles. Hulu.com, which has videos from NBC and Fox News, do not caption a majority of their videos.
The Daily Show and Keith Olbermann put their clips online. Those clips are not captioned.
Yahoo!News has video clips for their news. Those video clips are not captioned.
ABCNews has internet videos of their shows. Those videos are not captioned.
And here's the usual defense against online captioning from those who trotted out that defense when we fought for captioning on our television shows in the 90s, and for subtitles and captions on our DVDs:
I think this is something that is extremely tricky to regulate, and I would be very cautious about mandating certain standards for web content. Of the top of my head, I can't think of any regulations that exist that limit what web content can or can not be produced (with the exception of various obscenity and pornography restrictions), and I really don't think this is a direction we should be moving towards.It IS a direction we should be moving towards. There are over 30 million Americans with varying levels of hearing loss that rely on captioning to access information about the outside world. And there's even a larger growing minority group that rely on Spanish subtitles for their media--the burgeoning Hispanic-American community.
I would hope that there are ways to encourage and promote web accessibility without imposing a massive new regulatory scheme on web content that would be difficult or impossible to enforce (as it would either dramatically reduce content creation or require all sorts of special loopholes and exclusions).
Edgeways, a kossack, posted in response to that tired old defense that we in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community hear from the major telecommunication and media companies:
but that is an argument that gets trotted out every time a disability rights group asks for reasonable accommodations. "It's too expensive" "If we have to do it it will be bad for us because...."To sum up my post in this way:
Every time, every figgen time, from curb cuts to handicap accessible bathrooms.
Never mind it is the right thing to do, never mind that doing so would increase the number of people you have access to, never mind that this is a "progressive" issue.
If "New Media" fails to embrace this they might as well be the same old media to significant portions of the population. If "New media" wants to be new this should not be a big issue.
As to not wanting government to step in a regulate it, I frankly don't see any way that this happens without some government intervention. Reasonable accommodations have never taken hold in private business without some intervention. Keep in mind "reasonable accommodation" is not code word for "punish the company" or impose ruinous situations upon those who can't afford it.
Hell the ADA is not even enforced, so why are we even worried that someone may come around and mandate those who can afford it actual, you know, caption web video content.
Internet captioning should be required of media that is produced for profit by media companies, telecommunication companies, and online media. Internet captioning should NOT be required of user-generated videos on websites like youtube.com.
Also, want to know a cool part about Apple? Some of their content on Apple TV is captioned. You can download that episode onto your iPhone, which has closed-captioning enabled in Quicktime, and you can actually watch closed-captioned videos on your handheld device! There are now over 94 closed-captioned movies in iTunes.