Friday, December 3, 2010

Commenting on the San Francisco Chronicle article about the lawsuit against Cinemark

Disability Rights Advocates has brought suit against the movie theater chain Cinemark for not doing enough to provide closed captioning in its theaters.  The San Francisco Chronicle has an article here about it:

There have been many comments written in response, most of which are quite negative. Most of the people writing negative comments seemed very concerned that they'd have to pay much higher ticket fees if the suit was successful and if it cost $10,000 to install the technology, so they think people with hearing loss should just stay home and not drive up costs for anyone else.

However, the movie theaters have actually been very, very profitable. Last year alone, Cinemark paid out roughly $16,300 in dividends per theater. And Mary Watkins of WGBH's National Center for Accessible Media stated today that the actual cost of the Rear Window Captioning technology is now around $5000, not $10,000.

After learning all that, I submitted a comment on the web site to provide some of this additional information.  If you like my comment, please mark it there as liked so that it'll be more likely to be read as a "popular" comment and will educate more people.  (The most popular comment is negative and was "liked" by 129 people as of the time of this writing.)  The easiest way to find my comment might be by going to this link:

Here's what I wrote:

1) According to Mary Watkins of WGBH, the actual cost of the Rear Window captioning system is around $5000 and is even less when purchased in bulk. (However, there are other kinds of closed captioning technology options in development, too.)
2) The movie theater chains can well afford to install this equipment. Last year alone, Cinemark paid out roughly $16,300 in dividends per movie theater. If they made their theaters more accessible by spending $5000 on the closed captioned equipment, they would bring in even more customers and make even more money.
3) Hearing loss probably already affects someone within your own family or circle of acquaintances. One out of 3 people over 65 has hearing loss. If more movie theaters were fully accessible, think about how enjoyable it would be for that person with hearing loss to be able to join other people in an outing to the theater instead of being left out. 
4) Your ability to hear is a gift. Have compassion. You could lose it at any time.

Read more:

Feel free to add your own comment there, of course!  (You'll need to register in order to do so.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dealing with inaccessible business practices: Netflix

Out of 10,000 movies and more than 20,000 TV programs which Netflix streams online, the company has made only 300 available with captions.  Yet just yesterday, Netflix announced that it would be charging deaf and hard of hearing people a deaf tax in order to continue to use its DVDs, while people with normal hearing would be given a whopping discount to use only streaming videos at $7.99 a month.  Netflix really, really likes people who have normal hearing.

What?  Did the company really say all that?  Of course not---but it might as well have.  Its new pay structure discriminates against deaf and hard of hearing people, who would have to pay more to use the DVD service while continuing to subsidize the streaming videos they can't use because Netflix has been so slow to caption them---or even make it possible to do a search for the few that are captioned.

Yet virtually all new DVDs and TV programs have captions or subtitles.   Why hasn't Netflix figured out how to repurpose the captions and subtitles from DVDs more quickly for online streaming? does this with a very short turn around period without even charging viewers.  Netflix has dragged its feet about doing this even when it's raking in millions of dollars from its subscribers.  The problem seems to be one of attitude and will, not resources. 

The technology's clearly available.  YouTube can automatically synchronize a caption file with the audio in videos that are uploaded to its web site, and does this for free for all videos uploaded to the web site (if the option to do so is turned on).  Although Netflix would probably have to pay Google, the owner of YouTube, to use that technology, doing so would pay off in making the streaming videos accessible to 36 million people with hearing loss and millions more who use captions because they're not native speakers of English, have auditory processing disorders, or other reasons.  There's a huge market out there for captioned content, but the company seems to have made hugely erroneous assumptions about the large need for captioning.  An investment of a couple of hundreds of dollars in reformatting the already provided captioning for each movie would allow thousands and thousands more subscribers to watch those movies.

Deaf and hard of hearing subscribers had been putting up with this inequity because the DVDs were accessible to them and there was no added cost to them for using the DVDs, even though they were not getting the same level of service that all other customers were. But now?

Read this copy of the email that Netflix sent out to a subscriber of the unlimited plan announcing its price increase:

We want to let you know about two important changes to the Netflix service.
1.  The price of your current plan is changing from $16.99 a month to $19.99 a month. This new price will be effective with your next billing statement on or after January 2, 2011, and will be referenced in your Membership Detail. With your current plan you can both instantly watch unlimited TV episodes and movies on your computer or TV and receive unlimited DVDs by mail.

2.  We now also offer a new $7.99 a month plan which lets you instantly watch unlimited TV episodes and movies on your computer or TV.  This plan does not include any DVDs. All the titles you can watch instantly on your current plan are also available on this new plan, and as a reminder, not all titles on DVD are available to watch instantly. This new plan is available immediately – if you'd like to switch to this new plan at any time, simply visit Your Account.

Why the changes? Our selection of TV episodes and movies available to stream has grown dramatically, and as a result most members want us to deliver unlimited movies and TV episodes two ways: streaming instantly over the internet plus DVDs by mail. The price change will allow us to continue to offer the popular plan choice of unlimited TV episodes and movies streaming instantly along with unlimited DVDs. The new plan, which does not include DVDs, is a great option for the increasing number of members who only want to watch instantly. The $7.99 a month price reflects no DVD shipping costs on this plan.

We hope you're enjoying great TV shows and movies from Netflix, and that you'll continue to enjoy Netflix on whichever plan you choose. We realize you have lots of home entertainment options, and we thank you for your business. As always, if you have any questions, please call us at 1-800-715-2146.

–The Netflix Team

My suggestion:

Stop rewarding with your dollars a company that is knowingly disregarding the caption needs of deaf and hard of hearing people.  Remember, it doesn't even make it possible to do a search for captioned streaming videos.  You have other options for entertainment (discussed below).

Tell the company that it needs to do four things:

a)  Offer a DVD-only plan for people who cannot use uncaptioned streaming video (which will include deaf and hard of hearing people)
b)  Provide an online search engine that allows people to find captioned or subtitled videos on the Netflix web site
c)  Hire fresh new talent who are motivated and dedicated to providing captioning for DVDs as quickly as possible.
d)  Let you know when it substantially improves the accessibility of its services for deaf and hard of hearing people so that you can become a customer of Netflix again

What are your other entertainment options?

1) Hulu offers many captioned TV programs and some  movies.  Search for captioned media by going to the "Recently Added" or "Most Popular" page and click on the CC box.

2) Many local libraries loan out DVDs, which you may be able to reserve online

3) For new releases, you can reserve DVDs online from Redbox, which has kiosks at 7-11, Lucky's and other places.  For more info, see:

(I have not used this service myself.)

If you know of other options that offer access to captioned entertainment, please leave a comment.

I believe we need to reward companies that do try to provide access, and to pull our business from companies that don't. Let me know what you think!  If you spot any errors in this, please let me know that as well.

Late Additions:

The Netflix CEO blogged more than a year ago about  Netflix's technical reasons for not providing captioning:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Comments made to Access Board on May 12, 2010

On May 12, the United States Access Board held a public hearing on "its proposed refresh of requirements for information and communication technologies (ICT) covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act." I spoke at this hearing on some of the accessibility needs of hard of hearing people which did not appear to have been adequately addressed. As we had only three to five minutes to speak, my comments were streamlined. The gist of them is provided below. Sentences that are italicized below were not spoken out loud.

My name is Dana Mulvany, and I'm speaking here today as a consumer advocate who is hard of hearing; I also work as a consultant specializing in hearing loss issues. My comments today are focused primarily on the needs of people who are hard of hearing, of which there are more than 30 million in the U.S.A.

What I'll be doing here this morning is providing some information about the needs of people with hearing loss along with numbered technical points that I would like the Access Board to take into consideration.
  • A. Most hard of hearing people have much stronger hearing in the low frequencies compared to their ability to hear high frequencies. Many hard of hearing people cannot hear high frequency sounds at all.

  • 1. This means that alerting sounds for the general public should be required to contain multiple frequencies, especially low frequency sounds, and should not use just high frequency sounds.

  • 2. There needs to be a required option to customize alerting sounds for the need of the individual user with respect to the frequencies used by the alerting sound, not just the loudness level. (This will also help people with normal hearing in environments with substantial noise because due to the phenomenon of "upward spread of masking," low frequency sounds mask, or cover up, high frequency sounds.)

  • B. In order to decipher speech at their highest level possible, many hard of hearing people need high fidelity reproduction of speech across all speech frequencies with as little noise as possible.

  • 3. This means that all audio components need to be capable of high fidelity reception, transmission and generation of speech for maximum speech comprehension. These include microphones and telephone hardware used by people who do not have a disability themselves but who would communicate with hard of hearing employees and/or members of the public.

  • 4. Telephone and VoIP services also need to transmit high fidelity audio to the maximum extent possible. (Unfortunately, many cell phone carriers are choosing not to transmit the lower frequency part of the speech spectrum in order to conserve bandwidth, and this is having a highly adverse effect on the speech comprehension of hard of hearing people.) I thus endorse the Access Board's effort to address Audio Clarity for Interconnected VoIP.

  • 5. It would indeed be very helpful if the Board would require that any auditory features, where provided, include at least one mode of operation that improves clarity, reduces background noise, or allows control of volume, in addition to adding the other features I mention today. (This is my answer to Question 13.)

  • C. Because of uneven hearing loss in both ears, including single-sided deafness, many hard of hearing people need all the audio delivered either to one ear or both ears. In other words,

  • 6. Manufacturers need to provide an option to switch stereo sound to mono. (Apple has already been doing this for certain models of the iPod Touch and the iPhone 3GS.)

  • 7. It is often important to be able to use both ears to hear, not just one ear, because each ear may hear very differently. Whenever possible, the ability to hear with both ears should be provided.

  • D. Speech comprehension for hard of hearing people can increase enormously by being able to speechread and hear at the same time. For many people with severe hearing loss, speechreading provides information about consonants that they might not otherwise hear.

  • 8. Video communication technology therefore needs to support the simultaneous transmission of speechreading and audio at the same time for hard of hearing people. The technology should also support the provision of text from relay services directly on the video.

  • E. The majority of people with hearing loss do not use hearing aids.

  • 9. It would be highly desirable for communication equipment to provide customization of the frequencies in the audio signal. Apple has done this for music by providing an equalizer function on some of their iPhones and iPods. It would thus appear to be technically feasible for manufacturers to provide the same function for all audio emanating from their products.

  • F. Captioning is very important to people with significant hearing loss. Unfortunately, many people have significant trouble figuring out how to turn it on and may not even realize it is available.

  • 10. Controls for turning on and customizing captioning need to be as easy to use as possible.

Thank you for your attention to these important issues.

(End of written comments)

I plan to provide more complete comments, which are due to the Access Board by June 21st, 2010, and encourage other people to do so as well. Here are some of the related documents from the Access Board:

Feel free to provide some feedback or questions here about what I myself said.

[Note:  The due date for comments was corrected from June 12th to June 21st.] 

Saturday, March 6, 2010

How to see automated captioning for new YouTube videos

As I hope most everyone knows, YouTube recently started providing automated transcription/captioning for all new videos uploaded to YouTube. If you missed the announcement, here's an article about it:

I just did a search for a new YouTube video to doublecheck how to make the captions appear. It turns out that there are a couple of steps to take to show the automated captioning, and that merely seeing the "CC" with a red background on the bottom of the video doesn't indicate you will see captions now.

For example, go to:

Click on the "CC" on the bottom part of the video and wait for the menu to pop up.

Click on "Transcribe Audio (Beta)" at the top. This turns on the automated transcription/captioning which is done for new videos. (Most older videos won't have that feature enabled yet.)

After activating the automated captioning, one can then choose to change the caption settings (the font and the size of the captions) and one's account settings. (If you don't yet have an account on YouTube, it's helpful to set one up so you can set captioning preferences, save your favorites, create playlists, etc.). I just changed my own YouTube account settings so that automatic captioning is always activated.

The captioning is pretty cool!

Note that the automated captioning will invariably have errors in it if the owner of the video hasn't corrected it. Some of the captioning will probably be funny when it hasn't been corrected yet. Let me know of any really funny ones you see!