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Transcripts, videos and accessiblity — H.R. 3101 and the online community

(crossposted on DailyKos, with some changes…)

This is my first diary on PHB. I'm crossposting from DK, but I wanted to modify things just a tad. First, introductions: I'm JoeRay, sometimes JosephRainmound, and I'm a Deaf, bisexual male blogger living in NYC. I've followed PHB for years, and so do many of my Deaf friends. The Deaf and queer communities have a special tie – some say because we're both flamboyant outsiders. I digress, although I might try to figure that out in a future diary.

A little over a year ago I wrote a diary called “Transcripts could save democracy.” The thrust of this diary was as follows: DailyKos was including more and more video; video logs and blogs are becoming fast part of the internet community. But most of these were inaccessible to many hard of hearing and deaf people. This ten per cent of our country is a voting bloc that needs to be included – there's political safety in numbers. I asked the community to add more transcripts or subtitles to their video.

I didn't have too much hope. After all, movie theaters refuse to use open captioned films because hearing people complain about seeing words on the screen, and online subtitling is nearly nonexistent. But I asked the community and I kept my fingers crossed. 

But these days you can click on most diaries on DailyKos and if they have a video in their diary, by and large the diarist will include a transcript. If the diarist can't or doesn't have the time, you often see commenters pitch in – and sometimes yours truly or other Deaf and hard of hearing kossacks help out too!

In other words, access has become a community effort, and the cool thing is, nobody's complaining about the words on their screens. Not only that, I see the effect spreading to other blogs; Pam's House Blend, for example, also regularly includes transcripts when videos are posted here. If I had anything to do with this, I'm grateful, but mine hasn't the only voice calling for change – far from it.

Now I want to ask the community to take things a little further. Truth is, I'm getting scared. Internet streaming video is everywhere, but only a tiny percentage of this video is accessible. Even the Deaf community is shocked by exactly how little media is accessible online. And this isn't just Deaf people – there's also blind Americans who want to have an active voice in politics. Accessibility has given many Americans the chance to be dynamic, participating citizens, able to find new and exciting ways out of what actress Phyllis Frelich once called the “welfare drain.” And I don't want to see that end because we haven't made assertive plans to prepare for the future. And I don't want to see progressives lose votes from Deaf people, blind folks, English Language Learners, and the tons of other groups which benefit from captions or subtitles who are currently being left out of a helluva lot of online political discussion.

There's a way you can help. H.R. 3101 is a law requiring that some media online be made accessible – usually television or corporate produced media, but it's a huge step in the right direction and your voice on this issue could help turn this bill into the Americans with Disabilities Act of the 21st Century. Considering that education is moving to the internet (how many computer classes are based almost solely on video tutorials?), however, it's only a step. Right now it's in the Energy and Commerce committee, and has some support. Please contact your reps and ask them not only to support the bill but make it as wide-ranging as possible. It covers yesterday's needs, but not the needs of today or tomorrow.

In the process of trying to get the word out to the Deaf community about this bill, I created a very quick video blog (below) in American Sign Language and English in conjunction with SignCasts, a Deaf community journalism website, explaining some of the issues as clearly as possible and giving some idea of the numbers of captioned media online. I include it here out of interest.

Since making the video, I've heard CNN and PBS actually do have some captioned media online – but can't find it. I'm particularly concerned about news and educational programming; as a teacher, it's hard to find media accessible to everyone in the classroom. I remember vividly working with friends to subtitle Martin Luther King Jr's “I Have A Dream” speech; we were unable to find a subtitled copy. (The irony is that the same banner carried by MLK was subsequently used in a paradigm-changing protest at Gallaudet University.)

Thank you for your time. I hope you are able to help get the message out and that I have made my case clearly. Visibility is another thing my two communities have in common: we're invisible unless we speak up.

PS: I hope Apple doesn't hate me for my criticism in the video-I love their stuff! I've been a Mac user for years. The fact that I and other Deaf people are hungry for more, not less, is I hope taken as a compliment…

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