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April 28, 2007

A Gamer asks for subtitles

Continuing the theme of accessibility, a Deaf Gamer asks for subtitles:

Dear Sir or Ma'aam,

I am a deaf 20 year old that loves to play videogames. I've been playing videogames ever since I first played the Atari 2600 with my father as a young child. Back then, games were not as complex as they are today. Sometimes, as a deaf gamer, I struggle with many mission based games such as Quake 4, Star Wars: Rouge Squadron Rouge Leader, Perfect Dark 0, Need for Speed: Carbon, X2: Wolverine's Revenge and many others. The reason for the frustration is for the lack of subtitles in the above mentioned titles. Quake 4 is a perfect example of my frustrations of what I am supposed to do next because the mission objectives and ways to beat certain bosses were given over the intercom and it was mostly garbled. Perfect Dark 0 was frustrating for me because I had no idea what was going on with the story. At one point I was fighting in buildings shooting at mobsters and all of a sudden I'm fighting a midget skinless Chinese dude with a sword in some alternate dimension. That did not make sense for me at all because... who was that Chinese dude?

I may be deaf but I do have most of my hearing left over. I depend mostly on my eyesight to give me information while playing games. Mostly, depending on eyesights make my job for completing games a much more daunting task than they should be.

Another game I would like to bring up is Hideo Kojima's Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Both of these games rely on hearing much like in MGS2:SoL bomb searching which you use a device that beeps in a high tone if your near a bomb so you can disable them. I had a tough time searching for the bombs in the game since I cannot hear high pitch tones that well.

Maybe in the future, if you can start putting subtitles in the games, especially Halo 3 since I am a huge Halo addict. Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2 did not have subtitles though Halo 2 had subtitles but only in the cutscenes as 70% of the game did not.

I hope I can hear from you soon.


Via Yoav @ Deaf UK Technology

I've been thinking about this issue a lot recently, not gaming, but access online. I was going to add it here, but decided against it. Its too important an issue, and something that warrants a post by itself.

Update: This story also appears on Digg with supporting comments. I would recommend people join in, to push this issue into the mainstream, especially as the audience includes people who have some whack in the gaming world. Useful for future contacts? Via Tomato @ Deaf UK Technology.

See also:
BBC & accessible online content
IBM addresses multimedia access for blind. Deaf access where?
Vlogging grows, where's the subtitles?

April 17, 2007

An example of how deafread doesn't cater for an international audience

I posted about this John Low and James Strachan resigning over at Grumpy Old Deafies. This is major breaking news in the UK if not internationally (for those of you who care about deaf organisation politics). Not all of it is currently to be found online elsewhere. That said, I don't even care anymore. My reaction was along the lines of, indifference.

Anyhow, this comes from the biggest deaf organisation in the UK, where there is so much unrest towards. It has been the subject of a book, the focus of a large number of demos, and much scandal in recent years. This story has rumblings in the mainstream press too.

What did deafread.com do with it? Stick it in Deafread Extra! Apparently its not newsworthy enough, possibly contravenes some rule or perhaps international issues are not understood by the moderators enough. Or perhaps its an example of how to deflate the rnid's ego, as theirs is way too big. :-)

Seriously though, this is not the first time this has happened, I've posted really important information from the UK before now, and its not even seen the light of day. For this reason alone, I cannot rely on deafread.com to give me the "Best of Blogs", and only use it for a USA perspective.

Moderators solely based in the USA cannot determine nor judge international content, and how deafread.com (for the other good it does) fails on so many levels outside the States.

April 11, 2007


veesee.jpgVeeSee is a website that has been launched in the UK by an interpreter, Susie Grant. The site is operating under the Deafeatures Ltd.

Before I go any further, I really want to be positive about online development, but I'm really struggling here. More about that later. The site has a very strange mix of web 1.0 content and design, mixed with a web 2.0 approach through a social network. On the face of it, the site offers:

A Marketplace, like eBay aka Sell and Buy:
Just like eBay, you can list items for sale. The cost is anything between 20p and £1.50 depending on price band. Before you think about selling your stack of old hearing aids, it is banned.

My immediate question here: why would I want to list an item here, when I get a bigger buying audience over at eBay, Amazon Associates etc, which would push the price up? Why are Deaf people any different in this respect, and what are the advantages of using this site to a mainstream one? The only thing I can think of, is selling specialist products or reaching out to a niche market. Auctions for general stuff, I can't see how it benefits me?

Courses, aka Sell and Learn:
You can get paid to upload course materials online. Exactly how much is unclear, and my guess payment will link into the quality of materials and demand. However, should you wish to follow a course online, you need to pay. This is not immediately obvious and I get this information from the terms and conditions which talks about refund for courses should one be cancelled.

My immediate response to this is around online learning. In a society where online content is not freely accessible, and hearing people are able to either (a) access free sites, or (b) access LSC supported sites where discounts are available should one be on benefits, it kind of capitalises on inequality. However, how much different is this to private companies offering courses? Deaf people need to ask themselves this question, and sufficient discussion needs to take place.

Social Network site, aka VeeSee Community:
Deaf people in the UK hang out on Bebo these days. To build a social network, it takes a lot of effort and where is the attraction to register? There appears to be no open source API in use, thus your own data locked in and not able to be transferred to another social network site. There needs the ability to insert widgets or content from say Flickr, YouTube.

"Hosted vlogs" aka VeeSee TV:
Signed TV with subtitles, or so it states on the website somewhere. This appears to be subscription based after one month. Actually I'm very confused about this, as there is this (when I looked appeared to be a lot of talking and no access) and a pop up box (that doesn't execute in Firefox) that is accessed from the top navigation bar, which provides some signed content. So where exactly am I supposed to go?

Why can't this material be placed on free sites? Where is the encouragement of vlogs? Is video online really TV? If its bandwidth that's justifying the fee, why not host videos at third party sites?

Information aka VeeSee EyeBytes:
From its title, it suggests easily digestible information. Only its not. Where's the formatting of the paragraphs, my eyes just glazed over. Secondly, where is the BSL content? Where there is a 'National Calendar'? Its just blank this end, and there's no RSS. How would this be different from other sites that already provide the same?

Chat and Discuss:
This feature hasn't been launched yet, only its "Coming Soon", therefore I cannot comment. Its not in the interests of any site to launch with pages missing. If the content is not there people are not going to go back.

Some other comments:

Who's advising you? This site is already in danger of falling flat on its face.

Patronising: The first newsletter (PDF file) says "... and never have to feel alone or isolated again". That by itself makes me never want to visit again, and boycott it. What doesn't already exist on the net already that doesn't allow me to interact with other people? There are other examples on the site that makes me ask this.

Paternalistic: In an age where blogging and vlogs are gaining steady ground, why is an interpreter setting up this site and people send in their videos, and moreover payment has to be made to access this? Why can't people just upload videos to YouTube? Where is the empowerment to allow Deaf people to create and own their own content? Own pages on another site really doesn't do it. Whist there might be every good intention here, it fails to really get its aim. Content has to be decentralised. My other question around centralised content, and locked in data is around how money is made in that manner. The same questions could be asked of mainstream hosted sites though.

Lack of accessibility to the Deaf Community: For a website that wants to exist around the Deaf community, there is very little or nothing by way of BSL navigation or dissemination of information. The terms and conditions contain words such as: circumvent, perpetual, irrevocable, proprietary, "Verified Rights Owner program" (USA spelling).

Long sentences such as this one, "Without limiting other remedies, we may limit, suspend, or terminate our service and user accounts, prohibit access to our website, remove hosted content, and take technical and legal steps to keep users off the Websites if we think that they are creating problems, possible legal liabilities, or acting inconsistently with the letter or spirit of our policies. We also reserve the right to cancel unconfirmed accounts."

In all the waffle around terms and conditions, "We do charge fees for using other services, such as listing items. When you list an item or use a service that has a fee you have an opportunity to review and accept the fees that you will be charged based on our Fee Listings, which we may change from time to time." People should not be expected to read a load of inaccessible English to find that out.

I should not need to say this to an interpreter.

Layout is messed up in Firefox: I do not want to be forced to open IE to view VeeSee. However, you are forcing me to do this, as in Firefox I get half a screen, where the video plays at all.

One month is not long enough for a trial, plus to bribe me into paying: I'm not going to get hooked, I will watch free vlogs elsewhere instead. Who is seriously going to pay? As for payment, how many people have access to a credit card? I don't use them.

Lack of transparency and bad navigation: The navigation is nothing short of hell. See my comments under VeeSee above. There isn't consistency in presentation of information. From this page, its subscription based after one month. However, it took me a while to find it. The site is obviously out to make money and be run as a business, however, it needs to be clearer.

Tries to do too much: Tries to be too much, and my head is all over the place. Things such as advice leaflets are in danger of being dated extremely quickly. Do you have the resources to do this? Would people want an advice environment, when you are trying to get them to hang out too? What part of the site that is UNIQUE?

Lack of RSS capabilities: if a website does not have RSS or a blog these days, I really don't want to know. Bottom line, I'm not coming back. Web designers in the UK really need to understand this.

Stupid terms and conditions: Who wrote all this? This bit made me laugh, "You agree that you will not use any robot, spider, scraper or other automated means to access the Websites for any purpose without our express written permission." So they don't want Google, Live, Yahoo Search etc to find them? What's the point in having such a website if noone can actually find it? Search engine bots have to write to them first? As a friend said, I would like to see this being enforced in court.

Whilst this site has possibly been established with the best of intentions, it gets it wrong. In an era when Deaf people should be owning and hosting their own content, where decentralisation of information is a mainstay, here we have the complete opposite. I'm saying all this, not because I want to knock down effort. I want a better quality space, especially in the UK, and right now its not happening. All I'm capable of feeling is embarrassed and ashamed, the UK can do better than this.

April 10, 2007

BBC & accessible online content

bbclogo.gifLast year I issued a formal complaint and threatened legal action against the BBC as far as the lack of subtitling and BSL being produced online. For those of you who are interested, this is the latest state of play:

Subtitling Trial: subtitles are being trialled on multiple sites. Participating sites include: See Hear, Video Nation, Click and Panorama for subtitles in English and Capture Wales and Eorpa (Welsh or Gaelic).

Online BBC catch-up TV: is being launched this summer. BBC iPlayer, will also feature subtitles, in addition to BSL translated programmes broadcasted in the Sign Zone. This will launch with upwards of 25% of the supported programmes being available with subtitles, but the service will quickly ramp-up to enable for us to confidently support the 100% commitment to programme subtitling in 2008/09.

Signs of Life: an online project that will also feature subtitles for the first time on an online interactive drama built in Flash.

BBC Standards and Production Guidelines: this is being written for producing subtitles for all our future online Flash Video/Animation, Real and Windows Media content. This will be published in early Summer 07, and will appear on the Standards and Guidelines page.

My comments: It is good that progress is being made, but I have to wonder if this is happening too slowly, with not enough publicity? As a public service, the organisation has an obligation to make its content accessible, and for me this has not happened fast enough.

Accessibility needs to be addressed from the outset, not a mere afterthought and should be appearing from the word go for multimedia content. Whilst the BBC's objective might be to provide "quality, consistency, reliability, and scale ability", frankly *any access* is better than nothing. Yes I want quality, I appreciate the BBC needs resources to provide access, but does it have to happen so slowly? The BBC does not have a problem with provision of this through delivery of other content. For example, the BBC might not feel the use of Real Player ideal (it is developing iPlayer), but it does not stop them producing multimedia in this format.

Whilst the BBC is making progress here, one immediately has to think about other broadcast companies, such as ITV and Channel 4. As private companies their obligations may be different from a public funded organisation, however the DDA still applies. What if I wanted to access 4OD?

What are you doing in your country to promote online accessibility? What relevant laws apply?