May 7, 2007

Vee See makes BBCi News Technology: Paternalism 2.0?


VeeSee is currently the top story at BBCi Technology News page.

Where's the impartial reporting by the BBC, and go beyond the reporting its done to question the set up? This is one sided reporting. The issue with DEAF stuff, is that media outlets can infrequently see past the charity case that and their interpretation of people with broken ears might be, which leads to somewhat odd media reporting.

It is Deaf Awareness week in the UK, thus people come out in droves to show how they are helping us.

Don't get me wrong, I want signed content on the web, and do not want to knock effort down. However, this is locked in centralised content, which the rest of the web is moving away from. UK Deafies existing in their own bubble?

I get the drive for a tv channel online, and something flagged for years by various people. I would also question if this is actually tv, but instead locked in vlog style videos that could easily be hosted on respective sites.

We really do not need paternalism 2.0 in the UK? Why are Deaf people of the mindset over here that they cannot host their own sites, blogs and vlogs, and need someone to hold their hand? Makes you all come across as charity cases.

See also:
Interpreters and the whole set up scaring me

May 2, 2007

Online subtitling & getting Geeks to notice the need for diversity

ustreamtv.jpgA few weeks back, Chris Pirillo was communicating to an audience via Chris was talking via a box, and anyone who had stumbled on the page could participate in a text chat underneath.

Except I couldn't understand what Chris was saying, yet got the one sided conversation via the text chat. Apart from the fact I could see the implications for interactive television specifically sign languages, and bilingual communication here, I became frustrated. All I could see was online space that made my world more accessible 10 years ago, was about to go full circle. The inaccess gap was becoming wider again. Incidentally, I experienced the same thing watching Scoble casting from his car the following day, except it was a bit more visual so slightly easier to put up with.

Back to Chris' chat. I entered calling myself DEAF, just so geeks would immediately get it. I said that I couldn't understand a word, great idea but where's the subtitles? Robert Scoble answered saying something along the lines of it was too expensive.

readon.gifSince Mateo Gutierrez had recently contacted me to let me know about Project Read On (which I meant to review, but life got in the way - its since been reviewed elsewhere, will possibly come back to this). I gave Scoble this link, just to let him there was possibilities or solutions out there. Robert replied that he was happy for his videos to be hosted anywhere, so they could be subtitled.

Bottom line: I've always wanted to access the ScobleShow. Incidentally, I'd flagged this up with Robert before via his blog, and he had responded regarding the need to budget for this.

dotsub.pngSince mentioning Project Read On, I've become aware of dotSUB acts like a Wikipedia when it comes to subtitling something. Anyone can volunteer to subtitle stuff, and text can be modified, added to etc.

I would really recommend you watch this video, produced by Rocketboom:

Rocketbottom and DotSub via CommonCraft

This is a great move forward, but I've got some random thoughts:

- I want the Scoble Show on there, and Robert please tell the world about it, there is a need for volunteers and access matters;
- Same goes for ZeFrank, I want to be able to access him too;
- The tech world needs to take this seriously, Anil Dash published The Old Boys Club is for Losers a few months back, its a compelling post (check out the links too), be more inclusive and come up with solutions;
- Going back to subtitles / captions. There should be a link under vlogs to say they are subtitled at a certain place, a bit like an 888 logo in the UK or CC symbol in the States. Don't rely on chance encounters of people finding the accessible version;
- There needs to be some decent discussion around access, with the view of access online in the future. It would be cool if self regulation could come out of this, but has experience taught us that relying on goodwill is not enough? I get the self governance of cyberspace, just media content will increase through these streams in future. How are we going to interact?

So many thoughts ...

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

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 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?

February 26, 2007

WordSource: The Social Dictionary

A new online dictionary and thesaurus has been launched, called WordSource.

Its a dictionary with a difference in that it brings social networking to another level.

However, what really irritates me is its lack of user functionality. Take the word DEAF.

It defines it as:

- lacking or deprive of the sense of hearing wholly or in part; - people who have severe hearing impairments; "many of the deaf use sign language"

It then allows you to:

- upload a photo associated with that word;

or say:
- if you like that word;
- if you think you are that word;
- if you feel all warm and fuzzy inside about this word;
- if it would cause you to fail an English test;
- always have trouble spelling this word

There's problems with this. I don't agree with the definitions the site has to offer, e.g. impairment, depriving of a sense. Thus it because of the definitions on offer, does not make me feel "warm and fuzzy inside", but frustrated as to how the majority is capable of being oppressive. As soon as someone starts uploading a picture of must cure on there, of course its not going to make me feel good: I would just stare another example of oppression in the face. Perhaps someone should upload four positive photos before its too late.

Yet my definition of DEAF, can evoke warm and fuzzy feelings. The lack of ability for groups to define their own meanings, is a huge downside as far as being a social dictionary goes.

January 23, 2007

BSL / English ICT Dictionary

The BSL/English ICT Dictionary has been released, and available online.

This project was managed by DirectLearn, and follows a similar structure to previously released BSL/English online glossaries: ArtSigns, Engineering Signs and Science Signs. Provision of such publications goes some way to raising the status of BSL, in the face of criticism.

As with previous glossaries, it faces criticism in respect of BSL standardisation, and signs being unfamiliar to those who use them. What happens when you use a different sign to what is on a website? It becomes an issue where BSL students and perhaps interpreters start to use it as a web resource.

Correct sign usage becomes noticeable in the context of associated signs relating to mailing lists, and possibly the oldest signs and most distributed signs in existence in UK after signs relating to e mail, internet; as its tech that people in the UK are most familiar with, and been in common usage since 1998.

Is this really the sign for client? Fingerspell blog? A sign for this has existed since at least 2004, and can be found on blogs on the net. Vlog - is not the sign that is used by people who vlog regularly. Where's the sign for Web 2.0, which has been the buzzword for the last 2-3 years? Long Tail? Decentralised networks? Social Network? Synchronise? Blogger? Vlogger? Digital identity? Widget? etc. These are all standard words I would use when discussing tech.

All the above comments aside, any attempt at recording BSL has to be commended, its no small task and takes a substantial step towards any future call for legal recognition.

December 4, 2006

Power of blogging: Part 3

Last week I posted something about Crowd Spirit and wondered if we could make use of.

This has since been picked up by the Crowdsourcing blog, and comments on accessibility, and what might be accessible for us, could be accessible for all, and generally good practice.

If I had made the same comments within an e mail group, I doubt if comments would have been accessible, or linked to. Too much valuable opinion is locked away in this manner, and even through private e mails. Without a more public platform, others don't have the opportunity to learn and networks made, through an open dialogue. In this instance, connection could have mutual benefits, with new ideas being exchanged in respective circles. This can only be of benefit, and for us, a move away from dependency and frustration.

November 29, 2006

Open Source Video Conferencing

Communicating online often relies on written languages, which can oppress the usage of signed languages. There's various peer to peer applications such as MSN Messenger, Camfrog and Skype, each with their limits especially when it comes to communicating using BSL or another sign language. Deaf people generally prefer Skype, as being superior in quality for live video chats. Some people have used Camfrog for multi chats, but it requires payment and not without its set backs.

Deaf people and those working in this field will be familiar with a commercial application from Direct Learn and their delivery of English based Online Conferences. What about conferences, where you could use a visual language, move away from the obligation languages, and get around the need to be in one physical place. A community with a wide geographical spread after all? There's two possible solutions.

dimdim_logo.pngDimDim: open source, in alpha, code that is downloaded and installed on your own server. Current restrictions are that "Attendees can use either Internet Explorer 6 or Firefox 1.5 while Presenters can use Internet Explorer 6 or Firefox 1.5 on Windows (XP/2000/2003) only. which limits the software somewhat, however it is still in alpha.

1videoconf.jpg1Video Conference is an open source video conference software for your domain, which is still in alpha trial. It is currently the 6th most active download on SourceForge. More about its features can be found here.

Who will be the first to try it, which software will you go for, and when will it be used as a serious application?

November 28, 2006

Deaf manufacturing through Crowd Spirit?

Crowd Spirit is a Scottish-French start up, which helps consumers address products that they would really like to see manufactured. You can submit ideas, through collaboration turn this idea into a project, with definite specifications. The end result to encourage people to invest money, make the product happen, with the view of being able to purchase this.

Deaf people often complain that products, especially mainstream ones, are inaccessible to them. Companies don't listen to suggestions, or in fact we've given up of anything ever happening. Could a collaboration such as Crowd Spirit address this imbalance, and through collaboration, we are empowered to get what we need in terms of accessible products taken by the mainstream more seriously, and investment poured into this? Could this an excuse to move away from deaf organisations, and a community drive, with communication straight with investors and manufacturers?

What product would you like (re)designed, that is accessible?

November 3, 2006

Harkle & Lonely Girl

Harkle is a new search engine that has been launched, to search captioned video / audio on the net. From the adverts at the end, presumably funding being raised through Revver

Deaf people looking at Harkle, often question what's the deal with the Lonely Girl vlogs. Because of inaccess means they've not followed vlogging trends, plus podcasts. Thus there's an an information gap, and it is assumed people are up to date on culture.

I'd only discovered Lonely Girl through danah's blog back in September, which is the only reason I was aware of the background and culture here. I would recommend you read should you need a context.

January 26, 2006

Signed Goldilocks and the Three Bears

CBeebies has kids from Blanche Neville School signing Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

January 24, 2006

The world's obsession with tech

Boing Boing is carrying a post which points to a blog about solar powered hearing aids in Botswana.

Boing Boing never seems to see past tech when it comes to ears not working, and this has happened more than once. When are you going to post something related to sign language. Somehow it just reflects an inner anxiety of must hear.

January 6, 2006

Bionic Quest for Boléro

This article has hit cyberspace, where someone has home programmed their cochlear implant in order to hear Bolero better. Blogs such as Boing Boing have picked it up, and it even has a high rating via Digg.

Personally I cannot read the article, perhaps finding it boring and being subjected to cochlear issues for years. Apart from reading and debating, I'm thinking here of presentations I've had to make at conferences where I've had to take a neutral line but an attempt to be political, the summer schools and training I've had to deliver, keeping a straight face with my stomach flipping. Yes there's the boredom, and there is an inner protest happening. There is a deeper element here too.

Firstly, I will say, what this guy wishes to do, that's his own business, and good for him. Glad he fulfilled his desire. However, what gets me is the mainstream's reaction to this, and whilst I understand in part it is a fascination with technology, an extension of a mainstream interest, there is also an element further fuelling the desire for normalisation and the fact that hearing is a must. Detracting from the norm is almost feared by some. Whilst not strictly relevant in these circumstances, but nonetheless relevant, is the necessary distinction that must be made between technology that works with us, as opposed to changes us; one that people often fail to identify nevermind grasp.

When such issues such as BSL recognition hit the headlines, the major blogs and people aren't interested. It is frequently seen on mainstream TV when they attempt to do some "debate" (and I use that word with an extremely loose meaning), there is a complete lack of understanding relating to the issues. Hearing people can latch very well onto the desire to hear, but their understanding rarely leaves these boundaries. One wishes a magic wand could be raised to change all this.