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August 18, 2007

BBC on YouTube, but where's the subtitles?

The BBC is available on YouTube (channel only available in the UK). YouTube BBC Worldwide is available for those outside the UK. More about this on the BBC's website.

One question: where's the subtitles?

In fact I don't even see a button on YouTube to display captions if needed. When the BBC made a YouTube deal, why wasn't accessibility at the heart of this?

The corporation will also get a share of the advertising revenue generated by traffic to the new YouTube channels.

Both Google and the BBC is financially benefiting from this. The BBC is a public service, and it really is not okay to leave part of your audience out. As a large corporation, it has the negotiation weight to insist that subtitles are incorporated. So much for living in 2007, and access to be at the heart of decision making!

For a company filled with PhDs, Google really does not have the excuse to knock some code up to make subtitling an option, to turn on or off. Yesterday I blogged about closed captions being available in various languages for Google Video. Since its the same company, why hasn't access been carried over at the outset?

As a side note, I brought this point up back in June. I've got concerns re accessibility of YouTube for Ushers and deafblind, is the picture quality good enough to follow BSL (if that ever happened) or subtitling? I can't answer that question, as I don't fall into this category but as a person with good vision I know the quality of video on is not so good due to compression and how the picture is transmitted. Thus is a public service institution in danger of leaving out a significant chunk of the population?

Here we go again, who do we write a formal complaint to?

See also:
Google video: closed captions in multiple languages
iPlayer: A Deaf Perspective

August 8, 2007

iPlayer: A Deaf Perspective

iplayer.jpgThe BBC publically launched iPlayer at the end of July. I've been a closed beta tester for since May, so I had the opportunity to try it out and had planned to blog about it before now (RSI has deterred me from blogging). I have some thoughts from a Deaf perspective, first, some background information.

What is iPlayer?

Is basically BBC catch up television, which can be downloaded onto your computer, via iPlayer software. Once downloaded, the programmes usually available for up to 30 days after the programme became available. However after its first viewing you can no longer access this after 7 days.

So talk me through it

Would have done this if I'd blogged about this before its general public release. However, I'm not going to do that now, as you can now find this information online elsewhere. Go to this blog entry if you want the basic screenshots and the rest from a mainstream perspective, and thus no point in wasting time reinventing the wheel.

General Platform Criticisms

For a technology viewpoint, iPlayer is something of a disaster: DRM, will only work in Internet Explorer (for searching programmes), currently locked into Windows although a Mac version is meant to be available by the autumn, etc. There is even a petition to Number 10 on this, and to this end the BBC has responded saying that it will open up to other platforms in future.

From a general observation (no scientific proof here), compared to my hearing friends Deaf people seem to disproportionately use a Mac or Linux. Thus where is their access to iPlayer, and more to the point signed television they were promised (see later comments e.g. See Hear)?

It was thought that iPlayer wasn't available on Windows Vista, and official BBC advice still gives this. However there's some advice on how to run iPlayer on Vista on this blog (do so at your own risk).

There's much more I could say about technical / political aspects here, but you will be able to find this elsewhere online.

Say something positive

I don't dispute that the concept is a good idea, in that you can catch up on television when you feel like it, and have greater flexibility where you watch it. Say for example download a programme, then watch it on the train en route somewhere. As long as the quality of the programmes and the access is there (minus the bad DRM / locked in decision), a good investment on the BBC's part. It brings in greater audience numbers, and with this value for money moving away from traditional broadcast medium.

A Deaf Perspective

Deaf wise, here's some thoughts:

Subtitles:

The BBC says it will have 100% subtitling output on iPlayer by 2008-09, and to this end some programmes are already subtitled now. In glass half full mode, this is positive, and may this continue. However, should we tolerate waiting, more about that below. Firstly, the mechanics of all this.

Subtitles in standard screen mode

On a standard screen, you can easily turn this on, just at the click of a button, under the picture. Easy enough to operate. The default screen to watch iPlayer is relatively small, with the subtitles appearing underneath. Here's a screenshot:

iplayersubs.jpg

(There's no television picture in the screen grab as it doesn't pick it up, really annoying and will become apparent when I try to get screen grabs for BSL below).

First, on a postive note, the subtitles appearing on a black background underneath is a good move accessibility wise for Ushers and deafblind. However, some people might have problems with the text and screen size, and possibly might prefer to view in a bigger window. I'm not qualified to give an opinion here, and would love to see comments / feedback from others.

However, for me this screen this iPlayer screen is too small, especially when trying to read subtitles underneath. This kind of defeats what I said above re Ushers, and I'm having issues pretty much with 20/20 vision. My eyes are trained to read subtitles on a screen from a distance, usually on screen. Watching this size, I can't read a font that size and take in what's happening in the picture at the same time, or rather make it a relaxing experience. That's what television is supposed to be about, and small subtitles in a small screen doesn't quite do it for me.

No problems, in theory I can switch to full screen.

Subtitles in full screen mode

Firstly, this is what iPlayer currently has to say about turning these subtitles on:

Subtitles

If subtitles are available for a particular programme, this will be shown on the programme Information page for that programme.

If you're watching programmes using Windows Media format in full screen, subtitles might not appear.

To solve this problem:

* Select Start on your computer, locate and open Windows Media Player.
* Go to the Play drop-down menu and select Captions and Subtitles.
* Select Captions ON.
* Select Tools on the top menu within Windows Media Player.
* Go to Options and select Security Tabs.
* Make sure Show local captions when present box is checked.
* Select Apply button to save the changes.

Following the instructions above will ensure subtitles appear in full-screen.
Subtitles for Windows Media format

You can only view subtitles using Windows Media Player.

The subtitle 'On/Off' options can also be found within your BBC iPlayer Preferences.

The option you choose here will control whether subtitles will be available in the BBC iPlayer playback console.

However, if you don't select the 'On' option for subtitles in Preferences, you will still be able to select them in the playback console.

Those instructions are out of date, and for an older version of Windows Media Player! Not good. This edition did not come out last week, and in fact I installed my current edition of WMP last December. Here's a screen grab:

iplayerfull.jpg

(Click onto the image for a bigger picture).

The BBC's instructions say:

* Go to the Play drop-down menu and select Captions and Subtitles.
* Select Captions ON.
* Select Tools on the top menu within Windows Media Player.

I can't do this, because those first options are not present! Thus cannot do as I'm instructed to do on the tin. As a bit of a geek I can work my way around the above, but even then had to root around. People need simplicity, especially where English might be an access barrier. There should be instructions for the newer version of WMP:

Now Playing > More Options > Security Tab > click onto Show Local Captions where present

I would do some screen grabs here, just to show you, however again the screen grab doesn't work.

As a closed beta tester, I fed back this information to the BBC iPlayer team, as I thought it was important / could perceive it as an access barrier. I got the standard thank you for your feedback e mail, however it was not actioned. Why does this problem still exist 3 months later?

Local captions now selected on Windows Media Player, lets play!

Hahaha - right now it doesn't work! After all that, I cannot get subtitles to be had in full screen mode. Subtitles exist in standard screen / cross eyed mode only. So I go back to the instructions above, root around some more and no joy. Absolutely no use to me, and on this very ground I've given up on iPlayer, until someone at Auntie Beeb starts to listen. I've fed back this issue and still waiting for someone at the BBC to enlighten me. This is not good enough.

Navigation: Subtitles and BSL

In addition to subtitles, iPlayer is supposed to be transmitting programmes using BSL (although not yet), a point I will come onto later in this blog entry. I am bringing this up here, as it shares a common ground with subtitling as far as navigation goes.

Apart from the no subtitles point, the biggest issue with subtitling is navigation. "If subtitles are available for a particular programme, this will be shown on the programme Information page for that programme."

The BBC expects me click onto each programme's description to check if it carries subtitles, and this information is not available on the selection screen. Clicking onto descriptions and back is time consuming.

At the time of trialling iPlayer, not many programmes were subtitled, and I gave up trying to find a subtitled programme. Clicked 30, 40 times and got nowhere.

Although this subtitling output has increased, its still not enough. To make my point, I just went to iPlayer and clicked onto random programmes in order to find a subtitled one. It took me six random attempts before I came across a subtitled programme. I don't have time to mess about, shot in the dark approach, to find a needle in a haystack. I want a complete list of subtitled programmes in one place. A subtitling category. Perhaps that marginalises us, however the BBC needs to keep me there not give up through navigation. Just clicking onto random programmes and finding out they are inaccessible simply makes me pissed off.

Since 100% subtitling could be anything up to 2.5 years away, during those two years, are we expected to pay needle in haystack, and play a game "Find the Subtitled Programme". The BBC might as well put up Where's Wally, because that's how annoying it is.

Right now we don't know what the deal will be re: navigation of BSL output (or what the BBC terms as Sign Zone). Will this be available in a category by itself, or will we be expected to navigate through other programmes?

Either categories are needed, or a subtitling icon is displayed next to the programme name / picture, on the first navigation overview.

Why aren't subtitles transferable?

Deafies everywhere are probably asking one question: if subtitles are provided for television programmes, why can't these subtitles be carried over to iPlayer? Why is there a need to wait until 2008-09 for a significant increase in output? Bit like how the BBC too frequently screens repeats on BBC 3 or BBC 4, and no subtitles yet the subtitles appeared on BBC 1 or 2.

If there's some obscure technical problem for lack of subtitles not being able to be carried over to iPlayer, this needs to be communicated to us. As these are the sort of questions we are asking ourselves. Without information, people just get plain frustrated.

British Sign Language (BSL)

The BBC has said that it intends to broadcast programmes from its Sign Zone on iPlayer, in other words target a BSL audience. I blogged about this back in April. Apart from See Hear being available during its closed trial, extensive testing has yet to happen.

BSL on iPlayer is an interesting one, and something I have mixed views about. In principle its a positive move. However it should not be done at the expense of BSL transmission on television, and should be complimentary; not instead of. Somehow I have fears about the BBC taking us down the road of the latter instead of mentality. For example, the moving to See Hear mid week, and not giving people realistic options for viewing. Instead, suggestions to watch iPlayer instead.

The picture quality for iPlayer is not quite as good as mainstream television. Perhaps at a glance you would not pick this up, but you start to when trying to follow BSL you notice it. Particularly the facial expressions, or lack of clarity of these

The last edition of See Hear (broadcast on the 7 July) was available on iPlayer with no subtitles. Not a promising move, especially with iPlayer shipment due out that month. However, it gave me an opportunity to access a programme just using BSL, and just focus access critique for this language. (I had not seen this programme on television).

This particular programme had part been rather creatively pulled together through small screen shots, one box displaying a relay interpreter which I was expected to watch (to follow the BSL).

bsliplayer.jpg

(Please note that picture with the camera lens relatively close to the laptop screen, this doesn't really illustrate what I am about to say below).

I really had to concentrate, not because of my BSL receptive skills. The quality of the picture was blurred enough, and became more apparent for a picture that size. I found myself becoming a bit cross eyed in the process, and ignoring the box next to the interpreter or Deaf person, as I had to focus on what was being said. TV is supposed to be a relatively relaxing experience, and this was not.

I've seen such a set up being used on television before for BSL output, however it wasn't nearly as frustrating, and this could be for a number of reasons. Quality of the picture, the size of the television (in comparison to a laptop), distance you are placed between the screen (laptop or a computer tends to be placed much nearer). I'm no researcher into how people pick up such content, however I do know one thing: it was not pleasant.

See Hear, take note

From September, See Hear will be broadcast in the middle of the week at lunchtime; a time that is inconvenient when many Deaf people are in work or studying. The BBC is now suggesting that Deaf people catch up with the programme via iPlayer. I have various problems with this, which is outside the scope of this entry, instead I wish to focus on the technical aspects.

See Hear is going to have to either change the way it produces programmes from September, to accommodate BSL access via iPlayer. Having small boxes to watch some BSL on screen however cool and creative it might be, defeats the point of access.

In Vision Interpreters / Sign Zone

One has to ask the same questions about an in-vision interpreter on Sign Zone, in terms of picture quality. Will the quality be good enough for BSL? During the whole trial (pre end of July) I never saw the opportunity to try this out. This is a major failing, and BSL access is put on as an afterthought, or something to be developed later. Trialling BSL via your platform is imperative, should not be added on later.

Take S4C's streaming of signed programmes for example, which I blogged about on Grumpy Old Deafies. A wonderful idea, and ensures that people like myself watch signed programmes. Signed television times are inconvenient to me, and thus why waste a resource you've clearly spent money on. However, right now I can't! The picture is too distorted to follow the in-vision interpreter properly. For a start, the face is a complete blur.

Whilst the picture is insignificantly better with iPlayer, and the BBC's interpreter usually is bigger, will it be enough? My experience watching See Hear makes me ask these questions. Where is the BSL consultation, and more to the point was it taken on board?

Setting up iPlayer

Perhaps a strange thing to add onto the end of this entry, but some mention needs to be made of setting up iPlayer. If the BBC intends to make available BSL programmes in this manner, and recognises BSL as a minority language indirectly through production of these programmes then it reasonably follows there is a need for instructions on how to set up iPlayer on the web via BSL.

Currently, people with a good command of English have problems with setting up this platform, what about BSL users? There needs to be clear instructions and information in BSL, if the BBC hopes to utilise iPlayer as a platform for signed output.

In summary, I have one comment to make: BBC start listening a bit better and more to the point implement this feedback.

See also:
BBC & accessible online content
BBC breaking the law in respect of See Hear?
See Hear replies ...
Open Letter re See Hear in Broadcast Now
Save See Hear

May 15, 2007

Joost (again)

joost.jpgI banged on about Joost last January, where's the subtitles? The only thing I can access is Aardman Productions, and Morph. A side note for international readers, Morph came about because of the need for BSL on television, and first took the form of Vision On. Morph takes me straight back to childhood!

How many Deaf people are involved with beta testing and do they actually get a say in respect of access? There's a thread on the Joost forum in respect of subtitles, interestingly this was not initially presented as a DEAF need, but for speakers of other languages other than English.

Joost has just raised another $45 million in respect of financing, this is presumably on top of the $2.6 billion previously raised. Since they are going to be showing content, e.g. from CNN, does the contract(s) say anything about an obligation to subtitle its output? What laws do you have in respect of captioning, and can it be extended to cover internet television?

I feel a bit powerless here, since Joost is based in the States I know nothing about subtitling / captioning law in that jurisdiction and furthermore how to enforce this. The breaking down of jurisdictional boundaries is redefining the need to understand law around access in other countries, something we as campaigners have had little need to do before. This raises all sorts of issues around the need to create more international partnerships in future.

What I really would like to see on Joost is a sign language channel. Lets have this mainstream, as part of another service. Don't marginalise. And let Deaf people be involved at the core of this, and more importantly lead. One has to be careful here, and ensure a distinction is made between decentralised content (something I've been vocal about recently) in the form of vlogs, with pure television.

If you want a Joost invite, just drop a comment in the box below (include a valid e mail address in the e mail field) or e mail me direct, and I'll wing one your way.

May 11, 2007

Firefox extension to work with third party subtitling sites?

This is an e mail I've just sent to Access Firefox, and copying this into relevant parties, in respect of the need for a plugin plus an open source standard in respect of subtitling by third party sites, and the need to communicate with its end users over subtitling provision. I am hoping that this will generate some action:

Hi Ken

I got your e mail address from Deaf UK Technology, as an e mail of yours was sent there a couple of months ago. You introduced yourself from Access Firefox and were interested in what Firefox extensions Deaf people wanted.

At the time I said on the group plus blogged about this here, that I was interested in a notification to let me know if sound was
being played, and to have the choice of turning this off, or receiving a notification (if I wanted it) that sound was being played.

Since then, there has been some developments in respect of subtitling online, by third party sites. Instead of repeating myself here, I blogged about this. Would you mind taking some time to read this?

This issue is not going to go away, and I see it as becoming more of an issue.

Since one firm cannot subtitle everything on the web (unless your name is something like Google), I can see this becoming a multi company market. e.g. Legislation in the UK for example may push up demand anyway, and with it could be some outsourcing. (I am not suggesting that subtitles away from the main site is the best idea, however, I can see it being one example of a solution).

So how do Deaf people keep up? Expect us to visit each and every site to check if something has been subtitled or not?

To this end, I believe that a Firefox plugin can assist here, not only from the Deaf person's perspective, but the company's too in that it continually reminds users they are there (bit like RSS in this respect). Hopefully, if such a plugin is developed, to include a bundle, where Project ReadOn, dotSUB, any other players are included as a default. Other providers to be added if they enter the market.

I appreciate this would mean some open source standard / API by subtitling sites, in order for these sites to talk to a subtitling version of BlogRovr. I wonder if some partnership could be worked on?

Please forgive me for being forward here, but I would really love to see this addressed. I've copied this into dotSUB and Project ReadOn plus the Open and Closed Project, for their information. I've also copied this into a couple of Deaf people too, as they may be able to offer a perspective.

Unfortunately, I don't have an e mail address for BlogRovr, however there is a contact page on their website if this is a way to go. Just to let you know, I'm also going to blog this, as its something I would like to actively encourage discussion.

Many thanks, Alison

If you have an interest in this field, or something to offer please use the comment box or blog about this and link back. We really need some discussion around this, and for Deaf people to lead the way in what they want.

See also:
Evelyn Glennie at TED, and solving subtitling notification online

Deaf people & Firefox Extensions
Online subtitling & getting Geeks to notice the need for diversity
A Gamer asks for subtitles
BBC & accessible online content
IBM addresses multimedia access for blind. Deaf access where?
Vlogging grows, where's the subtitles?

May 8, 2007

Evelyn Glennie at TED, and solving subtitling notification online

Last week I came across this TED video of Evelyn Glennie: How to listen to music with your whole body.

In this soaring demonstration, deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie leads the audience through an exploration of music not as notes on a page, but as an expression of the human experience. Playing with sensitivity and nuance informed by a soul-deep understanding of and connection to music, she talks about a music that is more than sound waves perceived by the human ear. She illustrates a richer picture that begins with listening to yourself, and includes emotion and intent as well as the complex role of physical spaces -- instrument, concert hall and even the bones and body cavities of musician and listener alike.

Except on the website, there's no subtitles.

My first reaction: p*ssed off, etc. Secondly, the website has enough sponsors on there, to easily get funding for subtitling. TED can afford it.

Moving on. All this caused me to wonder, has this been subtitled already? Perhaps at Project ReadOn or dotSUB. Since I can't find it, I assume not, but I can't be sure. Have I searched properly?

How do I know if this video hasn't been subtitled elsewhere? Am I expected to go to each individual site and check? Do an extensive online search? Even if I had video notification via RSS from these sites, who said I could remember everything that appears? I'm not going to. Hopefully, such services are likely to grow in future and a solution needs to be thought of now.

I would like a Firefox extension developed, that works pretty much like BlogRovr but for subtitling. When I go to a site with video, I would like a pop up box to appear to let me know where a video has been subtitled. Just as when you install BlogRovr, it suggests sites that provide subtitling services (to be monitored). In addition, if and when new companies come onto the market, you can add these / configure your extenstion. Call it SubRovr or something? This of course would require some kind of open standard API or blog on the part of existing service providers so they can communicate with the Firefox extension.

Could Access Firefox, Open & Closed Project, subtitling providers and Deaf geeks and anyone else who's interested actually work together to make this happen?

See also:
Deaf people & Firefox Extensions
Online subtitling & getting Geeks to notice the need for diversity
A Gamer asks for subtitles
BBC & accessible online content
IBM addresses multimedia access for blind. Deaf access where?
Vlogging grows, where's the subtitles?

Crunchgear: Deafies are a good cause

Crunchgear thinks deaf people are a good cause:

Someone using technology for a good cause and not just to pump out more megapixels or whowhatsits per second.

Wish sites would see past feeling sorry for us or rather people trying to help Deafies, and actually step back here. I for one would like an objective review of VeeSee, from the mainstream. If this was a mainstream site, what would you say? See past the sign language, and what's your take as an iPTV site?

Note to Crunchgear: yes I get the whole long tail thing, and the point of your post re niche markets. Specifically relating to Deaf people, there is a need to utilise developments online particilarly around sign language. There is much needed to be done also, particularly in respect of inclusiveness. To this end, I would call on people like Joost and venture capitalists, to work in partnership with Deaf companies such as Remark! (and its counterparts in other countries) to produce sign language iPTV. Allow the mainstream to educate and work in partnership with minority communties, to share knowledge. Such initiatives have to be done in partnership with and led by Deaf people.

Deaf people reading this post, I would encourage you to participate here, to get our ideas across to the mainstream.

See also:
Vee See makes BBCi News Technology: Paternalism 2.0? (Noesis)
Vee See makes BBCi News Technology: Paternalism 2.0? (Grumpy Old Deafies)
VeeSee
Interpreters and the whole set up scaring me

May 7, 2007

Speeding up YouTube download time

speedbit.jpg

Speedbit has had a million downloads in 49 days. A million people via word of mouth can't be wrong! It speeds up videos via YouTube. Good for watching signed videos, and no need to press pause to wait for the thing to load.

diagram.jpg

Shame this doesn't work with other video output online, could really make use of it on other applications.

Via Scoblezier.


Vee See makes BBCi News Technology: Paternalism 2.0?

veeseebbctech.jpg

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:
VeeSee
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 ustream.tv. 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.

Sincerely,

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?

March 9, 2007

Deaf people & Firefox Extensions

What Firefox extensions would you like to see?

Ken Saunders of AccessFox asks:

Firefox currently only has extensions for persons with poor eyesight, dyslexia, color blondness and for blind persons, but there are no Firefox extensions for deaf persons.

I'd like to do some brainstorming .... to see if that anyone has a suggestion for a Firefox extension(s) that will benefit deaf persons.

I can't guarantee that the extension will be made because I'm not a developer, but I have had a few extensions either made, or modified for persons with disabilities, and I know of several developers who may be able to help.

Here's my initial thoughts:

* An extension to automatically turn sound off in your browser, and sits at the bottom of your browser (as other extensions do) to be enabled / disabled. Sometimes I'm oblivious to my browser making a noise, and completely forgotten to turn the sound off on this.
* As an alternative twist to a sound extension, something that sits at the bottom to tell you if sound is currently being played or not, which gives me the option of on/off.
* Deaf blogs notifier
* Twitter notifier

Of course, the biggest one is an extension to subtitle all sound in the form of speech recognition.

So what extension would you like to see and why?

March 2, 2007

MSN: I'm Making a Difference Initiative

Deafies in the UK use MSN Messenger a lot. Put your usage of Messenger to use via the new I'm Making a Difference Initiative.

i’m is a new initiative from Windows Live™ Messenger. Every time you start a conversation using i’m, Microsoft shares a portion of the program's advertising revenue with some of the world's most effective organizations dedicated to social causes. We've set no cap on the amount we'll donate to each organization. The sky's the limit.

Since this is in theory limited to the USA you might have difficulty adding a code next to your name. Go to Options > and add any one of these codes next to your name (not in the tag line):

*red+u American Red Cross
*bgca Boys & Girls Clubs
*naf National AIDS Fund
*mssoc National Multiple Sclerosis Society
*9mil ninemillion.org
*sierra Sierra Club
*help StopGlobalWarming.org
*komen Susan G. Komen for the Cure
*unicef The US fund for UNICEF

Whilst I have my reservations about Microsoft here: what's the percentage raised? Is it so minimal that its a way for Microsoft to increase profits just by advertising this scheme? There's also the feel good fact that comes with fundraising, and for some an excuse to do nothing other than throw money at a problem. The Stop Global Warming is an example of this.

Since many of us use msn anyway, there's no harm in participation. Just wish this was opened up to the rest of the world on launch.

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?

January 21, 2006

Where do people go online?

I'm always curious as to where and how people spend most of their time online. Obviously this varies from individual to individual, depending on their interests and how they wish to use the net. In terms of forums, here is a list of the top ranked.

If it is blogs you are looking for, Technorati has a list of the top blogs.

Now where are the Deaf lists?

January 5, 2006

Odeo on eBay?

Software such as Odeo brings recording audio to the masses a step closer, and it is free. Such audio services are being published on the net, with very little consideration re accessibility issues, solutions and moreover even flagging it is an issue.

It is now being suggested to use Odeo as the way to publish audio content on eBay.

Reasons for promotion of audio are outlined as:

"... have seen the either extremely brief product descriptions or the descriptions that are so long that you could never possibly weed out the “real” info.

Enter audio. .... Podcast your eBay auction! Simply record your product description and then link to the audio on your eBay auction."

This is a worrying trend in that individuals might not be covered by their domestic disability discrimination laws, and with the international nature of the internet, then the country in which the seller resides may not even be covered in terms of obligations. It should be said that it was also suggested that:

"You’d still want to include a written description for obvious reasons"

However, one wonders if people will drop text, and in turn how accessible eBay might be in future, which includes the ownership of Skype? What about Deaf people in all this, and where does the obligation lie?

December 13, 2005

Utilising online developments as a Deaf community

Frequently, there are a number of applications that are developed online, for a mainstream audience, but has direct benefit in so developing the grassroot Deaf community, or from an access perspective. This list is not exhaustive, and I may touch on other possibilities in the future. In the meantime, I will focus on two:

Vlogging:

The usage of BSL or sign language through vlogs started as an experiment in 2004, and since then vlogging has evolved within the mainstream. However, Deaf people have not really taken this up. Practical issues aside, blogs have not been connected within Deaf cyberspere, and Deaf people are still using traditional means of communication such as forums, and e mailing groups. However, this has dwindled to a large degree within the past year. To this end, key people need to drive the blogging movement forward, whether it be through the medium of BSL or English. The benefits of decentralisation of Deaf cyberspace has already been touched upon.

Archiving Videos:

Archives of Deaf material remains in private homes, or within archives that are attached to deaf organisations. There are a number of issues pertaining to this, including accessible and control of information. Ownership of such materials is an important one, and away from control of organisations towards a grassroot space. One of the major problems around this, is that BSL takes up much storage space, and to this end long term archive places should be taken advantage of.

Grouper: this works on a similar concept to Flickr, instead of photos, the content is video. Cloud tags are extremely beneficial, apart from popularity tags, it offers the possibility of other tag association (sub categories). Such a medium offers endless possibiities in so far as organising information goes. The site also offers RSS, which would allow you to follow prescribed tags such as 'Deaf', or a particular person's feed.

Our Media: 'We provide free storage and free bandwidth for your videos, audio files, photos, text or software. Forever. No catches. Providing a spectrum of media storage, has its obvious benefits. Being a one portal for free storage, and by different means could attract a diversity scrapbook of Deaf people's lives. The Internet Archive is one of the organisations behind this site, lending a certain amount of credibility.

Boltfolio: again a site that offers unlimited storage of video, photos, writing plus audio.

Podcasting Transcription Services

Podcasting is supposed to be the word of 2005, making it to the Oxford dictionary. The bottom line is audio files, that can be downloaded and listened to as a MP3 file. Its community base places no legal obligation on making content accessible to a Deaf market. However, there are a few services, which home in on podcast transcription services. This has a prime focus on being of text benefit for search engines, however, the secondary benefit for Deaf people is obvious. Currently there are a few services, most of which charge:

Enablr: $1 a minute

castingwords.com: this has yet to advertise its rates, however Business Blogs quotes:

It will allow Podcasters to purchase transcriptions of their shows. We’ll do the transcriptions and give them a full transcription - not just chunks pulled back by the search engine if it happens to index their show. Of course they automatically get listed in the engine, so this arrangement should drive traffic to them, get them transcripts, and get us the cash needed to keep on transcribing

This differs from other services, in that podcasts are already transcribed, but to access the transcription one needs to pay for access. It begs the question, hearing people get free access via sound, and a transcription is an extra benefit. What about Deaf people?

eScriptionist - $1.50 - $3.00 a minute.

Podcast Scribe: again this site charges, however it suggests the creator of the podcast transcibes their work:

Podscope: this site appears to be a Podcast search engine, but audio playback?

Podzinger: again a search engine, however results prompt you to play audio. If a company has taken the trouble to use text enable a podcast so that its search engine can be powered, it is a shame this text is not made available. Possible copyright issues?

Tech Synergy: suggests the podcaster pays for the transcription and lays out the potential benefits of doing so:

- Indexing audio for search engines and classification doesn’t work well. If your best content is only available via podcast, it’s effectively invisible. Consider using a transcription service to transcribe your podcast or at least excerpts of it for use as search engine fodder.
- Some people like to read the content rather than listen to it just because there is no easy way to skim an audio file to get to important or relevant content.
- Ability to reach a larger audience like hearing impaired people.
- Use formatted transcripts embedded with banner links and other marketing materials for advertising and monetize your podcasts.

This company clearly recognises the Deaf market.

Now where is Google in all this? What about indexing all podcasts, via text and making use of voice recognition software to enable this to happen?

Same Language Subtitling

The Official Google Blog has a piece on Planet Reed's Same Language Subtitling, which has been funded by the Google Foundation, plus adverts via Google Grants.

“Same-Language Subtitling” (SLS) methodology, which provides automatic reading practice to individuals who are excluded from the traditional educational system, or whose literacy needs are otherwise not being met. This is an educational program rooted in mass media that demonstrates how a specific literacy intervention can yield outstanding, measurable results, while complementing other formal and non-formal learning initiatives of the government, private sector, and civil society. We are fortunate to have just been selected as a Google Foundation grantee.

This blurb does not point out the obvious direct benefit for Deaf people, in addition to providing access for the mainstream. Whilst not wanting to detract the literacy issue, one wonders why this access issue is not highlighted? Sheer ignorance, or focus?

Do you know of mainstream online developments that could have a benefit to Deaf people as a community. I would love to see some blog posts.