The other day, I was bemoaning, as I occasionally do, the fact that HBO doesn’t provide digital content for people who are not HBO subscribers or who can’t get HBO where they are. I happen to be a fan of several HBO shows and I would really like to watch them as they air, rather than having to wait for DVD releases. While the network and cable models are different, I would be perfectly happy to pay for an access pass to watch HBO shows when they air, but HBO doesn’t provide this as an option. I used iTunes as an example of a platform that HBO could use to release content, following the model of the networks.
FWD reader codeman38 pointed out that iTunes doesn’t provide captioning for its television shows. Way to go, iTunes.
Captioning of online content is an ongoing problem. iTunes isn’t the only content provider that provides captions indifferently, if at all. Hulu captions some things and not others. Amazon Unbox does the same. And so forth. codeman38 pointed me to a recent post grading various online services on how well they provide captioning and it’s an illuminating read.
‘…it’s a blame game. Apple blames studios. Studios blame Apple. Nothing gets done,’ codeman38 says, and the same holds true for broadcast. While the networks and cable providers have captioning available, individual stations decide whether or not to offer it in their markets. That’s why, for example, some of my readers at this ain’t livin’ report that Glee airs without captioning while others say it is captioned.
Deaf and hard of hearing folks have been campaigning hard for captions for a long time. Marlee Matlin is a major champion of captioning for online content specifically. Captioning is a huge accessibility issue, especially online, where sites routinely provide video that is not captioned or described. This isn’t just a problem for folks who are Deaf and hard of hearing. It’s a problem when content is only accessible in certain countries; if I post a Hulu video, for example, only people in the United States can view it. It’s a problem for people with visual impairments, for people who have difficulty watching and processing video, for people with bandwidth restrictions, for people who are at work and don’t want to disturb people. There are all kinds of compelling reasons to make captions and descriptions of video content universal.
Apple claims to be ‘committed to accessibility.’ Yet, like a lot of companies and websites that talk a pretty talk about accessibility, Apple falls short of actually living up to the claims.
The Internet is an accessibility nightmare, and very few people seem concerned about it, unless they have disabilities that make interacting with digital content challenging. When Marlee Matlin can’t convince Apple to commit to captioning all of its content, how can unknown disability rights activists hope to accomplish it? When numerous campaigns pleading for accessible content get ignored, when captioning is considered a ‘special feature,’ it sends a very clear message. That message is: We don’t care about you. We don’t care if you can access our content. You are not someone we are interested in having as a viewer, reader, or customer.
What can we do about this? Well, we could start by sending a clear message to companies that don’t care about accessibility issues. How would Apple like it if customers boycotted content that wasn’t captioned? How would Hulu like it if people refused to watch or link to videos that were provided without captions? How would the networks like it if people canceled their television service until local affiliates started using captions? If folks who don’t need captioning still identified it as an important feature or even a dealbreaker, companies that aren’t providing it would start to take notice and do something.
Putting the onus for accessibility on the people who need accommodation is unreasonable. And it makes the problem seem like one that only applies to ‘those people.’ The toleration of the attitude that it’s ok to routinely deny access to a group of people is what leads to widespread inaccessibility.