A good old rant

Yesterday was the start of the Olympic Games 2012 in my former city, London. I don’t care much for watching and listening to sports, but something like the Olympics is a little different, and when I heard that there was going to be a special audio commentary for the blind at the opening ceremony, I got quite excited.

In good time before the show started, I went online to check whether the link for the live stream was working. Not surprisingly it wasn’t. I was outside the UK, so I suspected it would be like that.

I know BBC radio works from abroad, but I hadn’t used the BBC Iplayer for a long time and even though a couple of my friends told me it had become inaccessible, I didn’t realise just how much.

I found the station where the audio commentary would be broadcast, but love and behold, there was no play button, nor any other indicator as to what I needed to do to get the radio player started.

It may well have been a play button, but it was invisible to me who use a screenreader.

Getting sighted help wasn’t an option and besides, I shouldn’t have to get sighted help for something so basic. So, I didn’t watch the opening ceremony. I probably could have watched it, listened to the artists, speeches etc on Norwegian TV, but knowing that it was available with audio description where everything, even down to the costumes in the flag parades would be described, this just wasn’t a very attractive option.

Optimistic and in a good mood, I logged on today to see if I could find the show in the BBC archives. I’m ex BBC staff and I can access and watch TV programs abroad. But, they had only archived the bog standard show, without the commentary!

I tried the Iplayer again and found the radio show, but not the play button.

I am deeply disappointed in the BBC for whatever they’ve done to the Iplayer. It used to be so easy to use with clearly labelled buttons. What was the point of changing it? If the point was to increase the user experience, could it not have been kept as screenreader friendly as it once was? If it had been, blind people all over the world could have listened and enjoyed the audio commentary blind people in the UK did.

And while I’m at it, I wish more countries in the world could offer audio description on TV and in cinemas. As I think I’ve mentioned before, I refuse to buy DVDs in Norway because they take away the audio description track from the DVD. Why? Why? Fricking why? What’s the problem in keeping it?

Last but not least, Audio books. I am not sure how many of the books published each year make it to audio. Luckily, audio books have become popular with sighted people, so they are both cheaper and there are quite a lot of titles available compared to before. However. The publishing regulations rub me up the wrong way. Why does it have to be such that if you live in the wrong country, you can’t read certain books? Imagine if the same restrictions applied to print books. I know that I can order books from Amazone in the states on CDs, but it’s not convenient and it seems unnecessary when I know the book is available digitally.

I’m also a member of Bookshare, a great site, but it’s not really fair that in America, users have access to 70.000 books, while in the rest of the world it’s less. In Norway, it’s only 16.000. That’s not even 25%. And what if the book I want to read is among the 54.000 not available to me just because I’m not American?

My ultimate dream would be some kind of world library for the blind. I wouldn’t even mind paying a reasonable yearly fee to be a member if it meant I could access books and material from all over the world in the format I wished. All the excellent libraries for the blind in the different countries could contribute with their material and the books could be water marked so that it could always be traced back to you if someone leaked it online. Watermarking is used in Scandinavia, I believe in America and probably many other countries, though the UK is a little behind here. And it works. All members have full and free access to their library and don’t want to lose their borrowing rights, so nobody is tempted to leak books this way.

It would probably eliminate the need for illegal sites. Especially if borrowing audio described movies and TV programmes would be part of the service. It could have a central administration in a country like the UK or the US or Canada, as well as local departments in whichever country you lived.

And in cinemas, since most movies have audio descriptive tracks, you could just walk in to the cinema and request it be put on for the film you wanted to watch. Possibly call them a little in advance. The only drawback I guess is for people who don’t understand English, but it would improve the experience for many.

If only these things could happen, I would be a lot happier.

Sighted people have access to a lot more media than the blind, although the internet is making the gap a little smaller. But only with solutions like the once above, could we come close to everything they are accessing.

Well done if you read this till the end!

6 thoughts on “A good old rant

  1. Thanks for ranting. 🙂 I find posts like this a poignant reminder of the reality of how difficult the world can be to navigate for people with physical disabilities. I am blessed to have my sight but I understand your frustrations. I could write a long rant on wheelchair frustrations. Dumb things businesses, museums, governments do to frustrate wheelchair use.

    1. I’m mostly positive, but little big things like that drive me nuts! 🙂 I can appreciate what you say about wheelchair use, because one of my best friends has Cerebral Palsy and depends on her chair for moving about.

  2. Linn,
    Do you know about the free library offered by the Association for the Blind of Western Australia at http://www.guidedogswa.com.au ? They have a vast library of computerized titles and will produce requested titles if possible. I live in the United States and use their site frequently as a supllement to Bookshare and the United States library system. I understand your frustratiuon about obtaining titles from other countries. I often want to read European books which I often can not obtain in audio format.

  3. Thanks Michelle,
    I knew about this library, but not that it could be used outside Australia. I’ll bookmark the link.
    I guess I am lucky in that I use the British Audible as well as the Norwegian site and Bookshare and I can also borrow from Sweden. If you are interested, I could check for you if you can borrow books from the Scandinavian countries as an American. I know Sweden and Denmark have a bigger selection of English books, but Norway has some too. The books will be in the DAISY format and although the collection will be much smaller than in the states, it may be a way for you to read European books.

    1. Linn,

      That would be great if it isn’t too much trouble and bother for you. It is interesting how you have access to the library systems of several countries which is not typical here in the United States unfortunately.
      I think I mentioned this earlier, but for you and your readers they are showing on the second Friday in August at the site http://www.accessibleworld.org the film “War Horse” in descriptive audio in English. It is a free site. The site http://www.accessibleworld.org also has several book groups which meet once a month which I frequently attend.

      Best, Michelle

  4. Michelle,
    I think the access has to do with the fact that the Scandinavian countries share very similar languages and are not big, so we cooperate where we can. I know USA is a big country and I don’t quite understand how big it is, but it seems like a whole world within one nation with regards to size, climate, landscape etc.

    No worries. I’ll find out for you and I’ll look at a library in England to which I know I can borrow from to see if you can too and get back to you.

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