Digital Discrimination

I originally started another post that would mention this but I’ve decided it deserves a post all on it’s own

Over the last few days I’ve been playing with the new Xbox features (that’s the post I started, it’s on the way!)

When I first turned my Xbox on there was a handy little video displayed to explain what all the new features are so I fired it up

Mrs P was sat next to me and asked

“Don’t supposed it’s got subtitles has it?”

If you’re a new reader, my wife is profoundly deaf, she’s currently being assessed to get a cochlear implant next year. You can read about it here ( as well talking about her experiences around the CI process she also discusses what it’s like to be “the deaf one”

I pulled up the display menu and as expected there were no subtitles. If she wanted to find out about the new features either I had to explain them, she’d have to go to the website, or look through the online help

I’ve blogged on here a couple of times about the lack of subtitles in Xbox Video Marketplace, even though it looks like the system supports it, the video description usually lists “subtitles: none”

Since Zune Video was one of the new features I jumped into that to see if anything had changed

Again I was disappointed, where under the old system it looked like there “may” have been subtitles, this time around the was no mention of subtitles at all

What irritates me a lot about this that I can’t get any definitive answer as to why this is the case or if it’s ever going to change. Most Xbox games are pretty good when it comes to subtitles, in just about every game I’ve played cut scenes and the like have optional subtitles so that the story can be followed. I’m not sure what it’s like on the PS3/Wii though

While on this, reviews games from a deaf standpoint so that as well as talking about the game itself it will highlight if you need to be aware of any issues where a lack of sound would interfere with playing the game. If a game gave instructions on how to control your character via voice over with no visual cues for example

Access for people with disabilities is a problem in the digital world as well as the offline world, when regular people upload videos to youtube they don’t think about adding subtitles. I’m not saying everyone should but one of the most popular sites on the Internet is generally unavailable to anyone with a hearing problem (or a visual problem for that matter!)

Did you know you can add subtitles to youtube videos?

You can add a complete caption file which specifies exactly when each line of word should be spoken or you can upload a transcript and youtube will try and figure out where it should all fit

There is a nice explanation of how this works here:

However, the tutorial video is on a tiny little screen and has no subtitles…..the irony

I could create a very long list of areas on the Internet that are just off limits to certain groups

I do appreciate this isn’t something that has an easy solution. Broadcasting companies in this country are legally obliged to provide subtitles for 90% of their content. What if the program you want to watch is in that 10%. (The BBC are committed to 100% subtitling of content) If we can’t get that sorted on a platform that is under complete control how does a system like the Internet stand a chance?

This is where I think the Xbox platform doesn’t have any excuse. Microsoft 100% control the system. They set standards for the type of content that is and isn’t allowed on their platform so why can’t we get subtitles set as one of those standards?

Zune marketplace in my opinion has NO excuse at all. They are streaming major cinema releases. They have subtitles created for them for use in cinema (again I’ve blogged about this in the past!) and for the DVD releases. 

Having not tried Sky Player on the website or on the Xbox I can’t comment on their ability to display subtitles. (again, I’ve got an opinion on this too) Does anyone know if they can? This another area where there really shouldn’t another reason not to do it

Just for balance there are some technologies that have been a great leveller for deaf people

Email, SMS, Instant messaging, twitter, forums, blogs, facebook, etc, all these services are based around visual functionality first. Some them do have video and audio but it’s the core functionality that means you need the keyboard to communicate means deaf and hearing people alike are on an equal footing

If you’re interested in learning a bit more about the issues a deaf person can face when the digital and analogue worlds cross check out the the “Pesky People blog”. This blog first came to my attention when it’s writer Alison attended the “Hello Digital” event in October. She had tried to make provisions to attended the event but was badly let down by the organisers and she talks about various disability access issues in depth on the blog – it’s worth a read!

So will anything change? I don’t know, going on my past experience around deaf issues probably not which is a terrible shame

It would be good if I could get some information from Microsoft as to what there policies are for disability access around the Xbox, especially where Video Marketplace is concerned

Also any opinions you have are welcome. Very few people come across disability issues on a day to day basis because it just doesn’t effect them. What lots of us take for granted as just regular day to day stuff is hard work for people with disabilities.

Did you hear a traffic report on your radio on the way into work today? If you were deaf you would have just driven straight into that five mile tailback

What about calling your credit card company as you’ve been incorrectly billed? Just a five minute call to get that straightened out? Not if your deaf, you either have to use minicom or type talk or get someone to call for you (then they insist on speaking to the account holder)

Just a couple of examples but it happens every day

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Andy Parkes is Technical Director at Coventry based IT support company IBIT Solutions. Formerly, coordinator of AMITPRO and Microsoft Partner Area Lead for 2012-2013. He also isn't a fan of describing himself in the third person.

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