© Rhianon Elan Gutierrez
Originally published on Hearing Loss Nation, September 1, 2010
Modified November 24, 2010
I think about captioning often, as a filmmaker, an audience member, and a student. I’ve made it my mission to advocate for captioning in all its forms, but I didn’t really realize what I was getting into when I made this choice. At the core, it’s something that affects me as a person with a profound hearing loss. I have my preferences for what I want to be captioned, what colors I like, the type of captions (optional versus embedded in the image), and the amount of errors that I allow. I love to see the words, but I don’t particularly like sound effects to be captioned. However, what I like isn’t universal. My desire for captions on the TV, Internet, and in movies isn’t universal, either. What is universal is the desire to feel included, and captions happen to be one way in which deaf and hard of hearing people want to be included.
|Still from When I'm Not Alone (2009), |
directed by Rhianon Gutierrez.
As a filmmaker, I face a dilemma sometimes because I am a filmmaker with a hearing loss. There are expectations that I have of myself and expectations that others have of me. I remind myself of the necessity of captioning my films to show how useful and unobtrusive captions can be not only for those who are deaf and hard of hearing, but also those who are learning English or even those who don’t want to have the sound on. I can’t just talk about the necessity of captions in mainstream theatrical releases, television, and on the Internet. I can’t just talk about the existing and proposed laws (in particular the new HR 3101, which expands Internet video accessibility). I must set the example in my filmmaking. I’m not obligated to do this simply because I have a hearing loss, but I have made the decision as a person to do this because I care about that universal desire to be included. I can encourage other filmmakers to do the same by tapping into that same desire. My conscience eats at me if and when I leave people out. When people voice their concerns to me, I work hard to make my film accessible with the means that I have, but at the end of the day, I realize that there may be times when I cannot please everyone, and that is natural. I’m learning to accept that.
While I was in film school and even afterwards, I have written about the struggles that I have had to get films captioned for my classes—from silent films to student films to required class films. There were teachers who consciously chose VHS over DVD, teachers who weren’t familiar with the difference between captions and subtitles, teachers who thought it would be ok for me to watch the films at home, and even a teacher who asked me if I wanted Spanish subtitles. I would be quick and foolish to dismiss the actions of the teachers as ignorant, because how would they really know what to do unless they were educated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Telecommunications Act, other people with hearing loss, and me? It’s another thing when teachers are educated about hearing loss yet blatantly ignore a student’s needs. When I was an undergraduate, I didn’t nearly know as much about captions as I do now. I repeatedly allowed teachers to get away with non-captioned films.
Today, I will not let them get away with it. I was recently assigned a non-captioned YouTube video for a midterm in one of my graduate courses. I got it captioned in less than 48 hours after notifying my professor, advisor, department chair, and several staff members of the student disability center. It wasn't just about the fact that the video was required to be captioned. I could not allow my professor to do that to another student, especially since this was the third time that this professor had shown non-captioned content (and I had spoken to her on both occasions about those videos). When it was suggested that I watch something else instead, I said "No." Too often, people with disabilities or deaf and hard of hearing people are told to do something else or to not do something at all because of their disability or hearing loss. Teachers need to be thinking about how to work with all students, especially when a student is vocal about his or her needs more than once.
I still have much to learn, and I want to learn because the more that I learn about captioning, the better advocate I can be for myself and for others. I have made the commitment to ask questions, to tell them why I need the captions, to show them that I have a legal right to have them, and even to show them how they can benefit others, too.
I want to turn this discussion to you all by asking you to share three things:
1. How have you advocated for captions in:
A. Academic settings,
C. The Internet?
2. What concrete things would you like to see changed in your community?
3. What steps will you take to change them? Are you prepared to modify them if necessary?
Once you establish concrete goals about captioning (or really any service that you need and want) and the steps needed to make the goals happen, share your story with others. What did you learn? What changed, if anything?
Remember, the first step is to recognize that this issue affects you on a personal level, whether you are a person with a hearing loss or someone you care about has a hearing loss. Have you been active or passive about your needs/the needs of the person you care about? Recognize also that your personal needs extend beyond yourself, and that by opening up about your needs and truly listening to the needs of others’, you can really affect change. Establish how you will accomplish your captioning or service goals…and always remind yourself of the universal desire to be included.