At a Disability History Month event there was a mini film festival showing various disability themed short films. When I looked at the event page there was no information about subtitles or audio description. I emailed the event contact person to explain about the lack of subtitles, audio description and access information for the film festival. I received a reply saying there were no subtitles and asking if I knew of any subtitling companies. I sent info about one company I knew and another I found by Googling. I received a reply a day or two later saying they would arrange for subtitles to be done.
Two days before the film festival I received an email saying the production companies had refused to allow subtitling so there would not be any subtitles. I was hurt and angry about this as I was looking forward to the films. It was now too late to argue that the 2014 Copyright Act allowed the organisation to create subtitles without the copyright holder’s permission when for a named “disabled person”.
I wrote back to the contact stressing that while it wasn’t her fault personally I was asking her to pass on that I was unhappy that a disability film festival had not done subtitles or audio description from the start, then made a promise they couldn’t keep about providing access on request but only admitted this at the very last minute.
As often happens when a deaf or disabled person complains about really obvious access failings, there was a strong negative reaction towards me. I received an email from the Equality and Diversity manager of the organisation accusing me of being aggressive, bullying her staff and being unreasonable. Apparently not having subtitles or audio description was an ‘oversight’ and I was unreasonable for not understanding why they forgot.
I wasn’t willing to not only be denied access, but also subjected to defensiveness from people who should have known better. That Equality and Diversity team were paid to organise this disability history month. It was their job to have considered likely access issues for each event, find solutions and ensure correct accessibility information was provided so people could make informed decisions. They should not have procured films without audio description and subtitles unless they had consent to create their own or understood the Copyright Act. If disability film creators couldn’t provide or embrace access, they shouldn’t be in that business.
I replied to this negative email with copies of all my former correspondence, stressing that I had told the contact person I knew it was not her fault but wanted this passed on to people with actual authority. I pointed out that so far none of the response dealt with the substance of my complaint, merely the fact I’d had the temerity to make it and not accept bad excuses. I said I believed the Equality and Diversity committee were paid to think about access issues and by ‘forgetting’ the subtitles and audio description they had failed to do the job they were paid for.
This is one reason people do not complain. There is a risk of damaging social relationships by doing so, something which is very much seen as our fault. People feel bad when decide not to think about, or screw up access, but instead of dealing with that, they turn that negative emotion back onto deaf and disabled people. Being able to see that is very useful when deciding whether to complain and how to handle different types of negative reaction. #DeafMust