Interview with Shell Little: Captions and Neurodiversity

Headshot of young white woman in makeup and lilac-colored shoulder-length hair with bangs wearing a mauve top, necklace and dark jacket. She is looking into the camera.

At the #a11yTO 2018 conference, I heard Shell Little speak on accessibility, and she shared quite openly about what it’s like to be neurodivergent. I was really affected by her talk because, although I advocate for captions for people including those with cognitive differences, I hadn’t really heard from someone so candidly about their experiences. Many emails and DMs later, Shell and I have assembled an interview that explores what are sometimes called creative or alternative captions and how a neurodivergent (ND) person is helped or hindered by them.

RW: Right, so I’m on the fence about these because the creative people making them often don’t get accessibility. But then some accessibility folks are using creative means to be make captions more usable! Some people are experimenting with colours (old hat in the UK and Europe) but also icons, avatars, and other non-traditional captioning ideas. I remember you saying movement across a screen could present a barrier to retention, so what about something like this?

Please see the trailer for John Wick 2 at the 1:24min mark; these captions are for style more than accessibility, but I wondered how they might be received by an ND person.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4425200/videoplayer/vi1127331353?ref_=tt_ov_vi

And here’s a combo platter of style and caption provision. In Man on Fire, this scene has the page erasing the caption. Annoying? Frustrating? Not an issue?

Medium shot of three people walking and talking in shadow against a domestic courtyard background. A full caption line says, Approximately a month.

Shot of a white hand turning the page of a document in a binder; as the page is turning, the caption from above is being erased by the turning page, so that only the following is shown in this still: Approximatel

SL: Wow, I have a lot of mixed feelings about these creative captions! On one hand, they seem really cool because they are integrating the text into the story, making the text feel like it’s not just slapped on top of the screen, but right in there with it. I also think it’s cool to give someone who is HoH/D/deaf an interesting experience with their CCs. Making the style reflect the tone could add another layer to entertainment.

Now, I could see the motion being a bit much for someone who has sensory-related disabilities. And, if not done in a tasteful way, it could become a big distraction. I think the idea of less is more could apply for something like creative captions.

On the other hand, I play a lot of video games, and that kind of creative style text is really, really common. Not exactly like the page-turning example you provided, but more like the ASL-translation type of “flowing” text in that John Wick example. In games that have no actual spoken words, they use style to push the tone of the text. An example of a game would be Ori and the Blind Forest. Here is a link for an example of how the text flows across the screen and is part of the scene itself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufD833Vgfnk

The number one thing when it comes to cognitive accessibility is context. If the text is the main point of the scene, then it can have a lot more liberty to be moving in general. Much like how moving content works for Pause, Stop, or Hide buttons. If the movement is deemed essential, such as a spinner for loading, that kind of movement is okay and is helpful. But if the text is being used in a very distracting way, I could see it being a barrier, for sure. For video games, text is often done on a frozen screen or a cut scene where the text is essential, and there isn’t always a ton going on (depending on the game). That can’t be said for movies and TV shows. I think to have a full understanding of how I feel, I’d need to watch a full movie with the creative captions. Part of me feels like I would get used to it and enjoy the integration as I rely heavily on captions when watching movies. But as I mentioned in my talk, there are so many types of cognitive disabilities. I’d be curious to hear what someone with Autism would think as well!

RW: The game you shared brought up some more questions for me.

First, it drives me crazy that all the lines start with capital letters, even if each caption is not a new sentence, and there’s no punctuation. But being dyslexic, is it actually less cumbersome for you to process by being cleaner-looking in that way? I’m a prescriptivist mostly and am wondering if I need to shift my understanding to include how cognitive disabilities might actually make this style better received.

SL: I’ve seen a lot of different ways to do captioning throughout the years, especially when we’re talking about the video-game space. The style of captions Ori uses delivers content that is short in length but with no proper grammar in terms of sentence structure. To me, that looks sharp, clean, and is easy to consume. I honestly had to go back to the clip and look to see if there really was lack of punctuation because it mattered so little to me at the time I was playing the game! Thanks to texting and IM’ing, I’m very comfortable consuming small portions of content that lack proper punctuation, capitalization, and sentence structure, so much so I didn’t even notice it in these captions.

RW: Ah, my query may be a function of my job—and generation! I use short forms in texts, but punctuation has to go in 😛

SL: Why I think this style of captions works is—again—all about the context. The statements are short and to the point. They’re delivered in parallel to a lot of moving content in some segments, and they’re short enough that I can get through the information while fighting the moving content going on around it. In a race for my attention, motion will always beat out written text. Now, if there was a nonsense paragraph of captions with no punctuation and run-on sentences, that would be infuriating. This style of captioning works because the information is delivered in bite-size packages. I would take these small five- to ten-word captions over having to read extensive text any day.

RW: So, it’s context and quantity, it sounds like.

You also said you’re dyscalculic. In captions, would you prefer to see numerals or numbers as words, considering the speed of captions? Would it make a difference if they were smaller numbers (captioned 10 or ten) or larger (captioned 2000 or two thousand)?

SL: First, I would say my issue with numbers in captions would be more due to my dyslexia than my dyscalculia. Unless they were asking me to hold meaning to the numbers or do math! Example: doing conversions of currency or going from Celsius to Fahrenheit—never going to happen, ha-ha!

But, ah, yes…numbers in captions! This is a perfect example why captions are so important for ND people like me. It’s about receiving information in more than one format. Hearing something said and being able to read it simultaneously is a way to solidify the meaning of that spoken content. So, if a character yells “Fifty thousand dollars? He wants that much?!” and the captions read [$50,000? He wants that much?!], I have enough context and am not required to figure out how many zeros are on that number. No need to hold my fingers up to make sure my brain isn’t moving the comma and that it really is fifty thousand and not five.

Where I run into issues is subtitles. With subtitles I’m only able to get the information in one format. I watch a lot of K-drama [Korean drama tv shows], and the money there causes me constant frustration. This is due to the number of zeros used in their money. For example, $5 is roughly 5,000 won. So, you can imagine how many zeros end up being used when we are talking about large figures. My rule would be: if the information is being delivered in more than one format, using numerals is fine. The issue with that is we can’t assume everyone who is ND is also hearing. I’m sure there are plenty of ND people who are also HoH/D/deaf. So, to be truly inclusive, I would lean towards the option of writing out larger quantities.

RW: So many variables! I recently contributed to a LinkedIn post that invited discussion about the “accessible seating” in a cinema:

Shot taken from cinema seating of a section before it that is ostensibly reserved for "accessible seating": there is an area of four seats' width barred off at the sides from the other seats in the middle of the row. This section is in the second row of the cinema, with a transverse aisle behind it.

Picture by Thea Kurdi, LinkedIn February 6, 2019. Used with permission.

I posted: If you were additionally using a CaptiView, there’s nowhere to attach it, it’s visible to the entire audience, and it’s too close to the screen to allow for the quick eye refocusing that’s needed. Also, it assumes only two people in wheelchairs [or other assistive technology] want to go to a movie. What if a bunch wanted to go as a group? But mostly, relegating people with disabilities to the crappiest section of the theatre is a statement of its own.

To be fair, perhaps this and all cinemas can’t be made perfectly accessible. No product or service can. But attempts to at least recognize, address, and improve barriers to accessibility are important.

So maybe there’s no way of making all creative captioning accessible to all users. What works for an ND user might not work for a low-vision user, for example. But it’s kind of nice to dream of a future time when you could open your streaming app and have not only (excellent) captions as an option—as in real captions, not subtitles being appended in lieu of captioning—but also multiple options.

The makers of a film from 2016 called Notes on Blindness created an accessibility campaign to accompany their film: they made alternative audio-description soundtracks with different levels of access for users to choose from! That’s the kind of inclusive thinking and action we need!

Maybe one day, captions and subtitles will get their own Oscar category, and the right to and the usability of accessibility measures will be as much a no-brainer as buses that kneel or curb cuts. Fingers crossed, and much work ahead of us.

Thanks so much, Shell, for helping me understand a bit better the complexity around ND and how it applies to captioning. I’m adding some content on it to my course. And if you see other captioning that causes you to pause, please share!

Please follow and like us:

Four Generations of Projectionists

The window from the small dark room into the large dark room had a sill depth of about eight inches, or so I remember it. I would perch on the high metal stool—but carefully because there was no back—and peer as far into the view port as I could with my knees pressed against the wall. I was six, and I was watching Oliver! from the projection booth at the Mt. Pleasant Theatre in Toronto. I was riveted but terrified of Oliver Reed’s Bill Sikes: it was the first murder I had ever encountered. But I knew I was safe because my dad was the projectionist, and he was beside me.

 

Our family trade was film projection, although Wells Bros. Amusements had started out as a general entertainment venture in 1908, Carol C. Wells (pictured right) and brother Sam I. Wells being about 20 years old. Soon, they had a travelling Wild West Show that went from the CNE on to the fair circuit in southern Ontario. That same year, they had the idea to expand upon the wildly popular motion-picture industry by having a travelling motion-picture show and, with the purchase of a projector and portable booth, the family trade was born. My grandfather was responsible for creating safer booths that became the provincial occupational standard, so that the heat and chemical dangers of projection were lessened. Their letterhead explains the work their partnership undertook. Fortunately, a written account of their business remains.

Later, my dad, his brothers Howard and Gordon, his brother-in-law Richard, my cousin Charles and his son Andrew took up the apprenticeship of movie projection. My cousin and his son, like so many others, lost their work to technological developments, namely the digitization of film projection.

But I spent my childhood in movie theatres: initially in the booths, later working at the candy bars of the Crest and Mt. Pleasant Theatres on Mt. Pleasant Rd. in Toronto. I loved this job because I got to see free movies, and I was welcome to free popcorn and pop: Orange Crush and buttered corn for me, in those days. Sometimes my boss, theatre-owner Peter Sorok, would give me stills or posters once the movie was finished its run: my Chariots of Fire poster was a prized possession for many years. If I haunted the theatres my relatives were working in, I’d always get a pass for myself and a friend. It was a pretty sweet perk.

I had a polyester smock that zipped up and had pockets—I think it was red, with white trim—that I wore behind the candy bar. My friend Cameron, an usher, often had to help me out at intermission between double bills: the restrictive area behind the popcorn and pop machines often lent itself to us blushing, trying to jockey around each other and serve dozens (hundreds?) of customers ASAP.

In between candy-bar rushes, we would sweep the carpet or refill supplies or check the neatness of the bathrooms. Usually, if I were working without an usher, I would sit on one of the lobby chairs and do my Latin homework under the cast iron, Italianate wall sconces. The best part about the theatre then, either as a viewer or candy bar girl, was that you could smoke there. The last six rows of the mezzanine and the balcony were smoking areas! You’d just throw your butt on the floor, and the usher would sweep it up later. Amazing!

I saw iconic movies there: Apocalypse Now; The Rose; Chariots of Fire. I probably saw some flops. But I could watch them over and over, to my heart’s content.

When I got older, I was allowed to start working the box office at the Crest; in 1980, this involved some cash in a drawer and a hand-torn ticket.

I remember some patrons. There was one man who underestimated the arc of the large, glass entrance door and its force when swung open, and he was knocked to the ground by it, his nose broken and bleeding like crazy. He said he had been so excited to get there just on time that he didn’t really watch what he was doing.

There was a lady who would come for weekend double bills and only order a small plain popcorn at intermission—in those days, probably about a 12 ounce container: she told us she had lost over a hundred pounds, and that was her one cheat that she allowed herself in celebration and as part of her diet maintenance.

It was there that I learned that newspaper and vinegar were excellent materials for cleaning windows without streaks.

And it was to be the last job I had that would not charge me income tax. I think my little brown pay envelope contained earnings at a rate of about $2.35/hr by the time I left. I would walk the mile and a half home in my cool leather clogs and boho clothes, feeling independent and excited by film. If my dad was the projectionist that night, I wouldn’t stay til the end of the movie for a ride home, but I would’ve had a lift to the theatre as we started at the same time.

Nowadays, I go to the movies in three different ways. My number one choice is always the local, independent cinema, because they don’t tend to play the kinds of movies that require pre-show games, noise and flashing lights like the big chains offer. Sometimes I fork out for the Varsity VIP: the seats are roomy and the price usually discourages audience types who text or talk through the movie. Finally, I go to the TIFF Bell Lightbox for more "serious" film experiences. Those soundproof auditoriums do wonders. But always, I go at least a half hour early to be the first in to get the end seat of the back row. If I can’t do that, I won’t go. At home, I don't have TV, but I watch Netflix on my computer.

Recently at TIFF, I looked up into the lit projection booth where there were aluminum ducts and other unfamiliar machinery parts visible. I also spotted a computer screen. If my dad were still alive, he wouldn’t know how to run a movie today.

But sitting in the booth with him was like magic. He’d spool film onto reels, prepare the jump, fire up the second projector, and start rewinding the played reel for the next show. He taught me how to assess a good jump at the cue dot.

I know most nights he would drink coffee and read novels during down times, but I think he did this second job (on top of telecine at CBC) because he had drunk the movie Kool-Aid, too. He’d grown up in an era of motion picture madness and in a family that ate, drank and breathed "show business."

I didn’t go into film studies or production or theatre management. I would have made a great continuity girl, I’ve been told. My mother-in-law has won Geminis for her movie-costume designs. Somehow my connection has remained fairly common: a movie lover who experiences the medium on large screens, on DVD or online. But I do feel an affinity for the whole area of movies and cinemas, both as art and as social gauge.

Mostly, though, I treasure my memories of peering through the view port into the auditorium. It was a sacred space to me, and it planted a seed that grew into my love of the movies.

~ FIN ~

 

Epilogue: For an update on the Mt. Pleasant and Regent (Crest) Theatres, click here to read some good news!

Please follow and like us:

What IS a Subtitle or Caption Editor?

A cropped closeup colour photo of closed captions on a screen, the text being cut off to prevent understanding a sentence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You might wonder what a subtitle editor is, since many companies already offer subtitle translations. Those like my colleagues in SUBTLE (Subtitlers' Association) produce professional results—yay! But frankly, subtitling companies are hanging out their shingles despite lacking one important component: editing skills. (Not technical video editors: that's a different area.) I realized this when I worked in captioning and saw how the products needed editing. It's like expecting authors to turn out perfect books without manuscript editing: not good.

Subtitles cannot be flawless or even excellent without editing, and they require a trained, professional editor who is also knowledgeable about captioning and subtitling, translation, foreign languages, linguistics and the conventions of different kinds of English. Otherwise, the results are unsatisfactory: even if you aren't reading them critically, imperfect subtitles are distracting.

Subtitles must facilitate viewer immersion.

A subtitle editor checks, adjusts and polishes the text so that it is clear, consistent and correct.

Did you try to solve the challenge I included in a recent post? After seeing 84 discrete subtitle errors in one episode of a show on Netflix, I posted one example and suggested that there were 5 errors in it and asked if you could find them. The subtitle read:

Alright

for a non-English-speaking character saying

Okay.

In fact, I'd even argue that there are 6 errors in that one word. (Email me if you think you can figure out the problems in that example.) But that word distracted me, and I didn't even have my editor's cap on—I was just chilling with a show on the weekend. Not the end of the world, granted; but my reading brain stumbled, and that caused me to pause, which caused me to miss the next title, which made me lose the thread of the dialogue, and I had to rewind. (This is especially problematic if you're watching a show that is info-heavy, such as a mystery or crime thriller.)

While providers like Netflix are rolling out new services to try and produce better subtitle translations, they're still missing this essential step in the process. No reputable book publisher would release a book without editing or proofreading done. But more on that in a future article.

So if you watch shows and films to relax and to rest your weary brain and you don't want to have to think while you're doing it (isn't that the point of recreational viewing?), you should be demanding this level of production from providers. Part of your monthly subscription fee or movie charges goes to subtitling, so you might as well get good product for your money. Would you want to buy a new book that hadn't been edited? No, but we constantly do because it's considered too costly by a lot of publishers now. If you expect your can of paint to be sold with a handle attached or fruit not to be sold when it's moldy, why are you settling for second rate in your entertainment? Rise up, good people, and demand excellence! It doesn't look like online viewing is going away anytime soon, but if we continue to accept second-best quality, we'll soon be given third.

Clear communication is not a frill, it's a basic requirement.

To see the areas of both work and play which need excellence in captioning and subtitling, see my post, Who Needs Subtitle Editing?

 

 

 

Photo by Daniel Olnes, February 14, 2008, Flickr.com

Please follow and like us:

Subtitle Edit Draw: Hindi version

Here is the Hindi version of the subtitle edit post from this week:

कनाडा में फिल्मकारों के लिए मुफ़्त फ़िल्म सबटाइटल सम्पादन का मौका

क्या आप कनाडा में रह रहे एक फिल्मकार हैं? क्या आपके पास अंग्रेज़ी के अतिरिक्त किसी दूसरी भाषा में बनी फ़िल्म है? आप अपनी फ़िल्म की रिलीज़ के पहले उसके कैप्शंस या सबटाइटलों के अनुवाद का मुफ़्त सम्पादन जीत सकते हैं!

19 अप्रैल 2017 को मनाए जाने वाले नेशनल कैनेडियन फ़िल्म डे 150 (NCFD 150) #CanFilmDay  के उपलक्ष्य में को वेल्स रीड एडिटिंग द्वारा 25 अप्रैल की शाम को एक लकी ड्रा का आयोजन किया जा रहा है (रैंडम पिकर द्वारा, अधिकतम 1000 प्रविष्टियाँ). विजेता को एक फ़िल्म के अंग्रेज़ी सबटाइटलों की मुफ़्त प्रूफरीडिंग, सम्पादन और भाषागत शुद्धता की जाँच की सुविधा दी जाएगी.

ड्रा में भाग लेने के लिए आपको कनाडा का नागरिक होना ज़रूरी नहीं है, लेकिन यह आवश्यक है कि आपकी आयु 18 साल या उस से अधिक हो और आप कनाडा में अपने वर्तमान पते और काम/सेल्फ़ एम्प्लॉयमेंट/फ़िल्म स्टडीज़/अमेचर फ़िल्म निर्माण का सबूत दें. फ़िल्म की लम्बाई दो घंटे से से अधिक नहीं होनी चाहिए, हालाँकि 120 फ़िल्म मिनट से अधिक का काम हमारी सामान्य दरों पर पूरा किया जा सकता है; इस स्थिति में भुगतान पहले से तय और अग्रिम होगा. समय की गिनती पहले फ्रेम से शुरू होगी, चाहे वह क्रेडिट टाइटल/विजुअल हों. काम के पूरा होने की तारीख़ सम्पादक और विजेता द्वारा तय की जाएगी. सबटाइटल अंग्रेज़ी भाषा में ही होने चाहिए, और आपको यह तय करना होगा कि कैनेडियन, अमेरिकन, ब्रिटिश और ऑस्ट्रेलियन में से किस पद्धति की अंग्रेज़ी का प्रयोग किया जाएगा (आप जिस बाज़ार में अपनी फ़िल्म ले जाना चाहते हैं, उसके अनुसार). इस ड्रा के पुरस्कार के रूप में दी गई सेवा में सम्पादन का काम टेक्स्ट डॉक्यूमेंट या स्क्रीनशॉट के पीडीएफ़ में मार्क-अप के साथ या संपादक और विजेता द्वारा तय किये गए अन्य किसी तरीके से होगा. सम्पादित सबटाइटल को वीडियो फ़ाइल या टाइटलिंग सोफ्ट्वेयर में एम्बेड करना इस पुरस्कार का हिस्सा नहीं है. फ़िल्म के क्रेडिट्स में '"Subtitle Editing by Wells Read Editing" शामिल किया जाएगा.

भाग लेने के लिए @vwellseditor को संबोधित करते हुए  #CanFilmDay #SubtitleEditDraw हैशटैग के साथ ट्वीट करें.

I would like to thank editorial colleagues Shruti Nagar for translating this post and the related tweet and Vivek Kumar for his additional help.

Please follow and like us: