Campaign For A More Accessible Netflix

From Media Access Australia: http://www.mediaaccess.org.au/latest_news/general/campaign-for-a-more-accessible-netflix#.UgDAYJxtTAU.twitter

Campaign for a more accessible Netflix
Tuesday, 06 August 2013 10:49am

Accessibility advocates are leading a campaign to make US-based video streaming service Netflix more accessible to people with disabilities. The Accessible Netflix Project aims to get Netflix to make audio description available and improve the accessibility of the Netflix website.

Netflix is a video on demand and DVD rental service currently available overseas. While it has committed to captioning all of its content by 2014, Netflix currently has no provision for blind or vision impaired subscribers.
The campaign aims to get Netflix to:

Provide a screen reader friendly experience to all Netflix functions on the PC and mobile devices with all screen readers
Provide an easily navigable interface for the mobility impaired using adaptive technology
Provide easy access to audio described content for the blind and the vision impaired on streaming services as well as DVD selection currently and in the future

Journalist Robert Kingett, who is leading the small team behind the Accessible Netflix Project, said the campaign started when he and other blind Netflix subscribers found they were unable to access DVDs and videos with audio description.

“It started out as just shouting about audio description on streaming services only [now] we want to expand our mission and help not just us but others as well,” Kingett said.

Despite a large proportion of DVD titles having audio description, there is no way for users to identify them through the Netflix interface. Kingett said a few blind subscribers even offered to provide Netflix with a list of accessible DVDs, but the offer was refused.

They also hope Netflix and other streaming services make their websites and media players accessible to all screen reader users and easier to use with screen magnifiers.

Screen readers allow blind users to navigate websites by converting information on the screen into speech. However, if certain coding practices and techniques are not followed on a website, screen readers are unable to interpret the information.

The project’s website has a Netflix accessibility feedback form which allows people to share any accessibility barriers experienced. Kingett said they are yet to gain the support of Netflix but hope to collaborate with the company to help improve its service.

“We’re here to let people know that equality should happen, especially since we are paying customers,” said Kingett.

In Australia there is currently no video on demand service that offers audio description. We maintain a database of audio described DVDs.

Short Australian film The Gift is a big hit worldwide

From The Herald-Sun (Australia): http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/short-australian-film-the-gift-is-a-big-hit-worldwide/story-fnilxh2p-1226671089673

Short Australian film The Gift is a big hit worldwide

Staff Writer
The Daily Telegraph
June 28, 2013 12:00AM

THE Gift is the little Aussie film that could.

The little-known independent local movie starring Hugo Weaving’s son, Harry Greenwood, is one of the hottest tickets on the international short-film circuit.

And it was made on a budget of less than $10,000, pretty much what we’d expect the cast and crew of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby to spend on lunch.

Created by brother and sister team Lloyd and Spencer Harvey, who have already won several awards for previous works, The Gift also stars Anne Tenney (The Castle and Always Greener), Mark Lee (Gallipoli), Hannah Marshall and Ben Mingay.

It tells the story of an 18-year-old boy, played by Greenwood, who is confined to a wheelchair with cerebral palsy and wants to lose his virginity on his 18th birthday.

“The Gift was extremely well received at the recent Palm Springs Short Film Festival,” Lloyd Harvey says.

Other respected international film festivals have heard the word, including two in LA which have added The Gift to their schedules.

The Melbourne International Film Festival early next month will also screen the celebrated short.

None of this means that the brother and sister team are suddenly flush with funds. However, according to Lloyd, critical acclaim on the short-film festival circuit means that, when the couple attempt to get a feature film produced, they’ll be taken seriously.

The Gift is certainly about an extremely sensitive area and Greenwood worked closely with the sex workers’ association The Scarlet Alliance and the Cerebral Palsy Alliance to ensure it sent the right message.

Disability on the small screen: what’s wrong with this picture?

From RampUp:

This time two years ago, I wrote a blog for The Vine about Australian television’s odd approach when it comes to employing actors of differing abilities.

The inspiration came when – a rare occasion – I watched an episode of Seven’s ratings juggernaut Packed To The Rafters. Jessica Marais’ character had finally taken the plunge and been introduced to the extended family of her “hot tradie” boyfriend Jake, including his “cheeky” brother Alex, who has cerebral palsy.

Alex was played by Kristian Schmid, who doesn’t have cerebral palsy.

It wasn’t exactly something new; film and television has a long history of getting able-bodied actors to affect a disability.

It’s particularly noticeable in Hollywood, where “going disabled” is seen (somewhat cynically) as a sure-fire path to awards season glory; from Juliette Lewis playing the intellectually disabled Other Sister to Daniel Day Lewis’ Oscar-winning performance as Christy Brown in Jim Sheridan’s My Left Foot, it’s unofficially considered the true test of an actor’s mettle alongside, perhaps, a convincing turn in a biopic.

So from that perspective, Schmid’s performance as Alex wasn’t that surprising, nor was the casting department’s decision to go with him, an established and well-liked actor with plenty of Australian soapie suds on his CV.

Not surprising, that is, but plenty disappointing. Here’s what I said at the time:

I’m sure many of you are thinking “so what, that’s why they call it acting”, but doesn’t the very nature of inclusiveness – at least in the context of including storylines that relate to people with disabilities – suggest that it might be proper to, you know, actually include actors with disabilities?

The American and UK film and television industries are a few steps ahead of Australia in this regard (though it must be said, not many); in particular the Law & Order franchise and Nip/Tuck have more than occasionally featured actors with disabilities, and the LA Times reported in 2008 that opportunities (and in turn, agents!) for actors with disabilities were on the rise.

In this enlightened era, we look back at Mickey Rooney playing Japanese or heavily fake-tanned “jungle types” and wince; so why don’t we bat an eyelid when actors pretend to have cerebral palsy, or pretend to be in wheelchairs, and so on?

Taking our television and film canon as a user’s guide, you could be forgiven for thinking that Steady Eddy (as much as I love him) was the only Australian actor with a disability to have ever existed.

Now, when I wrote the piece, I certainly wasn’t expecting the Australian television industry to fall at my feet in apoplexies of apologia, but I certainly didn’t expect to be revisiting the exact same topic two years later.

Yes, Alex is back on Packed To The Rafters.

Fair enough, since the last time an Australian soap switched actors mid-stream (remember when Home & Away’s Bec Cartwright went to sleep and woke up as Ella Scott Lynch?) it failed dismally. There’s nothing wrong with continuity in casting.

But as an indication of where Australian television is at – or isn’t – it’s pretty grim.

Why are we, as an industry, dragging our feet when it comes to improving the diversity on our televisions?

Back in 2009, I talked about the character of Toby in Summer Heights High. There was much hand-wringing about whether or not his Down’s syndrome was simply there for shock value (certainly the debut of “Toby & The Special Dancers” at the Logies that year was); was the character just there to provide easy “spastic” jokes?

I disagreed then, and I still do. The thing about Summer Heights High is that everyone in the school is a potential punchline; in that sense, Toby’s equal with everyone else. As I said then:

[J]ust like millions of other state school students, Toby enjoys drama class. So how come the buck stops in Year 12 for so many aspiring actors who also happen to have disabilities?

One of the good things about the character of Alex in Packed To The Rafters is that his personal arc is less about his having cerebral palsy as it is his life as a party-hard chick-magnet. By that token, wouldn’t it be great if an actor with cerebral palsy was playing the character?

Look at RJ Mitte, who plays Walt Jr/Flynn on Breaking Bad; Mitte has mild cerebral palsy, as does Walt Jr, and that’s about the end of it. His character arc involves much more than “having cerebral palsy” – same, would you believe, as real live people living with disabilities!

And that’s where the territory gets murky. If film and TV only employ actors with disabilities to, in effect, play themselves, isn’t that almost as bad as not employing them?

English actor Warwick Davis, who has dwarfism caused by spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita, often spoke of his desire to play an ordinary guy. With a career that has taken in roles as an Ewok, The Leprechaun and various imps and goblins, it’s easy to see why.

(Funnily enough, his breakout role as Willow was, until recently, the closest he’d come to playing a character whose motivation had little to do with his height; the Nelwyns were short, and not much more was made of it.)

Davis’ new BBC show with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, Life’s Too Short has seen that wish come true; the show, which Gervais has described as a mix of The Office and Extras, is a mockumentary about Davis that satirises many of the things he has experienced throughout his career.

Likewise, the rise and rise of Peter Dinklage is encouraging. It was perhaps prophetic that his first role, in 1995’s Living In Oblivion, contained a blistering (and sweary) rant about the use of dwarf actors.

Since then, he’s been “Peter Dinklage, actor”, not “Peter Dinklage, dwarf actor”.

Stalling based on a fear of typecasting or fetishising actors with disabilities is counterproductive, though; given Australian film and TV barely features disabled actors as it is, it’s a little early to start worrying whether the roles offered are the right roles. We could start with offering any roles at all.

The worst part is, there’s no reason for it to be like this.

As I said in 2009:

Australia is home to a number of theatre companies dedicated to working with actors with physical and/or intellectual disabilities; Back To Back Theatre has received countless raves for its affecting and thought-provoking pieces.

[…]

[A] 2007 review of Back To Back’s Small Metal Objects (which played at the Melbourne International Arts Festival a couple of years back) noted that in watching the work “we are asked to revisit what we think a so-called impaired human being is capable of”.

Perhaps it is time for the Australian television industry to revisit what they think so-called impaired human beings are capable of: acting.

It’s 2011, is anyone out there in TV-land listening?

Clem Bastow is a film and TV critic for The Vine.[/quote]

Samson and Delilah

Samson & Delilah is set in a remote Aboriginal Community, with the Aboriginal Delilah playing a much more realistic and sympathetic role than her namesake in the Bible.

Early in the film, it is shown that an unowned wheelchair is left outdoors, where it serves as an amusing ride for the village urchins, the largest and least promising of whom is age-indeterminate surfer-dude-looking Samson. Samson intimidates a smaller boy into turning over the wheelchair to him, and promptly uses it to play in. He sits outside of the Aboriginal community’s only grocery store in it, begging for handouts; no one is fooled.

Samson is old enough to have sprouted a small mustache and to occasionally amuse himself by playing guitar with some older guys who hang out near the general store. If he has parents, grandparents, or other relations, they don’t seem to be around or overly concerned with his slovenliness and lack of ambition. When he is at his disheveled, dusty home, he huffs glue and/or other inhalants; in one scene where he does some grafitti, he is shown giving a long sniff to the point of the permanent felt-tip pen.

Delilah, by contrast, lives a life of responsibility: she is the primary, if not sole, and most likely unpaid, caregiver for her grandmother Kitty, who is physically disabled and/or frail. Whatever Kitty has is not specified, but Delilah argues with her every morning to take her pills, and is frequently seen pushing her in a standard manual wheelchair (the health care system of that time and place most likely handed out one standard model of wheelchair, regardless of how inappropriate it was to the dusty terrain or their clients’ needs).

Delilah is shown to regularly take Kitty to a spartan corrugated metal chapel containing little more than a large cross, and to appointments at a clinic, at which no wheelchair ramp is seen. Someone (probably Delilah and/or clinic personnel) most likely has to haul Kitty in bodily, separately from her wheelchair. Though Kitty evidently does get to her clinic appointments, the movie does not make it clear exactly how this is accomplished.

The clinic from Samson and Delilah

Kitty and Delilah make a meager living by selling Kitty’s Aboriginal paintings to a white man who picks them up from them and takes them into town for galler(ies) to sell (at a large markup, Delilah would later discover).

One day while they are out in the yard, Kitty sees Samson just outside their property, and asks who he is. When Delilah tells her, Kitty says they should get married, though Delilah had evidenced no prior romantic interest in Samson (perhaps because she knows Samson as an idler with no visible means of support).

The grandmother’s idea is influenced by the fact that they are the “same skin”. As Americans watching this, the first thought was that like some of our mixed-blood blacks and dubious ancestried whites, some Aboriginals were particular about the color of one’s complexion. As it turns out, what Kitty really had in mind were Aboriginal family systems concerning who was related to whom and proprieties concerning who among these could legitimately marry. This, and several other things, including why the old women of the town beat Delilah bruised and bloody after the death of her grandmother, which were puzzling and left unexplained in the film, are explained in the film’s official FAQ.

Samson’s courting rituals are unmistakable and amusing, as is Delilah’s initial rejection of her putative husband. The two later form a bond after the grandmother dies and the neighborhood biddies beat up Delilah in their quest to find a scapegoat for Kitty’s death. Samson steals the shared community truck and drives the unconscious Delilah as far its tank of gas would take them. He stops only to siphon gas from other vehicles, but uses the soda bottle of gasoline he siphoned for huffing. It never occurs to him to use siphoned gas to refuel the truck when they finally run out of gas. (Though it is never overtly stated, it is implied that Samson has mild brain damage from his inhalant abuse.)

The pair end up sleeping under an overpass, sharing an encampment with an alcoholic homeless older Aboriginal man, who luckily proves friendly to them, albeit in a strange way (among other things, he serves them re-heated, canned spaghetti for breakfast while singing about it). He repeatedly asks the pair to talk to him, to tell him their story, but they remain silent. When he threatens to withdraw his assistance one day, Samson stutters out his name and we realize one of the reasons he doesn’t talk much.

If Delilah’s grandmother wanted her to marry on the theory that in Samson Delilah would have a protector, if not a provider, Samson proves a failure at this too: in one scene, Delilah is abducted by a group of white youths with a car, and Samson almost doesn’t notice while he is walking and huffing gasoline fumes from his soda bottle of siphoned gasoline. (It is only upon her return, with a black eye and most likely raped, that she resorts to huffing. Previously, her “escape” had been listening to music from a car cassette player.) Again the film’s FAQ comes to the rescue: it explains that Samson also has hearing loss and the couple has mostly been communicating through Aboriginal hand signals and body language. This comes into play again when Delilah is similarly hit by a car; Samson is about ten paces ahead and doesn’t notice.

He makes no attempt to retrace his steps and recover her; instead he huffs himself into a weeks-long drug induced stupor. Delilah appears almost as an angel in a clean white hoodie, wearing a shiny leg brace and using a crutch. She’s called in the cavalry; a man from their community picks up the near-dead Samson, carries him to the recovered truck, and drives them both back.

This time, the cadre of old ladies beats Samson with tree limbs, but Delilah fights them off. She cleans up the shack that she and her grandmother called home, burns a painting in tribute, gives Samson a good bath and sets him up in Kitty’s former wheelchair with a radio to keep him entertained. The film ends on a hopeful note; perhaps Samson will recover from the damage he’s done to his brain with the love of a good woman, and for all his faults, perhaps he’ll be a good companion to the scarred Delilah.

Note: though Samson and Delilah has minimal dialogue throughout, only the dialogue in their Aboriginal language is subtitled. English dialogue is not captioned, so deaf and hard-of-hearing folks may have a little trouble following the story. We don’t quite have the heart to stick this movie in the Hall of Shame though.

Mary and Max

Mary and Max

Mary, who experiences alienation in every aspect of her life, starts out with parents who are poor, weird, and unsympathetic (her father is into taxidermy, her mother is an alcoholic who seems to do nothing but yell at her) and eventually end up dead. The visible evidence that she is neglected at home makes her a pariah at school in spite of the fact that it is the other children who are overtly engaging in bad behavior (at one point, she comes to school with a coat fastened with clothespins because her pet chicken pecked off the buttons and nobody sewed them back on, and other children harrass her in the schoolyard, with one boy going so far as to pee on her sandwich in plain sight). In an attempt to remedy her loneliness, she picks Max’s name at random out of a phone book, and is lucky enough to get a reply back from someone who is obviously sympathetic and intelligent.  Max’s letters ring true to Asperger’s style: full of plain speaking, factual details, and jumping from one topic to another, but in the eyes of society and her mother, potentially dangerous and unsuitable for children. Maybe it was Max’s mention of having been a mental patient, or the frank but inappropriate discussion of his sex life (or rather, the lack thereof) that sets the mother off when she finds the first letter and throws it away, believing she is protecting her child. In spite of how this looks to her mother (and most average people), correspondence with someone who has been in her shoes as a social outcast is exactly what Mary needs. Contrary to a lot of recent portrayals, it is possible for people with Asperger’s to have friends, but in view of the fact that some of the things they do and say go against society’s notion of what is considered appropriate, this perhaps can lead to a bonding with people on the margins of society.

(Speaking of inappropriate things and portrayals of sexuality, Australia’s movie and video industry must have somewhat different standards of what is considered appropriate to show in a picture purportedly for children than prevail in the USA. Let’s just say this was the first time I’ve seen claymation genitals.)

Luckily for Mary’s emotional equilibrium, she is in a position to send another letter in which she describes the situation to Max, and comes up with a solution: he will henceforth send his letters to the address of an elderly neighbor whom she helps out.

The premise of the possibility of pen pals who can have a years-long and very intense relationship without engaging in physical contact of any sort is a theme of this and a handful of other films such as My Japanese Wife (perhaps it is increasing in popularity as global communications of every sort are becoming more widespread?)

Admittedly, some of the reactions they have to one another’s letters seem exaggerated for effect, such as the fact that Max’s objection to being used as a case study for the sake of her career in psychology sends her into a spiral of suicidality and some of Mary’s letters sent Max into “meltdown” mode and in one case, effected his return to the mental health system (where he would be told he had Asperger’s Syndrome, in spite of the fact that it was way too early in the timeline for such a thing to be possible in real life, as Asperger’s was only recognized by the American Psychological Association in 1994. And yes, someone who really does have Asperger’s really would have a problem with a purportedly serious and sensitive movie set in a specific temporal period getting a widely-known piece of factual information so glaringly wrong!)

In spite of the claymation medium, which is usually reserved for less-than-serious examples of the cinematic oeuvre, I found myself liking the overall gestalt of this picture in spite of having some problems with particular parts of it.

Movie Review by Laura Brose