Not long ago I was working with a radio producer on a program. We were wrapping up some final ins and outs when she dropped it, the bombshell I was waiting to hear.
“Um, Athena. You know with your speech, some of the other producers are worried that the listeners might miss some of what you are saying. Would you be opposed to us having a transcription available of the program online?”
“Do you always have transcriptions of your programs available online for audience members who aren’t paying attention?”
“No, but with your speech-“
“Do you always offer transcription services when you have people with thick accents on the air or is it just your guests with disabilities?”
Cue the sound of silence.
My cerebral palsy slightly affects my speech, there’s no dancing around it. However, I can walk into any store in London and get what I’m after, usually on the first try. I regularly work with people for whom English is not their mother tongue, without a hitch. And I can even get Siri to take my commands on my iPhone something that a good many of my Scottish friends and still struggling to do.
I think the producer was a bit shocked by what I said next: either submit the program sans transcription, or I would not be signing the consent form.
Subtitling seems to be the latest debate in the issue of how to get persons with disabilities into media, and it’s a big one. Broadcasters often swear up and down that they are doing us a favour, making sure the audience understands us beyond a shadow of a doubt, however, very often needless subtitling suggests that something is wrong and that the audience needs ‘help.’ As so many other formalities meant to “help” the disabled, subtitling acts as a barrier between us and the main stream public,
It is completely anti-social model to offer subtitling for someone who can walk up to strangers and vocally explain their situation or request the special on today’s menu. It suggests that the “normal population can’t understand you” and what’s worse… they shouldn’t even try.
Creators who face this situation need to be bold in refusing to allow such abysmal attempt of political correctness to occur. We are just venturing into inclusion in media and ‘compromises’ of today may lead to new obstacles for us to jump over tomorrow. Be daring enough to call it for what inappropriate subtitling is: wrong.
We are human, we need no transcriptions, special translations, or explanations. Because of humans, it’s a brave new world out there. Every Day.
Author's note: After the airing of this broadcast the producers informed me there was not a single complaint about the clarity of the speech nor did anyone ask for a transcript.