London Paralympics 2012

After enjoying the recent Olympics on captioned TV broadcasted by NBC and admiring athletes and performers with disabilities, I got disappointed with Paralympics. I would like to start with the article, “I’m profoundly deaf. So why can’t I be in the Paralympics?” that made me wonder why such a reputable UK publishing company as Daily Mail would let a writer (who calls herself deaf) exaggerate some information. It also got me concerned because it could cause confusion to those not aware about deaf athletes.

First of all, Paralympics are designed for people who have other disabilities than hearing. So it does not make sense for deaf and hard of hearing athletes to compete in Paralympics – unless they have additional disabilities. One example is Laurentia Tan, a deaf equestrian from Singapore, who also has cerebral palsy. Otherwise deaf and hard of hearing people can compete in Olympics with some assistance like light strobes and interpreters. The author did not mention about three deaf American athletes participating in the London Olympics or any deaf athletes in past Olympics.

Secondly, deaf and hard of hearing athletes can also choose to compete in Deaflympics. Although they can compete against able-bodied athletes in Olympics without problems, their major frustration is communication at competitions and feeling of isolation at social functions. For these reasons, Deaflympics was created to allow deaf and hard of hearing athletes establish a bonding with each other over similar experiences and enjoy social functions based on common communication. Deaflympics has started in 1924 – long before Paralympics that started in 1960.

However, Deaflympics does not get as much funding and coverage as Paralympics does. Here are some excerpts of an article, “What are the Deaflympics?”, by BBC – The Ouch!:

  • “According to UK Deaf Sport, the request for Tan to get accreditation for her qualified sign language interpreter [at Paralympics] was met with a negative response from London 2012.”
  • “The International Olympic Committee (IOC) did a deal with the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) in 2001 to provide equality of opportunity for Paralympic athletes. So Paralympians have access to the same venues, Olympic Village, transportation, technology and so on as the Olympians. Eleven years later, Deaflympians have not been offered the same equality of opportunity.”
  • “We strive to provide the best conditions possible for our athletes at our competitions, but national governments often sacrifice support for deaf athletes to favour Olympians and Paralympians. In the UK, the government axed all funding to elite deaf athletes in the name of creating more Olympic and Paralympic medal winners at London 2012.”
  • “It is wrong to have left the deaf behind. It is wrong to have deprived deaf children and young people of role models from their own community.”
  • “And we’re working hard to ensure that host cities of the Olympic and Paralympic Games no longer overlook Deaf people, either as athletes or spectators.”

Last, but not least, Paralympics was not covered on TV in all countries. For example, in the United States, NBC decided not to cover them which got many people there upset. They were resorted to watching only online streaming videos. Hearing people were also complaining without realizing that this issue caused even more frustrations for deaf and hard of hearing viewers that could not enjoy any of online Paralympics videos without captions.

It was a slap in the face – Paralympics organizers left out many hundreds millions of deaf and hard of hearing people around the world by not offering access via good quality real-time captioning on screens at venues and on online videos.

None of Paralympics YouTube videos are captioned. While US Paralympics YouTube videos included captions, those were auto captions generated by a machine and did not meet the captioning quality standards.

Regardless of complaints from deaf and hard of hearing viewers about the lack of captioning access for their streaming YouTube videos, they were ignored by Paralympics organizers and were even insulted by some hearing spectators.

Here are some examples of the Paralympcis closing ceremony video comments.

Paralympics YouTube video comments

The first screenshot has the following excerpt:

  • Patrick Hennings: “Where are the subtitles??? We have a lot of disabled people, they need the subtitles!”
  • raidwipe: “Hit the red button for subtitles. Or actually be in the stadium on the big screens. Or go to more 4.”
  • svknyc: “There’s no red button. Also, auto captions are not acceptable. Good quality captions made by human professionals are as important as providing good quality audio.”
  • raidwipe: “Just hit the red button for them to appear.”

It’s the common response we deaf and hard of hearing people got from YouTube video viewers that the red button would “appear”.

Here’s another screenshot from that YouTube comments page:

Paralympics YouTube video comments

It has the following excerpt:

  • Ardonniskriming: “Firstly, there is no RED button, the subtitles should be made by subtitler not automatic voice recognition. Secondly, for those who can’t make to big screens, the YouTube should have subtitles included. Are you telling us that Big Screens has subtitles? When we visited there there was only SL interpreter!”
  • raidwipe: “Firstly, there is. Secondly, there was two screens with subtitles and two screens with Sign language, you must have missed two of the four big screens.”
  • Ardonniskriming: “Sorry, but there is no RED button in this You Tube.”
  • raidwipe: “Sorry, but you seem to be blind.”
  • Ardonniskriming: “I resent this and will raise this directly with Paralympic Committee. I am not the only one commenting on the lack of subtitles here.”

Whoa! It was enough that hearing people assumed about the red button for captions/subtitles that does not exist, it was way out of line to insult deaf people by saying that they must be blind because they could not see the button! This was not in spirit of Paralympics to treat deaf and hard of hearing people like that.

Also, it was ironic that Paralympics opening ceremony had a part about human rights, and yet the organizers did not seem to recognize the human rights of hundreds millions of deaf and hard of hearing people to have access to aural information via good quality captions/subtitles. Also, hearing people would benefit from that access for various reasons.

While I applaud athletes with disabilities participating in Olympics and Paralympics, I wonder how they could arrive to the city and get around – were public transportation, hotels, and other venues fully accessible to them? This is the main priority for athletes and spectators with disabilities to enjoy the games. There were complaints about wheelchair users sitting separately from their families at venues, for example. It seems that more money was spent on lavish events and other things than basic accessibility. Also, leaving out many deaf and hard of hearing people by not providing them with access via good quality captions was the major insult to them.

Below is an embedded YouTube video that has no captions. It’s one of many other online Olympics and Paralympics videos that also not accessible.

Does anyone see the red closed caption button, by the way?