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Disability Access to Rhubarb Radio

October 27, 2009

Hi rhubarb radio Community of Interest

As some of you may know, in addition to my involvement with rhubarb radio, I am a director of ‘DAISY’ (Disability Arts Inspired Social Enterprise), which aims to enable talented people with disabilities to develop as Artists with a capital A, very much in the vein of Outsider Art: though I personally don’t like this term.

Engaged generally, in disability issues; for sometime I have been thinking about the accessibility of rhubarb radio’s programming for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.  From the very outset Birmingham’s leading Social Media exponents have sought to craft the rhubarb radio as a social media platform which could expand the capacity for participation and access to the culture of the city.  That said, given that our primary output is audio, serving people who are deaf or hard of hearing presents us with some difficulties.

During our live audio streaming of the Hello Digital 09 event and quite rightly, a number of issues relating to disability access have been passionately raised via the blog post PeskyPeople.  Some of the issues raised invited the event to consider whether it was possible to have made the audio more accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.  Again rightly, the point was also raised that it shouldn’t be the job of people with disabilities to organise their inclusion in events or services.

I felt sad to learn of the experiences expressed in the blog post and further so when considering the many people who are deaf or hard of hearing visit such events online.  Ever the optimist, I took to thinking we at rhubarb radio could better address our difficulties in this service area, and how the creative capital of rhubarb radio could possibly meet this problem head on.

Obviously, I can offer to the event organisers the facility to apply a voice to text treatment to the audio archive for the event and then apply that to the website

Beyond this, I believe, requires a far more creative response. I recently returned from an UrbanLab conference organised by Citilab in Barcelona, in which motivated digital creative’s from every discipline came together in a spirit of fun, curiosity and creative endeavour, to apply their collaborative knowledge, skills and experiences to a problem expressed from within the community that required a digital technological solution.

The intention was not necessary to arrive at a complete solution but rather to advance the solution.  With no expected commitment beyond the time frame of the event, first the problem was fully explored and clarified, it was then divided up into relevant solution areas and again relevant creative’s applied themselves to working together for creative digital solutions to the problems that presented. The event was a real delight, engaging, refreshing, enlightening etc.

I am wondering whether there might be interest and motivation out there among our creative and academic communities to attend a rhubarb hosted CreativeLab event; aimed to better enable people who are deaf or heard of hearing to have access to live audio such as radio. There seems to be a fare amount of research, initiatives and innovative approaches out there along with some unresolved software.

Let me know what you think. If members are happy I shall progress the idea with who ever comes forward.

It strikes me, if we could get a decent audio to text translation all manor of things become possible: live text from live audio facility can be switched on and off; Text can reasonably be translated in to the full range of community languages and community language text could easily be re-streamed as text to digital audio; Text to Braille also becomes possible for those who might need it.

Some of you will know that rhubarb radio is currently exploring the possibilities of enabling people to create tags within our listen again audio streams. An audio to text facility could offer us additional benefits in this area by better enabling us to create jump points or auto tags within our streams. The list of benefits to our all round service would be many, and obviously there are much wider applications beyond the rhubarb project.

It may be that at this point in the development of digital technology it’s just not possible, but if all that is achieved through a CreativeLab event, around the issue of disability access to audio, is that we advance towards a solution by one more millimetre it will be worthwhile.

Daniel Cremin





6 Comments leave one →
  1. October 27, 2009 4:26 pm

    something which i’ve been wanting to learn how to do for a number of years is palantype / stenotype – the machine shorthand technology (based on typing syllables on a special keyboard rather than letters on a normal keyboard) usually associated with taking transcripts of proceedings in court; live subtitling on tv news is also done using this.

    another organisation i’m involved always provided signing at our major events, but we gradually became aware that there was only one native bsl speaker in the audience, & more often than not the signers were signing to each other; we also realised that most of our needful community members were deaf*ened*, rather than deaf, who had never learned bsl anyway. we consulted with our bsl speaker & her response was that although she personally preferred the signer, she well understood that other people’s needs outweighed her personal preferences, & that with limited budgets it was a far better use of resources to provide palantype speech-to-text for the many for the whole event rather than signing for the one for part of the event.

    it should be remembered that the disability discrimination act mandates organisations to make reasonable accommodation; i do think organisations – especially righteous ones – should try their best to go beyond making just ‘reasonable’ accommodation as a box ticking exercise & make proper efforts for genuine inclusiveness; but that said, i don’t think organisations should be prevented from carrying out work at all because their budget can’t stretch to making the event totally inclusive – creative solutions should be allowed to be applied which although may not satisfy everybody’s wishes perfectly do at least satisfy needs as a compromise solution.

  2. October 27, 2009 4:40 pm

    One thing that is going to prove an interesting investigation is the fact that many similar events (like wxwm, barcamps, surgeries etc) are all run voluntarily.
    I’d like to see if the specialised support from the people that actually deliver the communication platforms (forgive me if I’m not using the correct phrases here) would also contribute their time voluntarily also.
    Events with budgets have the opportunity to build this into their planning and delivery process, but what will happen at non-funded events? Would we see the passion and dedication at those also, or do the specialised service providers only do this sort of thing for payment?
    I guess we’ll see…

  3. October 27, 2009 5:29 pm

    @paul – certainly, keeping with the deafness example, speech-to-text typist & signers don’t come cheap (upwards of £400 per day each, & you usually need a couple, especially for signers), so effectively voluntary / community-organised events would not be able to afford to pay a professional interpreter to come along.

    but on the other hand, if communities could support their members in learning to acquire the skills themselves, then those members could become even more valuable members of their communities !

  4. October 27, 2009 8:27 pm

    Hi everyone. I’m very pleased to see that this topic is being given such careful and creative consideration. As you’ll know, it’s a topic that I’m also very passionate about. Therefore, I’d very much like to be involved in this in whatever way I can. As for solutions for the further inclusion of those who are deaf or hard of hearing, my ideas are a little bit thin on the ground at the moment, but here are some basic possibilities that I can think of: installing a loop system, utilising readout software, providing discreet mini amplifiers, especially for if or when we get the studio Internet phone installed and speaking of that, maybe we could make use of some red led light technology on the phone, in addition to a vibrate facility. In terms of personal assistants, there are also lip readers available, although I appreciate that some people with hearing problems don’t find these helpful, but there are also those who work as personal assistants in the sense of helping out practically with tasks which present difficulties for a person with disabilities. I am aware that all these ideas will carry some sort of cost, but as Simon rightly points out, the law now compels organisations to make appropriate accommodations for disabled people. Maybe it’s also worth considering contacting some of the disability charities and requesting volunteers to help out with this stuff. There are many willing volunteers who work in this arena already, who I’m sure would be more than happy to help out. If nothing else, disability charities are a good place to start in seeking advice and guidance about these sort of issues. If they’re unable to help, they can always refer you on to someone who can. One very pressing point I’d like to raise in relation to access to various venues from my own personal perspective is that of ensuring independent physical access for those like me, with physical, sensory and manual dexterity difficulties. It’s important that doors are made as easily accessible as possible. In terms of preserving dignity and independence and also equal access, having to ask someone else to open the door for you does not constitute a reasonable adjustment. Fortunately, this isn’t really a problem at Rhubarb, but at many other venues, it can be a big problem, so it’s certainly something to bear in mind when holding meetings and streaming from other venues etc. In the same way that legal advice has been sought regarding the online terms and conditions etc, we could also do with some legal advice on this matter. That way, at least we’ll be doing what we can to make the concept of inclusion a reality. As a former nurse, I may have a bit more awareness about these issues and many potential solutions to them, so please feel free to pick my brains about it any time, especially regarding physical access to places. (Having to consider this on a daily basis has meant that I’ve become somewhat of an expert in this area!) If that means that I can help out in some way, then that’s all to the good. I look forward to seeing the progress we can make in this area.

  5. October 27, 2009 10:33 pm

    palantype / stenotyping is falling out of favour — it’s hard and needs skilled people. Much live television subtitling is now done by a technique called “respeaking”, which as it sounds needs someone to say the words a second time.

    This is because computer transcription software can be trained to the “respeaker”‘s voice — this makes it cheaper and also introduces the homophone errors you’ll see if you watch the news.

    For radio shows with a fixed set of presenters, there’s something technical that could be built I reckon. Much harder for live events of course.

  6. November 2, 2009 11:51 am

    Here’s the Beeb’s new system (no idea how it works, but remember they’re subtitling all of the output anyway)

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