Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Blind journalist, Robert Kingett, takes on Netflix to get it to provide descriptive audio

From SF Weekly:

For Robert Kingett (pictured), a young blind man based in Chicago, fun includes playing video games and watching movies.

Luckily, in this day and age, adaptive technology allows blind people the opportunity to enjoy many pastimes the rest of us take for granted.

Descriptive audio is a feature available in some theaters and on select DVDs which can allow the blind to follow the storyline of a film along with sighted film buffs. Descriptive audio is exactly what it sounds like: if a film's leading lady slaps her cad of a boyfriend (or girlfriend) in the face, a narrator will quickly, in between dialogue, say "she slaps his/her face."

With Netflix poised to become one of the largest home video providers through online subscriptions, Kingett is publicly challenging the Bay Area-based video streaming company to make its content accessible to the blind and visually impaired through what he calls the Netflix Accessible Project.

Kingett spoke to SF Weekly about this daunting task, and about his life as a gay, blind, and physically disabled man who is nonetheless making his mark on the world.

SF Weekly: Describe your campaign in your own words.

Kingett: The Accessible Netflix Project is a campaign to make Netflix more accessible to blind people and to people using adaptive physical devices as well. A lot of people believe we are all about audio description and nothing else but that's far from the truth. We are a group that demands that Netflix do what should have been done a long time ago and make the screen player fully available to screen readers. Make the iPhone application accessible. Add audio description to their streamed shows and movies when its already on DVDs and TV shows. We are a team who says this should happen because there's no excuse anymore and it's long overdue. We are also reaching out to others like Hulu, Blockbuster Instant, Amazon Instant and even services in the UK.
People are using the internet more and more to watch movies and TV shows. If audio description is already available on DVDs and TV shows than just put it on the server. It's not hard to do and it's a shame it isn't happening. We're here to make sure it happens even if it takes us years.

SF Weekly: Have you heard from Netflix?

Kingett: We have heard from Netflix and they have told us that it's not their responsibility. Another time they told us "don't expect this anytime soon". In PR speak that basically means "we won't do it, so shut up and go away."

SF Weekly: Can you tell us more about who you are?

Kingett: I attended the Florida School For the Deaf and Blind. I was a premature baby, only six ounces, so I guess you could say that I brushed against death and turned around and kicked it square in the jaw. My lungs weren't developing, so the doctors had to place me in an incubator. They didn't monitor the oxygen very well, so as a result I'm legally blind. I'm guessing the cerebral palsy developed from me being born way earlier than I should have been. I guess my birth was epic foreshadowing, because it certainly gave clues as to what kind of fighter I was.

I wrote all the time, and not just in one style either. I wrote all kinds of things from book reviews to  essays to letters to persuasive arguments, even at a younger age. I read books like people eat food. That was my outlet: reading, writing and video games.
I created a paper at the blind high school that is continued to this day.

SF Weekly: Your Facebook page makes us think you're also a comic book and sci-fi fan.

Kingett: I was, and am, your typical white and nerdy guy. I was, and am, very much into books and video games. I'm skinny, and I still watch Pokemon and Yu Gi Oh as an adult. I'm proudly a nerdy gay guy and my husband will just have to deal with that and bake me cookies now and then, and read me books, too. Man, is he going to have a rough life!

SF Weekly: Do you think people have become more sensitive to the needs of the blind and disabled? Where might there be room for improvement and what can be done to make things better?

Kingett: People are more sensitive to the blind and disabled but there's still this huge lack of awareness and I don't know where this ignorance comes from. There have been countless examples of disabled people doing things that people say we can't do, such as writer, journalist, doctor, social worker, IT Tech Personnel, but there's still this huge ignorance everywhere you look.

The biggest improvements need to come in the form of employment and media. I don't see disabled people in ads, or disabled actors and actresses starring on TV, in movies or in commercials. If there is a disabled character in a movie, it's usually played by a person who just looked up disabled on Pediatric.

SF Weekly: The 25th Anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act passed a few weeks ago. What does the ADA mean to you?

Kingett: The ADA has given the disabled the power to tell people what is what and I believe that kind of motivation is huge. It's letting others know who disabled people are. Let's them continue to promote the ADA and display what the ADA stands for. I've had employers not hire me because I'm disabled. We've all had that in the disabled community, so the ADA means a lot to me now and in the future because soon that will no longer be an issue.

SF Weekly: You will be continuing with the Netflix campaign?

Kingett: We have tried several times to contact the studios of movies and TV shows. It's hard to get names and email addresses of the people we need to talk to. That requires a lot of digging on LinkedIn. Voicemails are never returned. Also, when you have a stutter, people are not very patient. So when I try to make a call, I'm told they don't have time to talk to you and I'm hung up on A LOT.

We did break through one time, though. Fox, the network which does Family Guy, had an assistant producer talk with her team about sharing the audio description files with Netflix. Netflix could have the files if they just asked for it. Netflix never did ask for it and have ignored our emails ever since.