Sunday, February 17, 2008

4: blogging while deaf - should we sub?

There's an argument currently going on among some elements of the Deaf blogosphere about whether or not Deaf people creating video logs (vlogs) in ASL ought to subtitle their films in English. I tried finding one to link to, because the topic was interesting to me, but most of the blogposts online seem like grandstanding without much true, focused, on-point discussion: irrelevant. Most of what you'll see here is personal opinion, but I tried to explain why I have this opinion.

I would like to see all videos in one language be subtitled in every other language, but I know this is not the case and probably will never be the case (unless we get a Babel Fish, or a Universal Translator from Star Trek. One can only dream... and wonder if, with a Babel Fish, a Deaf person would be able to instanteously lipread any individual and continue to be happily Deaf?)

Not too many Spanish T.V. programs have subtitles in English. They have subtitles in written Spanish, which is encouraging, but doesn't advance us much.

Most translation websites don't consider ASL or signed languages at all, only spoken languages. (An exception to the English to ASL translation service was TESSA, an avatar unfortunately limited to the language of the British postal service. Moreover, some T.V. programs don't have captioning or subtitles, a result of mixed efforts at government enforcement and elimination of captioning requirements in the form of "relief." Nearly all online services still don't have subtitling available in English. They claim frustration at the high cost and time involved - although Deaf bloggers themselves have proven the cost is far lower than they claim! (Of course, who knows what they charge in L.A.?) In fact, representatives from our community are begging Presidential candidates to caption their videos! (Interestingly, a look at Project ReadOn shows that while Democratic candidates have set up captioned videos, Republican candidates have yet to do so.)

So, based on this evidence, there is no a priori reason for Deaf people to subtitle their own videos. Why? The people who have the money to do it don't want to spend that cash on us. Who do we owe, exactly? The Corporation for Public Broadcasting? There has been no agreement with hearing people, cool as that might be. ("We here sitting at this treaty make this pledge that every video in this great land of America will hereby be subtitled and made accessible by its people to all peoples in our great American quest for unity as we walk our individual paths to fulfillment...") So, yes, in a way, it's true: forcing Deaf people to do this would be oppression, because nobody else has to.

There might, however, be a reason to decide to do this, as a community, for the future. We need to ask ourselves: is that dream a future we want? If so, being the people who see the attractiveness of the destination, we might just have to be the ones to light the way. But if we as a community agree this is a good idea, then those who agree can't just stand around and lambast the rest of the community for not agreeing with their high-minded ideals. We have to provide pathways to help people deal with inevitable problems in language, translation and idiom. I'm sure every blogger posting on the Web wants to reach as wide an audience as possible! But they want to do it while looking good, also, and that requires training and support, much of which is far more easily available to hearing bloggers.

I don't imagine it's going to be easy, but there are solutions and possibilities for intelligent members of the Deaf nation. In fact, in England, many Deaf people were struggling with English captions. But the process of learning how to deal with struggle is how businesses and fields get set up in any community. Spanish-speaking people can go to workers who help them translate into clear English. British Deaf people who were skilled in English offered their services at translation. I imagine the same could be set up for Deaf people here. We could also use interpreters, who, as students, could use the time as credit in their classes and, as professionals, could benefit from learning to understand as many Deaf people as possible - and of course our community benefits from their development in turn!

More importantly, such videos will be very valuable especially for bilingual educational environments. An adequately-captioned video could teach a Deaf child more about constructions in ASL and in English than two or three hours of instruction in a mainstreamed classroom. It could teach a hearing student of ASL more about the depth and richness of our language than six drinks at DPHH in Washington, DC.

Sometimes answers require creativity. Remember, the Internet takes away distance. It should bring us together, not throw us apart. (Of course, so should the education of children, but that's a whole 'nother blog...)

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