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GIFs and accessibility: an unlikely pairing

I made an interesting realization today. I love animated GIFs, which bridge the gap between video and still photo on the web. Since GIFs can’t load sound, many people add subtitles to them if they’re captured from a video that contains spoken dialogue. Without the added subtitles, this would just be a GIF series of Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher moving their lips:

I’ve been taking it for granted all this time, and it just occurred to me that the subtitling is actually beneficial to the hearing impaired population. Many online videos don’t come with captions or subtitles, and YouTube’s automatic captioning feature isn’t great. So there is a lot of information and media that we miss out online.

(Note: both links below are probably Not Safe For Work, depending on how conservative your workplace is.)

If the person who made these GIFs and added the subtitles hadn’t done that, I never would have discovered how hilarious this video is.

So to you GIF creators out there, thank you for subtitling them. :)

Today from my desk I looked out the window and watched cherry blossom petals blowing around in the wind like pink snow.  It occurred to me that there must be a Japanese word that describes the phenomenon of falling pink petals.  After some research I discovered not one, but two Japanese expressions for this.

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Happy 80th Birthday, Jane Goodall.

It’s that time of the year again (さくら)

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You’ll be missed, Roger Ebert.

In 2005, the documentary film “Touch the Sound” about deaf Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie was released … without subtitles.  I wrote to the director, Thomas Riedelsheimer, to point out this irony; a movie about a deaf person that deaf people couldn’t watch.  He responded and said that he decided not to include subtitles because they would interfere with the “visual aesthetics” of the film.

I forwarded the email to Roger Ebert.  He touched on the no-subtitle issue in the last two paragraphs of his review here:

Note: “Touch the Sound” is not subtitled, and its words are therefore unavailable to the hearing-impaired. Riedelsheimer is said to oppose subtitles because they would affect his visual compositions. Presumably he is as entitled to the same control over his art that his subjects exercise, but such directors as Ozu, Bergman, Scorsese and Welles have lived with subtitles, and I imagine he could have, too.

The music in the film might in any case be out of reach to most in a hearing-impaired audience, so perhaps the DVD will be a better way for them to access it. Volume can be manipulated, the actual speakers can be touched with hands and feet or sat upon, the bass can be boosted, and the experience might approximate what Glennie herself perceives. Almost all DVDs are subtitled even in the language of their making; if the DVD of “Touch the Sound” lacks subtitles, then Riedelsheimer will have some explaining to do.

Thanks for that, Roger.  Godspeed.