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Seeing in the Dark: Debunking digital inclusion

by Belo Cipriani

"Love, Simon" is one of the many movies listed on GayMovieDB.com. Photo: Courtesy Fox 2000 Pictures
"Love, Simon" is one of the many movies listed on GayMovieDB.com. Photo: Courtesy Fox 2000 Pictures  

As a blind man, I often get asked by strangers, "Do blind people enjoy videos?" And my answer is always, "Hell yes!"

Whether it's listening to stand up on YouTube, or binging on my latest guilty pleasure on Netflix, TV shows and movies are a big part of my life. Of course, before I can even enjoy a show, the digital platform needs to be accessible to my software, and videos need to offer descriptive audio for the blind — a feature that narrates the non-spoken parts of a video. Then, and only then, can I enjoy TV shows and films.

Through digital inclusion, more and more businesses are making their content accessible, and I have served as an accessibility consultant for many companies. However, before I am an access specialist and advocate, I am a consumer.

So, when I heard about GayMovie Database — a new, online database of over 1,000 TV shows, as well as short and long movies of interest to the LGBTQ community — I was all over it.

Using my screen reader for the blind, I logged on to http://www.GayMovieDB.com and ran into a few issues. For starters, some of the buttons and graphics on the site were not labeled, and thus, undetectable to my assistive software. I did, though, find names of movies on the site, but I was unsure if they contained descriptive audio for the blind or closed captioning for the hearing impaired.

I reached out to GayMovie Database for questions on the access of the site and movies, and received a quick response from Brandon Taylor, who is 26, gay, and the creative director for the company.

"Unfortunately," he said, "due to the API [application program interface] we are using for our information, there isn't an easy way to incorporate it into the site.

"I still have the developer looking for a way to make it happen, though," he added.

Taylor said that most titles purchased through the site will have captions. In addition, movies accessed through affiliate websites, such as Amazon and iTunes, would list the availability of accessibility features.

While some of the platform was accessible via my assistive software, most of it was not. Finding movie titles became a giant task and I grew frustrated with the site.

LGBT ally and attorney Albert Elia, 44, who is with California-based TRE Legal, a civil rights law firm that specializes in access for the blind and other disabled people, believes ignorance is a major reason companies stumble.

"The businesses that have the most difficulty meeting accessibility standards," he said, "are those that ignore them until they receive complaints from the disability community. They have difficulty complying with those standards because, having ignored accessibility until their platforms are released to the public, they have to retrofit their code to address access barriers at the same time that they are addressing other non-accessibility bugs or issues discovered by non-disabled users."

Elia, who is blind and a former software developer, believes the trend in the law is moving toward requiring digital accessibility according to technical standards. However, the U.S. does not yet have a set of federal technical requirements.

"The EU and Ontario, Canada do have specific technical requirements and some U.S. state laws offer broader protection for persons with disabilities than the ADA and other U.S. federal laws," he said, referring to the European Union.

"The more likely that a business can be said to be offering a service, even if that service is selling products or information, the more persuasive is the argument that the service must be accessible in order to ensure that it is offered in a non-discriminatory manner," he said.

Elia pointed out that accessibility costs could be minimized if access is considered from the get-go. For example, companies can add accessibility testing to their processes, hire software developers with accessibility experience, use website templates that can be labeled for assistive software readability, and require vendors to warrant that their products meet accessibility best practices.

On September 13, Orlando Entertainment Group, LLC announced the launch of GayMovie Database. The news release read as follows:

"Orlando Entertainment Group, LLC, is pleased to launch GayMovie Database, the most comprehensive and easily navigable online database of over 1,000 titles of interest to the LGBTQ community."

Because I explored this site as a consumer, I can only say that it was not easy to navigate for a blind person — and nothing has changed after a few months. It is ironic that a company looking to fill a diversity gap in the entertainment space missed out on engaging the biggest minority group — people with disabilities. Perhaps someday soon, it will address its access problems. When that time comes, I will be happy to review the platform again.

Belo Cipriani is an award-winning author and prize-winning journalist. His new book, "Firsts: Coming of Age Stories by People with Disabilities," is now available. Learn more at www.olebbooks.com.

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