Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Deaf Girly and the emergency sirens

One of the things I really don't hear – not even a little bit, not even at all, not even with my fancy Phonak hearing aids in – is ambulance sirens. I just about hear police sirens, if there's not too much background noise, and I can hear the low honking noise that fire engines make in built-up areas, but ambulances, I just cannot hear.

I've had some near misses with ambulances in the past as well. The time I tried cycling in central London and was at the front of some lights and pulled away when they went green unaware that there was an ambulance right behind me and I was in its way.

Or the time I was crossing a four-lane carriage way as the green man was flashing and an ambulance flew out from behind a lorry at top speed in the far lane and was so close to me, if my feet had been half a size bigger it would have run them over.

I am – most of the time – ultra careful about trusting the flashing of a green man (that sounds weirder than it should). I will always cross when others cross and hesitate with them too, which gets me some weird looks if I refuse to cross until a particularly distracted toddler and irate mother do as well.

But the other night, I was in a rush. I had to get to a shop to pick up a parcel before it closed – it was a ski helmet but they sent me a pair of Tommy Hilfiger jeans by accident but that's a whole other story – and I was on the verge of jaywalking the crossing when the lights finally changed.

In my defence I was also distracted by a bicycle who was insistent on cycling through the red light – and in his defence, two seconds later I realised why he had done this.

I crossed the two lanes of traffic facing me and then looked left to make sure the other carriageway was clear. It was, so I stepped out and there, just metres away on my right, on the wrong side of the road, blue lights flashing, clear as day was a massive, fast-moving ambulance.

And it was one of those moments where everything goes into slow motion. It seemed to take me an age to react to the fact that I was seconds away from being mown down, it seemed to take even longer to convince my feet to actually hot foot it to the other side of the road and it seemed to take a painful amount of time for me to reach the safety of the pavement.

I did, by a whisker and the braking of the ambulance. And as I faced the shop window, aware of the entire row of drivers behind me wondering what the hell I was thinking, I felt hot tears sprout from my eyes. The same tears of humiliation I used to get when I tried to make phone calls in one of my first jobs because I was told, I just had to make more of an effort. Back then I used to go and hide in a cupboard, but this time there was nowhere to hide.

I am not the only profoundly deaf person in the world. I am not the only person who has no chance of hearing high and some middle frequencies not even with hearing aids. And yet, ambulance sirens are out of range for me and I wonder how many other people?

But what I want to know is, could anything done about it? Without it costing a fortune? Could ambulances have a siren that was more variable in its frequency like the fire engines? That honking sound they make as they go through traffic lights has helped me on more than one occasion.

I'm just off to do a bit of research and to find out whether more deaf people have been hit by emergency response vehicles – a bit of a grizzly Google. And in the meantime, please let me know via Twitter @DeafGirly or over email if you've had a close shave with an emergency vehicle!

Happy Wednesday peeps!


Friday, 30 December 2016

Deaf Girly and the (inaccessible) Christmas Movies

One of my favourite things about Christmas – aside from the lovely family gatherings, endless snacks and chocolate, the sparkly tree and presents – is the festive movies. I absolutely love a Christmas film. Even terrible ones... and believe me, there are some terrible ones out there.

There's just something about them – the warm and fuzzy feelings, the amazing scenery as they are usually set in the USA with an abundance of snow, and the cheesy soundtracks – I can't get enough of them.

As someone who doesn't have a TV, I rely mainly on watching movies on catch-up on our computer, and this year Channel 5 did not disappoint with its double bill, daily afternoon Christmas movie fest. There were all sorts of cheesy movies, including one that I particularly liked called A Cinderella Christmas.

It's up there with my other favourite cheesy Christmas movies: Holidaze – staring 90210's Jennie Garth, which is about a woman who hits her head and wakes up in a parallel universe, and A Christmas Snowglobe, which randomly stars Christina Milan and is about... well a Christmas snowglobe.

However, neither of these movies were on Channel 5 this year. They may have been on the Christmas 24 channel, which I only just today discovered existed, but being TV-less, I do not have this...

As I wanted to keep the Christmas cheer a bit longer, I set out trying to find all three of my favourite movies online to download, which turned out to be a bigger challenge than I anticipated.

Holidaze is available on Google Play and Amazon Video to download, but neither of these versions has subtitles or closed captions. Randomly, Holidaze is available to download on US iTunes with closed captions but only if you live in the US... which of course, I don't. It is NOT available on UK iTunes.

A Cinderella Christmas is available only on – the US site – as a digital download with closed captions, and is not available on the UK site, but more on that in a moment.

A Christmas Snowglobe is available on Google Play without closed captions. In fact, this was the only movie that I couldn't find anywhere with closed captions.

So in a nutshell, I cannot get any of these movies with closed captions, in this country.


Obviously I decided to investigate this more and here's what I found out:

A Cinderella Christmas

You cannot buy anything digital on without having a US registered address and bank card. I thought that perhaps I could get around this by buying myself an gift card. I could not. So I contacted the lovely peeps on Amazon chat and to be fair they were amazing. I asked them why the content was not available to the UK Amazon users and they said it just wasn't. But they did – once I fessed up what I was trying to do – refund me on my gift card.

You can however, watch this movie on Demand 5 until 16 January – I am considering watching it every day just in case I never get to watch it again... yes, I am that sad!


I started by writing an email to iTunes, asking them why a movie was available on US iTunes but not UK iTunes and imploring them to consider making it available, especially when it is already available on Google Play and Amazon. I received a vanilla response thanking me for my feedback.


I then contacted Amazon on their fantastic chat function and was told that the movie studio provides the film in that format and so it is not possible to change.

*scowls some more

And finally I contacted Google Play, who also told me that the movie studio was responsible so the error was theirs.

*scowls even more

So I contacted ABC Family/Freeform in America – the company that made the movie – and asked them why they had provided the movie without closed captions to the UK. Of course they didn't answer this exact question but instead told me that the movie had closed captions and they could see no reason why it wasn't captioned on Google Play and Amazon.

And then I got dizzy and sick and tired of going around in circles.

I contacted Google Play again today and was helped by a very nice man called Kevin who once again told me that there was nothing Google could do as this was the format of the movie they had been given by the distributor.

I am not sure that Kevin was allowed to leave the 'live chat' until I had confirmed that I was happy, so we had a 20 minute text conversation about how sad I was about my deafness and the lack of Christmas movies with closed captions while he typed platitudes and shared my frustrations. I think once I finally got off live chat, Kevin went and made himself a very strong coffee in the Google Play Kitchen.

A Christmas Snowglobe

By the time I got to trying to find out about this movie, I had basically lost the will to ask the same questions over and over again, so I guess we will never find out whether it's possible to get this movie with closed captions.

And after all this, I am once again at a brick wall and banging my head against it.

It amazes me that accessibility to digital content differs so greatly between the USA and the UK and while I know these big corporations have bigger things on their plate than worrying about whether some cheesy Christmas movie is available to a deaf girl in London, I am sad that accessible content continues to be something that is overlooked in favour of saving money, convenience or even perhaps licensing laws.

Do you know, I once emailed the company that released Dr Quinn Medicine Woman on DVD – OK, I know that's bad, but please try your hardest not to judge me on my cheesy taste in TV – to ask why none of the DVDs had closed captions and was told it was a money thing. The demand and the cost were incompatible.

Sucks to be deaf eh?

Being deaf is more expensive. While I get my hearing aids for free, my US friends must pay for theirs. But, even in the UK, so many other little things add cost to my everyday life. I understand the cost of deafness more than I'd care to. And just sometimes it would be nice to think that Amazon, Google and Apple did too and gave me and other deaf people, who'd like to watch cheesy Christmas movies with closed captions even in July, a break.

I am going to continue asking for those three Christmas movies to be made accessible to me and if that fails, I might do what the lovely guy on chat suggested and move to the USA...

But then what's a deaf girl like me going to do over there eh? Watch closed captioned Christmas movies I guess!

Happy New Year peeps!

Hope 2017 is a brilliant one.