Is The Space the future of everything? (part two)

A screen grab of a captioned film. There is a woman's face, shot against the sun, she is wearing long earrings and sunglasses. The text says 'The focus of the project has shifted'


I love The Space. I’m a real advocate. I just wish I could access more of it. So at the end of of the formal panel session on The Space at FutureEverything it was time for questions, so I stuck up my hand to ask about accessibility – a key element for PUSH ME and for me as an audience member.

I ask why, since in particular captioning helps not only hearing impaired people but those with English as a second language and those accessing content in spaces where sound isn’t permitted, why the Space didn’t seem to have a simple on/off captioning facility.

And here is the answer from Mo McRoberts, Technical Lead, The Space/BBC  – straight from the horse’s mouth:

“We didn’t design it without it and there are captioned pieces on the Space. They are tricky to find – I can actually tell you what they are off the top of my head… it’s the Globe to Globe series of 37 Shakespeare plays in 37 languages – there are captions in English for some of them.

Now the reason there isn’t a subtitles on/off button is because although the BBC have set a very high bar for accessibility, particularly online and around video, we were aware that certainly on day one that imposing that level of accessibility on the arts organisations from the outset would be literally make or break. If we’d have said ‘yes you can do this but you need to provide captions’ they wouldn’t have been able to do it at all.

Now my job isn’t to make a decision around whether we put captions on video. My job is to ensure that when we do have it, its there and it works. And it’s a work in progress. This is a somewhat experimental service… we are still changing things, we are still learning things, and subtitles – being able to find subtitled content, being able to turn subtitles on and off, being able to turn audio description on and off – are all very, very high on my list for platform support. What follows then is how much of the stuff will actually come with subtitles or come with AD (audio description) tracks, which is a different matter.

The underlying thing with this is that web technology… accessibility for media on the web is new ground for all of the digital industries. Its not just the case that we haven’t set an attribute in a thing to turn the subtitles on and off, it the fact that browser support for closed captioning is pretty minimal, browser support for audio description is non existent to date. And so we are having to build things to make it work, to work around the limitations.”

Somewhere here for me there is a chicken and egg thing for me.

Is it that arts organisations that applied to The Space don’t have the capacity to consider access, or that Arts Council England didn’t ask them to? Would it really have broken them to consider access when legally they should have been considering access to all product since 2005?

If web technology doesn’t currently have the capacity to deliver in the way we want, shouldn’t ‘the most significant cultural intervention since the creation of the Arts Council’ be leading the way and changing that – devising solutions to make it easier and simpler for all arts organisation (inside and outside of The Space) to reach more people?

I’m not trying to knock The Space – far from it, I’m extremely excited by it and loving the process I am engaged in as part of it. I also recognize that it’s an experiment and that’s key for me – experiments are designed to help us learn new things. I’m learning loads and I hear that The Space is too.

I just wish we’d start to push forwards a bit faster on the access front – the technology is there and it makes such a difference for so many people.

As I said at the beginning. I love The Space. I just wish I could access more of it.