Tuesday, 22 January 2019

The play's the thing

Image result for the play's the thing
Representation” almost seems like a buzzword in the modern era when it comes to the entertainment industry. However, the lack of representation of some minority groups remains an issue that must be confronted. As someone with a hearing loss,  I am sad to see that so many non-deaf or hard of hearing actors are cast in a role portraying a deaf and hard of hearing character, as there are so many deaf and hard of hearing actors who could play the part. 

Fortunately, there are films that cast deaf and hard of hearing actors. In the 21st century, non-documentary films where deaf and hard of hearing actors actually played deaf and hard of hearing characters. One day, I hope this list can be so much longer."

Does ATR agree?  It doesn't, typecasting springs to mind, even a basic acceptance all deaf actors can do is play deaf parts, which must be doing them a gross disservice and no wonder they are scrambling to portray themselves instead of getting out there in the mainstream complaining they are being sidelined and broadening their skills and art so it isn't an endless, token inclusion or rights message.  Surely a deaf person using sign language is the ultimate in stereotyping, and a false one at that.  Disability inclusion is awful and the deaf or disabled actor is on a loser as soon as they get involved, playing the system game of making what is perfectly ordinary a format something 'heroic' or brave.

Search options online are mostly flagging up ASL output not British, honing my search TO UK deaf actors threw up a few adverts for dedicated cultural deaf output in London, and complaints they weren't getting enough support or funding for that, little or nothing about deaf actors playing hearing roles, just complaints they cannot represent themselves AS deaf people,  Of course, bums on seats count mostly, regardless if you are deaf or not.  Making minority output for minorities can only be funded by disability grants because they don't make a profit.  Unfortunately, such minority output is in, the city, and most outside are unable mostly to see or support it. Its a happy band of indulgent deaf luvvies in London doing their own thing mostly, and definitely playing the card of disability to get the money.  Of course topicality and alternatives to sign are not used or explored, except silence being used, nobody deaf is silent!

The jury is still out. Cultural deaf output based on sign language is a minority viewing even amidst the signing deaf who prefer captioned hearing output.   Ask them what their favourite output is it won't be signed output.  Near all media signed output in TV e.g. is heavily subsidised because it can never make any money on its own and because the equality law is more heavily used there, but the viewing figures are near un-recordable.  Without the inclusion law, you would not be seeing the signed output, but are the deaf actually watching it?  

It doesn't matter! because its a right of access, but despite that right deaf are switching off.  BBC/ITV/C4 all try to get it off-screen/online at prime time, and have to a large extent succeeded by offering deaf (But not the disabled), a subsidised channel or show to be shown somewhere else or at hours most people are in bed asleep.  Its sold as 'supporting the deaf community' but out is still out of prime time, and the BBC's response areas have removed deaf feedback altogether because they objected to what was happening., and replaced it all with 'OUCH' a disability-led and sanitised non-entity that toes the BBC line. Of course, all work for the usual and non-representative suspects.  It is sad to see the Deaf bought into the scam, and did not hold their ground, but, work is work I suppose, even if hardly anyone watches what you do!

Maybe the actors are confining themselves, yes they can sign, but finding films, plays, theatres or people to invest etc where that is an intrinsic part to play requires investment and viewers, HEARING ones, and they haven't the wherewithal or desire to do it.  COLG we are told broke the FILM mould by making a deaf artist appealing to hearing people. But, it's been done and very little has since to capitalise on it in the UK.  It also requires some film mogul prepared to take a risk hearing will look at it.

Of course, focusing ON a deaf person means adopting the default position of minority cultural output again, in essence, their own format has defined them, if they had other skills, showed versatility, and the real diversity of communication options they have, they would not be unkindly described as one-trick ponies by the sceptics. I do recall a lip-reading actor portraying as a deaf person in a hearing TV show that got plaudits from the hearing viewers, that was then criticised heavily by peers, because she did not use sign language and they went at her lip-reading too. 

'Deaf people would do this, not that..' etc, so they were undermining their own diversity and demanding their own stereotype, instead of supporting what was a success. One suspects there is this vociferous minority within a minority too purist to enable deaf to break the mould, also centred and probably endorsed by the select little band of deaf luvvies for whom the deaf play is the thing...... with BSL of course.

Herts CC's new BSL Video relay for BSL users.

USING AI To teach sign language

In schools all over the world, children sit in classrooms and learn a new language. Most options available for students are Spanish, German, or French. One such language that often gets left in the dark is Sign Language. 

Approximately 10 per cent of the population is either deaf or experience hearing loss and roughly 4,000 people are diagnosed with sudden deafness every year. Sign Language is difficult to learn and even harder to teach because it utilizes a combination of mouthing, facial expressions, body posture, as well as hand gestures to communicate. 

But all of that may change with the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) into the mix. Stephanie Stoll, a PhD candidate in computer vision from the University of Surrey, is currently collaborating with colleagues on a software that will allow people to teach themselves sign languages in an “automated and intuitive way.” In its current version, the software can analyze how students sign in Swiss-German sign language and then deliver feedback regarding handshape, location, timing, and motion. 

Stoll believes that they are the first to attempt any kind of assessment on signing. Moreover, they want to develop a system that can give users evaluations of their progress and correct mistakes. Learning Sign Language is categorically more difficult because it can’t be read or written down. To combat this, the team at the University of Surrey developed a computer game that shows a video of the sign and then records the users’ performance of the sign for evaluation. 

AI technology is utilized in every facet of the performance assessment. A convolutional neural network (CNN) pulls information from the video to view the user's upper body posture. The pose is then transmitted to the hand shape analyzer where an additional CNN examines the video and pinpoints hand shape information at each point of the video. Those shapes are then delivered to a hand motion analyzer called a Hidden Markov Model (HMM). This particular AI technology compares the reference model to the user attempt and produces a score of how well the gestures match. 

Everything the AI does is behind the scenes so that the only thing the user has to focus on is learning. Currently, the software is only compatible with Swiss-German Sign Language.