Two accessibility lawyers walk into a festival. Where are the captions?

Two accessibility lawyers walk into a festival. Where are the captions?

If you’re organizing a virtual event, plan to include captioning. Deaf people deserve access, too. If you invite two accessibility lawyers to speak AND still don’t provide captioning… Annapolis, we have a problem.

A link to my memoir, Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law


Haben speaking. Hello! Something wild happened today. Several months back the Annapolis Book Festival invited me to talk about my book, Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law. And my friend, a disability rights lawyer, Lainey Feingold would talk to me about my book and accessibility.

So today, 30 minutes before that conversation was scheduled to start, the festival tells us there isn’t going to be any captioning. Two accessibility lawyers are invited to an event to talk about accessibility, and they’re told there won’t be any captioning! The lack of captioning excludes deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

It’s one of the ways to provide access. So all attendees, whether deaf or hearing, can participate. It also helps a lot of people who are in sound-off situations for whatever reason, so that they could also have access to the c≈aptioning. So I told the event, I’m not going to participate. I’m not going to give a talk.

if there’s no captioning. When I was in law school, one of the biggest lessons was sometimes you have to give a firm “No.” This can be hard for a lot of people. There is a lot of focus on working together, collaborating, but sometimes you need to provide a firm, “No.” And that firm no can lead to solutions and collaborations down the line.

When I said no to giving a talk in an inaccessible environment, they started to take captioning more seriously. A lot of people deprioritize captioning. I can understand organizers feeling overwhelmed with so many things you need to do for an event, but captioning is not something you can shove to the bottom of the list.

It needs to be prioritized. So about 20 minutes before the session was supposed to start, they started looking into captioning options. There are auto-captioning services. Zoom supports auto-captioning. The problem with this is that it’s riddled with errors. My name is often misinterpreted to “happen.”

I’m not “happen” I’m Haben. And if you’re trying to read the captions, to access the event just through the captions, a lot of things are misunderstood and confused. And that’s not fair. There are situations where I can understand why someone would use auto-captioning. Maybe they truly don’t have the resources to pay for professional captioning.
But I strongly recommend, please use professional captioning services. MIT and Harvard were sued because they were posting many videos without captions, which denies access to deaf and hard of hearing people. And the schools tried to argue, “Hey, there are captions!” And they pointed to the auto-captions.

Auto-captioning is not equal. Auto-captioning is not equivalent to accurate, professional captions. So this is a reminder for festival hosts, event organizers: prioritize captioning. It’s not optional. And, lawsuits are extremely expensive and time consuming. Learn from Harvard and MIT’s mistakes. If you don’t know how to caption your events, ask! Research.

There are lots of resources out there. Many tools to choose from. Prioritize accessibility. Access for deaf and hard of hearing audiences matters, too. If you enjoyed the video, drop a comment, like the video, or subscribe to the channel.

Oscar-nominated Feeling Through has a Deafblind Character. It also has Ableist and Racist Messages.

Oscar-nominated film Feeling Through Exploits Deafblind People

I normally don’t follow the Oscars, but this year’s nominations include a short film with a Deafblind character. Depictions of underrepresented groups in movies influence how the mainstream public treats us. Feeling Through features a Black teen taking advantage of a Deafblind man, perpetuating the dangerous “Black criminals” stereotype.

The portrayal of deafblindness also advances harmful stereotypes. How the Deafblind character travels with a cane, shops, and manages money does not represent Deafblind people. The New York Times mistakenly praised the film for being “a window into the largely unknown world of deaf-blindness,” which saddens me. Celebrating Feeling Through adds to the discrimination facing disabled people at work, school, and the community.

Most film critics miss the racism and ableism in Feeling Through, so I created my own film review with a disability justice perspective.

Film Review Video Transcript

You can use Feeling Through to teach people to catch racist and ableist messages, skills all of us dedicated to human rights should have.

One last thing. Some film critics claim Feeling Through is the first film to cast a Deafblind actor in a leading role, but that’s incorrect. The 1919 film Deliverance featured Helen Keller cast as herself in that film about her life. Let’s continue to remember Helen Keller.


Haben speaking. Hello! One of the films nominated for an Oscar has a Deafblind character,
and it’s received a lot of press for having a Deafblind actor playing the Deafblind character.
And that’s the only nice thing I can say about this film. It’s called Feeling Through, and in this
film, the Deafblind character’s named Artie.

He meets a young man, a teenager out on the street and asks the teen for help. And the
whole film is about the interaction between the Deafblind guy and the sighted hearing teen.
Well, Artie asks to go to a store. They go to a store. On the way, Artie is using his cane and
his cane smacks against a piece of construction.

The cane did its job. That’s how canes work. They bump into things. And that signals to the
blind person that something’s there and the blind person would, if they have good cane
skills, navigate around the obstacle. That’s not what happened in this film. The producer
decided for the blind person to smack his cane against this obstacle and then trip. He
doesn’t really trip over the obstacle. He seems to trip over air. This was chosen by the
producer. Again, there are lots of Deafblind people and blind people who use white canes all
the time. I’m sure a few of them trip over air. But this is not representative of the blind and
Deafblind community.

So that happens, and they keep walking and they get to the store. And at the store, what
does Artie do? The producer has Artie hand over his wallet to this complete stranger. I
would never do that. I don’t know any Deafblind people who would do that. Hand over your
wallet to a complete stranger. The teen, the sighted hearing teen takes the wallet, buys
some items at the store, doesn’t tell Artie what he’s buying, buys items and pockets some of
Artie’s money. He doesn’t ask for permission. This is stealing. Later, they return to the bus
stop and at the bus stop, they fall asleep. I don’t know any disabled people who would fall
asleep at a bus stop in the middle of the night in New York City, but the producer has this

And during that time, the sighted hearing teen wakes up, notices Artie is still asleep, reaches
in and takes Artie’s notebook, reads through it. Invasion of privacy. Trust is fragile. Lots of
disabled people are concerned of being taken advantage of. Imagine being a Deafblind
person and learning of this film, this film that has been nominated for an Oscar, where a
Deafblind person’s privacy is invaded and a stranger steals from them. And this is supposed
to be a feel-good inspirational film. When I read this, it was deeply disturbing. I was also
concerned about employers, teachers, community members who would watch this film and
make assumptions about Deafblind people.

This could cause people to be discriminated against. Another thing to note is the sighted
hearing teen is Black. So we have another film portraying the racial stereotype of the black
criminal. America is struggling with racism. We don’t need a film that portrays racism and
ableism. Disabled people are harmed by this film. Black people are also harmed by this film.
If you’re voting in the Oscars or you know someone who’s voting in the Oscars, please don’t
reward films that advance racist and ableist stereotypes.