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December 17, 2013

“He was flapping his hands around, but there was no meaning in it.”
Posted by Patrick at 06:19 AM * 168 comments

Celebrity philosopher Slavoj Žižek, writing in the Guardian about the now-unmasked fake sign-language interpreter at the Mandela memorial:

And this brings us to the crux of the matter: are sign language translators for the deaf really meant for those who cannot hear the spoken word? Are they not much more intended for us—it makes us (who can hear) feel good to see the interpreter, giving us a satisfaction that we are doing the right thing, taking care of the underprivileged and hindered. […W]e can see why Jantjie’s gesticulations generated such an uncanny effect once it became clear that they were meaningless: what he confronted us with was the truth about sign language translations for the deaf—it doesn’t really matter if there are any deaf people among the public who need the translation; the translator is there to make us, who do not understand sign language, feel good.
This is obviously a productive line of inquiry, and just the sort of thing for which Žižek has earned the epithet “the Elvis of cultural theory”. In fact, I think we should ask ourselves a whole range of similar questions:
  • Are wheelchair ramps really meant for people in wheelchairs? Aren’t they really much more intended to make architects and able-bodied building users feel good about themselves? Doesn’t this confront us with the truth that it doesn’t really matter whether there are any people in wheelchairs?
  • Is medicine really meant for sick people? Isn’t it really much more intended to make healthy people feel good about themselves? Don’t we really know in our hearts that it doesn’t really matter whether anyone ever gets sick, because this whole business of having “doctors” and “nurses” and “hospitals” is really just a big charade meant to reassure ourselves that we’re doing the right thing?
  • Are paved roads really meant for vehicles? Aren’t they really much more intended to make pedestrians feel good about themselves? Isn’t it clear that, really, our entire system of streets and arterials and superhighways is basically just a gesture we undertake in order to reassure ourselves of our solidarity? Do bicyles, automobiles, and trucks actually exist?
It’s possible that, like me, you’ve long secretly wondered whether the much-admired Žižek wasn’t basically a kind of intellectual shock jock, a performer of platitudes meant to entrance left-leaning smart people. It’s good to finally have a definite answer to that question.

Comments on "He was flapping his hands around, but there was no meaning in it.":
#2 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 06:48 AM:

Clearly what Žižek is asking is, are sign language translators for the benefit of the deaf, or to make him feel better about himself? His conclusion: a bit of both, but mostly to make him feel better, because after all his feelings are more important.

And in the end, even if it is true that sign language translators exist to make Žižek feel like a good person, deaf people get the benefit. So although the world revolves around Slavoj Žižek and his feelings everyone else gets the benefit.

#3 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 08:10 AM:

As your headline indicates,

Slavoj Žižek: philosophy :: Thamsanqa Jantjie: sign language.

Totally clueless, and an embarrassment to people who have acquired an actual skill through long practice.

#4 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 08:39 AM:

As a pedestrian and cyclist, I feel that some crosswalks, bike lanes and sidewalks are made to make drivers feel good about themselves. And there does seem to be a lot of healthy people out there saying they are doing the right thing and anyone with any problem must be doing it wrong.
I haven't read much Zizek and not sure I want to start.

#5 ::: Jamie ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 08:52 AM:

Is oatmeal not a food? I have food. I do not have oats at this time. I do have tobacco, and habaneros. I know habaneros are food. Also, I accompanied a friend to court recently.

Therefor, oatmeal is not food. I thank you for your time.

#6 ::: Fred ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 08:53 AM:

And, indeed, I've often wondered if this so-called "law" of gravity wasn't simply some sort of exclusionary theoretical principle founded by those who want to wave their exclusionary educations in our faces. In the end, it all comes down to spite.

#7 ::: D. Potter ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 09:05 AM:

If a "celebrity philosopher" falls by his own writing, does he make a sound?

(This has been useful for discovering that the diacritical mark above the Zs in Mr. Žižek's name is called a "caron.")

#8 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 09:18 AM:

Patrick - well played, sir, well played.

#9 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 09:25 AM:

The Guardian does seem to publish rather a lot of offensive trollish clickbaity articles these days (though the one mentioned in my link, as Alan Rusbridger spent all one Sunday pointing out on Twitter, was actually an Observer article, not that that improves things; that article got binned completely, whereas this one was "amended on 16 December 2013 to comply with our editorial guidelines"—I wonder what level of toning-down that corresponds to).

Translation in English and Welsh courts was outsourced a year or two ago, with entirely predicable results.

#10 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 09:27 AM:

I admit to having a similar thought when I first heard the story. Not "Sign language interpreters are really there to make the hearing feel good" but "Is this going to get brushed aside as insignificant, thereby demonstrating that the organizers think that way?"

I somehow hadn't anticipated what actually followed, which was every agency in the South African government apparently saying, "We don't know who hired this guy."

#11 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 09:59 AM:

As someone with immediate family members who require sign-language interpreters on a daily basis, this story hit close to home. I saw this "philosopher"'s article and my head popped clean off.

Though that said, I do always wonder why music festivals hire interpreters. One in particular, which I have attended for going on 20 years, has a great group of ASL interpreters on stage at all times. They do add a beautiful visual artistry to the performances, and many of the performers enjoy interacting with them during their sets -- but in the almost-20 years at this festival, I can still count on one hand the number of deaf people I have seen seated in the "ASL Area" directly in front of the interpreter. In this particular case, I think the article's author might almost have a point.

#12 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 10:18 AM:

If Žižek has shown us anything, it is that celebrity philosophers aren't really meant to engage in philosophy, they are meant to publicly ask the rhetorical equivalent of "dude, have you ever considered we might just be a molecule in a giant's chair?" and get paid for it.

#13 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 10:18 AM:

I had never heard of Slavoj Žižek before. With any luck, I will not hear of him again. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss.

#14 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 10:20 AM:

Yeah, I think several comments (meredith, dotless i) hint at the true and useful things that Zizek *could* have said with his time on the soap-box, instead of the false and pointless things he did say.

E.g., "some officials and organizers are so careless about the provision of interpreters that they seem to act *as though they thought* that the point of interpreters is to make hearing people feel better. Of course, this is false: the point of interpreters is to allow equal access to all. But to achieve that goal requires real effort and attention on the part of organizers, not careless pro forma box-ticking."

The false and useless thing Zizek said is also deeply reactionary: it's the equivalent of a Limbaugh or George Will saying "the real point of affirmative action is to make white liberals feel better." Zizek is in no sense a friend of the left.

#15 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 10:27 AM:

"Celebrity Philosopher"?
That sounds like the premise for a Monty Python game show.

#16 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 10:31 AM:

Are philosophical discussions really meant for philosophers? Aren't they really much more intended to make ordinary people feel like certain professors of philosophy know what they're talking about?

#17 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 10:44 AM:

I was in an ASL interpreter training program for a while.

Although I agree that Žižek is making an ass of himself, I have to say that the issue of interpretation services being driven by the hearing community/for the satisfaction of the hearing community, DOES exist. Issues like this--who decides who's an interpreter? who decides whether to offer interpreter services and who pays? is a bad interpreter better than no interpreter at all?--came up in our studies, and were definitely part of the milieu in which interpreters work.

Examples I've run into personally: the Episcopal Church's decision not to train Deaf priests "because it's not cost-effective"; the privatization of interpreter services in my home state; "interpretation" that amounts to occasional gramatically-disconnected signs in English word order, especially in church services and musical performances; notes in a patient's chart "patient is hard of hearing and reads lips" making no mention of the fact that the patient used ASL.

A lot of what passes for interpretation is, indeed, for the benefit of the hearing, which is a good thing, because it's certainly not benefiting the Deaf.

#18 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 10:50 AM:

You may well ask.

#19 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 10:52 AM:

I thought he meant (though he did not say, you're right) "Are our public figures hiring interpreters because they care that the deaf can understand their words, or do they just check the diversity ticky-box to put a gesticulator on the stage and feel good about themselves?"

Because that exact 'interpreter' had been videotaped and complained about at several ANC events up to 8mo before the Mandela funeral, the government had no legitimate excuse to not know he was a charlatan.

#20 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 11:13 AM:

Meredith @ 11 It's about accessibility and inclusiveness, not attendance.

ADA laws in the US require that every public venue be accessible to all kinds of people with varying handicaps/disabilities. If the festival organizers want the hearing impaired to have access to the lyrics, then it behooves them to hire sign language interpreters.

Having sign language interpreters at a concert is a lot like putting curb cuts in sidewalks at an intersection. Most people don't need them. The average pedestrian usually appreciates the lack of tripping hazards even though them tripping or otherwise not being able to negotiate that step up/down is negligible. However, that curb cut was made for pedestrians on wheels. Sidewalks are now being designed for all kinds of pedestrians whether or not they actually "walk" on that pavement.

Festival and concert organizers who put signers on stage during a performance are no different than city planners including curb cuts that can be navigated by the blind, chair bound, and so on. (because those heavily textured ramps aren't textured to provide traction - they're textured so the blind can sense them with their feet and canes) The people who need it may not be there now, but there is no way to say they will never be there in the future. Or they may have been there in the past, but aren't there now. Either way, it's the planners' and organizers' jobs to provide equal access for all.

Plus what's to stop the hearing disabled from hanging out with the hearing abled and blending in because they can?

#21 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 11:40 AM:

For what it's worth, I caught some of the BBC coverage of the scandal, and it was about "how could this guy slip through?" I didn't hear anything from or about deaf people who were disappointed by not getting real time translation of the speeches.

#20 ::: Victoria

The difference between an ASL interpreter and a curb cut is that the interpreter is a person. I've heard about the interpreter(s) at an event feeling very worn by interpreting when there was no one to understand it. I don't know if this is a common problem, but I thought it was worth mentioning in case it is.

#22 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 11:51 AM:

Zizek is sometimes interesting, sometimes off-beat, and sometimes nuts. Here he's just nuts.

#23 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 12:02 PM:

I will note (mostly because I'm having a nitpicking day) that Doesn’t this confront us with the truth that it doesn’t really matter whether there are any people in wheelchairs? is actually a reasonable question.

I'm in favor of ramps, even if there are no people (presently) in wheelchairs; all it would take is a moderately-bad bike accident, and I would be in a wheelchair.

#24 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 12:24 PM:

Lila @ 17
Here's a bit of my personal experience.

Curb cuts happened city wide in my city because the city got sued for not being ADA compliant. The first round of installations only worked for the chair bound and screwed over the blind. So they've been installing the new curb cuts correctly, but not fixing the original installations unless they have to (aka: a blind person complained).

Did any of the committees you sat on have a deaf person on the committee? Or work with the deaf community on a regular basis? If not, then Žižek, you and Meredith have pointed out something that needs to be fixed.

Questions of who pays whom and who is qualified to do the job should be addressed holistically so all public sectors and private one have access to the same rule book. This set of solutions should, ideally, be included with the current ADA guidelines (or the equivalent in non-US countries). Because the hearing can only guess at needs of the deaf community until the deaf community as a whole presents a plan that meets their needs.

And yes, I am coming at this from the organizer's side. If the person or group in need don't go to the organizers and say "I need this issue addressed" it won't be addressed. If the person/group doesn't present me with the rules/regs/guidelines and a contact list of people and/or resources, all I can do is go off my assumptions. Assumptions are a bad place to start.

And then there's that percentage of the population who don't think that they should have to be compliant until a lawsuit happens and fines are levied. A lot of getting things off the ground and into play is mediating between the "We have to be accessible" crowd and "we shouldn't have to pay for that because I don't need it" crowd. So the well meaning and Lets Include Everyone people tend to get things wrong because they're dealing with people who Don't Care and don't want to be bothered or inconvenienced by the people who do. So compromises are made.

dotless ı @ 10
It's either a case of someone covering up their mistake or a case of a con man going up to harried officials and saying "You have a problem. I have the solution."

Nancy Lebovitz @ 21
The solution for this whole "a signer who can't sign got the job" is easy to say, but hard to implement. Have a pool of professional, licensed signers to pick from on a nation-wide service provider. Have the organizers ask their attendees "Do you need this service?" If Yes, hire a signer. If No, don't. If it turns out that the Yes is actually a No (and this will happen) then thank the signer and send them off and pay for the time there were there. If the No is actually a Yes, (and this will happen, too) then make sure that all the professional signers agree to being On Call As Needed for the appropriate remuneration.

As someone coming from the organizer side of things, having a licensed, professional, pre-vetted pool of signers available nation-wide that I could choose from would be a very wonderful resource to have. But education has to happen on all sides and at the same time.

#25 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 12:50 PM:

If there are public events that never had a sign interpreter until it was legally required, and now do have one, I'd say that's pretty strong evidence that the sign interpreters there are there, not to make anyone feel better, but to ensure that the event organizers don't have legal troubles. Similar things apply to curb cuts, wheelchair-accessible bathrooms, etc.--if enough people were putting them in from the goodness of their hearts, a law mandating them would presumably not have been needed.

#26 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 01:04 PM:

On a lighter note, this video is relevant again.

Tom Smith performing "I Had a Shoggoth", with signing by Judi Miller. Note that she is doing this COLD -- it was a new song that she hadn't heard before.

#27 ::: John Costello ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 01:05 PM:

Because Patrick took the one paragraph out of context, his rephrasings below it seem on-point, but they're not. What actually happened -- the details are provided by Žižek immediately preceding the part that's causing the outrage -- is that Jantjie, who is a "qualified" interpreter from a firm specializing in sign language interpreter, who had appeared at numerous other events to the objections/derision of the Deaf community, who has a criminal background, was *nevertheless hired to stand next to the President of the United States and "interpret" at the most significant funeral in South Africa's modern history; and his "interpretation" was nonsense. Given all that, can you honestly say with a straight face that the interpretation was there for the benefit of Deaf people? "Just a mistake, could have happened to anyone." Because, really, it couldn't have happened if people (the power structure involved in staging and executing Mandela's funeral -- i.e., the South African state) actually cared about having competent sign-language interpretation for Deaf people.

meredith@11 asks about musical events hiring interpreters. Here is a great article about Holly Maniatti, who interprets for hip-hop and rap artists. The video of her performing is astounding. But -- and this goes back to Žižek's point -- it's telling that in the article, both the performers and the Deaf people at the performances are surprised when competent (or superlative!) ASL interpreters show up. They don't even know they're getting interpretation, sometimes; the Deaf people assume they won't. And so, the question has to be asked, if "we" really cared about ASL interpretation for the sake of Deaf people, wouldn't Wu-Tang Clan be demanding the presence of Holly Maniatti (or others of her caliber), instead of leaving the quality or existence of such interpretation to chance?

To come back to Žižek's piece, it seems to me that the entire essay is an argument-by-metaphor designed to drive the last paragraph home. To some extent, he is saying, the presence of Jantjie front and center was a giant middle finger to South Africa's Deaf population, and acts as a synecdoche for the entire funeral, which was a ruling-class middle finger aimed at all of South Africa's oppressed.

#28 ::: John Costello ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 01:09 PM:

I'm really embarrassed at having gotten Holly Maniatty's name wrong TWICE in my preceding comment.

#29 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 01:49 PM:

I can see the point in an argument that in this specific instance, the complete clusterfuck surrounding this particular "performer" (won't call him an interpreter) indicates that all the Powers That Be cared about was ticking off the "sign-interpreter present" ticky box.

But the larger question of "who is the interpreter really there for" seems to me to tie into the general issue of "why should we go out of our way to make our event welcoming to minority group X when you only have to look around to conclude that minority group X simply isn't interested in our event?" If a Deaf person's enjoyment of an event would be significantly enhanced by the presence of an interpreter, but if that event has no history of making interpreters available, then the potential attendee will be facing the (no doubt tediously familiar) perceived choice between attending with significantly reduced enjoyment or spending the time and effort to inquire about (and potentially follow through personally on) the availability of interpretation services.

Conversely, if this same potential attendee is considering an event with a history of providing interpretation, whether or not that interpretation has been directly useful to anyone in the past, the choice whether to attend is much more similar to that faced by a hearing attendee.

This isn't meant to dismiss the considerable effort the event organizers may have gone through to provide what may often have been superfluous interpretation. But I could easily see an event making a philosophical decision that providing interpretation is something they want to offer as a baseline expectation whether or not they were aware of significant numbers of prior Deaf attendees, in a very similar way to a convention deciding to offer a strict anti-harassment policy as a baseline whether or not they had ever received any formal complaints of prior harassment. Sometimes it's about saying "this is the world we would like to create" rather than "this is the present reality we are responding to".

#30 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 02:07 PM:

The first question I have is, who checked his interpretation skills? How did he get hired as an interpreter in the first place?

#31 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 02:32 PM:

It's very clear they didn't run a background check on the fake interpretor, as it turns out he was part of a mob that murdered someone ten years ago, and was only not charged because he was found too insane to go to trial, and spent a year in a mental hospital. That sort of thing would stick out just a teensy-tiny bit in even the most cursory background check.

#32 ::: Sumana Harihareswara ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 02:41 PM:

Meredith, I'm not sure whether other people have addressed the question you posed to your satisfaction; if not, do say so, and I'll speculate a bit more...

#33 ::: Mishalak ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 03:34 PM:

As a fan of fantasy literature I may be excessively beguiled by the wonders of the modern age and thus my idea might be foolish. I have seen at times with opera that there would be a LED type board at or above the stage providing simultaneous translation. If such a board were hooked into the teleprompter at a political event it might provide a service for both people who are profoundly deaf and those of us who do not understand ASL and have some degree of hearing loss. Though it would need a technician able to quickly insert changes if the person speaking goes off text.

#34 ::: staranise ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 03:45 PM:

Meredith, I know several Hard-of-Hearing ASL users who have enough hearing to be able to enjoy music, but have great difficulty distinguishing spoken language from other noise, especially in situations like music festivals (instead of listening to music on a good audio system in a quiet room). They'd both love to be there enjoying the sound and dancing, and be totally unable to follow the lyrics and/or stage chatter.

#35 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 03:56 PM:

re 27; That's part of what caught my eye about this. In a rough way, people can see that handicapped ramps are helpful (and not just to the handicapped), that the separation of sidewalks and auto lanes is beneficial, and so forth. But most people cannot tell the difference between genuine ASL translation and mock signing; it's not insignificant that this is a post mortem discussion of an event and not the tale of how it was interrupted so they could put someone competent on stage instead of this guy.

re 26: I remember years ago, I believe it was at Barkovercon, when On The Mark (or it might have been Clam Chowder) was doing "In the Amazon" with an interpreter who was unfamiliar with the song. Let's just say that hysterical laughter interferes with accurate translation.

#36 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 04:12 PM:

Considering that this is not the first time that somebody who was assigned the responsibility of finding a translator has been unable to tell the difference between ASL and "bleegle floogle doogle blarp," and considering that all of the incidents I recall happened with unrelated organizations . . . I guess where this is going is, what, are there that many people out there who think that sign languages aren't real languages? I mean, if somebody turns to you and goes, "I need you to find an ASL translator," and you don't sign, but you do realize that sign language is a thing, you would go look it up--right?

Also, I super-hope that this isn't fake, because she looks awesome:

#37 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 04:34 PM:

I'm wondering who Zizek's "we" is. What proportion of signed events have competent interpreters? It could be a pretty high proportion while still leaving room for quite a few fiascoes.

#38 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 04:40 PM:

C. Wingate @35 AIUI at least 2 people complained during the ceremony, but nothing was done. And re the interpreter's mental problems, there was a report after the ceremony FWIW, that he was having hallucinations of angels while "interpreting".

#39 ::: Tangurena ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 05:14 PM:

@27, thanks for the link to Holly Maniatty's story.

At other musical events I've attended, the folks passed out balloons so that deaf/hard of hearing could at least feel the music.

The best parody/mockery of Jantjie's performance that I've seen so far is:

#40 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 06:01 PM:


I wonder how many other times you get crappy translations or translators for people without much power, and nobody hears about it. It would be surprising if this were a phenomenon limited to ASL translators/interpreters. (Nor do I know how common it is in other places--this is one really spectacularly high-profile example of something I sort-of assume happens somewhat regularly at a lower level.)

In general, if the rules or the boss say a translation into language X must be provided, but the people who need the translation don't really have much ability to complain effectively, I'd expect a fair number of crappy or incompetent translations into language X to appear, because there is unlikely to be much pushback when it happens.

#41 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 06:04 PM:

This is probably a dumb question, but how much benefit is there in providing an ASL translation over simply providing closed-captioning for anyone who wants it? (I'm assuming a US context--I imagine the literacy rate is much lower in South Africa, so it might not work so well there.)

#42 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 06:32 PM:

Closed-caption requires either a prepared script or a very fast, accurate typist (probably both), and assumes a screen or something else where they can be displayed. Mot of the time, that isn't available. (BTW, speech-to-caption/text is terrible on most videos.)

#43 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 07:47 PM:

Pj and albatross : when I donate blood, the clinic has a tv with sound off and captions on. Live captioning of live tv is often bizarre, misspelled, misunderstood by the captioner mangled, and generally a sample of "how the other half lives." And I am sure it is fiendishly hard work.

#44 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 08:00 PM:

'Joseph Gerbils' comes to mind. (I like captioning, because it's easier to follow than speech with background noise. But bad captioning is as bad as none at all, IMO.)

#45 ::: Miramon ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 08:19 PM:

I doubt this piece has much to do with "entrancing left-leaning smart people." Smart people of any political alignment will reject this ridiculous article, which is written with neither humor or insight.

#46 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 08:22 PM:

re PJ Evans @ 42: does anyone know what system Wiscon uses? I've seen entire presentations apparently being converted to text in real time; is this another big-hearted skilled volunteer (of which Wiscon has many) or a combination of voice-regcognition tech and moderate correction skills? (I can see crxns being applied but don't know if they're overlaying a VR first pass.) In general, how long does it take to teach a VR system costing $X to recognize a voice -- is this a practical thing to do for an event with a known set of speakers?

#47 ::: Megpie71 ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 08:37 PM:

SamChevre @23 - I'm another one in favour of ramps, because they're not JUST helpful for people on wheels. They're also useful for people like me, who have slightly dodgy knees which don't particularly like stairs (one knee bitches as I go up the steps, the other one bitches as I go down). Ramps, being sloped, don't cause the same sorts of problems. It also means they're useful for people who are using other mobility aids than wheelchairs, such as canes, walking frames and so on. To be honest, I'm finding myself annoyed at the university I'm currently attending, because they're busy installing wheelchair lifts at all kinds of points around the campus, and subsequently removing the ramps that used to be provided - thus actually making the campus less accessible overall.

Victoria @24 - Something that is coming out of this whole debacle is a move within the South African government to get legislation into place to license signers for the deaf in South Africa, so something of similar egg-on-face potential isn't likely to happen again. I suspect they have a bit of incentive - former Archbishop Tutu isn't getting any younger, after all.

#48 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 08:52 PM:

Has everyone seen the balloon animal gif which adds a balloon to the hand waving? It's a good chuckle.

#49 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 09:37 PM:

Jenny Islander #36: are there that many people out there who think that sign languages aren't real languages?

For the general case, It's more likely a matter of ignorance than disdain -- consider, if someone tried that for, say, Spanish translation in the U.S., they'd be caught fairly quickly, because there's a lot of people around who know Spanish, at least well enough to recognize "Argle bargle blargh" as nonsense. Even if the network execs didn't, some passersby or "one of the help" would likely speak up. But there are not nearly as many folks who know ASL....

In this particular case... I suspect that South Africa's enforcement and security are seriously lacking. Never mind the disrespect to deaf folks, letting a known fraudster and mental case have access to a visiting foreign dignitary is just not wise.

#50 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 09:53 PM:

Pish! Pish, and I daresay: posh! What kind of faux "philosopher" would take the example of a service allegedly offered to benefit and include an underserved minority that in reality only served to reassure the majority of their benevolence and inclusiveness as a case study of a pattern where services that are allegedly offered to benefit and include underserved minorities in reality only serve to reassure the majority of their benevolence and inclusiveness!? What a faux-intellectual leftist provocateur!

And making a wild, insupportable leap by tying that concrete example of contentless, pseudo-concern, form over substance--alleged pseudo-concern, I mean--into a larger critique of the ruling class's pseudo-concern for the masses, the form of solidarity with radical critiques of hegemony with no actual substance: G-d preserve us from such buffoons! Elvis of cultural theory, indeed!

And those alternate lines of critique--what riot! To suggest that disability access as it is executed is often a mere charade of care for the lives of the disabled, betraying its focus on bureaucratic box-checking rather than on helping people! Ridiculous. Surely there would be websites full of pictures of utterly useless wheelchair ramps amply demonstrating how little concern for actual wheelchair users went into their construction!

And honestly, who would even think to suggest that the medical establishment ever fails its duty of care to its patients in favor of making society feel good? That medicine is ever used to deflect attention from addressing the underlying issues! I challenge you: come up with one example. Just one. It can't be done!

#51 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 10:52 PM:

Victoria @24 said:And yes, I am coming at this from the organizer's side. If the person or group in need don't go to the organizers and say "I need this issue addressed" it won't be addressed. … The solution for this whole "a signer who can't sign got the job" is easy to say, but hard to implement. Have a pool of professional, licensed signers to pick from on a nation-wide service provider.

Interestingly, if you read down into the comments of some of the better comment-sections of articles about this, Deaf South Africans are saying that yes, they knew about this assclown, and yes, they videotaped him to document his assclownery, and yes, they complained about him to both the ANC directly AND to the national accrediting organization from whose known members all official sign interpreters are hired … and more than 8mo later, this assclown was still assclowning up on a stage on international television.

Someone at ANC deserves to be fired over this, as do probably quite a few someones at the national accrediting organization. :-/

I wish I could find the cogent comments to link them here, but I've been reading about this for days and didn't save links, and Google isn't helping much.

Jenny Islander @36: I don't know enough ASL to tell, but I know Heather Dale and she is always uber-inclusive in everything she does, so it would surprise me if she put up with bleegle floogling. I recognize a few of the words, and the general tenor resembles what Judi Miller does.

albatross @40 said: I wonder how many other times you get crappy translations or translators for people without much power, and nobody hears about it. It would be surprising if this were a phenomenon limited to ASL translators/interpreters.

Very common in hospitals, because even if the hospital has licensed medical interpreters on hand for the language, often doctors will quickly ask a nearby nurse or orderly (or family member) to translate instead, and so things like someone saying in Spanish that they were poisoned will be heard by someone who speaks enough Spanish to talk to his abuela but is English-native, and the false cognate 'intoxicado' will be translated 'drunk' … yeah. There's a great book by Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche called Found in Translation that's a really good read of from-the-trenches experience.

CHip @46: The GoH speeches at WisCon this year were quickly typed in by hand, I saw the lady doing it. I don't know if that's what they always do.

#52 ::: shadowsong ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 11:15 PM:

This seems like a particularly privileged argument to me. People who need the service can tell right away whether the service is being provided for them (ie it is actually functional and useful) or just to avoid a lawsuit or to look inclusive.

The argument only becomes philosophy when the service is irrelevant to the arguer. As a non-Deaf person, Žižek has the privilege to wonder what the point is. As a member of the majority, he's so used to things being FOR HIM that it seems inevitable that he'd wonder if maybe this service was actually for him, too.

#53 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2013, 11:38 PM:

I think that a lot of WisCon's captioning isn't real-time; I know they ask guests of honor to submit their speeches with a fair amount of lead time so that captions can be made available.

Worth noting, perhaps, for those who are not aware : people who have been Deaf from birth or early childhood can face more difficulties with literacy, since spoken English gives you a huge head start with written English that ASL doesn't give you. So while captions are excellent for some people, they're not a complete solution for everyone.

#54 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 12:31 AM:

In only read to comment # 30 so far, but I'm surprised nobody pointed out the obvious to meredith @ 11:

Not everyone in the Deaf Community is 100% deaf, just as not all the visually impaired are 100% blind. There are those who can hear enough to hear music (Maybe not everything in music a person with standard hearing may hear, but enough to appreciate) but may well not be able to interpret the lyrics at all, only that someone is singing.

There are levels and degrees to everything.

(Of note, while still counted as part of the hearing community, the woman beside me in my church choir has a hearing aid and 90% of the time cannot hear our director's directions unless they are repeated by a fellow alto or he speaks to her loudly and particularly. But if I get lost, I follow *her* lead when we sing, and she definitely picks out errors in the other parts better than I do.)

#55 ::: staranise ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 12:40 AM:

I find myself laughing sometimes when it is quite obvious with live captioning that the captioner has fallen desperately behind and is typing furiously with an increasing number of mistakes, mashes their keyboard in frustration, takes a minute to recollect themselves, and then abandons their backlog and begins captioning again with what is being said at the current moment. I see it a lot when watching nightly news with the captions on.

#56 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 12:55 AM:

albatross 41: I've been told that a lot of deaf people don't read very well (after all English isn't their native language—and the written form of ASL is still pretty rare), even in America. Also, what P J said (I watched The (live) Sound of Music with the captions on and there was a huge delay between the spoken/sung line and the caption; there's no excuse for that when they know every word in advance).

CHip 46: It's a paid captioner. I'm not certain there's no VR, but I don't think there is. Ah, Elliott says he saw the woman typing it; pretty sure this year wasn't a new thing.

#57 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 01:29 AM:

My -- possibly erroneous -- impression is that a lot of live-captioning on tv (e.g., news-streams) is machine translation. This is based on the types of errors that I see: vague sound-alikes for unusual proper names, erroneous word-segmentation that generates more common words but ones that make no sense in context, and so forth. Even the "fall behind then catch up by dropping bits" is similar to what I see with speech recognition software if you speak too fast for the processor.

These sorts of errors are entirely different from what you're likely to see from a live human transcriber (where you're more likely to get typos than wrong-word substitutions, for example).

The economics of machine speech recognition versus human transcribers also makes it a likely possibility. And speech recognition software is startlingly good these days. Far from perfect, but startlingly good.

#58 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 01:48 AM:

PJ @44: "Joseph Gerbils" is the best screwed-up caption Mike ever found for me. It was from something on the History Channel, if memory serves.

CHip @46: WisCon uses a Communication Access Real-Time Translation (CART) service. (I used CART services when I was in the hospital for my hip replacement surgery in 2009, and suggested that WisCon look into it, and they did.) There are usually a few bobbles around ad libbed remarks, but when speeches are given to the CART people in advance, it works pretty well.

One unexpected benefit of having the GoH speeches captioned, I am told, was that a number of attending fans for whom English is not their first language found it very helpful to have the words on the screen as well as the speaker's voice. I was delighted to hear that the Japanese fans in attendance found it particularly handy and expressed their appreciation.

Accessibility: it often improves things for more people than expected.

I read the Žižek piece. There's probably no way to convey the gut-wrenching nausea and heat-lighting of anger it induced. I'll just leave it at that.

#59 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 01:52 AM:

Heather Rose Jones @57:

Speech recognition software is startlingly good these days? Either there's a very low bar for "startlingly good," or those automatic YouTube captions are using software five generations out of date, because damn, they're worse than useless. (I have been told "Shut up and don't complain; they're free!")

#60 ::: jonesnori/Lenore Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 02:16 AM:

CHip @46, Elliott Mason @51, Xopher @56: the WisCon GOH speech captioner is a paid professional, using similar skills to a court stenographer, supplemented by scripts (where available) and lists of key words provided in advance. Her fee is paid by grants from a state agency and from SF3, the organization which runs WisCon. That's one of the places donations to SF3 go, actually. ASL interpretation at WisCon is funded similarly. I don't remember if any of those costs come from the WisCon budget itself.

#61 ::: jonesnori/Lenore Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 02:22 AM:

Lenora Rose @54: I could almost be your neighbor in the choir! Though I don't miss quite 90%. Ask Xopher.

#62 ::: Josh Berkus ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 02:24 AM:

Folk singer Heather Alexander had an ASL interpreter at a pirate-themed event she worked. The ASL which went with the songs was so colorful that she added them to two songs as audience participation hand jive. I don't remember most of these, but the best part was "R R R" for what a pirate says, since it makes you look rather Captain Hookish.

So, for the benefit of the hearing, indeed.

Tangentially, ASL ought to be a language option in high school. You really wanna benefit the deaf? Teach 5% of the hearing population ASL. Besides, its way useful in noisy urban environments.

#63 ::: jonesnori/Lenore Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 02:26 AM:

I missed several commenters on the captioning, sorry. In particular, I heard the same as Elise from Japanese fans who found the captioning really helpful.

#64 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 04:00 AM:

I think that Žižek has what can be narrowly construed to be a point: there is a kind of cosmetic helpfulness that is more about the people doing the helping than it is about the people being helped. And that's not an unknown phenomenon; we have a term of art for it in the Dysfunctional Families community: helpiness/hlepiness (both are used*).

But that's first-order thinking. Because the next question is, why does it make "us† (who can hear) feel good to see the interpreter, giving us a satisfaction that we are doing the right thing, taking care of the underprivileged and hindered"?

As Žižek goes on to say about a Slovenian politician (whom he doesn't even bother to name, which tells me a thing or two about respect right there) "We all‡ knew that the true addressees of her translation were not the deaf but we, the ordinary voters: the true message was that the party stood for the marginalised and handicapped."

Assuming arguendo that Žižek was right, and the target audience really was the able-bodied, why do "we" give a damn? Why are able-bodied people who care about the disabled a sufficiently distinctive constituency to be worth pandering to?

We're right back to where Žižek doesn't want us to be: society values disabled people. It's soppy and not cynical enough for a newspaper philosopher, but there it is. Non-disabled people agitated for, voted for, and are happy to pay for the accommodations mandated by the ADA and its equivalents around the world. I can hear, but I care about people who can't, the way I care about people who can't marry or find a job with a living wage, the way I expect men to care about problems that I experience as a woman. Society. It's a thing. Žižek should look into it.

Now, we don't value our disabled members enough. I totally agree with that. We need to do better. We need to listen to the disabled—the experts—instead of thinking people without experience of the disability in question know what's best. Hiring Jantjie was somewhere between Dunning-Kruger and incompetence, but it addressed a sincere desire.

More and more, I find myself an incrementalist. As such, I see a line between the society I was born into and the one I would like to live in. Hiring an interpreter is a point on that line. Hiring a qualified one is further along it, and I do want us to move in that direction as quickly as possible. But I'm not sure claiming that interpreters are really for the bleeding-heart liberals is really the best way to make that move. (In addition to being untrue, of course).

* And some people dislike one spelling, and this is not the place where we're going to go into that, OK?
† This "us" gets right under my skin. I may not have hearing difficulties, but I want no part of his "us".
‡ "We all"? Vide supra, and fuck him too.

#65 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 04:24 AM:

Actually, the more I think about it, the harder I'm side-eyeing Žižek's mythical "we". I've been thinking about an interesting conversation I had on Twitter not too long ago, with a Toronto-based activist.

Ze pointed out that a lot of the arguments against public transport accommodations—"kneeling" buses, wheelchair lifts, curb cuts, and ramps—are based on usage statistics about the disabled and mobility-impaired. But the same accommodations make it easier for able-bodied parents of small children in wheeled conveyances to use public transport. Of course, the vast majority of parents trying to get kids in strollers onto buses are (a) female, and (b) not rich*, which makes it easier to omit them from the cost/benefit calculations.

That often seems to be the case, doesn't it? Rather like non-native speakers who benefit from captioning, the non-disabled people who might benefit from changes that also benefit the disabled tend to be ignorable populations. (Probably because if they weren't ignorable, then we'd have already built society to suit their needs.)

Another reason to put scare quotes around Žižek's cynical "we", his population of helpy people who can afford not to care.

* And a fair proportion of them are also (c) not white.

#66 ::: rat4000 ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 05:36 AM:

abi, he's not talking about society. He's talking about people in power. He speaks of interpreters as "intended"--by whom? The people hiring them; and those people don't care for the disabled, or anything else, as much as they care about image. So they get us image rather than substance. Jantjie was there so the event looked inclusive, and whether it actually was inclusive was secondary. Society may have a sincere desire to be inclusive; the people making the decisions obviously didn't, otherwise this wouldn't be the mess it is.

Or, largely what heresiarch wrote; though I am saying that the people in power are lying to the majority and heresiarch is saying that the majority is lying to itself. (I suspect the latter claim is stronger; it seems to imply the former. In any case I think we mostly agree.)

Patrick (@0): there's equivocation in your analogies. That it doesn't matter (concerning ramps) whether people in wheelchairs exist, and that it doesn't matter whether people in wheelchairs use the ramps, are different statements. If the article were about ramps, it would deny the latter while remaining silent on the former. But that, of course, wouldn't make its author look nearly as stupid or as easy to dismiss.

#67 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 06:44 AM:

Abi @65 notes that public transport etc. accomodations for mobility impaired also help parents with small children. I'm childless, in good health, in my 30s and partly because of that I often find myself pushing carts, pulling luggage on wheels and carrying heavy loads for people. I appreciate ramps and curb cuts too.

#68 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 09:15 AM:

Josh Berkus @62: The other thing ASL is very useful for is raising a kid before they're 3. Making articulate speech sounds, it turns out, is significantly harder than Wanting To Word, and infants get fine hand-control first. It only works if you have two adults using the hand-words to each other in front of the kid, though, so both parents need to practice up beforehand and be double-speaking before they think they need it.

It was really, really helpful for about a year for my daughter; she could just TELL us what she WANTED instead of having to scream her head off in frustration. We only ever learned an assortment of nouns, of which she picked up fewer; I found it really useful because I have occasional aphasia when spoonless, and found I could sign when my mouth-words channel was too tangled. I just usually didn't have the vocabulary to say what I wanted. :->

It's also really useful for using for quick notifications/explanations to someone else in the same room with you when you're on the phone, or across the room in a noisy place.

Some Deaf tourists on the train with me when Beka was small saw me talking to her about stuff and initiated a fast, fluent conversation; I said (and signed, as best I could) very slowly while pointing my lips at them that I wasn't, it was for her. I think they may have thought she was Deaf; my ASL was inadequate to the task of explaining. :-> Still, they were excited, and I was kind of pleased to be able to follow a (very) little of what they were saying to each other about the subway map.

One of the City Colleges of Chicago teaches ASL; it's not the downtown one with the most students (but that's because they're bulging at the seams and out of classroom space even for math, much less electives beyond Spanish and Mandarin). Now that I live up near it I might consider taking classes in it sometime, it was interesting and my brain likes it.

Neil W @67: In downtown Chicago, there are at various points of the business day a simply staggering number of people using what I would call AV Carts (waist-high plastic carts with two shelves and a top bit with a slight lip, handles on both ends at the top, wheels significantly smaller than my fist, of which two swivel and two are fixed - used at my high school to cart TV-and-VCR pairs around to classrooms) to take things between buildings on the sidewalks. Sometimes it's large orders of sandwiches, for catered lunches; other times it's boxes of documents or other things. In all cases, one or sometimes two employees inadequately dressed for winter weather (though it is sometimes winter when this happens) are horsing these things, meant only for level floors with at worst industrial carpet on them, over outdoor surfaces.

Before we had curb cuts their lives sucked even WORSE, because they'd have to lift 'em up and down at all intersections. Now they just need to worry about spilling sandwiches on the ramp.

#69 ::: Jenavira ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 09:22 AM:

re: live captions,

When I was just out of college I worked as a captioner for a company that provided live captioning of phone calls for deaf and hard-of-hearing folks (and the devices to display them, naturally). Just like TTR it requires a person in the middle, although unlike TTR we didn't speak directly to anyone: the hearing-disabled person had their captioned phone, and the incoming audio got piped in to us, which we transcribed with the use of voice recognition software, fast typing skills, and a pause pedal.

Everyone had to have their own assigned profile on the VR software, and it took three weeks to get it (and us, but mostly the software) trained up before we were taking live calls. You had to speak in a very careful, robotic voice - any emotion would throw off the VR - and even then there were things it wouldn't do. We had touchscreen computers with common VR-failures programmed in (most small words like "and," "is," and "but" wouldn't work outside of a sentence) and we had to resort to typing proper nouns and swear words, in addition to corrections.

(There were also some words that just interacted badly with the local accent. We were forbidden from speaking "garage," because the VR tended to turn it into "crotch." I will never forget the time I decided to chance it and voiced "going to go visit mom to clean out her garage...")

We were able to pause the incoming audio, but instructions were that if we ever got thirty seconds behind or more, we were just supposed to drop the cache and pick up live again. In a conversation, this wasn't hard; with people who tended to monologue on the phone, much harder. Captioning conference calls was a nightmare.

I'd be very surprised if live captions on the news and such weren't done in much the same way, although they don't seem to bother with corrections. It's easy to forget about proper nouns and just assume that the software will have heard of, say, Chicago (it hasn't, particularly if you have a Chicago accent).

Yes, modern VR is astonishingly good. I still remember when we switched to what is now probably two versions back of Dragon Naturally Speaking, which was miles better than the software we'd been using before that. But I still get much better results on VR software than my friends, and I'm sure it's because of all that voice training. You have to know how to talk to it. Someone giving a speech live? No way.

#70 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 09:42 AM:

Judi Miller, sign-interpreter of filk extraordinaire, teaches at a school for kids with many issues (some of whom are Deaf). She simulteaches in English and ASL to a mixed classroom; I think she teaches math and science primarily.

Her school bought a bunch of computers with VR speech-to-typing software of some sort, because they wanted to help the Deaf kids work on their spoken 'accent' by typing with their voices. Nobody could make 'em work. The kids couldn't; the Deaf or hearing-born-of-Deaf-parents-ASL-native-speakers English teachers couldn't. One of them was venting at Judi about this expensive boondoggle, and Judi decided to give it a try.

Turns out they 'listened' just fine ... if you used a crisp, RP-esque British accent, the kind American kids who grow up watching far too much Masterpiece Theater can fake. UK software company, go figure. Judi said the first time she made them respond several of her colleagues simultaneously hand-blurted the sign for "Witch!"

#71 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 10:02 AM:

Speaking as a hearing person, I'd have been THRILLED a couple years ago when I heard a MC Frontalot concert to have had supertitles, or signing, or SOMETHING. Though I don't speak sign, I still think it would have helped, as I understood perhaps one word in ten of what was being sung, and wished I could have understood more. Even signing, of which I only know a few words, would have been useful, as I would have had the interpreter's body language to go by if nothing else. Instead, what kept catching my eye was a rotating set of video images that at first looked like they ought to be commenting on what he was singing, but, it turned out, had nothing to do with anything and just used brain cycles that could have been trying to process the words.

As others have said, accommodations, in this as in other things, are useful for more than just the target population.

#72 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 10:21 AM:

As abi says at #64, Zizek has a point. This does not diminish Patrick's opinion that he is making it like a kind of intellectual shock jock, a performer of platitudes meant to entrance left-leaning smart people.

Zizek is trolling, "Ha ha only serious", and ever ready to criticize his critics by saying Of course there were several levels of irony in my original article, how could anyone think I was that kind of asshole?

Ah, I see, you are an entirely different kind of asshole. Fair enough, so.

#73 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 11:05 AM:

elise, I remembered the name, but not who found it - my apologies to Mike.

My nephew is hearing-impaired, but his wife is deaf-from-birth, and doesn't lipread. (Her written English works fine though: she went to law school and passed the bar exam on the first try.)
I second the idea of teaching ASL as a second language, preferably starting early.

#74 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 11:20 AM:

Elliott Mason @68 The other thing ASL is very useful for is raising a kid before they're 3.

My daughter with special needs (now 19) hears, but has severe speech issues. She uses a communication device and signs.

Early on, we got our greatest mileage out of being able to tell the difference between "more" and "all done," since either could result in a kid in a high chair screaming in frustration. Plus, we still use the ability to sign listen or wait across a crowded room.

When she was in preschool at the on-site child care center at her father's office, the teachers used some basic sign with her. This was a little before the popularity of "baby signing" and they had to explain what was going on to the other parents, because the group of 2-year-olds, observing the result of my daughter signing "more cookie," immediately began signing themselves.

#75 ::: GlendaP ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 11:22 AM:

Josh Berkus @62: Some high schools do offer ASL as a language option. My niece chose that, even though neither she nor anyone else in the family is hearing-impaired.

#76 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 11:25 AM:

ObSF: In S.M. Stirling's Changed World society, one of the leading characters is profoundly deaf, and communicates by lip-reading and ASL. As a result, everyone who spends much time around her tends to pick up ASL, and because she is also a community leader, ASL is one of the official languages of that community; anyone who wants to join them is required to become fluent in it. The usefulness of ASL as a means of silent communication (e.g. when scouting enemy troop movements) is also a plot point.

#77 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 11:44 AM:

One minor side point:

A number of people are talking about the South African interpreter and 'ASL' in the same sentence. I do want to point out that it's not at all clear to me that a competent interpreter in that context would have been using ASL at all, rather than South African Sign Language. (There are many signed languages, just as there are many spoken languages, and the relationships aren't necessarily what you would expect; for instance, ASL is more closely related to French Sign Language than to British Sign Language.) So there's the additional complexity that some people at the time and in the immediate aftermath may have thought "Well that's not ASL, but it could be a language I'm not familiar with"; making the distinction between "meaningless gabble" and "a language I don't know" isn't always easy. This obviously doesn't explain how this clown got hired in the first place, but may be a contributing factor in the response.

#78 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 11:44 AM:

PJ @ 73: No prob. I was glad to see you mention it, and I'm just footnotin' the text in a friendly fashion.

#79 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 12:03 PM:

elise @ 59 re: speech recognition software

To Jenavira's comprehensive response at #69, I'll only add that my "startlingly good" evaluation is taking into account the enormous theoretical complexities of doing machine speech recognition at all. I'm not familiar with the quality of You Tube captioning, but when I've experimented with programs like Dragon where you "train" the software for your personal accent, I've been totally blown away by the accuracy rate.

Look at it this way: most decent speech recognition software will have a higher level of accuracy on the your/you're to/too/two their/there/they're groups than a typical internet user. (I suppose you could call that a "low bar".) And while that might seem a smaller thing than getting uncommon proper names horribly wrong, it's still an astounding accomplishment.

#80 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 12:12 PM:

rat4000 @66:
he's not talking about society. He's talking about people in power.

I disagree. He uses terms like "we the ordinary voters" and "us the public" throughout the article.

Žižek isn't lecturing the masses about what we-exclusive (the people in power, of whom he is one and his readers are not) are doing. The text is an attempt to assert that we-inclusive ("voters", "the public", among whom Žižek feels he is a kind of intellectual primus inter pares) don't care about the essence of accessibility as long as the form is there. He's trying to coopt us into his cynicism.

It's pretty clear that many politicians (not all; this is a complex world) would settle for the fig-leaf of accessibility. My point is that all but the most crassly ignorant of politicians know that they need at least that, not because the public want to feel smug, but because they genuinely want disabled people around. I think Žižek is just plain wrong, that the history of the ADA, like the history of marriage equality, contradicts his easy cynicism. Because society.

And furthermore, the accusation that people want to feel they're doing "the right thing" about disabled people presupposes that inclusiveness is a genuine value in our society (or why would we want it and feel smug about supporting it?) If we really didn't care, the way he asserts, our communities would look very, very different. And our politicians would be making a show of something other than accessibility.

Basically, I think Žižek is a fish questioning water.

#81 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 12:26 PM:

OtterB @74 said: they had to explain what was going on to the other parents, because the group of 2-year-olds, observing the result of my daughter signing "more cookie," immediately began signing themselves.

I just wanted to see this again. Still chuckling. :->

loran @77: Yes, the signer was supposed to be doing South African Sign Language (which is one set of signs used by people born into families using all the range of languages spoke in South Africa, including Afrikaans and English; some later learn ASL or another manual language as well, if they want to interface with Deaf people abroad). Deaf locals in the crowd confirmed that he wasn't doing anything they recognized as even vaguely linguistic with his hands. Also, American linguists familiar with many manual languages have chipped in that all manual languages have certain kinds of patterns to them that imply a meaningful communication; his didn't (as witness the balloon animal insertion gif).

#82 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 12:48 PM:

Some people do things because they're legally obligated to do so.
Some people do things because it makes them feel good about themselves.
Some people do things because it's the right thing to do.

#83 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 12:49 PM:

jan finder used Dragon software when traveling. There were times I had to read his email aloud, using his inflections, before I figured out what he'd said. He got better about reading and correcting before sending after I sent an amused critique of one particularly mangled email.

My then not ex and I found signs useful when dealing with exuberant or clueless salesfolk. Yes, no, and the punchline to a visual joke that meant 'bs' were most used.

#84 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 01:02 PM:

Serge @82
That can be turned to another angle.

Some things I do because I'm legally obligated to do so.
Some things I do because it makes me feel good about myself.
Some things I do because it's the right thing to do.

These are, of course, overlapping and not mutually exclusive categories.

ObSF, somewhere in Heinlein, a character - probably Lazarus Long - says something like, if you're ever tempted to do something altruistic, root around looking for your ulterior motive. If, after that, you still want to do the thing - wallow in it.

#85 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 01:04 PM:

Babies who learn to sign may use it for more than utilitarian reasons. I talk online with moms who use baby-sign with their kids. One of them had a little 'un sign urgently, "Milk, MILK!!!" and keep on signing it as he nursed and drifted off to sleep at the breast: "Aaah, milk . . . milk, milk . . . milfhppssszzz . . . " Another baby liked to pop off the breast in public and tell everybody around him that he was havin' MILKIES, with a big enthusiastic grin to go with the sign.

#86 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 01:05 PM:

OtterB @ 84... I like Lazarus's approach better than the theory that everything we do is purely selfish.

#87 ::: Sumana Harihareswara ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 01:14 PM:

Lenora Rose @#54 -- seconded! My friend Mel has some hearing but enjoys music-with-lyrics a LOT more if she gets help via CART, signing, or at least a clear sight of the singer's lips.

My pal Mirabai provides CART services -- and recently captioned the Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss web conference! If you're curious about the life of a CART provider, her blog or Twitter stream might be of interest.

#88 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 02:46 PM:

Serge, #82: And very few people do things for only one of those reasons; generally there are at least 2, if not all 3, in the mix. People are complex.

OtterB, #84: Ah yes, the "Ferengi Libertarian" POV, that nobody ever does anything except for deeply selfish reasons.

#89 ::: jonesnori/Lenore Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 02:58 PM:

As to music, I do best with a lyrics sheet. I went to see my cousin Eliza in Twelfth Night recently (3 more performances at The Tank in NYC), and made sure to read the play beforehand. That helped a lot, though captioning would have helped more. They had added a lot of musical interludes, though, and I couldn't understand the words to those at all, even sitting in the middle on the front row.

#90 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 03:16 PM:

Maybe there’s something deeper going on here, though. Are we sure the interpreter was fake? Since most politicians’ speeches consist of a handful of key phrases to which audience have been condition to respond, bulked out with empty platitudes, maybe this translator is actually conveying the intellectual content of the speech.

#91 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 03:52 PM:

C Wingate @35, I believe it was Clam Chowder (and Darkovercon), around 1992. Or maybe it happened twice.

#92 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 04:04 PM:

Heather Rose Jones @79:

I'm not familiar with the quality of You Tube captioning,

It's VERY different from Dragon Dictate or various kinds of trainable software. It is so legendarily bad that, as Know Your Meme said, there are more than one hundred thousand hits for "caption fail" if you google it.

The YouTube users Rhett & Link have made a series of kinda* hilarious videos where they perform a script, upload it and run it through the automatic captioning software, take that new script, perform it and upload it and run it through the automatic caption software, lather, rinse, repeat. Check out "Lady GaGa Putt-Putt Rally," or "Bike Police" for examples.

It's an example of "Sure, we have accessible content" when it's so badly broken that it's quite regularly worse, in my experience, than just trying to lip-read or to get somebody else to repeat what they say or turn the volume way up and hope to piece it together through the distortion (which really doesn't work well at all).

(I would be remiss if I did not offer my customary HUGE THANKS to various awesome friends who have TRANSCRIBED videos for me! YOU ARE HELPFUL BEYOND DESCRIPTION. THANK YOU.)

*They are hilarious but it's hilarity with AAAARGHs on top, because they're such a good demonstration of how hopeless it is to try to get accurate meaning out of YouTube videos if you are hearing-impaired and have to depend on the automatic captions.

#93 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 04:15 PM:

However, I just watched Rhett & Link's Christmas Carol caption fail video, and I think I hurt myself laughing.

"Although they're outside is frightful,
But the pirate so delightful...."


"of Lola la la la la not"

The latter is where I lost it entirely, Thanks, Rhett & Link.

#94 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 05:57 PM:

OtterB @74: because the group of 2-year-olds, observing the result of my daughter signing "more cookie," immediately began signing themselves.

Would you believe I've seen this in guinea pigs? Caramel had an ear infection early in life, and her balance thereafter was thereafter pretty iffy. So she couldn't sit up to beg for a treat, like the other pigs. Instead, she'd look up at me in entreaty, and reach out a little hand toward me. Gracie, who was all about the treats, and would try anything, eventually noticed this. So she started reaching out her little hand, too.

#95 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 09:52 PM:

I have special-ed signing-- a bit of other training and I like to watch the interpreters at Wiscon, though I've lost the signs for 'trans*' and 'cultural appropriation' (I still remember the outlines-- 'what is inside comes out' and 'culture-take')-- and it's very useful for students whose verbal language isn't as there as it could be. One will sign to explain what she's trying to say but I'm not understanding due to speech issues, in particular, and most of them have and will use the usual 'break' and 'finish'.

Signing is really useful for talking with one's mouth full, actually.

#96 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2013, 11:05 PM:

Lee @ 88... That may be, but I also think people are consistent in the combination of reasons that motivate most of their actions thru life.

#97 ::: rat4000 ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2013, 02:44 AM:

abi @ 80: Well, the way I read it, we-inclusive are being duped by some them. This fits the Slovenian analogy better than your reading, I think; there, Žižek is a voter, not a politician.

#98 ::: Jesse the K ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2013, 11:41 AM:

elise @93 & 94.

For a full irony circle. I don't know the original lyrics cause I'm Jewish. I watched those caption jokers with their own captions, and then turned on the YouTube autocaptions, and my brain is leaking out my ears.

CART grew out of stenocaptioning for legal settings (court, depositions, legislative proceedings). It was understood that the initial audio-to-written stream would be edited for the final product; it wasn't designed as a real-time system. It's mostly in those settings one will see VR systems, with the transcriber repeating the audio into the wide end of a cone.

In addition to the issue of first/second language familiarity, a skilled Sign Language interpreter can readily meet linguistic challenges (such as proper names, numbers, and parenthetical phrases) where captionists often get stuck.

Finally, the chording stenocaptioning keyboard is based on the sound of language. An event like Mandela's funeral, where speakers come from around the world, would require a UN stenocaptionist (if such exists) whose dictionary already included all the possible voiced and unvoiced Rs, the range of V and W sounds, and so forth.

#99 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2013, 01:09 PM:

I remember being extremely impressed some years back watching a skilled stenocaptioner doing live TV transcription. Very fast and surprisingly accurate. The errors, few as they were, were very idiosyncratic, due to a mixture of the chording keyboard (one keypress off changes the entire word) and the custom dictionary (tuned by the captioner to personal preference combined with the expected material). At the time I was working on speech recognition software, which tends to produce different types of errors. (The "caption fail" videos, for example, contain several good examples of what happens when you have a strong language model and lousy acoustics: the software says, "the next word in the sequence must be X, even though I have no other evidence to back that up.")

Going back to the South African incident: in addition to other issues mentioned, I wouldn't be surprised if the large number of spoken languages in South Africa doesn't also weigh in favor of South African Sign Language over captions for Deaf viewers. (Some quick Googling isn't finding current numbers to back this up, though; the source for Ethnologue's data, for example, is from 1986, and gives a surprisingly low number of speakers of SASL.)

#100 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2013, 04:04 PM:

It’s possible that, like me, you’ve long secretly wondered whether the much-admired Žižek wasn’t basically a kind of intellectual shock jock, a performer of platitudes meant to entrance left-leaning smart people.

But is Žižek really meant for left-leaning smart people? Isn't he really much more intended to make non-left leaning smart people feel good about themselves? Doesn't this confront us with the truth that it doesn't really matter whether "Žižek" is "really" "saying" "anything", since his purpose is just to show up the left intelligentsia, and make everyone else feel safe in ignoring it, in all its manifestations?

#101 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2013, 04:14 PM:

Once upon a time, a long while ago in terms of human life spans, there were a lot of people on the island of Martha's Vineyard who had problems with hearing loss. Much of the original immigrant population was from the Kentish Weald, and many were deaf and already used to using a sign language. Because the Vineyard was a bit isolated, the rate of intermarriage was high, and this helped keep the rate of hereditary deafness high; as Wikipedia has it:

"In 1854, when the island's deaf population peaked, the United States national average was one deaf person in 5728, while on Martha's Vineyard it was one in 155. In the town of Chilmark, which had the highest concentration of deaf people on the island, the average was 1 in 25; in a section of Chilmark called Squibnocket, as much as a quarter of the population of 60 was deaf."


Prior to the development of ASL, they were signing on the Vineyard. Everyone signed; if you weren't suffering from decreased hearing yourself, there was an excellent chance that a member of your close family was, and a better than excellent chance that a neighbor did. People with good hearing would sign even when no one with hearing loss was present; they had made the discovery that fluency in a widely-understood sign language with a large vocabulary was a useful thing. MVSL (Martha's Vineyard Sign Language) was one of the sign languages that helped form ASL.

I don't think this needs explicating to anyone who hangs out here, but this is what happens when a community takes value in an adaptive adjustment that might appear to be helpful to only one group in that community, on the surface: a lot of people benefit in the long run.

#102 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2013, 04:37 PM:

For those interested, Cat Faber's song "They Spoke With Their Hands" was inspired lightly by the story of Martha's Vineyard, but in a speculative world with much lower incidence of hearing among the population.

#103 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2013, 05:57 PM:

Jacque #94 - I like the image of the guinea pigs. It also reminds me of something I read a few days ago, although I've completely forgotten where. (too many websites, not enough memory) Essentially there's papers out there tracking the spread of learnt behaviours with regards to birds and things like foil milk bottle tops that can be pecked through. Some individual birds at various places, independently tried pecking the caps, got a reward, and kept doing it, then other birds learnt from them, and so it slowly spread over the years.

#104 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2013, 06:44 PM:

Jesse the K @98: Full irony circle possibly becoming full irony spiral, even. Yup. (I went to see what YouTube automatic captions make of the dreidel song, and found out they caption Hannukah as "high nigga," among other things. Oh, dear.)

In addition to the issue of first/second language familiarity, a skilled Sign Language interpreter can readily meet linguistic challenges (such as proper names, numbers, and parenthetical phrases) where captionists often get stuck.

True. But it's not a straight-up trade off. Captions and Sign Language serve different (though overlapping) groups of people. (I know you know this thing; please pardon my rhetorical whateverness in unfolding this a bit more, here, for those who might not have thought about it before.)

Here we get into the questions about how we decide which accessibility choice(s) to go with. Sign Language helps folks who have familiarity and fluency with the Sign Language being used. Captionists help people who can read the language being captioned. I'm in the second group, as I have very little ASL, as is often true of what they used to call, and may still call, LDAs, or Late-Deafened Adults.

I don't want to take any SL away -- but I often am greeted with incomprehension when I ask an event organizer for accessible seating to lipread; they stare and me and say, "But we have an interpreter!" Which, well, I'm glad of, for them that can use that. Me, I need to sit where I can lipread. (Captions are quite uncommon at this point -- and I'm very pleased they're there for WisCon's GoH speeches these days.) But they blink at me when I ask about lipreading, because they believe they know what hearing-impaired people are like, and I don't fit their picture.

One (hearing) event leader told me that he would NOT designate any accessible seats in the front row for lipreaders (including me, the one who was asking), because he "had met Deaf people, and they preferred to be integrated throughout the room rather than separated into one little area." I wasn't so good at standing up for myself then, so I left before I started crying in front of anybody.

I'm glad there's more discussion of this whole thing than there used to be, at least in some places. It takes practice to build a robust mix of access choices, especially given money time and people constraints. I would like to hope we're actually thinking about this and sharing strategies -- which is one of the things I like about WisCon's approach a lot. (You've done a lot of work there, for which I give you MUCH appreciation!)

#105 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2013, 06:50 PM:

Here's the URL for the dreidel song video I looked at. It's got the real actual words on it as well, so folks who don't know it can compare that with the captions. Which are... pretty bizarre. I'm not sure how "giant granny" got in there. Anyhow, here:

#106 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2013, 07:25 PM:

That organizer gives me a case of 'WTF?'
(My nephew lipreads, and his wife doesn't. Put them both where they can see.)

#107 ::: jonesnori/Lenore Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2013, 10:42 PM:

I've been hard of hearing (moderate-to-severe sensorineural hearing loss, for those in the know) since I was 4, but I don't sign either. I lip-read well enough that I prefer the front row seating to the captions at WisCon, but having both is even better. Then I can mostly get the speech without lag, glancing at the captions when I miss something. However, if I couldn't sit right up front I'd really be dependent on the captions. I sat in the back one year and used binoculars, but it was so exhausting I gave up and left.

#108 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2013, 01:22 AM:

Lenore, do you get exhausted from lip-reading? Sometimes at conventions if I have been interacting with a lot of people I don't know, I am so tired from the work of lip-reading unfamiliar people that I have to go find a calm place where I don't have to work that hard for a while. It's one of the reasons I'm picky about who I share a room with, if I do share a room.

#109 ::: jonesnori/Lenore Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2013, 01:30 AM:

Elise @108, yes, I seriously do. That makes both parties and panels hard for me. Even sitting on the front row of a panel I have trouble understanding people, and parties are both noisy and full of people I feel shy with. If it weren't for volunteering, I'd hide in my room.

#110 ::: jonesnori/Lenore Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2013, 01:30 AM:

Elise @108, yes, I seriously do. That makes both parties and panels hard for me. Even sitting on the front row of a panel I have trouble understanding people, and parties are both noisy and full of people I feel shy with. If it weren't for volunteering, I'd hide in my room.

#111 ::: jonesnori/Lenore Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2013, 01:31 AM:

Aargh. Sorry - not sure how the double post happened

#112 ::: iliadawry ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2013, 04:25 AM:

The late, lamented-by-me Totally Biased (a show on FX and then FXX hosted by W. Kamau Bell, who I find funny and insightful) also had a hip-hop interpreter on -- Amber Galloway Gallego. The interview is here:

#113 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2013, 09:15 AM:

And the segment after that one, iliadawry @112, was the Deaf Jam: They played various hip-hop songs to her in her earpiece and had (non-ASL-knowledgeable) audience members guess what famous hip hop song she was performing. :-> She also interpreted everything Kamau said during, and he definitely loved it.

#114 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2013, 01:42 PM:

Lipreading is hard work! I've moved away from mostly lipreading (with hearing aid as backup) to mostly listening with lipreading to provide assistance. (Right now, with one good eye, the lipreading part isn't functioning very well, so it's amusing* me how much less I hear when I can't see.) In any case, I would also prefer to sit where I could see for lipreading.

*For very small values of amusement.

#115 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2013, 02:28 PM:

Serious question for the hearing-impaired here:

I've been wondering recently if I have started lip-reading unconsciously. Does that happen?

I think my hearing may be gradually getting worse - if I have to keep telling family members to "speak up, I can't hear you" in a noisy environment, that's suggestive - and I've noticed that I generally have a much easier time understanding someone if I can see their face.

I should really get my hearing tested.

#116 ::: jonesnori/Lenore Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2013, 03:38 PM:

Clifton, I totally started lipreading unconsciously. I only found out I was doing it the first time I had a formal hearing test in the sound-proof booth, at age 15 (yes, my hearing was uncorrected for 11 years), when they told me I was leaning sideways to try to look around the piece of paper the tester was holding in front of her face. (These days they use taped words, but then they still read from a list.) I had no idea I was doing it.

I actually think everyone does it to a certain extent, but only people who have trouble hearing will get good at it without special training.

#117 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2013, 04:17 PM:

Clifton, yeah, I have similar experience to Lenore's in having lip-read without thinking about it. My hearing loss was diagnosed in my mid-twenties. I've been lip-reading for a long time, because my hearing had been slipping for a considerable amount of time before then.

#118 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2013, 04:28 PM:

Clifton #115: Quite likely. I certainly lip-read unconsciously (a bit of explicit training in grade school never really took), it's probably the most basic compensation for even an unrecognized hearing loss. And yeah, it's worth getting a hearing test every 10 years or so.

#119 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2013, 04:40 PM:

Thanks Lenore, elise, Dave H.

I think it's time to get myself tested. Maybe I can do it over the winter break, since I actually have a short company holiday period coming up between Xmas and New Years.

#120 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2013, 05:41 PM:

1. I am a member of a theatrical group that does Gilbert & Sullivan. We started "supertitles" (above the arch captions) a number of years back because of the difficulty of getting the jokes in the fast songs. IOW, we did that for the *hearing* community as much as for the older patrons who might have trouble distinguishing the words.

2. The first concert I ever saw was by Weird Al. He had several really good sign language interpreters along, who traded off every couple of songs. I'm sure they weren't required by any law, but he's always struck me as the sort of performer who really cares about his audience and wants to give them the best experience possible. Besides, they were obviously having a blast.

3. Way up there, somebody mentioned their campus was installing wheelchair lifts and removing ramps. The idiots who made that decision have never had to move heavy or obnoxious equipment around, I bet. (Just *try* moving a ten-foot metal bar up a set of stairs easily. Ramps are far superior.) As has been noted several times on this thread, accessibility benefits more than those who directly need it.

Besides, the only reason for stairs is to save space, really, You can make very aesthetic ramps when you have the room.

#121 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2013, 06:06 PM:

Josh Berkus @62: Besides, its way useful in noisy urban environments. I was once sat next to an elderly man at a lunch and he immediately apologised for the fact that he wouldn't be able to converse with me because he was very hard of hearing, particularly in noisy environments. I asked him to wait a moment, went over to my backpack, brought back a pen and paper and wrote "now we can talk." He was immensely grateful - it was oviously the first time anyone had thought of that - but since my paper supplies were limited and -I- had no problem hearing -him- I had to persuade him to talk, and let me reply in writing, rather than both of us writing.

#122 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2013, 06:07 PM:

Things that probably can't be sign-language interpreted, especially in real time: Tom Lehrer's "The Elements." A list of names, many of them difficult, at patter-song pace. Probably pessimal for signing.

#123 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2013, 06:29 PM:


It's best to have both stairs and ramps. For some people ramps are not as easy as stairs. For others, stairs are worse. I know people with mobility impairments in both camps.

#124 ::: Mongoose ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2013, 06:49 PM:

I have a minor disability; to be precise, I have chronic tenosynovitis in both wrists, and wear splints for it during waking hours. So long as I do this and take reasonable care, I don't usually get much pain. However, "taking reasonable care" means avoiding vibration or torque on the wrists, which means I have some moderately ingenious techniques for lifting anything about the weight of my little cat or heavier.

My luggage, therefore, has wheels, even when I haven't got a lot of it. Since "luggage" quite often includes a box of home-made cake or biscuits sitting on top of my suitcase, unexpected stairs at railway stations can be a logistical nightmare for me. (I can carry the case by hooking the handle over my elbow, but there have still been many times when I've had to cope with a flight of stairs by carrying bits of luggage up or down piecemeal.) Most major stations have lifts these days, but that's still not guaranteed, and I've certainly been caught out on the London Underground when there wasn't an escalator where I expected there to be one.

This explains why I love Newcastle station. I don't often travel through it, but when I do, I do so secure in the knowledge that it has ramps. Not even just ramps, but lovely elegant spiral ramps which are attractive as well as practical. (I'm fairly sure there are stairs as well for those who want 'em, but the ramps are popular; they're wide and the slope is not too steep.) Manchester Piccadilly, which used to be awful access-wise, is now my second favourite since they did a major refit some years ago. That now has a combination of lifts and ramps which will get you anywhere on the station stair-free.

It is, as many people have said, not just people in wheelchairs.

#125 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2013, 07:08 PM:

Los Angeles Union Station, the heavy-rail part, has two ramps with one set of stairs for each platform. One ramp was for the luggage wagons that trains had (and Amtrak still has). They're useful for the people-moving golf-carts now, as well as everyone else.

#126 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2013, 08:30 PM:

Going thru LAX earlier this year, for some reason TSA was sending randomly selected people up a set of stairs to go thru the 'other' security checkpoint. I was among the group chosen to lug wheeled suitcases up that flight of stairs. I complained because I can't lug my wheeled carryon up the stairs. TSA lady waved a hand and said I could use the elevator. The elevator still had not arrived when people were again being allowed to go thru the same level checkpoint. I was allowed to go thru at that level when I said I was going to miss my flight if I had to wait any longer. I never got an answer to why the 'other' checkpoint was up a set of stairs in an environment with large amounts of wheeled luggage.

#127 ::: Doug Burbidge ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2013, 11:49 PM:

Adam Hills, in his show Inflatable, has a bit where it's his birthday but the audience can't sing him Happy Birthday because he's worried about copyright, so a deaf audience member offers to sign it to him.

The relevant bit is from about 6:10 to about 11:50. (Part 2 also has a bit about sign language.)

#128 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2013, 11:54 PM:

Elliott Mason @102:

An incompleted researched notion (i.e, I can't find the books...)

There was a story (I think by Katherine MacLean) in a collection (I think one of the Star books) involving a human starship intercepted by aliens.

In the vogue of the time, a significant number of the humans were telepaths, although they kept that secret from the aliens.

The humans faked that they were part of a galactic federation, and did things like drop microphones in fish tanks and pretended the fish were ambassadors.

When they pretended the cat was the captain of the ship, the alien commander was convinced by the cat's air of command that the galactic federation was a fake, and in fact the cats ruled the whole thing — and ordered an immediate retreat before the cats could enslave them also.


At any rate, enjoying the story (and thinking telepaths passe and at any rate undemonstrated) I thought it would be interesting to develop this story (thinking of animation) with the humans secret communications channel being sign-language.

#129 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2013, 12:37 AM:

Telepaths may be passé in SF, but I assure you we haven't gone away. <g>

#130 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2013, 01:01 AM:

I knew you were going to say that.

#132 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2013, 11:20 AM:

I'm trying to figure out the sf story-- I know I've read it, and I treasure the moment when the humans take the aliens to see "The cat!", but meanwhile, I'm reminded of something else I want to track down.

It's an hour-long video that Elise posted a link to some years ago (I've asked her about it, and at the time she didn't remember anything which would help find it). It's about the misrepresentation and mistreatment of deaf people.

It was kind of like "the map is not the territory" updated to include video, and there was a thread through it about a dark-haired woman falling in love (lust?)-- in any case, finding a partner.

#133 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2013, 11:34 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz @132:

Was it "Quiet Signs of Love"? (part 1, part 2) That's not an hour long, but it's got a dark-haired woman and a love story.

If it wasn't, well, here's a great love story involving a Deaf woman and a hearing man, and the ways their two worlds interact...

#134 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2013, 12:06 PM:

abi, thanks, but that's definitely not it. Different dark-haired woman, and I'm pretty sure the story wasn't as cute and was much more from her point of view.

One more detail tentatively dredged from memory: it mentioned adults manipulating children's jaws (no consent) to get the children to talk better as offensive.

#135 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2013, 09:25 PM:

Mongoose @ 124: sounds like you would have loved the front end of the Cincinnati railroad station, back when it was actually used for trains; it was a giant half-circle in three levels (trams, buses, cars) with ramps up following the curve to the concourse at the middle. AFAICT, this was done as much for traffic surges as for general ease, because there were conventional stairs from the concourse to the tracks.
      The front end is now a museum; the ramps make such easy connections between the exhibit spaces that the exhibits flowed onto them when I visited (1992, so who know what it's like now).

Rob Rusick @ 128, ff: "Trouble with Treaties", with Tom Condit, in Star #5.
      I \had/ to look it up; I confused that twist with at least two others, including one (that I can't find) in which the aliens, afterward, quietly tsk-tsk about Terran paranoia but figure it will be grown out of.

#136 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2013, 09:44 PM:

My hearing is still pretty good, and it was a lot better at the point when I realized I lipread unconsciously:

This was at a con 20-odd years ago. I was in the audience for a panel on which one of the panelists was a man who had had a tracheotomy and used a voder. To a first approximation, his voice was just buzzy. But I happened to glance away from him while he was talking, and suddenly couldn't understand him nearly as well.

I don't lipread well, and wouldn't want to rely on it for anything important. Rather than this being about my skills, I suspect that a lot of sighted people do some amount of lipreading without being consciously aware of it.

#137 ::: Arete ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2013, 09:48 PM:

CHip @ 135, in response to Mongoose @ 124: Still there! Saw it last month. There's only a couple spots open to the general public that are hard to get to otherwise; the main one is that they opened up the navigation tower from when the Union Terminal was a far more active train station. That, unfortunately, is accessible ONLY by a steep stair for the last bit (the first half of the trip is by a specific elevator). Worth the view, but hideous inaccessible to those who aren't able-bodied.

Other than that, the museum can brag heavily on being very accessible. (I can heartily recommend this to both young and old; I loved the place as a child, and love it still.)

#138 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2013, 11:55 PM:

CHip @135 - I'm going to have to get over there one of these years. Maybe for my 2015 Birthday Trip, or 2014 if the weather is bad - if it's good I plan to visit Dysart Woods.

#139 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2013, 06:25 AM:

Somebody should remind people that Daleks can fly. Stairs are not an effective defensive measure.

(50 years since their first appearance.)

#140 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2013, 12:12 PM:

Some years back, I read a piece of research-to-pop-science on facial changes when one's internal representation/knowledge is noticeably different from what one communicates to the world. Lots of YMMV in it, of course. One element was the mouth would be lopsided when speaking. Ken Mehlman, when he was head of the RNC, spoke with a mouth so lopsided, I originally thought he'd had a stroke. After he retired, he was on Larry King's show, speaking with a symmetrical mouth. As soon as Larry asked him questions on the Republican platform, Mehlman's mouth went back to being severely lopsided. When questions went back to anything else, Mehlman's mouth returned to symmetrical.

This also reminds me of a coworker whose mouth would go lopsided when he was talking with someone he didn't like. Not severely lopsided, but noticeable to me.

#141 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2013, 12:22 PM:

Lin @#140

Mehlman best avoid poker, then. There's a current theory on the micro-analysis of deception that lots of police departments are buying expensive training in. I wonder if anyone has done a simple test: give the instructor $5000, take him to a casino that offers poker. If he can't win consistently, don't buy the class.

#142 ::: Mongoose ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2013, 12:37 PM:

Star Tenor's mouth goes very lopsided when he sings, but not when he talks. (I hope that doesn't reveal his identity.) It doesn't seem to make any difference to the clarity of his diction; you can always hear every word.

#143 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2013, 01:21 PM:

Dave Bell@139

You'll feel very foolish when we get attacked by OLD-SCHOOL Daleks.


#144 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2013, 01:26 PM:


Especially after we all get ex-stair-minated

#145 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2013, 03:11 PM:

Henry Troup:

For some reason, police departments and related organizations are very often victims of untested, unverifiable theories based on which they will pursue cases and arrest or prosecute people.

#146 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2013, 05:33 PM:

Henry Troup #141: I just finished reading Nate Silver's book on prediction. One of the things I feel adds credibility to his expertise is that for several years he actually made his living at sports betting and Internet poker.

#147 ::: Beowulf ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2013, 07:28 PM:

Dave Harmon #146 I had the same thought when reading Nate Silver's book. I was also impressed his accuracy talking details about fields (like Psychology) that I was familiar with, but aren't his specialty.

#148 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2013, 05:56 PM:

This is just to say
Aren't notes
really meant for those
who write them,
and plums
for those who eat,
and Forgiveness
for those who read
and starve.

#149 ::: Inquisitive Raven ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2013, 03:01 AM:

Megpie71 @ 47: I only have one dodgy knee (which bitches going up stairs and doesn't especially like lateral movement), but I recently acquired a pair of Nordic walking poles (aka "trekking poles"), and have found them surprisingly useful for taking pressure off the problem knee on stairs. Also, they proclaim one to be someone serious about aerobic fitness rather than someone with an injury.

Is it just the Philly area or do those curb cut outs tend to be the lowest point at the corner (I mean at street level; obviously they're the lowest point of the curb)? I've found them useful on the rare occasions when I've used one of those folding grocery carts (a flimsy fabric sided design that broke the second time I used it), but every time it rains the puddles form right at the cutouts.

#150 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2013, 09:56 AM:

re 142: Don't you mean "star baritone"? Or is there a tenor who does it too?

#151 ::: Julia ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2013, 03:48 PM:

I think it's probably significant that the fake interpreter works for an interpretation company owned by a high official of the ANC. The official in question says that the fake interpreter is an administrator, not an interpreter, and that he went rogue in this case. Given, though, that he's done this before at official ANC functions, and that there have been complaints registered with, and ignored by, the ANC about it, that seems unlikely to me.

What seems more likely is that the high official's company gets these contracts because he's a high official, and that for some reason the high official likes to throw work to the fake interpreter (if I had to guess, my guess would be that they knew each other back in the day).

So, I think Žižek is actually asking the right question in this specific case - if this wasn't done for the benefit of the deaf, who did benefit? I just think he leapfrogged over the most obvious answer in a rush of narcissism.

I also think extrapolating from what appears to be a fairly straightforward case of corruption in government purchasing to a global theory of the relationship of the larger society to disability rights sort of reeks of the kind of thumbsucker article people with a content hole to fill write because they have nothing substantive to say about a situation that's getting lots of lovely page hits.

#152 ::: dmsherwood53 ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2014, 06:34 AM:

I's like to bring the concept(Daniel Dennett's)
of the "Deeply" into talk about Žižek.
A Deeply in a resonant pseudo-profound 'truth'that comes apart in your hands if you take it seriously.

Also the Christian concept of Pride. It doesn't matter how much good you do ;if your motives are self-serving its damnable. Doesnt James Blish quote a Chinese Philosopher somewhere "To Do trhe Right Thing for the Wrong reason is the Final Treason.

#153 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2014, 07:53 AM:

dmsherwood53 @ 152: That's Eliot he's quoting, from one of the plays, I think Murder in the Cathedral. It's a fine concept that fails to map to reality.

#154 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2017, 10:32 AM:

Rereading this thread much later, it occurs to me to wonder just how good (or more likely, bad) a computer would be at interpreting ASL from a video.

#155 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2017, 11:28 AM:

Dave Harmon, I *just* read (like, a week or two ago) a short story with this premise (computer-translated ASL) as an important foundation. I think it was a Seanan McGuire story. It was online. But I cannot for the life of me recall the title or where, online, I read it.

#156 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2017, 12:14 PM:

I think there's projects out there which use gloves as a method of doing computer ASL translation, as well.

#157 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2017, 02:44 PM:

Some bright grad students have made gloves that, if you communicate via ASL while wearing them, produce an automated voice to talk to people with.

No idea how well it works, of course. But it is a thing that exists in the world.

#158 ::: estelendur ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2017, 04:05 PM:

One of my friends is working for a startup that is trying to use webcam-like technology designed for, like, playing games to do machine learning to interpret ASL.

#159 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2017, 06:44 PM:

Heh, I hadn't thought about tracking gloves! That would indeed make things much easier.

I bet even those systems still get a lot of the usual issues of natural-language interpretation; f'rex, slurring, word boundaries, accents, and speech impediments all have natural analogues for sign language). That said, we've been doing surprisingly well with the "throw more computing power at it" strategies such as machine learning.

#160 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2017, 09:01 PM:

I always kind of wondered, why is there no writing system that goes with ASL?

If there were one, I imagine that it would be more like written Chinese or Japanese than written English. Chinese has combinations of ideographs the way ASL sometimes combines parts of signs to make a new one, and Japanese sometimes has a name here and there in Romanji similarly the way an ASL signer might need to fingerspell for a minute if you need to say a name.

#161 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2017, 12:59 AM:

Erik Nelson #160: There have been attempts, but I can see a few issues up front:
* I think it's intrinsically a harder problem, between the greater complexity of hand motions and non-manual sign components such as gaze.
* Any such system would have to deal with ASL's "minority language" problem, squared. And because of the previous issue, learning any such system is probably harder than learning a phonemic writing system
* ASL already has a relationship with Roman orthography, through the finger-spelling.

#162 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2017, 10:55 AM:

Dave Harmon@159: I expect there would be another practical analogue to speech recognition systems: if users could see or hear the translation, they might well adapt their signing to encourage more successful recognition, possibly at the cost of their signing becoming more stiff or stilted.

#163 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2017, 12:24 PM:

Dotless ı in #162:

That was the key to the success, in its brief heyday before smartphones, of the Palm Pilot "personal digital assistant." One wrote on its little glass screen with a stylus.

Handwriting recognition was hard-- part of the reason the earlier Apple Newton had stumbled in the marketplace. The Palm used a simplified stylus-stroke alphabet that was easier for the machine to understand, yet not difficult for a user to learn.

The Palm trained its new user to write in "Graffiti" by offering a game that rewarded accurate character-drawing, and encouraged the player to speed up as the game progressed.

So the humans met the machines halfway, by altering their own method of writing, in a happy compromise that led to the sale of a whole lot of Palm Pilots. The engineer in me admires this solution.

#164 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2017, 01:37 PM:

Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey@163: I'd forgotten about Graffiti (despite being a user of it once upon a time), but yes. I also know some people who got so good at putting just enough of a pause between words with discrete-word speech recognition software that they sounded almost natural.

There's a difference, of course, between using an input method, where you can afford to meet the machine halfway, and having your human-to-human communications automatically translated. Even so, if you know that your communications are going to be automatically translated for at least some recipients, that might affect how you speak or sign.

#165 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2017, 03:48 PM:

I remember the Palmpilot, but not fondly. I'm lucky I wound up with decent hand-printing in the first place -- learning a new writing system was annoying, and I tended to lose the hang of it any time I didn't use it for a day or few.

#166 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2017, 04:11 PM:

I miss Graffiti. I miss my PalmPilot. Even though I have an iPhone that does a ton more than it ever did.

#167 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2017, 05:08 PM:

I have a Palm Tungsten. With Graffiti. (It's my giant-sized D-ring binder of genealogy.) It came with two stickers of Graffiti characters; they're on the inside of the hard-case that I got for it later.

#168 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2017, 09:11 PM:

I didn't mean to turn this into a Palm thread. I did mean to note merit in Dotless ı's suggestion that people could choose to alter their signing for the deaf in a system designed to be easier for machines to interpret, while still readable by humans.

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