The City and the City The City and the City

Cds IMG 0060A little while back I read “The City & the City” by China Mieville. It’s a story about a city that, for some inexplicable (or in my case forgotten) reason has been divided into two totally separate cities. As a citizen of one city you are not permitted to acknowledge the existence of the other city and its inhabitants even though you may share the same roads and the same neighbourhoods.

At the time I read the book we were planning our trip to Europe including a few days in Berlin. I found myself wondering whether living in Berlin before the Berlin Wall fell in 1990 was anything like what was portrayed in Mieville’s novel.

Even though Berlin is a united city once more and has done much to reinvent itself since 1990, the strange circumstances in which the city found itself for 45 years has had an unusual impact on the geography of the city.

Usually when we tour a city we find one or two central areas where most of the historic buildings are situated – but not in Berlin. As we navigated round the city Craig commented that many of the sites seemed far away from each other, and that he had underestimated the amount of time it would take to travel around.

Here’s what I think. From 1945 – 1990 Berlin was split into two geographically similar cities. Each city had to develop separately, with systems and services being needed by both. So much was duplicated – within the boundaries in West Berlin, and, often on the outskirts, of East Berlin. So, while many historic buildings are near the Brandenburg Gate, which lies on what was the boundary between East and West Berlin, many are not. And I think that’s the reason it takes so long to travel the city.

You may laugh, but I had a second realization when I was in Berlin. I’d always envisioned the Berlin Wall as being there to keep East Germans “in”. In reality, since Berlin was surrounded by East German territory, the Berlin Wall was built to enclose West Berlin. I guess I equated West Germany with freedom and East Germany with confinement and that dictated my mental image of the city. Still, it was quite a revelation to me when I realized how my reality had been shaped by the words I used.

And so, back to where we started – China Mievilles novel “The City & the City”. I have no idea if living in a divided Berlin in any way resembled the novel, but the book certainly sprang to mind many times during our time in the city & the city that are now united once more.

How Quickly We Grow Used to Things

NewImageIsn’t it funny that my first article on my last three overseas trips have been about in-flight entertainment and, more particularly, audio described movies on that in-flight entertainment – or the lack thereof.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept, audio description is a way that blind and visually impaired people can follow the action taking place onscreen. As the name suggests, the action is described in words along with the usual soundtrack of the movie. Sure, there are movies where the plot is driven by dialogue and we can follow more of what’s going on. But many movies – thrillers, action, horror, and cartoons, for example –are far more visual and it’s hard to follow what’s happening without help.

Admittedly I’m a fairly new convert to audio described movies but it’s amazing how quickly I’ve come to expect them to be part of the in-flight entertainment on a long distance flight. So I was distressed when I found no audio described movies on the 11 hour KLM flight from Cape Town to Amsterdam.

Maybe I’d misled myself into thinking all airlines had audio described movies on international flights simply because Emirates Airlines does. Granted, we haven’t used other airlines in a while for overseas travel. I’d love to know what other airlines also include movies that take the needs of their disabled passengers into consideration – please let me know if you’ve experienced any that do.

At least I had my trusty iPhone and book reader with me on my flight so I had plenty to keep me entertained. Still, I’d have liked to have the ability to choose whether or not to watch an accessible movie…

Okay, Sometimes I’m Slow on the Uptake

For years several of my visually impaired friends have been encouraging me to try movies with audio description – an additional soundtrack describing what’s happening on screen. On the various flights between Cape Town and Greece I finally capitulated… and was totally blown away by how much more fun audio descriptions make the experience of watching a movie!

I am sure that many of my visually impaired friends are rolling their eyes at how long it’s taken me to understand this fact. And sure, sometimes I am a little slow on the uptake, but a large part of the reason I’ve only now tried audio described movies is that I’ve never been much of a movie watcher – I can usually be found with my head in a book… or is that my ears in a book since I now listen to books?

For my initial foray into audio described movies I decided to try Pirates of the Caribbean a movie I had already “seen”, meaning I had listened to it and tried to work out what was happening from the sound effects and the words being spoken. I felt this was the most objective way of measuring how much additional information I gained through the audio description process. I also felt it would give me a chance to become used to the audio description track without having to focus too much on the plot.

If I’m honest, it felt like I was watching a totally different movie! I couldn’t believe how much information I’d missed out on the previous time. And it gave me an opportunity to just sit back and relax, rather than having to concentrate on every word, every sound to hehlp me figure out the storyline.

Having proven to myself that audio described movies were a good way to go, I ventured out into watching movies I’d never seen before, starting with another oldie – Toy Story) and then trying out a current blockbuster, Wonder Woman. In each case I had a few issues with the movies, but they were related to the content and storylines, not to the audio descriptions or my understanding of the story.

It looks like I’m (eventually) a convert to the concept of audio described movies – I just wish the Emirates in-flight entertainment system had also been accessible so I could have found the movies without sighted help.

Watching Movies with Your Ears

In October last year I wrote an article commending Emirates Airline for taking the needs of their visually impaired passengers into consideration by having a few movies with audio descriptors on their standard airline entertainment channel.

Here’s a great podcast from Twenty Thousand Hertz about audio descriptors and the impact they have on blind and visually impaired people who like tuning into movies and TV in a truly accessible way:

An audio descriptor track is an additional audio channel that gives brief descriptions of the action taking place as it happens. You still hear the same sound track that everyone else does, but you are given extra snippets of necessary information so you can follow what’s happening on the screen without seeing it.

In my book, “A Different Way of Seeing”, I mention that I seldom watch action movies or thrillers because it’s hard to work out what’s going on. That’s no longer an obstacle with an audio descriptor.

Like so many other things that used to be challenges to those of us who are blind, making sense of movies has become so much easier through technology.

I found the podcast fascinating – why not give it a listen and find out more about this amazing technique!

Making Movies Accessible– A Huge Thumbs Up to Emirates

Cds 2016 08 27 17 59 44Craig and I were squeezed into our tiny economy seats travelling from Cape Town to Dubai. As he often does, Craig was flipping through the airline magazine to see what was on offer as entertainment during the flight.

I admit I seldom watch movies when travelling. I find the audio tracks are usually slightly distorted which makes it hard for me to understand. It’s also a little unfair for me to constantly ask Craig to describe what is happening onscreen, especially when he is watching a completely different movie. So I tend to ignore the inflight entertainment and simply listen to a book on my Plextalk Pocket book-reader, or to music on my iPod.

As you can imagine, I was startled when Craig read me the announcement in the Emirates magazine that the airline was now offering some movies that were accessible to blind and hearing impaired travellers. They are the first airline to offer this service.

An audio description track is an additional sound channel that describes what is happening in each scene, so blind and visually-impaired people can watch a movie independently. Likewise, closed captions are sub-titles of the spoken parts of a movie for those who cannot hear.

I think it’s great that Emirates is taking the needs of their disabled passengers into consideration. I’ll admit I didn’t actually watch any of the movies – I was totally wrapped up in my book and only reached the enthralling conclusion shortly before we landed in Dubai. But that’s not the point. The fact that Emirates is giving us the same access that sighted travellers have is a huge step forward and I think it’s fantastic. Well done, Emirates!

And maybe next time I travel on Emirates I’ll actually watch one of the movies.

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