Metro Morning

TIFF fan with visual and hearing impairment hopes 'all the films' will be accessible

Michael McNeely, a movie fan with a rare genetic disorder that impairs his hearing and vision, wants the Toronto International Film Festival to provide closed captioning for more of its screenings. He spoke to Metro Morning host Matt Galloway in an interview that aired Thursday.

TRANSCRIPT: Michael McNeely spoke to CBC's Metro Morning about changes he'd like to see at the festival

Toronto film fan Michael McNeely, whose vision and hearing is impaired due to a genetic condition, wants the Toronto International Film Festival to ensure more of its movies come with closed captioning. (CBC)

Michael McNeely, a movie fan with a rare genetic disorder that impairs his hearing and vision, wants the Toronto International Film Festival to provide closed captioning for more of its screenings.

CBC's Metro Morning host Matt Galloway interviewed McNeely and Bea Jolley, an intervenor who helps McNeely by attending films with him and filling him in on sights and sounds he might miss.

Here is a transcript of that interview, which aired Thursday morning.

Michael: CaptiView is assistive technology that allows people with hearing impairments, or others that would like help understanding what's going on inside the cinema, to be able to sit in their seats and watch subtitles privately.

Matt: How does it work? It's a small screen or something?

Michael: Yes, it's almost like a cell phone. You hold it sideways. That's probably what it looks like. And there's three lines and the lines stop it from interfering with other people.

Matt:  For you to be able to see a movie at TIFF, you've gone for years, how is CaptiView going to change your experience at the festival?

Michael: CaptiView will allow me to be able to see two English speaking films. Otherwise I've mostly gone to foreign films because those are the ones where they have subtitles built in.

Matt:  So, you would be able to read along on the subtitles but otherwise you wouldn't be able to understand what's happening in the films?

Michael:  I would not be able to understand the English speaking films, that's correct.

Matt:  How big of a change is that for you to be able to see some films, like two, but some films in English?

Michael: I've had a variety of different emotions. I think to me TIFF is like a child. Sometimes I feel like I need to reprimand the child but also I need to be proud of what the child has accomplished.

Matt: Sometimes you need to reprimand it? (laughs).

Michael: Yes, sometimes I feel like the child hasn't done enough. I was kind of disappointed in how they've advertised the CaptiView availability. They only emailed me about an hour before I was going to pick my films and get my tickets officially. So, it was a bit of a last minute put and I thought that it should have been handled with a little bit more fanfare.

Matt: Do you think that two films having this CaptiView technology ... is two films enough, then?

Michael: There's actually three films but I'm choosing to see two because I already have a hard enough time fitting them in my schedule. I'm seeing about 55 films this year. Ideally, it would be a first step forward and hopefully they would have more. Hopefully all the films at TIFF would have CaptiView or subtitles. One or the other. It would be nice to have both.

Matt: Why is it that you think TIFF doesn't have more films that have CaptiView, so that they can be and the festival can be as accessible as possible? Why is that not more widespread?

Michael: I think it's partly because they haven't made it a priority. I think you can say that in how they handled me, just telling me there was CaptiView an hour before I was going to register. So I think it's just a matter of priority and awareness.

Matt: One of the things that happens is you can go to the films on your own. You're going with intervenor Bea who's with us in studio as well. What does an intervenor do Bea?

Bea: The way I usually like to describe my job is that my job is to give Michael sensory information that he might miss because of the impairments that he has. So for example when it comes to watching a film, like a film we watched a little while ago a character would have a knife in their hand. He might not see such a fine detail so it's my job to let him know about things like that.

Matt: How do you do that in the course of watching the film?

Bea:  So, we've come up with sort of a new system that we've just been trying out in the last week and so far it has been really effective. What we have is Michael has his iPad and we've inverted the color settings so that it has a black background with white text, so that it's not too bright for people around us. So we were inspired by the way that they light the CaptiView screen and then I have a wireless keyboard in my lap. So, I sit beside Michael and if I see something on the screen that he might not ... or, for example, with subtitles they're not the same as closed captioning. So things like a siren or a doorbell. They don't say sound of that. So I might type "sound of doorbell" and if Michael didn't catch it I might just tap him on the arm and he knows to look at the screen.

Matt:  Michael how does that help with your appreciation and your enjoyment of the film?

Michael: It helps a lot. Because I've been able to pick up on some of the little details that I've missed. You know, I'm not so surprised when a character comes in, because maybe I've noticed that they've been coming on a motorbike or that they rang the doorbell. So it's not as much of a surprise to me when they enter the scene. Things like the knife for example that she used, I understand what the fight was about and why there was a fight and the consequences of that fight. And so ideally these would be the kinds of things I would ask my parents when I was very young and still do to some extent.

Matt: You talked about the different emotions you had in learning that these three films would have CaptiView. How accessible do you think a festival like TIFF — one of the biggest festivals in the world — how accessible should it be?

Michael: I have a love/hate relationship with it because I feel like it could do so much better and I don't understand why it isn't. And I hope that others can sympathize with my frustration in this matter.

Matt: Because you love movies.

Bea: You love movies.

Michael: Oh, I love movies. Movies are like an escape for me. They're an ability to transcend our borders without actually having to leave the comfort of our living room or auditorium. I think movies are amazing in that they bring us all together and we can talk about them for years to come after we watch them.

Matt: Bea, From your perspective how accessible should a festival like this be?

Bea: I think that it should be as accessible as possible. I think working with Michael has really opened my eyes to how many barriers there are in our world for people that are disabled. I think that especially something like TIFF, that is publicly funded and is an institution that we look to as a cultural beacon in our city, I think we should expect them to set the tone. And especially in a country like Canada where we pride ourselves on our progressivism and inclusivity. We need to walk the walk instead of just talk the talk.

Matt: It's great to have you both here. Enjoy the festival.

Bea: Thank you.

Michael: Thank you for having me.