Restricted Access: Media, Disability, and the Politics of Participation

Introduction: New media, new problems

This opening chapter begins with the example of a short video produced by comedy duo Rhett & Link. They use YouTube's autocaptioning feature to create increasingly-mangled versions of a script, perform each version, and place them in succession. So, the original line—"I got tickets to the Lady GaGa putt-putt tournament and monster rally”—became “Advantages to the Lady GaGa puppet tenemos a drug right,” which in turn transformed into “Advantages of the Lady GaGa puppets in a lot of Iraq."

The video, seen here, draws its humor from the inadequacies of autocaptioning, as they state that “The whole process is automated. The computer listens to the video, and displays what it thinks it hears. So, the results are always off, and usually pretty hilarious.” While automatic captions could greatly increase access for many people with disabilities and others in need of textual or translation services, this video and others in the CAPTION FAIL series demonstrate their failures. Furthermore, the videos themselves are inaccessible; autocaptioning is appropriated for the humor it creates for a hearing audience, while the needs of people who require accessible media are ignored. 
Though intended for other purposes, these videos also skewer autocaptioning, and speak to the ways in which digital media technologies have not solved problems of access and inclusion, and may even have exacerbated them by taking for granted an able-bodied user position, potentially restricting access for users with a variety of disabilities.    

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