DARKER BUT DEEPER: My Review of The Lion King

The circle of life spins on, and eventually brings us back movies of our childhood. I have to admit, before going to see The Lion King with my wife, two of her sisters, and a nephew and niece who are young kids, I wondered why bother. Sure, I knew that the new version would use “real” animals as opposed to animated, as was done in 1994. But I thought that other than that, the movie would be the same. It wasn’t.

But before I go into detail about my thoughts, I wanted to note the experience of obtaining audio description so that I would know what was going on. You can read a prior post I made with this title if you want a deeper sense of what audio description is. I was aware that most movie theaters nowadays would have it, so as we arrived at the Holly Springs AMC Dine-in 9, I asked my wife to speak with the customer service rep at the counter about obtaining the device. He hadn’t really known of what she spoke, but the manager did, and that manager also educated him so that future transactions would go more smoothly. I was not surprised at the rep’s lack of awareness, as I would guess that few customers need this. But I was pleased with their willingness to learn.

They asked which film we would see, and programmed the little box accordingly, then I clipped it to my pocket and took the little pair of headphones that come with it. Then we entered the auditorium, wherein there were reclining seats with tables attached. Instead of a concession stand, one orders food straight from the seat by pressing a button. Because we had eaten breakfast only a couple hours earlier, having gone for a 3:30 showing, my wife and I were not too hungry. So we just got popcorn and drinks, and smuggled boxes of raisinettes. As we settled in with our grub and the movie started, I realized that the audio description device was not working. This was rectified by simply locating and pressing the power button.

The quality of the description was pretty good. It was done by a woman with a British accent, which can be a bit challenging for me to follow, but I just sort of concentrated on digesting the more visual scenes and slid the set off of my head during dialog-heavy sections. The audio was presented in two channels: the left ear got the description, while the right ear was fed the movie. This would work wonderfully for one with normal hearing I suppose, but unfortunately my right ear is insufficient with regards to hearing. But that was ok. I think my pie-in-the-sky dream would be that somehow a text-based description app would be brought into existence that would allow me to follow the movie with my Braille display. Amazon’s x-ray is actually not far from this as it shows the scene title and who plays in the scene. I would think adding an extra line of description to that would not be too complicated. This would allow even deaf blind people to follow the action in a movie. My wife informed me that they do have a device that can be placed in a seat’s cup holder and allow a deaf person to read the closed captions, so that’s pretty cool too. It is great that we live in a world where access is being extended to everyone.

The movie began as one would expect, with the Circle of Life song. The elephant hole portion and the part where Scar outlines plans to take down the king were notably darker though, and especially as they basically removed Scar’s Be Prepared song and replaced it with a more march-y beat that made slight reference to it. That song had actually been one of my favorites in the original, but perhaps it was less necessary in a non-animated movie.

I have to say though, I was less a fan of Scar’s voice in the newer iteration. It just lacked the gravitas brought to it before. Nala’s older voice, played by Beyonce, was also less impassioned. On the whole though, the movie was more effectively tied together: with elements like a lead female hyena who tussled with Nala; a more developed relationship between Timon and Pumba, the outcasts Simba meets when sent away from Pride Rock; and a more sensible return by Simba in the end. It seems some effort was made to be more culturally sensitive as well.

This version in many respects felt less like a kid’s movie overall, not that kids wouldn’t get into it, but just that without some of its wimpy, Youngers folks might not connect with it in quite the same way. As an adult 25 (TWENTY-FIVE!) years later, I pretty well enjoyed it, and given that there were some fairly lengthy visual portions where nothing was said, I was happy I had opted to get the audio description box. The movie-going experience was so different from what I remember of my last attendance, which I think was in 2004? That sounds like a long time, but I can recall no more recent ones. I may well go to the movies again soon.

STOP SPREADIN’ THE NEWS: On Decreasing Mainstream App Access

Have you noticed a subtle shift, especially among mainstream news delivery services? Yes, the impending pay wall. These services, such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and even some local outfits, allow you to view an enticing tidbit from an article then say “to read more, sign in,” for (in the case of the former) $38 a month!

Now, as one who wishes he could write for a living, I do understand the need to be reimbursed for people’s services and hard work. I also know that advertising revenue is becoming a smaller and smaller slice of the pie, as people have become privy to and largely just ignore the annoying messages that pop up everywhere up to and including their Facebook accounts. But I remember when I first gained access to the Internet now 20 years ago, I was shocked by the fact that I could browse articles from the Charlotte Observer for free, giving me more access to news and happenings than I had ever known previously.

And therein lies my issue with these new pay walls. In order to complete my recent project at the job, I had to read an article on the Wall Street Journal’s website. Fortunately for me, they had a sale for July 4th in which one could sign up for just a dollar. So I did. I downloaded the app, which really opens up access as it lets you “follow” different authors and choose which kinds of articles you wish to be notified about. I get the notifications, but when I click on them all I hear is “null article,” “null article.” And even trying to press that link does nothing. I find this extremely disappointing.

And especially as we celebrate ten years of the iPhone having a text-to-speech option, VoiceOver, as Shelly Brisbin noted in her fascinating documentary. I know when that thing came out in 2007, I and my blind peers worried that it would quickly shut us out of the changing cell phone market. But with one fell swoop, that whole idea was turned on its head.

As we see though, having it truly stick is going to require that developers continue to be made aware of what this technology is and how it works. I can certainly understand smaller-scale companies not knowing about this, but the Wall Street Journal? I mean sure I can read most of the articles online, but I am still being denied a significant advantage by the app’s lack of VoiceOver functionality.

And if I am allowed to indulge, let’s move away from news and talk about travel. I specifically am taking umbrage with the Hilton Honors app. Again, there are other ways for me to gain most of the information on Hilton Hotels, but if you go through their app there are spectacular prices to be found. Their issue is the way dates are displayed. You have to move by headings from month to month, but it will only let you jump two months or so before losing focus and jumping way ahead or off the page entirely. I’m wondering why they can’t just use the standard calendar as almost every other app does.

So these are some of my worries. As the best stuff continues to move more into the apps and away from websites, it is inherent that people make at least a little effort to understand what standards need to be followed or as I’ve seen suggested by some, that a company like Apple mandate accessibility testing, if for no other reason but to let people know what works and what doesn’t. To do less is to (inadvertently) exclude a portion of the market that has waited a long time to gain even basic access in the first place.

2019 Part II: Starting It Write

Hello, and welcome to the second half of 2019! Has any year ever gone faster? I can tell you I have never had one with so many fireworks (which perhaps explains why I have generally posted less here, but hopefully these pages can be darkened again on the regular.

From April’s evaluations, to May and June’s Music Narratives to: something that… holds promise? Yes, a development for which I have been waiting, I am now getting to try my hands at technical writing with my current employer.

What is technical writing, you ask? Well, I am still learning the ins and outs of it myself, but as best I understand it it’s writing about business happenings and technologies that can benefit those within a business or users of its services.

To test my abilities in this area, I have been given two projects to work on for three-hour stints throughout this week, with July 4th providing a natural day off for pondering before submission. I will do these projects; a white paper that addresses some kind of accessibility issue and provides a solution, and a user manual or guide that helps a blind person learn to use a device; within their computer room over said days.

Today was my first go at it, and I actually quite enjoyed it and myself. First, I kind of had to re-familiarize myself with a Windows computer, after having typed on this Mac for a little over two years now. I have limited experience with Windows 10, but did not find it hard to learn the few new things I needed to know. What did make things fun at first was remembering that the cursor in Jaws works a little differently than it does in VoiceOver. I kept typing in the wrong place and having to erase. I’ve also gotten used to the autocorrect function on the Mac, so had to remember to go back and correct errors more frequently in the Windows environment. But, I’ll be right as rain by the time I get back at it tomorrow.

With regards to the projects themselves, the user manual is proving pretty easy for me, as there is a really good Internet template into which I have only to insert the relevant information. The biggest challenge there is making sure I know exactly what I am talking about. With the white paper, I think I am going to change direction from my initial idea, because that approach is kind of a slog. I’m actually thinking of doing it on Paratransit and its lack of flexibility. I have cooked up a couple of articles and will mine them for some kind of potential solution, especially as this is something I find quite relevant, and it says we can discuss travel-related accessibility issues. We shall see.

One thing is for sure, just flexing my mental muscle like that made me feel something I’ve not really experienced since grad school. So I hope I get to do this sort of thing some time soon. Wish me luck as I continue to work on crafting and ultimately expanding my skill set to include an idea I had not really considered, but as with the music thing, now wonder if I can run with. More later.