I was feeling like absolute shit yesterday due to a combination of allergies and some vile head cold, so I spent the lion’s share of my conscious hours on the couch. As I mentioned yesterday, we’ve got a Kinect hooked up to our Xbox 360, so I fired up our Netflix app and flailed one of my arms ineffectually until I found something suitably weird to watch, and I was poleaxed to see a little “Audio and Subtitles” option waiting for me once I made my selection.
This is notable for a couple of reasons. First, the Netflix app on the 360 has been notoriously bad in comparison to what you can get directly from the Netflix site on a desktop or a mobile app. For years, there had been no way to select different audio tracks or subtitles if you were streaming Netflix to your 360, which was incredibly frustrating because you could do so on a majority of the same movies and television shows from your computer or iPod Touch. Hell, for the longest time you couldn’t even get a search function on the 360 – it was a major coup when they added it to the Xbox app… a year and a half ago. More important than this, though, was the fact that the ability to finally select a subtitle track when streaming Netflix through the 360 meant that my fiancée and I can finally start watching stuff together through the television, as it’s kind of hard to enjoy watching movies with a deaf girl if they can’t understand what the fuck people are saying.
For anyone who didn’t know, my fiancée suffers from 75%-90% hearing loss in both of her ears. Her hearing loss began in her 20s – most likely a congenital condition, as her father also has adult-onset deafness – and she communicates through a combination of lip-reading, a limited but rapidly growing ASL vocabulary, and a pair of hearing aids. Or used to, until her hearing aids crapped out on her.
You might not be aware of this, but hearing aids are prohibitively fucking expensive. Not only that, but my fiancée’s health insurance doesn’t cover them as for some reason they’re not considered “durable medical equipment” by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, so communication can be very difficult at times; luckily, a friend of ours made a gift of a little detachable camcorder microphone that she can hold in her hand and plug her iPod earbuds into, but it’s not an ideal situation by any means, and even when her hearing aids still worked, we still kept the closed captions on when it came to watching television together.
Like me, my fiancée is a chronic insomnia sufferer, and the ability to be able to turn on the television at 4 in the morning to watch episodes of 30 Rock or something until you exhaust yourself enough to get back to sleep is a serious boon. It’s hard to do that when you can’t understand what the hell you’re trying to watch. Netflix doesn’t have an inexhaustible supply of foreign films that are subtitled by default – after a while, you get tired of watching The Legend of Drunken Master for the 375th time – and while our iPod Touch Netflix app supports subtitles, it’s kind of hard to squeeze our heads together close enough to watch anything together.
This had led to many annoying nights with her upstairs in bed, staring at a tiny iPod screen in the dark, while I sulked downstairs, streaming Netflix on the 360 and cursing every time my connection bottlenecked (or dropped out completely) because our wireless router prioritized the iPod stream upstairs. It got so bad that I actually dismantled our entire network and re-wired it using a hub as an extra step between the cable modem and the wireless router (yo dog, we heard you like routers, so we put a router in your router, etc.). The result of this was to solve the bottlenecking problem, but managed to make our wireless printer stop working, so after more cursing Comcast’s data transfer rates with a clenched fist, I re-wired everything again and extracted a promise from my fiancée to not watch 3 hours of Breaking Bad on evenings I wanted to play some multiplayer games on the 360.
It’s not easy living with someone who has severe hearing loss. However, I’ve got the easy part; as difficult and frustrating as it can be when it comes to trying to make sure you’re being understood, it’s 1000 times harder to go through your entire life in near-silence, constantly having to remind people to look at you so you can read their lips so you can understand what the fuck they’re trying to ask you. It’s an incredibly isolating feeling, being unable to communicate easily and effectively, and it’s something that all too many people simply take for granted – and it’s something that all too many people become frustrated with, even though the few extra seconds it takes them to converse with someone who’s hard of hearing, it’s nothing compared to the constant anger and frustration that the deaf person has to deal with for the rest of their lives.
This is why it was such a joy to boot up our 360 today and see subtitles available on nearly everything we chose. While it may not mean much for the majority of people out there, it meant that my fiancée’s life got just that much easier – and considering how we can’t even go to our closest local movie theater because they don’t have their assisted-listening devices installed yet, it’s nice to just be able to sit down on the couch and watch a movie – even if it’s a documentary on the Helvetica typeface.