Movies for All

(Photo: Chatchai Aphibanpoonpon)

Chatchai Aphibanpoonpon, founder of Klong Dinsor, is the man behind Pannana, an app that helps blind people enjoy movies through audio description. The 35-year-old Thammasat alumnus talks about his mission to better the lives of people with disabilities through several projects.

What made you decide to establish Klong Dinsor to improve the lives of people with disabilities?

I used to work as a credit analyst in a commercial bank. There, I met with business owners and wrote loan proposals. I met a customer who sold molasses to local alcohol producers. I told my supervisor that bank should not support a business that was considered harmful to society. My superior disagreed as this customer had good credit and I, as an employee, had to do what's best for the company. I refused to do it and quit a few months after.

After quitting my job, I took an MBA class at Thammasat University. It was an evening and weekend programme so I spent my free time volunteering at The Bangkok School For The Blind, helping students with their homework. I realised how difficult it was for the blind to learn something. Without proper assistive tools, it was almost impossible. The school and other schools for the blind in Thailand do not have many resources to spend. I started using my skills in economics, building tools and toys for them which were, of course, roughly made. The Lensen Drawing Kit was one of them. It is a drawing tool that creates a tactile line that the blind can feel with their fingertips in real-time. They use threads like a pencil to draw on a velcro board.

Photo: Pannana Application

I set up Klong Dinsor as a limited company instead of a non-profit because it's easier and cheaper to do. Klong Dinsor is Thai for a pencil box because in the beginning I planned to only develop tools and toys to improve education for children with disabilities. After that, the company has expanded to cover three main areas including; improving education, creating employment and raising awareness on social inclusion. Our big goal is to create an inclusive society where people with and without disabilities can live together in harmony.

Talk us through a few of Klong Dinsor's past projects.

The Lensen Drawing Kit is a drawing tool for blind children. They can use it to draw and to learn about arts, mathematics, sciences and other subjects that require drawing. Run2gether is a community of runners with and without disabilities. Learn-nai-dee is a community of students with disabilities focusing on higher education and is a recruitment service for companies that want to hire employees with disabilities.

Photo: Melalin Mahavongtrakul

Photos: SF Cinema

How did Pannana [Thai for to narrate or describe] come about?

Klong Dinsor believes that the best way to raise awareness about people with disabilities is to have a friend who is disabled. Once you have that, issues regarding people with disabilities that used to be irrelevant to you becomes an issue because of your friend. You will care and understand more. The work of Klong Dinsor is to design tools, know-how and organise activities that people with and without disabilities can do together and form friendships.

Watching movies is one of the social activities that we enjoy but is not for everyone. For blind people to enjoy a movie, they have to listen to a special narration called 'audio description' or AD. It's the narration of what goes on the screen when there is no dialogue. AD has been around for years but it is not popular in Thailand due to the cost and limited access. Before Pannana, if we wanted blind people to enjoy a movie, we had to rent the entire cinema so that we could play the movie with AD. It was costly and ineffective. We came up with the idea of using a mechanism similar to the Shazam app to play a narration from a smartphone. Boom! Pannana was born. Pannana will listen to the sound of the playing movie and detect the exact time the movie is playing. Then the app will play a pre-recorded AD at the exact time. The sound of the movie and the narration are auto-synchronised.

What are your goals for the app?

The goal of Pannana is to enable blind people to enjoy movies at the same time and in the same place as people with sight. It is an example of using modern technology to bridge the gap between people.

Do you work with film companies to ensure the quality of the AD?

In Thailand, not many film companies want to carry the cost of making AD except GDH, which makes AD for all their movies. We partner with them and SF cinema to make sure that the cinema and the movie are accessible to the blind. GDH makes their AD in-house to control the quality and publish it on Pannana. For other film companies, we find sponsors such as ThaiHealth Foundation and SF cinema to cover the production costs and outsource the production to a post-production company that works on subtitles, narration and AD. We continuously give them user feedback to improve the quality of the narration.

What are some of the challenges in creating AD?

Creating AD is an art. Theoretically, the concept is 'say what you see' and leave the interpretation to the listener. For example, if the actress is crying, you can only say she is crying or tears are falling. You cannot say she is crying out of sadness or happiness. The challenge is that AD must not overlap with the dialogue so the gap to narrate is very small, like three or four seconds. The narrator has to choose what is important enough in that scene to be said within a few seconds. However, in some cases, the narrator wants the listener to feel the emotion so he might interpret some situations. There is no right or wrong way, really. As long as blind people enjoy it, it is all good.

What kind of feedback have you received for the app?

Feedback has been phenomenal. The blind community loves the app because it is the first time that they can enjoy a movie along with with their sighted friends or family members. The cinema loves it because they no longer have to sacrifice a showtime for a movie event exclusively for the blind. And it's good for their CSR and publicity. The film producers love it because they have access to a wider audience, not just the blind but also the elderly who have bad eyesight.

Do you see other uses for AD that can help improve the lives of the visually impaired in the future?

We believe that having access to all types of media is a basic right. AD can be applied to every visual content: movies, documentaries, performances, even advertisements. One area that we are interested in, besides movies, is educational material so that the classroom can become more inclusive.

What about Thai society's attitude towards people living with disabilities?

Thai people believe in karma and that you are disabled because you did something wrong in your previous life. Many families feel ashamed of having a disabled kid. They lock him/her in the house, afraid to show him/her, or even talk about him/her in public. The portrayal of people with disabilities in media and soap operas tend to focus on how dramatic and sad their lives are. That's why people don't know how to live with people with disabilities, how to interact with them and how to assist them. They don't know that people with disabilities want to and can do so many things. They don't see the ability inside the disability. That's why having a disabled friend is crucial and Klong Dinsor's key focus. We have to make people realise that what people with disabilities want is not donation nor sympathy, but an 'equal opportunity'.

If people or organisations are interested in doing their part, how do they reach you?

What makes Pannana special is not the technology behind it, but its ability to unite all the stakeholders in the industry from the filmmaker, the cinema, the government and the public to hold hands and say that we will not leave anyone behind, not even in a small thing like watching movies. So we are open to everyone who shares the same goal. Right now, we are developing a crowdsourcing platform so people can volunteer to help making AD. We are looking for more partners -- Thailand and abroad -- in the movie industry or any related industries. We are looking for sponsors and funders to cover the cost and grow. We are looking for media partners to help us tell our story and inspire others. We want everyone to be a part of this social inclusion movement. And you can reach us via email at chatchai@klongdinsor.com or our Facebook page (fb.com/klongdinsor).