Celebrate, Communicate, Connect – New Zealand Sign Language Week “…enable our youth – ‘By working together we are a stronger team’

I am relatively new to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing/Hearing Impaired world, so it’s a privilege to be able to write a little here.

I have learnt very quickly over the last four years that the needs of Deaf and HOH people are diverse. The needs of the families, friends and professionals that support them are just as diverse. I’d like us all to ‘CELEBRATE’ the diversity that is the New Zealand Deaf Community – and I mean community in the broadest sense.

I have learnt that some people sign – some people are against sign. Some people with reduced hearing, listen. Some lip-read. Some use hearing aids, some have Cochlear Implants or BAHA. Some use other sign languages. Everyone appears to use body language, gesture and facial expression! Then there are other communication aides available too – speech to text, personal listening or FM systems and so much more.

What is clear to me, is that whatever method people use to ‘COMMUNICATE’ it’s the communication that’s more important than the method. What works for one may not work for another. What works this week may not work the next week, month or year.

My daughter Annabel is Deaf. She has a younger sister who is hearing. Annabels parents are both hearing. Many Deaf children have hearing parents and siblings – we are not ‘unusual’ in that respect.

As its New Zealand Sign Language week please allow me to deal with some of the elephants in the room that for some seem to get in the way of the ‘CONNECT’. I have found its just easier to say it as it is, and Annabel will tell you this herself if you give her half a chance and she is not telling you some other wacky story.

Just how Deaf is Annabel? And why is she Deaf?

Annabel is profoundly Deaf. She is deafened from around the age of 4 due to a rare condition. She is almost 8 now. At 4 Annabel could speak, and English is her first language. She is oral and we communicate with her in a sign supported English way. This means we speak and sign in parallel. My signing is far from perfect and we, and she are learning every day. She is quick to point out if I sign something incorrectly and often laughs at me having sussed out via lip reading/context that I said something completely different to what I signed.

Does Annabel sign?

Annabel can sign though this is not something that is easy for her owing to her condition. She loves sign and has chosen to go to the NZSL gala dinner to celebrate her Birthday.

Does Annabel wear hearing aids and would a Cochlear Implant benefit her?

Yes she sometimes wears hearing aids but these do not give her word discrimination and in a noisy environment they make things worse as they merely amplify whatever it is that she is hearing. She takes them out saying they are too loud. There are just 2 people in the world with Annabels condition that have been given Cochlear Implants and these were unsuccessful.

Does Annabel remember sound?

Yes she does and she often says she ‘hates being Deaf, its not fair mummy I am Deaf’.

Gosh she speaks so well on that recent video, why is this?

English is her first language and she has talked almost non stop from the day she could. For words that Annabel learnt pre 4, she pronounces these quite clearly and most people understand her. In the video Annabel was reading a story she wrote herself in words she knows which is why it is clear. If she is learning a new word or it is a word she is not familiar with, she and others work very hard to learn how to pronounce it. Taking on new vocabulary is a challenge for many kids, deaf or hearing. She works pretty hard at it.

Hopefully that deals with the bulk of the ‘too afraid to ask questions’.

So why did we get involved in the CaptionitNZ campaign?

Perhaps because we have lived and worked in countries where closed captioning is the norm, we couldn’t quite believe what we were seeing on our TV here. In so many ways New Zealand out performs the rest of the world – NZSL recognition is one of them. Captioning sadly is not.

So few programs are captioned, and the ones that do have captions are frequently repeats. The On Demand services do not support captioning despite the fact that these are recent developments. The USA have had legislation in place for almost 20 years requiring captioning and hardware associated with captioning has been legislated for almost 25 years there. Simply put we are a long way behind.

Whatever your parenting views about television, most of us at some stage or other just want to settle down in the front of the TV with or without the kids for some quick escapism from the daily world… or maybe you just want to watch what is going on around the world. Annabel is no different.

She doesn’t understand why all the programs on TV aren’t captioned. She said in a recent interview that the ‘TV people are lazy’. Will the broadcasters take the responsibility and caption everything or will they wait for the legislation? For some subscriber channels its pure guess work whether a program will be captioned. For other channels they simply cannot or refuse to do it.

Annabel cares that she can’t watch the news that her Dad choses to watch. Think her Dad should watch a different news program? That’s just forced a choice on 2 people and not 1. The multiplier effect is prevalent in many less advantaged communities. Think Annabel should just wait and watch a movie when it’s available on DVD with subtitles rather than when it’s a new release at the cinema? Have you had that sinking feeling when you know everyone else is talking about something you havn’t seen or heard? That’s what a school classroom can feel like after the school holidays if you havn’t seen the movie of the moment. Ever thought oh that kids programme being advertised looks interesting but discovered it’s live so has no captions. Have you or your children researched a project on that wonderful worldwide web, that ‘thing that connects people’ according to Tim Berners-Lee, to discover that videos available on line from our news media or companies, are not captioned? Sat in a pub trying to follow the commentary on a sports game or an airport or hospital waiting area? The list just goes on and on.

Mark Berry probably needs no introduction to most people reading this. His recent VLOG urged that we enable our youth. ‘By working together we are a stronger team’. Annabel has spoken out in her letter to the Prime Minister, her meeting with the local MP and her video message has attracted international attention. She’s the poster child of the campaign. Believe me, she cares about this stuff and wants us to work together to fix it.

Captioning benefits the Deaf, the Hard of Hearing, the Hearing Impaired – whatever word or others that you chose to associate with. Captioning benefits literacy. Captioning helps in noisy environments. Captioning can help people on the autism spectrum. Captioning can help Education. Why wouldn’t you caption something if you want to get your message out?

CaptionitNZ needs New Zealanders behind the campaign – Deaf, HOH or Hearing. Building an inclusive society requires us all to fully include everyone. A persons ability to participate and contribute to society is profoundly affected by how well we can all access information whether its advertising, schooling, entertainment, the latest news or a government announcement.

Please don’t leave out my daughter, and the many other people who are Deaf and/or Hard of Hearing. Please support our campaign.

Helen Mackay

PS The most popular question I have been asked is what is the difference between captions and subtitles? Subtitles just translate the spoken text (usually another language) – either into English or another spoken language. Captions show the spoken text as well to let the viewer know who is speaking and other sound cues – such as door opening, closing, or even ‘silence’ etc.

Links:

Helen MacKays speech

The Captioning Working Group

See an Index of all our Captioning Blogs here.

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  1. Pingback: Index of CaptionitNZ Blog. | Improving captioning in New Zealand June 4, 2014

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