And the message for you today is: communication is a human right. “Being able to communicate is the basis for understanding and growth. Health, education, families, relationships, jobs, community – they all depend on communication.”

I want to tell you about a remarkable little girl. Annabel is seven years old, and sadly, at the age of four, she lost her hearing.

Living in the UK, she was able to watch movies and TV shows because they provide screen captions for virtually all shows. So the family could go to movies together and Annabel could join her friends to watch TV. One of her favourite shows was the cartoon series “Sofia the First”. Princess Sofia has the powerful Amulet of Avalor, which grants her the ability to talk to and understand animals.

Isn’t that amazing?

But now the family has moved back home to New Zealand, and Annabel can’t watch these shows any more because we don’t provide captions for them. In fact, we have a dismal record on captioning – and I’ll talk more about that later. So thousands of New Zealanders with hearing loss miss out on the news and entertainment that others take for granted.

For Annabel, TV captions are as precious as the amulet of Avalor: they make communication possible. She says, “Family movie times never have words and the children’s movies don’t have words either, so we can’t go now.” She’s also missing out on shared fun with her friends.

But Annabel is very smart, and she understands that this is actually about justice. She put it plainly, as children often do: “It’s not fair that there are no words.” In fact, she has written to New Zealand’s Prime Minister asking for 100% screen captioning. And she told us, ‘There are lots of deaf people like me and my grandma needs words too, because she is a little bit deaf.’

I was so impressed by Annabel – she had a natural understanding that communication is a matter of right. Not just for her, but for everyone with a hearing loss. She became our poster girl for a campaign for 100% captioning in New Zealand. Visit our blog at CaptionitNZ and our facebook page to support Annabel’s efforts.

And the message for you today is: communication is a human right.

In fact, it is fundamental to pretty much everything we do – after all, we are social, interactive beings who thrive on connections.

Being able to communicate is the basis for understanding and growth. Health, education, families, relationships, jobs, community – they all depend on communication.

In New Zealand we have developed a Captioning Working Group with membership from the executives of The National Foundation for the Deaf, the Hearing Association New Zealand and Deaf Aotearoa New Zealand.

Over the two years since this group has formed the rate of captioning over a 24-hour period on public television has risen slightly from being less to what Uganda had to 25%. In Australia the figure is about 85%, and in the US 100%.

But, despite meetings with the Minister for Broadcasting, the current government is refusing to change the law to mandate broadcasters to caption programmes. The rate is now stagnating at 25%. But we are not stagnating and we have taken the issue much further.

New Zealand has just had its Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights by the UN Assembly and the lack of captioning was an issue we submitted on. It was picked up by the UN office of the chief high commissioner for human rights and included in the NZ Stakeholders Report to the UN General Assembly.

We also raised the lack of captioning with the hard of hearing representative on the UN Committee on the CRPD when they were doing the NZ review and in the “List of issues in relation to the initial report of New Zealand” the New Zealand Government has been asked to “Please provide information on any plans to increase the accessibility of television, DVDs, movies, and online media, including plans to ensure the progressive increase in the percentage of captioning and audio description.”

It works! The pressure is building…

Our goal is nothing less than to introduce captioning law in New Zealand as has been done successfully in Australia; the UK and the US to name but a few countries…

Louise Carroll
Chairperson New Zealand Captioning Working Group
CEO National Foundation of the Deaf
Speaking at
XXXII World Congress of Audiology May, 2014

See an Index of all our Captioning Blogs here.

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