Joining In… Why Captioning ALL TV Programmes is Important. “100% captioning isn’t just about entertainment and watching TV. It’s about access to information and providing a tool that makes it easier for Deaf and hearing impaired people to join in and participate with everyone else.”
Some people may wonder about the current campaign for 100% captions on TV. Is it really an important issue? It’s just TV programmes. Aren’t there more important things to worry about? Besides, some programmes are already captioned. Shouldn’t that be enough?
So why do so many Deaf and hard of hearing people think it is important?
I don’t like to assume I can speak for others, but to me it’s because captions are a tool that enhances the ability of Deaf and hard of hearing people to “join in”, and make connections with other people. This might mean joining in with the wider hearing community, or sometimes even within our own families. Captions are also a significant help as we work to access the information that the hearing world takes for granted.
I know about taking things for granted. I grew up hearing, so was one of the people that did. I didn’t give a second thought to the constant flow of communication and information that was available to me. Information was just there. I could watch anything I wanted to watch on TV, listen to the radio, see live presentations or performances, or watch any movie I wanted. I was also privy to the informal exchanges of everyday life. The “chats around the water cooler” at work.
This all changed when I became totally deaf during adulthood. The initial adjustment when I was first deafened was tremendously difficult. The communication that had always flowed so easily now seemed impossible to achieve. After a day spent struggling to communicate, it was a relief to collapse and watch captioned TV or a movie. But I was shocked when I first discovered how much material wasn’t captioned. I had assumed there would be much more.
This was seventeen years ago now, and it’s true that the amount of captioning has increased a lot since then. However despite these increases, in NZ we still lag far behind what is available overseas. In my view, the amount of captioned content currently available in New Zealand is still not enough to meet the communication and information needs of Deaf and hard of hearing people, including myself.
Communication wise, things are a lot easier for me now than they were in the early days after being deafened. My difficulty with communication eased when I decided to learn New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL). Later, my husband, and my two children started to learn as well. Learning NZSL, and making connections in the Deaf community has been hugely beneficial for all of us. We’ve had to be patient as we have all learned at different paces, but the effort has been worth it, we are just now reaching a level of fluency that allows us to discuss day to day things using NZSL. The ability to discuss things is something we would now never take for granted.
My children are excellent communicators, and from a young age came up with a variety of ways to make themselves understood. One of the things I have found is that to communicate well with my children, it helps to understand what influences, and is important to them. Like it or not, what they watch on TV is part of that. But I often have no idea what my children are watching, because it’s not captioned. One example is the “Ellen” afternoon chat show that my twelve-year-old daughter sometimes watches after school. As with all the other chat shows on TV, Ellen is uncaptioned. It looks like it would be interesting and funny, I’d love join my daughter and watch it with her. Maybe there would be things that interest her that we could discuss? But I can’t access it, so it’s just another missed opportunity. Similarly, my seven-year-old son is a beginner signer, using a combination of signs with some speech to communicate with me. Because he’s only seven, he often speaks without any context – sometimes he is talking about something funny from TV, or maybe he’s even picked up some phrase from a programme or a common advertisement. Again, because I often have no concept of what he is picking up, communication with him is just that little bit harder.
Sometimes my family changes what they watch because of me, but other times I can’t join in when they are watching the things they like to watch. For example my husband prefers TV3 news, but only rarely watches it because it’s uncaptioned. All of my family love the TV programmes on offer on Prime TV, so I have to do something else when they are watching any of those. As for picking a movie we can all watch, I know it’s difficult enough for any family to get everyone to agree. At our place, we might finally agree, only to discover our choice is not captioned.
Some people argue that everything can be accessed online these days, therefore there’s no need for more captioning on TV. It’s true that the internet, along with various social media sites, have opened up new communication options for Deaf and hard of hearing people. But these can’t always compensate for insufficient captions. For one thing, not everyone can access the internet. But even for those of us who can, it can still be difficult to participate in online discussions and the like, because of what we’ve already missed.
For example, recently an item from the popular TV programme “Campbell live” was being discussed on an online facebook group I belong to. The Campbell live programme is also uncaptioned. In this case, the relevant clip had been posted online for those who had missed it, but, as is nearly always the case, it wasn’t captioned there either. I was interested in the discussion, but was becoming increasingly frustrated seeing comments like “what a brilliant interview!”, “xxx came across so well…” etc until I eventually said “I’m deaf, and the Campbell live programme isn’t captioned, can anyone tell me what was said during this item?” To which the page facilitator almost immediately replied and said “Lorraine, you need to go to TV3 and ask them for a transcript. When you contact them, please make the point that it is important that the deaf community is not excluded from news and current events.” I can’t say I was surprised that within a short space of time he got 12 “likes” for his comment. How could you not agree with him? But how is it practical to ask for a transcript, after the event, for the benefit of one person, when, if we believe what we are told, it was impossible for the programme to have been captioned in the first place for the 700,000 Deaf or Hard of Hearing people in New Zeland who may have wanted to have watched it?
To me, 100% captioning isn’t just about entertainment and watching TV. It’s about access to information and providing a tool that makes it easier for Deaf and hearing impaired people to join in and participate with everyone else.
And that is important.
Lorraine McQuigg is a mother of two living in Auckland who started losing hearing during adulthood, who has been totally deaf for approximately the last ten years. She’s just one of many who find the lack of captioning in New Zealand frustrating