Lack of Access for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing… “I am told that the government cares about inclusion, that my perception is not reality. I am just not convinced.”

OK I admit it. I am struggling to reconcile something.

On one side of the reconciliation I have government departments and agencies purporting to champion inclusion and embrace diversity. On the other side I have the Minister of Broadcasting effectively telling the New Zealand Captioning Working Group to (I paraphrase) ‘shove off’.

As far as I can work out, there are at least 4 government ministries and endless government ministers and respective agencies with an interest in improving the state of closed captioning in New Zealand (On TV, On Demand, On Pay Per View, On Web, On Radio, On Parliament TV)

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment
Ministry of Education
Ministry of Social Development
Ministry of Health

The governments own ‘Disability Action Plan (2014-2018) which sets strategic priorities that advance implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)’ acknowledges that ‘A collaborative, cross-government approach is necessary because many of the barriers that disabled people experience to participation and contribution in society lie across several agencies’ responsibilities’.

The government even fund a social change organization called ‘Think Differently”. ‘Think Differently is a social change campaign to encourage and support a fundamental shift in attitudes and behaviour towards disabled people.’

I am told that the government cares about inclusion, that my perception is not reality. I am just not convinced. Even the United Nations have asked in their “List of issues in relation to the initial report of New Zealand” the New Zealand Government 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.”

Lack of access to what is being said on broadcast TV, On Demand, On the web, In schools, in public places and events, in airports and sports stadiums is the reality for my daughter and many many other New Zealanders, TODAY, not at some stage in the future.

With all the government support for IT innovation, education/early intervention and praise for being on top of the world…

* why doesn’t TVNZ’s On Demand Service or Igloo support captions and why is it acceptable that it doesn’t?

* why don’t we mandate turning captions on in school classrooms – they help literacy

* why don’t we introduce legislation for the phased introduction of captioning across TV, On Demand, Internet and Pay Per View Streaming (which would include the likes of Netflix arrival in NZ) to bring us in line with Australia, UK, US as an example

I just can’t reconcile the brush off from the Minister of Broadcasting for captioning. It is not acceptable to brush off or marginalize the many thousands Hard of Hearing or Deaf in the country of which my elder daughter is one, and my mother another. Nor to not offer the captioning to many others who benefit – children learning to read, English as a second language, people on the autistic spectrum, people with learning difficulties. Research in the UK shows that 80% of the people that use captioning are not Deaf or HOH. Legislation is required, not words of encouragement, to make captioning necessary.

Yes there is a fiscal responsibility. The Disability Action Plan talks of fiscal responsibility and constraint on resources across the Public Service. I get all of that.

If a new café owner wants to open the newest best coffee place in NZ (possibly the world) they pay for the accessibility requirements – it’s mandated by law. Disability can strike anyone at anytime, just ask the ACC. I am very sure that the cost of exclusion longer term is much greater than having the accessibility built in from the outset. If it was easy to do it retrospectively TVNZ would have fixed their problems with their OnDemand service months ago.

We are not asking for additional government funds. We are asking for legislation and asking that Broadcasters (with healthy revenue streams) and the media take their part in building a truly inclusive New Zealand. Yes technology is changing all the time. All the more reason to legislate now. When the new media companies come knocking on the NZ door (and they are) they will know from the outset that they must provide captions and if they don’t, they wont be given a license to operate in this country.

Sadly the Think Differently Fund rules mean that the CaptionitNZ campaign can’t apply for funding. Perhaps the team from the governments own Ministry of Social Development could, gratis, go and educate the media and the various government ministers of the importance of ‘thinking differently’, the importance of showing the words to people that need them. Who knows, there are almost 1 million eligible voters not voting, maybe they are not being connected with or informed – captioning might help!

There are many people in this world with different abilities. (My daughter is one of those – she is much better at lip reading than I am). It is society and a lack of inclusion that is disabling.

So back to my reconciliation problem. I am told that the government cares, that they Think Differently ‘to address the social environment that tolerates or accepts exclusion of disabled people’. But the actions speak louder than the words on a ministerial letter.

I better get Xero onto that reconciliation job, I am told as a world class New Zealand company, they are good at that.

Helen MacKay
Ambassador for the Captioning Working Group, CaptionitNZ Campaign and proud mum of Annabel (Deaf) and Alexandra (Hearing)

PS. Annabel has still not had a reply to her March letter to the Prime Minister or her VLOG

Footnote : The writer has no affiliation with Xero, simply an interest in making sure that New Zealand really is on top of the world and proud of it!

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