Helen Mackay’s Speech Regarding Captioning. “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.”

When Louise asked me to speak tonight I toyed with the idea of whispering my speech just to frustrate you all as you struggle to hear, just to give you a little sense of my daughters frustration as she struggles to understand. Fortunately for you, I thought better of it.

Annabel herself was cross that she wasn’t coming tonight to “tell the bosses that no words on the TV is not good enough. Mummy it’s my problem – no words”. She is right of course in part, but in reality it is our collective problem and the current situation is not good enough.

Please allow me to tell you a little bit about Annabel. She is profoundly deaf having lost her hearing at around the age of 4 due to a neuro-muscular condition. She remembers what sound is like. She relies on captioning, lip reading and sign supported English. We recently returned home to New Zealand from living in the UK. Prior to our move, I worried endlessly about whether we would get access to the appropriate medical care and whether she would be fully included in a school environment. It didn’t even occur to me that captioning, or lack thereof would be one of the biggest issues we would face returning home. The UK Television is 100 percent captioned.

“Mummy there are no words” Annabel exclaimed as she watched the television. I assumed there was something wrong with our TV. I was horrified to discover our TV was functioning perfectly. The captions however were not.

When I ask Annabel why TV is better in England she says “because all of the programs had captions – all the children’s programmes and all the grown ups programmes, and mummy could record them all with words. I can’t understand the TV without words. Sometimes the words go too fast and I can’t read them. Sometimes the words are too small. Sometimes even when the captions are on they just disappear. I get very angry because it’s not fair I can’t understand the TV. All of the programs on Kidzone don’t have words and that is silly because all of the programs on Kidzone are from England and in England they have words on the same program.”

If you ask Annabel which programs she can’t understand because there are no words, she will often think not just of herself but others. “When daddy watches the news I can’t understand it and have to ask lots of questions about the pictures. Sometimes daddy gets cross because he is trying to watch too. There are lots of programs with no words. The same program is on over and over again. I get sick of watching the same program all of the time.”

If you ask Annabel how does the lack of words make her feel? “Sick mummy. Bored. Sometimes I fall asleep. Cross. Lonely, I feel left out, sad.

When friends are watching the TV I feel left out and I can’t understand and I have to go to my bedroom and do something else. I get bored. I feel left out. When they laugh, I don’t know why they are laughing and I get cross”.

So what do we do about the lack of captions in New Zealand? Lets dispel some myths.

It’s NOT a political issue. There should be no need for point scoring between political parties over captioning. The need for captions will cover voters in all parties. But frankly, with 700,000 Deaf or Hard of Hearing, I don’t care if they make it a political issue. If I were a politician I’d love those 700,000 votes.

It’s not a technological issue. The technology is there in spades with adoption costs decreasing all the time. Please don’t give me the excuse that it can’t be done, because simply put it can.

It’s not a cost issue. With 1 in 6 with hearing impairments it makes good business commercial sense to reach out to that audience. I would even celebrate an advertiser who offered captioning on TV.

Maybe its an attitude and awareness issue? I have been told that if open captions are shown in mainstream cinema, cinema goers walk out. I can see no reason why this would happen in children’s movies at 10am on a Saturday morning… Unless this prejudice comes from parents, and shame on us if it does. All children, hearing or otherwise benefit from words on TV.

So it shouldn’t be a political issue, its not a technological or a cost issue, maybe its an attitude or awareness issue….What is it? I think its a human rights issue.

Captions or as Annabel would say ‘words’, are not just a luxury, a matter of being entertained. 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.

Many of you are already doing something, but if you are not, here are some things you can do to make a difference:

– its election year, write to your MP, say that the level of captioning is totally inadequate and ask what are they doing about it?

– ask at your local cinema if they have captions. If not ask them to get those facilities even if you don’t think you need them today, there is a good possibility you, or someone you know, will need them in the future

– Ask your children’s school or employer to provide and/or show captions on any media they play

– On your TV turn your captions ON and your volume OFF. Try it for 24 hours. See for yourself what its like. Last year the NFD ran a successful silent leadership challenge. Try your own leadership challenge on the TV.

I’d like Annabel to have the last word. I asked her, if she could tell the Prime Minister to fix the words on the TV, what would she say to him?

“I would tell the boss of the country that the TV people are lazy because they do not put words on the TV and deaf people sometimes get bored and left out. He should tell the TV people that they should start putting on captions. It’s not fair there are no words. It’s stupid. There are lots of people deaf like me and my grandma needs word too because she is a little bit deaf too”.

Annabel has written a letter to the Boss of New Zealand. The letter is now with John Key, and we are patiently awaiting a reply.

NZ Herald Article – To The Boss of New Zealand

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