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Global Accessibility Awareness Day - WE NEED WORDS TO ACHIEVE ACCESS

May 19, 2016


Imagine, if you will, a life without the ability to fully understand what is being said on television, in videos, on the telephone


Today members of the New Zealand Captioning Working Group will submit a petition with more than 2,300 signatures asking “That the House of Representatives legislate to ensure accesssibility via closed captioning for Deaf, Hard of Hearing and other New Zealanders who need it, to access all broadcast, online and video mediums”.

The petition will be presented to Mojo Mathers, Green MP on Global Accessibility Awareness Day.

This petition highlights the inaccessibility to broadcast media caused by the lack of captioning which enables access. A blaring example of the inaccessiblity was the 2015 Rugby World Cup, where many games that were broadcast on free to air Prime TV (owned by Sky TV) were not captioned. This was also the subject of a complaint to the New Zealand Human Rights Commission by the Captioning Working Group.

Mrs. Louise Carroll, Chairperson of the Captioning Working Group and Chief Executive of The National Foundation for the Deaf said in a statement “This is not about just about access to the Rugby or the latest sporting event attracting New Zealanders attention, it’s about a large group of New Zealanders being marginalised as they are not offered inclusion through access. In a 21st century digital society inclusion for all New Zealanders reallly does matter”.

There is no legislation in New Zealand requiring broadcasters and video on demand providers to provide captioning.

New Zealand is light-years behind Australia where TV stations are required to broadcast with captioning on all primary channels between the hours of 6am and midnight seven days a week. ABCiView in Australia offers captioning. The United States has had captioning legislation for decades with very strict compliance rules and exception processes that have been tested. TV catch up services provide captioning and content previously aired on US television must include captioning when made available online. The United Kingdom and much of Europe require broadcasters to caption. BBCiPlayer is considered a world leader in accessibility. In Canada all TV adverts and promotions must also carry captioning by law.

But, in New Zealand:

• Only 1 news television programme has captioning (One News)
• No news is captioned on any channel between 11pm and 12 noon the following day and many morning television programmes including Breakfast on TVNZ and the Paul Henry Show on TV3 air without captions
• Only Television New Zealand supports live captioning (captioning produced real time as a live programme goes to air) so programmes aired live on other channels are inaccessible to Deaf & Hard of Hearing New Zealanders unless a repeat is aired later with captions
• The National Foundation for the Deaf has stepped up and is underwriting the cost of ensuring captioning of live broadcasts can be provided by Prime
• In the rapidly developing Television On Demand & Video On Demand services (subscription or free/advertiser funded) no New Zealand based service offers captioning (including TVNZ On Demand, 3Now, Sky Go, Lightbox, NEON). Captioning is only available on Netflix
• TVNZ launched the first on demand service in Australasia in 2007 but to date, no captions have been made available despite frequent upgrades by the broadcaster and the service being available on many platforms and devices

Without captions watching the news, a current affairs programme, the latest drama, movie or reality TV programme, becomes an exhausting and confusing lip reading challenge. Without captions, many Deaf and Hard of Hearing people simply turn off. Some with the knowledge probably use technology to illegally source accessible content from overseas. Others feel isolated and left out of conversations.

As highlighted in the New Zealand Government Convergence documents the “nature of how New Zealanders communicate, do business, and access information and entertainment is changing rapidly in the contemporary digital environment”. But do consumers in New Zealand that need access to captions, benefit from this “increased choice and accessibility”?

To date the government position has been to encourage broadcasters and other content providers to improve accessibiilty for deaf and hard of hearing people. But, this has not worked to any great extent and the access gap is broadening as more non-captioned services are coming online. Accordingly, the Captioning Working Group is calling on the Government to strengthen obligations on broadcasters and video on demand service providers to provide accessibility to Deaf and Hard of Hearing New Zealanders.

Progress in improvements in broadcast captioning over the last decade (starting from a low base) have been welcomed by the group however these are not keeping pace with growth in broadcast and video on demand services. Recent significant upgrades of TVNZs On Demand service or the launch of Lightbox failed to provide any captioned accessibility. Additional funding provided by NZ On Air to enable pre-recorded captions on Prime Television late last year is a progressive step, however Deaf & Hard of Hearing New Zealanders want to be able to watch what they want, when they want the same as all New Zealanders. “Twenty percent of New Zealanders Watch TV via Television and Online” .

Despite the growth of online media, traditional television remains important to a wide cross section of the community and particularly people over the age of 65 who are three times more likely to have hearing loss than younger adults. Captioned accessibility is important across the spectrum of television and on demand services.

The Captioning Working Group also note the explosion of video content in traditional “newspaper” or “radio” outlets online services and the prolific use video in social media as traditional distribution methods for television and radio lose viewers to online audiences. To date, New Zealand companies have been slow to embrace the benefits of captioning this content something the group would like to see change.

The Captioning Working Group were unsuccessful in obtaining live captions for the Rugby World Cup in 2015, yet have been actively seeking live captions for the Rio Olympics this year.

Mrs. Louise Carroll QSO, JP, GDPPA, MPA
New Zealand Captioning Working Group
Ph: 021 076 6990

The New Zealand Captioning Working Group (CWG) is a collaboration of Deaf Aotearoa, The National Foundation for the Deaf and the Hearing Association New Zealand and have been working together for 4 years to improve media accessibility across the Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities.

Captions are similar to subtitles that are seen on a foreign language programme, but the text is shown in the same language as the spoken audio. They also include descriptive text for sound effects like “door slamming”, “gunshots fire”, song lyrics or may simply say “silence” when there is no sound. Closed Captions (CC) are turned on using a button on a TV remote control or by choosing an option on a phone, tablet or computer.