Captions to complement not replace sign language.

Tony Abrahams, CEO of Ai media has written this letter to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald. We print it here as a follow up to the Opinion piece submitted by Rebekah Rose-Mundy. There is also a Facebook page where people can debate and share their views. join in the debate on http://!/pages/Access-Inclusion/208255599219

The debate about captions versus sign language is a good one to have.

Kate Matairavula (Letters, July 24) points to a critical situation where Auslan (Australian Sign Language) is a fantastic method of communication; namely, face-to-face conversations between Auslan users. Ai-Live is designed for a very different, but equally critical, setting.

Ai-Live is designed to meet the specific educational needs of deaf and hearing impaired students in mainstream classrooms; providing direct access to spoken English via word-accurate English captions – without the need for sign language as an intermediate step. Today’s Aussie deaf kids need solid English literacy to ensure their employment options are maximised in an inclusive and broadband-enabled labour market.

With Ai-Live, for the first time, deaf students and parents now have a choice between using captioning and Auslan interpreting at school. People will no doubt make informed choices about how and when they use different communication options based on what works in each situation.

Lest anyone fear that captions will kill Auslan, our experience at Ai-Media suggests quite the reverse. Having deaf colleagues in the workplace or at school is one of the best motivators for others to learn Auslan (with the Auslan tutor on the iPhone, this has never been easier). The top two signs at work are “coffee” and “lunch”.

Can we all agree that achieving the genuine inclusion of deaf and hearing impaired people in society demands better than a one-size-fits-all approach to communication?

Tony Abrahams
CEO, Access Innovation Media
Macquarie Park


19 thoughts on “Captions to complement not replace sign language.

  1. Caption can not replace Sign language, just like it can’t replace voice when it come to expressing yourself.

  2. It is a catch 22 situation. With the ever growing demands of Deaf and hearing impaired Australians attending school/TAFE/university, the NABs scheme and the recently EAP scheme, the demand versus supply issue pertaining to sign language interpreters will again come to the fore.

    Students in remote/rural areas yearn for communication access but quality of interpreters are few and far between. Lets not forget the fight that the education department will put up to avoid this at all cost.

    Either the Government invest millions into identifying and training new interpreters (which is a given) or expect new technologies to continue to emerge to address the communication gap in Australia until there are ample interpreters to meet the need.

    I believe in the right of choice and have access as much as possible and use whatever means possible so to avoid lagging behind with my peers.

    Sure captions do not replace emotions that interpreters can express better at times but I dont see the technology as a threat to sign lanaguge but rather compliment each other in many ways. Each have its pros and cons.

  3. I see captions replacing sign in many medias, the overwhelming demand from deaf for captioned access is plain to see, given a straight choice I would suggest sign would lose out. Where does ‘compliment’ start and ‘effective alternative’ begin ? Most dedicated (die-hard), sign users, reject captioned sign access, they know that if you are following the text you are NOT following the sign.

    Has any real world survey ever been done ? I know I switch sign completely off once the captions start, I think this is true for most. No deaf program of cultural content gets far without captions, and SEE HEAR tried 4 times to replace captions with BSL access and near lost 90% of it s viewers, and gave the idea up, so, sign is an deaf audience loser too.

    There are just too many variations via interpretation, and here at least, regional sign variations, to make it far easier to just ignore the sign and go with the titling. Had the deaf settled for ONE signing mode, it might have made things easier… media cannot accommodate every variation of sign, and terps vary, a lot.

    The heart says sign only, the practical head says no way without captions. If sign went tomorrow on medias just how many would be denied access ? (Hoping he says to get HONEST answers)…

  4. Fair comment MM.

    I have had the privilege to experience both captions and signs at the same time at various conferences and meetings. What I have found is that at times certain words are used that are considered ‘new’ for interpreters and whilst they finger spell it out sometimes the captions in the background can be a great supporting tool to ensure that the content is correct. This is not to say the interpreters are incompetent but rather Deaf people are being more engaged across various industries and new jargons/acronyms are being created almost daily.

    We must not forget that, thanks to our wonderful government here as well as what occured in Milan, many Deaf people were forced into mainstream school with little to no access. Hence their limitations to ‘English” was greatly restricted and their lives severely affected by such grave, ill thought decision. Their reliance on sign lanaguge in this instance should not be ignored or should we think captioning will solve the problem as a ‘whole solution’.

    Captioning does provide (and this depends on the quality of service being delivered) the ability for the younger deaf generations to experience and learn the grammar being used by their hearing peers (but this does not mean it is entirely correct as it is based on the person’s ability the speak the english term correctly. Even PHD lecturers at universities have at times use incorrect grammar.

    I have experienced some rather heated discussions amongst hearing peers (including some off the cuff scarcastic comments) which, when you read on the captions, can at times comes across differently to what the true expression is being relayed by the interpreters. It gave me that added benefit to appreciate the ‘tone’ and ‘atmosphere’ of the meeting and enabled me to strategically comment in the right manner. Had I not noticed this I may have placed myself in an awkward position.

    As I said there are pros and cons to this issue but we should not forget the older generations, the baby boomers, generation x who have had to endure inaccessible schooling that had lead for them to be at times limited in their english comprehension through to our current situation where we still have generation Y – Z – Alpha still having limited to no access in education today.

    Then there is also the issue of captioning/interpreting in meetings. Would you – for example – prefer walking around with a bulky lap top and or iPhone (the latter quite expensive) during tea breaks to use captioning so to be engaged in ongong discussion or rather have an interpreter next to you. I would rather the latter.

    Hence the more choices we have in regards to communication access that accomodates our various communication environment the better. With regards to the media, I agree survey need to be done to determine best way forward. Bare minimum is captions BUT lets not forget those whos’ access to proper English were unfairly ‘denied’ in the past. More work to be done of course.

  5. I would prefer a lap top/iphone personally, I find text near 100% access and sign less than 20, so it’s a no-brainer. As regards to the ‘deaf don’t follow English’ debate, I don’t personally buy it. Logic suggests they wouldn’t follow the grammar of A/BSL either on that basis unless half the detail is omitted. Limited English awareness.. is that down tot he deaf ? or their education ? What I find a comfort with electronic access, is that it cuts out the waffle that gets created when you have 4 or 5 deaf there, since none are at the same level of comprehension, the terp’s job is very difficult.

    All in all text is superior in my view, not socially maybe but certainly in set situations and areas where detail is essential. If we look online where is the majority of deaf access too ? again a no-brainer isn’t it, I think the deaf have spoken really. For many if sign was dropped in media few would actually miss it.,and I think the deaf community is too scared to take part in a real survey, ANY survey if we think about it !

    • I think you make it a little too black and white MM. For one learning is a two, three even four way street. You dont learn simply by being clear on what the teacher or narrator is saying you learn by accessing the comments and discussions of others. In a perfect world perhaps the captioner could caption all of it some how but the reality is that does not happen. The percentage of learning that occurs through interaction is very high …When there is that rapid fire discussion happening terps are far more effective in my view. It really depends also on how proficient you are as a signer and also the skill of the terp. Equally your English literacy level and the skill of the captioner come into play.

      For a straight out lecture or narration I would lean to captioning but for other interactional aspects of learning I will take a terp everytime. There has to be flexibility in choice and a horses for courses approach to this.

  6. I should have clarified really, there are primary areas of access the social, medias, and the system. The system is unforgiving, you get the access right or you suffer for it, so sign isn’t good enough for that for ME, text is superior for ME. Medias, I am convinced sign is a non-starter except in ‘disability mode’ for awareness or specialised ‘deaf/cultural’ things. The issue in discussing sign issues is you can’t ! they go defensive straight away, we’re in permanent combat stances because of it…. Sign is for social as I have observed, and reasonably effective for that to carry on using it, THERE.

    Removing all sign from TV or films would not disadvantage the deaf much, I was just expressing an opinion based on current access used. The BBC said the main reason for less signed TV programs like SEE HEAR, is because the deaf were not supporting of it. So it isn’t just an ‘oral’ thing against sign thing, it is the deaf themselves happy enough with the alternative to sign. It doesn’t affect their day to day use. If you look AT deaf awareness the majority is not created by or managed BY the deaf at all.

    I can understand to a point captioned films are important, I noted no-one realistically suggested signed access.

    • I understand what you are saying MM but essentially this debate is about classroon captioning in Australia where a new system of captioning in the CLASSROOM for deaf kids has been established by Ai Media. The debate is around whether captioning should fully replace interpreters in the classroom setting and how governments will react to the captioning vs signing debate. The captioning obviously requires technology and it is limited in how it can facilitate classroom interaction and discussion. It reallly has nothing to do with captioned media per se like films …it is about learning and classroom situations.

  7. You are talking mainstream deaf access. The issue there is HOW are students accessing outside it ? if they are like most deaf adults using captioning, there you go. I suppose the technology gap in a classroom means you need more than that until it is sorted, then which do you choose… I think the text ‘ayes’ have it….

    • Not in this debate mate the issue is schoolclassroom access and learning situations. for mediums which are one way … movies, news, straight lectures etc captions are great but in learning situations its a different story altogether. Read Rebekah Ros-Mundys original post and google Ai media classroom captioning to see what it is all about.

  8. Time will tell… in 30 years there won’t BE any more deaf born, the genetics will be sorted by then. What we do now is maintenance for the present deaf,there is no point planning for generations of them.

  9. There will still be deaf – through illness, quirks of fate, and as young as a few months old even if what you say about genetics comes true.

    And not all will be suitable for cochlear implants so we still need to plan.

  10. I grew up oral, and I will tell you that I had to rely on textbooks and notes on board learning (because I didn’t have any interpreter – ASL or captionist). If a deaf person spend their whole life trying to decode Engish in written form (because they can’t hear well), it may not help them in school. Looking at the screen all day in school show no emotions and facial expression and it is not healthy. I mean even hearing people think it is not healthy for their child to spend all day on the computer or cellphone texting to each other. I think there should be a balance for both caption and ASL, the student can pick who they feel more comfortable with.

  11. not to mention, alot of hearing people misunderstand people on the internet because they can’t read their emotions in writing. Captioning can be the same way (unless they describe the tone and everything) .. Plus ASL is great for deaf students to understand conceptually and can help them decode English because it is hard to decode english language conceptually by relying on captioning alone. I know because I relied on notes, letters, textbooks, boards, etc. and I still struggle to decode English conceptually.

  12. why do you think there will be no deaf people born. do they plan on forced abortion for those who want to keep their baby?

  13. It’d dotting the DNA i’s really ! Abortion may not be an option parents have to face. This isn’t really the topic for it but, 99% of hearing parents offered the choice of erasing the deaf gene will take it. If that can be done in or prior to conception in the womb and still produce a healthy child it’s all over bar the shouting. The problem then for those who DEMAND the right to a deaf child is that these children will have few if any peers…. so no community as such, at the end of a very long day deafness is a disablement, and it will be addressed. Parents will have to accept that it might be cruelty to have a deaf child if a real choice exists, because they would be even more isolated than we are now. The current stats are 3% hereditary deaf ? absolutely not enough to have a deaf culture on its own.

  14. They can screen out hereditary deaf from CVS and genetic testing and abort if they wanted to , but Most parents still choose to keep them. There are many people in the past who feel deaf people should be sterilize and not marry to weed out deaf people.

    In America, many deaf people ARE spread out but they doesn’t stop them from signing with their hearing family and friends so they won’t be isolated. Sign language is not solely for deaf people and they don’t have to join deaf culture to socialize.

  15. If we can quit the emotive asides a second, no-one said sterilize. Personal choice by deaf families will succumb to majority acceptances IF a choice really does exist and, America will lead the way. What we do now is not relevant, we are just meeting direct need, because these choices do NOT exist. The genetics argument hasn’t really been rooted in reality as yet. If the person born is NOT deaf there is no need to meet. As for deaf marrying deaf whether this is choice or not… if you cannot effectively communicate with hearing then relationships are bound to be that much more difficult, combine that with the very limited choices many deaf actually have to socialise outside their deaf area, then ‘choice’ is pretty relative. Deaf have no choices at present the argument is academic.

Comments are closed.