Where to from Here? – CaptiView! by Gary Kerridge

Let’s hark back to 2009. I think it was 2009 when the Big 4 Cinemas put in their application to be exempt from Disability Discrimination Complaints for five years. My recall is a little foggy but they had done a deal with our peaks, Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum, to increase captioning so that the deaf movie goer could access open captioning for movies that amounted to less than .5% (note the decimal point) of all movies shown. On the basis of this deal the cinemas made their application for exemption to Disability Discrimination complaints for five years. Quite rightly deaf people were insulted by the offer and almost 500+ Australians who are deaf, hard of hearing, Blind, vision impaired and their associates put submissions into the Australian Human Rights Commission to reject the Big 4 Cinemas’ application. Debate on the issue was immense on Facebook.

From all of this the Action on Cinema Access Group (AOCA) was formed, with support from Arts Access Victoria. AOCA commenced a skilled and intelligent campaign against the Big 4’s application for exemption. They distributed thousands of post cards and held rallies outside cinemas all over Australia. The rallies, that strongly voiced the needs of not just the Deaf and hard of hearing but also the needs of Australians who are Blind and vision impaired, received enormous national media coverage.

I remember that there was a great deal of scepticism about whether or not the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) would listen to the  500+ people that put in submissions imploring them to reject the Big 4’s application for exemption or whether the AHRC would be moved by the mass protests. Previous history had shown that such exemptions were more often than not granted. Surprisingly AHRC actually did listen to the consumer and threw out the cinemas’ exemption application.

More surprisingly, very soon after the announcement was made to deny the exemption, the cinemas – after nearly eight years of stalling – suddenly within weeks came up with a solution. It seems that prior to the announcement being made the then Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Disability, Bill Shorten, had been brokering a solution with the cinemas. One suspects that the AHRC were involved too, although this is purely speculation.

But anyway after years of not providing, or indeed showing any willingness to provide above the bare minimum in captioning, the cinemas suddenly came forward with a PLAN. Not only would their solution provide captioning but it would also provide audio description for the Blind and vision impaired. This meant that for the first time the Blind and vision impaired would have access to the cinema.

A special viewing was arranged at a cinema complex in Sydney to demonstrate the new closed captioning and audio description systems. At this meeting major deaf and blind representatives and peak bodies were present and tried the new systems. The systems were demonstrated for less than ten minutes in total using a bizarre demonstration film that did not equate to anything like the real cinema experience. Yet on the basis of this our advocates were expected to endorse the system.

Present at this initial demonstration were CEOs from the four major cinema operators (Hoyts, Greater Union, Village and Readings), and representatives from organisations representing Australians who are Deaf or hearing impaired, and who are Blind or vision impaired (Deaf Australia, Deafness Forum, Blind Citizens Australia, Vision Australia, Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, Arts Access Victoria and Action on Cinema Access), The Australian Human Rights Commission, the Minister for Department of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Economy and Parliamentary Secretary for Disability (who was at the time Bill Shorten).  Key representatives from the Department of Family Housing Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) and Media Access Australia were also present.

Around this time the much-vaunted Accessible Cinema Roll-Out Plan began to be publicised. The plan aimed to have in excess of 200 cinema complexes providing accessible cinema by 2014. Quite naturally, although not having yet tried the new systems, Deaf, hard of hearing, Blind and vision impaired people, were celebrating. Access it seemed was just around the corner. All their efforts in protesting and writing submissions to the AHRC would bear fruit. Unfortunately the celebrations, at least for the Deaf and hard of hearing, were premature.

2010 records show that after this demonstration there was another meeting held in Melbourne with the same people and chaired by Bill Shorten. This meeting was called to discuss the formulation of what is now known as Accessible Cinema Advisory Group (ACAG) This group was set up to provide opportunities for the peaks and advocates to share their comments, views and expectations. Even at this early stage, records clearly show that there were more than a few concerns about the CaptiView system that the cinemas wanted to introduce to provide closed captions.

 Deaf Australia (DA), for example, stated in a formal response to Bill Shorten:

  “….We have a number of concerns about the technology and would prefer a final agreement that does not lock us into any particular technology but allows for changes, updates and improvements in technology.”

 Arts Access Australia’s response was along similar lines. They had this to say:

 “….We are concerned about the proposed use of CaptiView for the delivery of captioning and urge the cinema chains to consult further with a broader cross-section of the community before committing to this technology.”

 Arts Access Victoria echoed the sentiments of Arts Access Australia,

 “We are less confident of the use of this technology for the delivery of captioning to deaf and hard of hearing patrons. We would like to see the decision about the widespread roll-out of CaptiView predicated on the results of wide community consultation.”

Deafness Forum Australia was more concerned about viewers who would have to carry the technology into the cinema and set it up. They felt that this would discourage people because it would make them stand out, suggesting it would be an embarrassment. They also expressed concerns about the number of CaptiView devices available at each cinema and whether this would meet the demand of larger groups attending cinemas.

All of these concerns were ignored. All present were instructed by Bill Shorten at this meeting that they needed to work together and move forward ‘under good faith’.

As the roll-out proceeded, with much fanfare, it became obvious that there was a lot wrong with the system. Deaf people were implored to not be fussy and give it a go. They did but soon stories began to emerge that children found it hard to access, people who are deaf with vision impairments could not use CaptiView, some people were leaving the movies with stress related headaches from constant refocusing, tall people had to slouch to watch the movie and see captions on the device – the negative stories were seemingly endless. More concerning was the quality of the captioning was often inconsistent.

 What is worse is that the system often failed and even three years into the roll-out the system is still failing. In the last month for example the following stories have emerged.

  • There is a ridiculous story of a man with no less than eleven free cinema tickets because the system crashed on him or did not start every time he used it.
  • The President of Deafness Forum Australia informed people on the Action on Cinema Access Facebook page of having got his third free ticket because the system did not work.
  • Leigh-Anne told of how the CaptiView system twice stopped working in the movie. They then got a replacement unit which was flat.
  • Bizarrely one viewer was allegedly charged $3 to use CaptiView.

 The whole roll-out is degenerating into a farce. Positive stories exist but they are far outweighed by the negatives.

The failures of the system that we are witnessing are exactly why our advocates, in those early stages, advocated for caution and trials before committing to CaptiView. Yet despite the mounting formal evidence that many viewers dislike CaptivView and of increasing system failures all our advocates, with the exception of Action On Cinema Access, suddenly did an about face and endorsed CaptiView as the best technology going.

 Perhaps they took a view that it was better working with the Cinemas and Government and work with what was available. Even so the response of these peaks is puzzling given the overwhelmingly negative feedback.

This is despite the fact that there were clearly other options which might have been better such as Rear Window or Sony Caption Glasses. But we will never know because trials of alternate technology will not be considered.  Action On Cinema Access became the lone voice pushing for trials of other technology.

 Yet despite the negative feedback our peaks have endorsed CaptiView and the accessible cinema roll out. In the face of mounting negative feedback there is no logical answer as to why given their earlier responses that indicated their concerns about the CaptiView technology.  Of course Action On Cinema Access, which is completely voluntary and do not rely on Government funding, have continued to represent the voice of the consumer as strongly as they possibly can. Meanwhile the other peaks involved have inexplicitly endorsed the roll-out. Sadly, for their efforts to remain true to the consumer, Action on Cinema Access has been labelled divisive.

 I am aware that recently Action On Cinema Access (AOCA) sent several emails to the Government demanding answers to several questions. For example, consumers, along with everyone on ACAG for over three years, were led to believe that Open Captions were not possible with the new digital servers purchased by the cinemas. This proved to be inaccurate. AOCA demanded answers on such issues as to whether other technology could be trialled and whether the Cinemas had locked themselves into a legally binding agreement to purchase only CaptiView units meaning that they could not consider the introduction of alternate technology.

 The Governments answer was blunt. CaptiView was a ‘.not a trial’. It was a locked in ‘..roll-out..’ and that the only complaints we could make would be if the cinemas failed to roll it out as agreed in the Accessible Cinema Roll Out Plan. In short we have to lump it. Looking back on the records of that first initial meeting, it was clear no one indicated any endorsement of the approach we are now seeing today. The logical and sensible approach that was first advocated has been ignored.

 The Big 4 Cinemas and the representatives of ACAG, with Action on Cinema Access the exception, are showing no respect or regard to the vast number (and growing) objections to CaptiView or of the sensible alternate suggestions being put forward by Australians who are Deaf and hard of hearing. Such suggestions have included trials of alternate technology and the retention of open captions in some form.

 It is interesting to note that research by AOCA has indicated that open captions, or indeed any captioning, actually cost the cinemas nothing. Captions in various formats are apparently made available as part of movie rentals at no extra cost. The only additional cost is the purchase of devices such as CaptiView. It would actually be cheaper to retain open captions but the cinemas have a misguided view, which is not backed by any research, that open captions will put off hearing viewers from attending the cinema.

 Hundreds and thousands of tax payer dollars are being handed out to the very profitable cinemas to assist them with the roll-out of CaptiView even though there are clear alternatives. The cinemas will not seriously make any effort to trial alternative technology. Hollow promises to “consider” alternate technology are amounting to nothing. This was one of the promises made by the cinemas to those present in the early stages of ACAG that was probably the deal breaker. Indeed the original ACAG terms of references actually mandated that other technology be seriously considered. This promise has clearly been broken. 

 AOCA are currently considering whether they should remain within ACAG or whether they are best served by lobbying outside the confines of ACAG. Before making the decision they have attempted to obtain feedback from stakeholders through its Facebook discussion page as to whether this is the best approach to take. Some have urged AOCA to withdraw from ACAG and some have urged AOCA to stay within ACAG to maintain a dialogue with the cinemas and the relevant representatives. The debate is still raging with 83 comments being recorded by midday on the 12th June. AOCA, with their limited resources, entirely voluntary and with no budget,  are at least trying to consult. It should be a lesson to others who are involved.

 It’s time that people who are Deaf and hard of hearing looked at alternate ways to be heard. Use the Opposition Shadow Minister of Disability, explore a class action or complain through the Australian Human Rights Commission. If you do complain through the AHRC be aware the Disability Commissioner has publicly backed the Accessible Cinema Roll-Out and thus aligned the AHRC with it. Any complaints through AHRC are likely to lead to nowhere. Do whatever it takes. This farce and continuous comedy of errors must end now.

# The author of this piece accepts full responsibility for the information within. Some may claim that the information is confidential. This is nonsense. The Accessible Cinema Roll Out Plan is being subsidised with tax payer money and many of the representatives within ACAG are funded with the tax payers dollar. Consequently the information within is seen as a matter of public interest.

 As always if any of the information is considered inaccurate or the reader disagrees with it they are free to respond. All responses will be published. The Rebuttal does not censor.

Pop Culture – Why The Deaf Need It.

Our most recent article that was written by Julie Phillips, disability advocate, challenges us all to think about why Australia is lagging behind the world in disability support. ( http://the-rebuttal.com/?p=1886 ) This is particularly so when it comes to the deaf. Julie suggested that some of our priorities might be out of kilter. What she suggests is that access to interpreting at hospitals and deaf education should be areas that we advocate for as a matter of priority and not so much issues such as cinema captioning. Julie had this to say,  While it’s been great to see a lot of work get put into the cinema issue, I would have thought that the rights of deaf children to an education would be higher on the agenda. The lack of an interpreter in a hospital situation could mean death – a bit more important than open captioning.”

Julie also, deliberately provocatively, suggested that the government really doesn’t care much about deaf people, “If I was in government, or any other service provision, and had to make a choice between cutting something for hearing people and cutting something for deaf people, I would cut services to the deaf. Why? Because I can.” But more importantly she suggests that this is because the deaf and their advocates have their priorities wrong and do NOT demand enough. “There is a reason that in other countries the rights of deaf people are far ahead of those in Australia. Because they demand them.”, said Julie.

For the most part I agree with Julie. Deaf advocacy in Australia is poor. It tends to try and align itself with Governments. It fears upsetting the apple cart. Rather than advocate it diplomaticates. (a made up word) But sometimes what we require is good old fashioned RA RA RA Advocacy. We need to show passion and the need for change. Too often we take the diplomatic path that leads to nowhere but the lands of double speak. Sometimes saying it bluntly and a dose of good old fashioned passion are what is needed.

BUT as much as I agree with Julie’s sentiments I disagree that cinema captioning, or any captioning, is less a priority than say hospital interpreting, deaf education or even saving the Auslan course at Kangan TAFE. Why? Because it provides access for the deaf to Popular Culture and Popular Culture is more powerful than we think.

Nixon, 2006, in an article printed on Yahoo Voices defines Popular Culture, or Pop Culture as, “a contemporary life style that is generally accepted by a large population of people.”  Nixon provides examples of Pop Culture as, “…broad based literature, movies, and music genres …” By this she means block buster movies and books like Harry Potter, TV series like Revenge, the music of Lady Ga Ga and, dare I say it, the very sad and pathetic Twilight series of books and movies :-D. You can add to the list radio, sport and in fact anything that is known to stir the masses. Even Opera can become Pop Culture if the masses decide that it is in.

What Pop Culture does is bring people together. Many people turn their nose up at Pop Culture. They claim it is a bad influence, that it is disrespectful and tramples all over our traditional values. It is blamed for everything ranging from violence among youth to graffiti. Just about everything that is wrong with the world can be attributed to Pop Culture. Nixon notes in her Yahoo article, “….children are exposed to a tremendous amount of information fed to them by the pop culture world. This influences and shapes the identities of our children.” Tellingly Nixon explains, The good thing, however, is not all of it is negative and if parents are educated and aware of what their children are doing pop culture can be used positively to help mold the children of the future.”

Undeniably we can not get away from Pop Culture. In fact Pop Culture is the centre of most of what we all talk about. Dr Ron Taffel is a family therapist. He has been described as, a genius addressing all the issues of family life” Dr Taffel has written about Pop Culture and its influence on children. He acknowledges that it can have a negative influence and can cause friction in families. But he also has explained that Pop Culture provides kids with access to what he calls the Second Family. This is the family of their peers and it is this family that Dr Taffel describes as, A social structure for teens that provides a type of intimacy, support, communication and honesty he or she can’t find anywhere else.

In an article published at The Rebuttal, just before Julies article, the wonderful Korrina Goodwin eloquently tells of a situation where she is watching a TV documentary with her deaf daughter. (http://the-rebuttal.com/?p=1870). Korrina is hearing and as she watches the documentary a range of emotions hit her. She laughs she cries and she is inspired. As she watches she notes that her deaf daughter is in intense concentration, showing no emotion.

There are no captions on this TV show. Why is not clear. Most likely they were watching Austar or Foxtel which both provide the most appalling access to captioned shows, particularly documentaries. At the end of the show she decides to question her daughter about what happened in the documentary. She asks her daughter what she thought of the funny bits, the sad bits and the serious bits. To all of these questions her daughter had no answers.

Now imagine if her daughter had been watching a movie at the cinema. Perhaps Breaking Dawn from the Twilight Saga, it seems to be the in thing for girls. Perhaps she had gone to the cinema with a group of girls from school. The movie is not captioned, some guys may argue that this is a good thing 😀  The movie ends and the girls, like a gaggle of geese, all make their way to the exit chatting excitedly about what they had just viewed.

They would be chatting about the music, “Wasnt it cooooool”, or Edward – “Isn’t he haaawwwwwwtttt.” Or perhaps they will be talking about when Edward and Whatsehername are gonna, “Doooooo ittttt” Or why Jacob’s personality and physique is more desirable and that Edward is a wimp. Who knows what they would be talking about but it would touch on many, many issues. These issues will be to do with sex, relationships and life. Most likely the girls will relate the movie to some of their own real life experience. Through this discussion they LEARN many things. More than a classroom can ever teach them.

Meanwhile Korrina’s daughter has not been able to access the movie in all its glory because of the absence of captions. How is she going to get involved in the discussions? How is she going to access the Second Family that is her peers? Communication with them is hard enough being deaf but it is even harder, as any lip-reader will tell you, if you have no idea as to what your peers are talking about. In short not only does the lack of captioning prevent Korinna’s daughter accessing information it isolates her from her peers. What access does Korinna’s daughter have to LIFE EDUCATION through her peers? Little wonder then, as Korrina notes, her daughter prefers to stay at home.

At school the smart teacher will have learnt that Pop Culture is a way to engage the student. They will compare Macbeth themes with Pop Culture movies. Perhaps Revenge had been on TV the night before.(I don’t watch it so I am only guessing here.) Perhaps some character in the story line has killed someone and has blood on their hands. A famous scene from Macbeth has Lady Macbeth washing imaginary blood from her hands as a way of demonstrating her remorse and guilt. Perhaps the character in Revenge is doing the same sort of thing, washing blood from their hands over and over. The smart teacher will relate Macbeth to this Pop Culture as a means of  engaging the students. Thankfully Revenge is captioned, but what if it wasn’t? What access would the deaf student have to this type of learning? At the end of the lesson the students all leave the classroom excitedly chatting of the comparison, exchanging views and expanding on the themes. Where does the deaf student fit in? What peer learning can they access?

PeersUnited.com suggests that, “Everyone needs to belong — to feel connected with others and be with others who share attitudes, interests, and circumstances that resemble their own. People choose friends who accept and like them and see them in a favourable light.” I would argue that much of this acceptance comes from being able to access Pop Culture. Pop Culture is the centre of much of what stimulates discussion and interaction among peers. Without access to Pop Culture your access to peers and their conversations is limited. Deafness is isolating enough, we don’t need to add another layer to it by limiting access to Pop Culture too.

PeersUnited.com also notes that, Teens who feel isolated or rejected by their peers — or in their family — are more likely to engage in risky behaviours in order to fit in with a group.”  It is here we have the seeds to destructive behaviours and ongoing mental health issues related to isolation and poor self esteem. Access to Pop Culture for the deaf is a huge part of the jigsaw. Captioning at all levels is essential.  It is all interwoven – captioning, interpreting, education and peer access – nothing is more important than the other.

A Question of Priorities – By Julie Phillips, Disability Advocate. (Hearing)

Why pick on the Deaf?

If anyone is surprised about the cuts to the Kangan Batman Auslan Course, I would have to ask – why?

If I was in government, or any other service provision, and had to make a choice between cutting something for hearing people and cutting something for deaf people, I would cut services to the deaf. Why? Because I can.

Its 2012.

Do deaf children have the right to Auslan as the language of instruction in schools? No.

Do deaf children have the right to a qualified interpreter, or an interpreter in every class they have? No. (But at least we have the new Deaf Education Institute which has given some nice jobs to hearing people)

If a deaf person is living in a government funded Community Residential Unit or Supported Accommodation Service do they have the right to signing staff? No.

If there is a deaf staff member in an accommodation facility, do they have the right to interpreters for training? No.

Do deaf people have the right to decide whether they need an interpreter in a hospital situation or not? No.

This has been going on for years, but what has anyone done about it apart from complaining amongst themselves? Not much.

So why wouldn’t hearing people choose to slug deaf people one more time? 

There is a reason that in other countries the rights of deaf people are far ahead of those in Australia. Because they demand them.

The most excited I have seen deaf people get in the last few years is when the cinemas were trying to get an exemption from the Disability Discrimination Act. The years of hopeless access to the cinema before that, didn’t seem to bother anyone that much. While it’s been great to see a lot of work get put into the cinema issue, I would have thought that the rights of deaf children to an education would be higher on the agenda. The lack of an interpreter in a hospital situation could mean death – a bit more important than open captioning.

Government and hearing people in general have got away, and are getting away, with so much oppression of deaf people, why wouldn’t they feel they can keep on going?

I suggest we all have a good think about why it is that some things have not changed for 20 years for the deaf community, and what we should be doing about it. If government knew that every time deaf people’s rights were trampled on there would be a huge reaction – not just once, but ongoing until things changed, they would not feel so comfortable about continuing to oppress them.  There needs to be some organised responses to all these things.  What do you think?

Julie Phillips

Disability Advocate




A Mothers Tale

As I sit on the lounge I laugh my head off at what we are watching. I look across at my daughter who is sitting looking rather blank, but deep in concentration.
Next I find myself in tears “oh how sad”, I look across again to find my daughter still looking rather blank, but still concentrating very hard.

I smile, laugh, cry, am astounded, my feelings getting a real workout on all levels, but my daughter is still sitting very perplexed.

At the end I look into my daughters eyes and exclaim “Wow that was so moving, so many emotions in one story.” She sits quietly. I add a leading question, “What did you think about that story?”, her reply “ok”. Surely she got more from it than that. I ask again “What did you think about the funny part”, her reply “What funny part?” –  What did you think about the sad part?”  Her reply. “Huh?”

“Ok, so tell me about the story, what did you see?” Now I’m sitting very blank, but deep in concentration, I don’t understand, but what she says makes sense. Her story brings me to tears, because what she saw, was not what the story (or characters) spoke. She has watched it in silence and pieced together what she thought was the story, her story so different but so brilliant.

I now proceed to tell her what the story spoke to me, now she laughs, n cries and says “Wow, really! I can now see that”, but in her world of near silence she has watched the documentary like a jigsaw puzzle, piecing it together with only part of the pieces, but changing it to fit what she sees not hears.

A saddened feeling emerges, because what if this was an emergency and she got the mixed message. What if it was a story about her and it she got it wrong, one of my hopes is that it doesn’t send her into depression or isolation (as so many deaf people feel). What if it was her job, or classroom, a misinterpreted direction? What does she hear from the radio, tv, movies, teachers, coaches, friends, family and friends? How can she talk to her friends without them laughing when she got the story wrong? Maybe that’s why she prefers to stay home.

What can we do? I see a deaf world trying to fit into a hearing world. Some of the most amazing, inspirational people are deaf. What is the definition of disability really? Why can’t deaf people compete at Paralympics? Why can’t captioning and interpreters be a priority?
Isn’t being deaf a bit like an amputee (no disrespect intended). But people without hearing have had something in their auditory processing amputated whether they were born without it or lost it along the way. Is a loss of communication and language a disability? Sigh… Why are the simple things in life for some not easily accessible for other or a priority. Sigh…

 Korrina’s daughter is deaf. She posted her thoughts on Facebook and has given The Rebuttal permission to reproduce them here.  As a deaf person I can relate to her thoughts. Before captioning became readily available on television I recall watching TV shows with my parents. My poor mother got a work out. When ever anyone laughed I would demand to know what was happening. I would get so frustrated when she would tell me, “Tell you later.” Nowadays most shows on free to air TV are captioned but on Pay TV this is not the case, particularly documentaries. Like Korrina’s daughter all we can do is watch, concentrate hard and hope that we get the gist of it all.

And this is what it is like for a deaf person watching TV or a film with out captioning. Sure we all have varying levels of hearing loss but we still miss a lot. The funny parts, the sad parts, the mystery and the key messages of the story we deaf people  piece together largely from visual cues.

This passage from Korrina where she questions her daughter to ascertain how much of the TV show she has understood is harrowing for me. It takes me back to when I started social work studies. At the time I had no note-takers or interpreters. In group work people would discuss the topic of the lectures. Different students were responsible for leading the groups. To score points with our tutor they would try to draw me into the conversation. This was known as gate opening. I would break into a cold sweat because 9 times out of 10 I wouldn’t have a clue what people were discussing. It felt like the Spanish Inquisition!

Korrina expresses her fears for her daughter as a mother. She notes that what should be a simple answer, providing access, is not provided. Why can’t her daughter have the same access as everyone else? The solutions are already there. Why must our society constantly create barriers rather than break them down. I am reminded of Labor heavyweight  Bill Shorten who said, “A rich country like Australia has no excuse to not provide for people with a disability.”

Yet here we are with Australia ranked bottom of the pile for comparable countries in the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for disability support. Here we are with rich and profitable cinemas providing us with substandard and unreliable captioning. Here we are with one of the most profitable Pay Television franchises in the world who will not provide full captioning access even though nearly all the programs they show have captioning provided overseas.

And Korrina is right to worry, “… one of my hopes is that it doesn’t send her into depression or isolation (as so many deaf people feel)” And this is what poor access or the lack of it does. It isolates, it frustrates and it prevents the acquisition of knowledge all of which can ultimately lead to depression. It is not for nothing that statistics show that depression is higher among people who are deaf than the general populace.  And the solutions are so simple …. We have to do better than this.


Fingers in the Pie

There are very few things in life that are more satisfying than having a win in the fight for human rights. I remember as a student, in the very early stages of my career as an advocate for people with a disability, the immense satisfaction that I felt when the University of South Australia accepted its responsibility to pay for and book interpreters for lectures and tutorials. It had been a six year fight involving many people. That first day in psychology when finally I could follow a lecture in the full fills me with a nostalgia. This is something that only an advocate can understand.

But the dictum that an advocate must follow is this – IT IS NEVER ENOUGH. In the Eighties we got access to captioning on TV. AT first it was mostly on the ABC. It began to filter to other shows – Neighbours, Home and Away and Sixty Minutes. I still remember the rage when Sixty Minutes ceased captioning altogether because the deaf complained that some stories were not captioned and that they wanted full access. Channel Nine decided it was all too hard and stopped the captioning of Sixty Minutes altogether.

But from these early days of captioning access to captioning has continued to improve. But this has only been because WE HAVE DEMANDED IT.  If we just accepted what was on offer, like grateful puppies, no improvements would have been made. What we strive for is full and QUALITY access. IT IS NEVER ENOUGH! When we get full access to television captioning it still will not be enough. We must then monitor it and demand QUALITY. No drop outs and no crappy live captioning. The aim is FULL and QUALITY access. We must remain diligent.

Our rights are won through skilled and diligent advocacy. They are also protected by laws and by institutions like the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Commonwealth Ombudsman, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman and so on. These are impartial bodies that we seek assistance from when our advocacy is not hitting the mark. In short when all else fails we call in the HEAVYWEIGHTS.

Chief among these for people with a disability is the Australian Human Rights Commission. If we feel that we are being discriminated against by private or public institutions we can call on the Australian Human Rights Commission. What we must do is complain. The complaint might be about captioning or it might be about lack of access at train stations. Graeme Innes, the Disability Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission and himself blind, actually made a complaint through the AHRC against RailCorp. He complained about the lack of public announcements for scheduled time and platform changes which are important for the blind who cannot access text based information.

For the HEAVYWEIGHTS to be effective they must be impartial. They must not be seen to be favouring one issue or another. The paradox is that the Australian Human Rights Commission does not just protect the rights of the vulnerable but of everyone. For example if I make a complaint that the local sporting club wont provide me with interpreters for soccer training and the provision of such interpreting would send the sporting club out of business, the Australian Human Rights Commission also protects the sporting club from unrealistic demands. It is not just about the person with a disability.

For these reason organisations like the Australian Human Rights Commission need to be neutral at all times. They cannot be seen favouring any issue or any outcome. They have to treat each case on its merit and to the letter of the law. This means, as much as they would like to, they cannot be seen to endorse or support individuals, organisations or even Government policy.

Unfortunately this is not happening. The Australian Human Rights Commission, in particular the Disability Commissioner, Graeme Innes has lost its way. We will not be popular for writing this because Mr Innes is much loved and respected advocate for people with a disability. He has been involved in the sector for many decades and achieved immense outcomes for people with a disability. Unfortunately of late, in our view, he has made some gross errors of judgement. In writing this piece, which is critical of Mr Innes, we wish to put on record our deep respect for him both as an advocate and a person.

You see Mr Innes has become a champion. He is a champion of everything. He champions the much vaunted National Broadband Network (NBN) There is no question that the NBN has the potential to be a great thing, but what if it isn’t? What if it does not provide accessible information or support for people with a disability? What if it discriminates in employing people with a disability? Perhaps the above scenarios are unlikely but they are possible. But Graeme Innes is an NBN champion. He is our key representative on the Australian Human Rights Commission. Can we feel confident he is neutral if we should make a complaint about the NBN or the organisation that administers it if he is known as an NBN Champion?

We have no doubt that Mr Innes will be neutral BUT it is the perception of support and alliance with the NBN by Mr Innes, and by association the Australian Human Rights Commission, that might give cause for us to worry that any complaints might not be heard fairly. It is this perception that is damaging for both Mr Innes and the Australian Human Rights Commission.

But it is not just the NBN that Mr Innes champions. He champions the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) too. Don’t get us wrong we are staunch supporters of the NDIS too. But even in these early stages of the NDIS there are concerns that the NDIS will not provide for ALL people with a disability. For example there are apparently no representatives from the peak bodies of either deaf or blind representative organisations. If the deaf or the blind feel at any stage that the NDIS is not meeting their needs or discriminating against them how can they feel confident that their complaints will be heard fairly. After all Mr Innes is an integral component of the Expert Committees charged with the roll-out of the NDIS and has publicly stated that the NDIS is the, “Outstanding announcement of the year …” We agree, wholeheartedly! BUT for all the reasons we have already explained it is imperative that Mr Innes remain neutral. He may privately feel it is terrific but it is imperative that he and the AHRC refrain from public endorsement of programs such as the NBN or the NDIS so that any complaints that may occur are not compromised.

Where Mr Innes really has compromised himself and the AHRC is in his very public praise of the Accessible Cinema Roll-Out. Of course we are referring here to the roll-out of the CaptiView closed captioning device by the major cinemas in Australia.  The device is extremely controversial. There are deaf people that like and tolerate CaptiView and there are very many who cannot use CaptiView for various reasons such as vision impairments, their height, their being children or simply having physical disabilities. Many have complained that CaptiView gives them headaches and that they find it extremely difficult to use because of constant refocussing from device to the screen.

The complaints have been many. There has even been a suggestion of a class action against the cinemas because of its lack of response to complaints about the CaptiView device. Apart from the fact that many deaf people feel that CaptiView severely compromises their access to the cinema it often is not working, sessions are wrongly advertised and staff lack awareness of its use. In short there is a strong push for the roll-out of CaptiView to be ceased, other technology trialled and retention of open captions in some form. Mr Innes is very aware of these views.

But the cinemas, and indeed the Government that is supporting the cinemas, are having none of it. They have recently made it clear by email that the Captiview roll-out is not a trial, that they support CaptiView and the only complaints we can make about CaptiView are in relation to whether the Cinemas do not roll it out to the timeframes that they have agreed. In short we are stuck with it.

Now many many deaf people are angry about this. They want to make a human rights complaint. But can they feel confident in approaching the Australian Human Rights Commission when the AHRC Disability Commissioner has publicly said, “… Cinema chains, and movie distributors, are to be congratulated. Now I can follow the films about vampires and magic I sit through with my 14-year-old daughter. (Well actually, she sits with her friends, and I am sent to sit somewhere else.)  This is just one of many public endorsements of the Accessible Cinema Roll-Out that he has made. http://www.abc.net.au/rampup/articles/2011/12/05/3383197.htm

Now the good thing about the Accessible Cinema Roll-Out is that it is providing audio description for the blind. From all feedback we have seen this is proving a godsend for the blind in terms of accessible cinema. But unfortunately for the deaf, CaptiView is not providing the same level of enjoyment or access. It should be remembered that what ever happens with CaptiView it will have no bearing on the provision of audio description for the blind. Can the deaf feel confident that we can make a complaint to AHRC about CaptiView and be heard neutrally when Mr Innes so publicly supports the Accessible Cinema Roll-out?

On the Blog, WiseGeek. There is a discussion about conflicts of interest. WiseGeek notes that, “..People in positions of power are more likely to face charges of conflicts of interest.” Particularly so because, “… many of the decisions they make must not be tainted by the possibility of  favouritism or personal gain.” We have no doubt that Mr Innes intentions in supporting the various causes that he does are not for personal gain. He does, however, show favouritism for many issues. This is his right as an individual BUT as the Disability Commissioner and a representative of the Australian Human Rights Commission he must at all times remain detached and neutral on policies and issues that effect people with a disability. Clearly this is not the case at the moment. Mr Innes has his fingers in too many pies and the integrity of the AHRC is being compromised as a result. As advocates that often rely on impartial bodies such as the AHRC to push our case, this is something we cannot afford.

With respect.