Captioning vs Sign Language – A No Brainer?

thinkerAI Media is an Australian company. They are a great and sociably responsible company. Though they are very successful and profitable they put an enormous amount back to the community, particularly for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing. The mainstay of AI Media is captioning, be it for television, media or live captioning. One of their founders, Alex Jones, is Deaf himself and is a staunch and passionate advocate for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing.

Recently AI Media distributed an article on Facebook. Titled simply, Sign Language vs Captioning, it asks the question as to which is more relevant. The article points out that some 20 000 Deaf people prefer Auslan as their language of choice. It then explains that there are two groups of people within the deafness population – Those who acquired their hearing loss before developing language and those that were later deafened and had a strong language base before losing their hearing. In a nutshell AI Media argue that both interpreting and captioning are equally important because of varying circumstances and the right to choice.

This is a nice and diplomatic way to keep people happy. This article is not to keep people happy. This article is aimed at challenging perceptions and it may upset some people. Now on the surface I agree with AI Media, but I think it goes deeper than that.

You see over the years I have firmly come to believe that captioning actually provides more access to more people who are Deaf or  hard of hearing. In fact I will be brave enough to suggest that captioning should actually be a priority with interpreting be offered as an option should one prefer it. Here is my argument.

Firstly most people who are deaf do not sign. Most people with any kind of hearing loss lose their hearing much later in life. Consider an article from the Hearing Loss Association of Carolina titled, Deaf and Hard of Hearing. The article points out that any where between 22 and 36 million people in United States have a hearing loss. The percentages are outlined in a graph below:


You will see that a small percentage of people use sign language as their primary language, the figure being 3%.  It becomes clear that 97% of the population are in fact people who do not use ASL as their primary language. One might assume that within that 97% there are a number of people that use both English and ASL to varying degrees of proficiency. Either way it seems that the majority of people who are deaf most likely prefer English.

Over the years I have noted that if access for people who are deaf is provided in Australia for things like education, events and the like – This is usually in the form of an Auslan interpreter. Very rarely are captions booked unless they are requested. This seems strange given that most people with a hearing loss are more likely to benefit from captioning. As cochlear implants have become the norm the need for captioning has probably become even more important now.

Now I will argue that many people with a hearing loss actually do not disclose their hearing loss, particularly people who are later deafened. Of course there are many benefits of disclosing but many do not because they are embarrassed and to do so is seen as a sign of weakness. If we are to believe Deafness Forum’s claim that one in six people have some kind of hearing loss then we can say, for arguments sake,  in an audience of 100 people you might find 20 or so people with some kind of hearing loss.

Let’s imagine that there is an event at Federation Square in Melbourne. We will say there are 5000 people in attendance. This would mean that there might be 1000 people in that audience who have a hearing loss who cannot or would struggle to understand what was going on. (This is based on 20 out of every 100 people having a hearing loss.)

Now let’s follow the American figure of 3% of people preferring sign language as their primary language. For arguments sake that could mean that of the 1000 people that are in attendance that have a hearing loss of some kind, around 30 could benefit from a sign language interpreter.

Picture the event. Perhaps it is a political rally of some kind. Adam Bandt from the Green’s comes out to talk about saving the planet. With him are two sign language interpreters. Of the people who are deaf in attendance only 30 are going to understand Adam. The other 970 are going to struggle or not understand him at all. Most likely 25 out of 30 of those that prefer Auslan have good enough English to follow Adam with captions. Would captioning not have been the better choice and have provided greater access?

To me it is a no-brainer. Captioning provides more access to a greater range of people who are deaf and should therefore be a priority. In a perfect world, where the access dollar is unlimited, perhaps we could book both and everyone would be satisfied. Sadly, we are a long way from that kind of Utopia. So if I had limited access dollars I would pump for captioning every time.

Now I do not advocate that we do away with sign language interpreters. I use them virtually everyday at work. There are circumstances where a sign language interpreter provides far superior access for me than captions might, particularly where a lot of interaction and networking is happening. It is also the right of a person to request and receive an sign language interpreter if that is what they prefer, no question.

BUT – there are situations like the one I have just described where the provision of captioning would provide greater access to a greater range of people who  are deaf. Hell, captions might also benefit people with English language issues such as people who are culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD). Captions are also known to benefit many Autistic people. In fact I am reliably informed that Autism is actually the second biggest market for one particular captioning company. Within that audience of 5000 there could many more that would benefit from having the event captioned.

I agree, absolutely, that the use of a sign language interpreter or captioning should come down to individual choice. BUT if it comes down to better use of limited dollars it is a different matter. There is a strong argument that the provision of captioning is a better and more responsible use of limited access dollars. Think about it!

A Call to Arms

In 2013 I bought a new car. It was a shiny black Nissan Xtrail. The model was being run out as a new model was coming in so I got it relatively cheaply. It’s always exciting to get something spanking new and expensive like a car. That new car smell is lovely. Turning on the engine for the first time and seeing that the Kms driven are under 50 KMs is strangely satisfying. As you turn on the new car you are struck by how quiet it is. Being deaf I couldn’t hear this car and it was so smooth that I could not even feel it. As you drive off there is an absurd sense of pride. You have worked so hard for this it and it makes you realise that the hard work is all worthwhile. I was feeling all these emotions as I drove off in my new car. This feel good factor was soon to be shattered.

You see less than 23 000 kms later the clutch on the car went. Not a problem I thought. Repairs will come under the three year warranty. But Nissan were having none of it. You see the fine print says that the clutch warranty is only 10 000 kms. So I had to pay to have it replaced.

25 000 kms later the clutch went again. Apparently I drive the clutch and its my fault. Interestingly enough 65 000 kms later the third clutch is still intact, touch wood. At 75 000 kms the engine nearly fell out of the car. The engine mount cracked. Nissan thankfully considered this under the warranty and fixed it. They fixed it and my first drive out the gear stick came off because they hadn’t attached it properly. It’s fair to say the car was a lemon. By this time I hated it with a passion.

The point is that when you achieve something like buying a spanking new car you expect nothing to go wrong. OK – perhaps a car crash is unavoidable but endless mechanical issues in a new car are not. It simply should not happen. One expects newness to be rewarded with trouble free enjoyment of the product. I can tell you my XTRAIL has given me nothing but trouble and very little enjoyment.

And so it is with Australian Deafies as it relates to cinema access. You see back around 2010 they were promised the Utopia of cinema access. Prior to 2010 the cinemas had applied for an exemption to Disability Discrimination Complaints for five years. The cinemas initially proposed an increase in access that amounted to something like .014%. Australians Deafies were outraged at this pathetic offer. They campaigned relentlessly against the application for exemption. Surprisingly, on this occasion, they won and the exemption application of the major cinemas was rejected. This is a very rare thing indeed.

As a result the Cinemas negotiated a deal with the Government. They proposed the installation of a system known as Captiview that would allow Deafies who are cinema goers to access closed captions on a device that attached to their drink holder at their seat.

They demonstrated this technology to Deaf and hard of hearing advocacy groups. A few people that tried Captiview at this demonstration were skeptical and had reservations about the device. You see they only received a ten minute demonstration. Questions were raised about what it would be like in full length movie.

Nevertheless, our representatives agreed to give Captiview a try. Now originally, and I have seen letters to this effect, there was to be a trial of the technology and feedback sought from consumers. This original agreement was soon forgotten. The Government of the day pumped in $470 000 to assist the cinemas with installation of Captiview. The installation cost was purported to be $2.2 million.

The Cinemas and our representatives drew up an agreement. The agreement basically outlined how the technology would be rolled out and the milestones that were to be achieved. No longer was it a trial. It had become a full-scale roll-out. Consumers could provide feedback but the cinemas were under little obligation to have to listen to the feedback or act on it.

Australians who were Deaf or hard of hearing were excited. You see the roll out promised unparalleled access. You see the Cinemas were proposing that there would be 242 screens that were accessible with Captiview around Australia by 2014. You can read this agreement HERE.

It was almost Utopia for Deaf or hard of hearing cinema goers. The agreement stated that by 2014 the larger cinema complexes would have THREE screenings of movies with captioning at anyone time. We Deafies were rubbing our hands with glee. Choice of movies and session times. No longer did we have to wait for one movie a month to have open captions and usually at some godawful time that no one could attend.

Captiview was the spanking new product that was being offered. Deafies, like me with my new car, were excited and proud. Excited at the possibilities and proud of what we had achieved through our skilful and relentless lobbying. And then, like my Xtrail, the product was proved to be crap. So crap, in fact, that Captiview earned the unflattering name of Craptiview. All of this could have been avoided with a proper trial as originally proposed, but hindsight is 20/20 vision as they say.

Very soon after the roll-out commenced complaints came in. Captions dropped out or didn’t work. The device was uncomfortable to use. It caused eyestrain and headaches. Some people that wore glasses had to put their glasses on and off from screen to device so that they could get the right focus. Tall people couldn’t use it well because they had to slump in their seats. Stories abounded of devices going flat mid-movie or not being charged when needed. While some people were happy to tolerate the short comings of Captiview most people hated it with a passion.

And the Cinemas didn’t care. Staff were unprepared and often untrained. Captiview devices were not maintained and often broken and in disrepair. The whole roll-out was an unmitigated disaster. It was not long before Deafies who were cinema goers began to cry out for the return of open captioning on the screen. The spanking new Captiview device was a dud. The disappointment of Deafies that had built their hopes up so high was uniform around Australia.

And what is worse is that the cinemas did not hold up their end of the bargain. The promised three continuos captioned movies everyday in bigger complexes is but a fantasy. Indeed, so fed up were Deafie cinema goers, that they actually set up heir own movie clubs and organised private open caption showings of movies. A recent showing of the New Star Wars movie in Adelaide was attended by 140 Deafies. Shortly before this the same movie had a full-house at the Jam Factory. And this after the Cinemas had lied through their teeth telling us that open captions were no longer possible.

And now Deafies are angry. They have been short changed. They have been lied to. They have been disrespected and ignored. They have had enough and they are fighting back. The Cinemas have breached their agreement under the Cinama Access Implementation Plan that they negotiated with the Government. It is now 2016 and access to the cinema, to put it mildly, is as shit as ever. The promised choice and flexibility to attend multiple sessions that Captiview was to deliver is but a distant dream.

  1. The time has come for us all to fight back. It is time for us Deafies to launch DDA complaints against the cinemas en masse. It’s time for class action and media campaigns through social media and the mainstream. Whatever it takes Deafies need to fight back because they have been treated with utmost disrespect!

No more – let’s fight back.

*** Start using the hashtag #cinemaccess-Imattertoo – Let’s show Cinemas and the Government that we matter.

The Games!

Deaf games
Full house at the opening ceremony of the Adelaide Australian Deaf Games

The body is weary. At 51 and having played five days of golf and then two nights of Futsal it is entirely understandable. I even managed two goals and three goal line clearances. The pain at night when I rested my tired body was noticeable. Luckily I did not cramp up. Every morning when I woke up my bones creaked and my back ached. Yet I forced my self into the fray everyday. My golf was a appalling. The less said about it the better.

Today, three days after my last round of golf, there is still a twinge in my knee. The back is a little less sore and getting out of bed slightly easier. My body was not pleased with me. But hey! – You only live once, right? And besides it was the Australian Deaf Games and it is something that we Deafies must do. It’s like a moth to a flame. And its enormous fun too.

The Australian Deaf Games are a Deaf community institution. They are held every four years and this year they were held in Adelaide. As always they were an enormous success. The Games bring Deaf people together from all over Australia. The Australian Deaf Games are not just about the sport, they are a social and cultural highlight for the Deaf community. They provide opportunities for social interaction and the development of life long friendships that are often difficult to form for Deaf people in the mainstream hearing community.

But I am concerned. I fear for the future of the Games. While Adelaide was a fantastic success there was one great concern for me. I have no desire to sound ageist but it seemed to me that the majority of the people that attended the Games were well -OLD – just like me. I could have been competing in the Australian Deaf Masters Games.

This became apparent to to me at the wonderful and brilliant opening ceremony. As the teams marched out bearing their flags I could not but help notice that many of them were in their forties and fifties, perhaps attending their fourth or fifth Games. From my perspective only the Victorian team seemed to have a good balance between young and old. Hell, the Queensland Futsal team, who I competed against, had several players who I competed against or with in my pomp.

It’s great that the games are giving opportunities to oldies like me. It’s great that oldies are still playing sport. That said, the body eventually does break down. For many who attended the recent Games it may well be the last time that they can compete unless they take up lawn bowls or darts. For the Games to thrive more young people are needed.

It is imperative that the Deaf community begin to identify young participants for the future. It is important that the various states begin to get out there into  the mainstream and find young people who are Deaf and get them interested in Deaf sport. Most of these young people will have cochlear implants and they will not sign well.

Some of these young people will even have identity issues and not want to consider competing and socialising with other Deaf people. But mark my word many of these young people will be struggling in a hearing world and the Deaf community will be their godsend. These young people are the future of the Deaf community. Indeed they are the future of the Australian Deaf Games. Without them the Deaf community and the Australian Deaf Games will slowly die.

What a tragedy that would be. Perhaps I am being overly dramatic but sports like soccer, cricket, rugby sevens, touch football and basketball are a young persons game. There is a limit to the length of time old guys like me can participate and prop them up. Indeed basketball, once the highlight of the Deaf Games, has not had a competition for the last two Deaf Games – Is this a sign that the demise of the Games might be happening already?

So let’s get out there and embrace the young. Let’s recruit them to the Deaf community. Let’s show them the joys and thrills of the Australian Deaf Games. The next Games are in Albury/Wodonga in 2018 – Let this be the games of the young where young Deaf people become the new foundation for the Deaf community and the Australian Deaf Games for many years to come.

It’s not too late but if we do not act now who knows what the future of the Deaf community and the Australian Deaf Games will be! The time to act is now!


Just Being a Lad!

HOBART, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 04:  Chris Gayle of the Melbourne Renegades gives a TV interview to Mel Mclaughlin during the Big Bash League match between the Hobart Hurricanes and the Melbourne Renegades at Blundstone Arena on January 4, 2016 in Hobart, Australia.  (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)
Photograph is of Chris Gayle at the moment he is interviewed by THAT journalist.

I am officially old. I am starting to become incredibly politically correct. I have my eldest son on Facebook, I really should block him. It’s not what he does, its often what his friends do.  Last week I opened up Facebook to a picture of his friends bare bottom mooning me. Apparently, entirely sober, the friend thought it was funny to do that and tag my son to the post. I was livid and posted a comment reminding the friend that it wasn’t just my son that could see this but his grandparents, his brothers, his parents, his cousins and even my friends who my son has friended. I didn’t hold back. I told the said friend to grow up and called him a cretin. I then reported the post to Facebook. He was just being a lad right?

This week it seems that men are getting in trouble for being lads. Minister Briggs sexually harassed one of his staffers in a bar in Hong Kong. Apparently kissing her and telling her she had piercing eyes. The staffer made an official complaint. On hearing this Briggs apparently shared a photograph of the woman in the bar with him. Why? I do not know. In the end he was forced to resign for poor conduct. A harsh price for just being a lad and flirting in a bar. Right?

Following straight on from that Minister Dutton, a rather unpleasant character, attempted to send Briggs a message concerning  the journalist that revealed the story. Dutton called her a, “Mad fucking witch”. Unfortunately in a moment of confusion Dutton actually sent the text to the journalist concerned.  His excuse, “Sam and I (the journalist) have exchanged some robust language over the years, so we had a laugh after this and I apologised to her straight away which she took in good faith,”  Dutton being a lad among friends. Simple mistake. No need for his resignation. Right?

The lads are up in lights this week. Enter Chris Gayle, the swashbuckling West Indies cricketer. Dismissed for 41 from 15 balls he was approached by a female journalist for an interview. Where upon he began flirting with her, mentioned something along the lines that he’d been waiting for the moment, asked her out for a drink in front of possibly millions of TV viewers and then told her, “Don’t blush baby.” What a lad! What a cheeky lad! All in good fun! Right?

Even I have been a lad! I’ve flirted with women. Asked them out in bars. Even successfully asked out the receptionist at my work and nearly married her. I’ve had moments with the lads when an attractive woman has walked by and made inappropriate comments as well. We humans are programmed to respond to attractiveness and sometimes in the blur of the moment our response is probably not something we would do in normal circumstances. I am no angel, let’s acknowledge that.

BUT – I was horrified at what Briggs did. I was horrified at what Dutton did. I was mortified at what Gayle did. Why? Well, because their actions showed absolute contempt for women. All three women were professionals doing their job. They were not seeking dates or attention. They were just doing their job. The respect shown to them was zilch!

This is what really riles me. I am a disability advocate. I have fought for years for access and equal rights. It’s a hard slog. Attitudes, respect and prejudice are the biggest barriers to change. There are those that still think that people with a disability are some sort of lesser beings. That they are not capable of the things that “able bod” people can do. The expectations are low. Often disability can be a figure of fun. Often the focus is on deficit rather than assets. Opportunities for people with a disability are so hard to come by  that 45% of them live in poverty.

Any gains that people with a disability have earned over the years have been hard fought. It has been a constant slog to change attitudes and convince society that people with a disability are up to it and capable.  God, it can be a struggle to convince society that people with a disability have a right to exist and be valued in the same way as everyone else. The gains that have been made over many years need to be reinforced and protected with gusto!

This is exactly the case with women. Women have fought hard to be taken seriously. They have fought hard for recognition. They have fought hard for equal opportunity and to be able to do male dominated jobs. They have fought hard to be valued and respected. Even now women still do not get equal pay, even though they should by law. And just because they are women. How is that right?

All these women were just doing their job. Instead of being respected they were sexualised and degraded. Women, like people with a disability, need to be constantly on their guard to protect the hard earned gains that they have made. In a nano-second these gains can come crashing down if the behaviours such as these men were to go down without being challenged. Being a lad, even a lad that isn’t too bright, does not and can never excuse sexism.

The Gayle incident gets me the most for some reason, though all the examples are equally abhorrent. Here was a woman who has fought hard to be given an opportunity to be a journalist in a male dominated sports area, particularly cricket. She goes to interview the cricketer. Professional and proud. What respect does she get? “Don’t blush baby!”  If I did this in my workplace I’d be dismissed in an instance and rightfully so! All the men mentioned have treated women with contempt and should be shown the door – No excuses!

Poor form lads. Poor form indeed!


Footnote: And yes I know Sharapova did it too – Read the story here and judge whether it ranks with the sleaze described above –