Deaf Australia letter

12 March 2020

The Hon. Scott Morrison, MP
Prime Minister of Australia Parliament House CANBERRA ACT 2600

RE: Auslan Interpreter and ‘live’ Captioning during Emergency Broadcasts

Dear Prime Minister,

There are significant problems with the way emergency broadcasts are being delivered to deaf and hard of hearing Australians who use Auslan (Australian Sign Language). These problems have included:

• briefings with an Auslan interpreter but where the interpreter has been excluded from the screenshot;
• briefings without any Auslan interpreters;
• briefings with error ridden captions; and
• rebroadcast of announcements on digital networks (e.g. YouTube) contains no accessible contents.

Deaf Australia, the national peak organisation representing deaf people who use as primary and preferred language, requests that urgent attention be given to rectify these problems, especially during this critical COVID- 19 Coronavirus outbreak when it will be important for all Australians to understand what is happening.

The recent unprecedent natural disasters, including COVID-19, have had Australian communities on edge, wanting to understand what is happening, what to do next and what not to do. Deaf people need Auslan to access information so they can make informed decisions and take actions to protect themselves, their families and others around them. Text-based resources, such as captioning, do not have the same capacity to deliver accurate information as one would receive through Auslan.

To address these issues urgently, Deaf Australia requests the provisioning of Auslan interpreters during all emergency and disaster broadcasts and advertising around COVID-19 and that legislation be amended so that broadcasters are obligated to include interpreters in screenshots.

To this effect, Deaf Australia calls the following:

1. During all official announcements, briefings and other communications regarding emergency and urgent public announcements, interpreters must be employed at all times;
2. When an interpreter is in use, ensure that the interpreter remains in the screen at all times;
3. Amending the Broadcast Services Act 1992 to require broadcasters to include the interpreter in the screenshot (when an interpreter is available and present);
4. Amending the Broadcaster Services Act 1992 to quantify an acceptable number for live captioning; and
5. Ensuring that rebroadcast of announcements on digital platforms to be fully accessible.

This request follows on from a letter dated 27 November 2019 from Deaf Australia to all state and territory Attorney Generals and Emergency Services Ministers reminding them of the obligations to provide accessible announcements to ensure deaf and hard of hearing people can be informed in emergency situations.

By way of background in support of these requests for action, the following information is provided.

Free TV has in place an Advisory Note that instructs broadcasters to include the interpreter in the screenshot ‘as practicable as possible’, however there has been failure to adhere to this policy on a number of occasions.

The poor quality of captioning on television has made it extremely difficult for deaf and hard of hearing people to gain knowledge and make informed decisions. Live captions on television have not consistently been accurate as is evident in a recent report by Curtin University Live Caption Quality Monitoring on Australian Free-to-Air Television. This report was commissioned by Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN).

The report states that live captions on Free-to Air programs (ABC, SBS, Channel 7, 9 and 10) are ‘riddled with errors across all channels making it difficult to comprehend the message. Missing words, spelling errors, unclear distinction between speakers, and issues of captioning lag and synchronisation are the common issues with captioning’.

The findings mean that The Broadcasting Services Act 1992 that provides captioning rules for broadcast on free to air and subscription programs has failed to meet the need for the deaf and hard of hearing cohort.

Deaf Australia refers to the Australian Government’s commitment to the UN Conventions on the Rights of Person with Disabilities (CRPD), Article 11 (Situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies), which states:

State Parties shall take, in accordance with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights laws, all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk, including situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disasters.

Lack of provisioning of accessible information (Article 9, 12, 21 and 30 of the CRPD) means the necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of person with disabilities, in our case, deaf and hard of hearing people, are not achieved.

The Provisioning of Accessible Emergency and Disaster Services’ (link attached) has a detailed strategy for managing the provision of Auslan interpreters. We urge you and the government to immediately implement the policy to ensure future communication will be fully accessible and that accessible information on mainstream media, including the internet, be included.

Yours faithfully

Kyle Miers Chief Executive Deaf Australia

CC: Opposition Leader, The Hon Anthony Albanese, MP Attorney General – The Hon Christian Porter, MP Shadow Attorney General – Hon Mark Dreyfus QC MP Minister for Health – The Hon Greg Hunt, MP
Shadow Minister for Health – Hon Chris Bowen, MP Minister for Communications – The Hon Paul Fletcher, MP
Shadow Minister for Communications – Michelle Rowland, MP Minister for Government Services – The Hon Stuart Robert, MP Shadow Minister for Government Services – Hon Bill Shorten, MP
Minister for Families and Social Services – Senator the Hon Anne Ruston Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services – Hon Linda Burney, MP

Attachments Links: Auslan Interpreting in Broadcast and Digital Network
Provisioning of Accessible Emergency and Disaster Services Advisory Note: The Portrayal of People with Disabilities (Free TV) Advisory Note: Emergency Information Broadcasts (Free TV)
Live Caption Quality Monitoring on Australian Free-to-Air Television (ACCAN)

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