What an awesome country we live in, with some of the best film-makers in the world. Those film-makers rely on the New Zealand Film Commission (an autonomous Crown entity) to develop, finance, produce, market and distribute New Zealand Films, domestically and internationally.

Yet the current practices of the NZ Film Commission mean that it is missing out on reaching a significant market that could pay and watch the films it invests in.

That is unfortunate, especially when the latest Statement of Intent from the NZ Film Commission (NZFC) in June records that its goal is to "reach the widest possible audience in New Zealand and abroad". Let me explain.

The commission has a standard delivery schedule which sets out for producers the technical standards for delivery to the NZFC of film for theatre, TV and DVD.

Section A, 2 of that schedule requires English subtitles for films in any other language than English (emphasis mine).

Surely the underlying purpose of subtitles (or captions) is to enable comprehension. By not providing subtitles to all films the NZFC practices fail to provide comprehension to the deaf and the hearing impaired which, according to a 2001 census survey, stood at just less than 400,000 for those actually reporting a loss. The real numbers are likely to be much higher.

New Zealand has an ageing population and studies show that age has a major effect on hearing loss. Therefore realistically at least one fifth of our population is likely to be hearing impaired.

The New Zealand Disability Strategy interprets disability as a "process". This process occurs "when one group of people create barriers by designing a world only for their way of living, taking no account of the impairments other people have".

The "process" by the film commission of not requiring subtitles or captions in relation to all film presented to it, amounts to a discriminatory practice and to a "disabling" process.

This must also be causing a huge financial loss to the film industry. The commission also does not appear to take into account that our New Zealand accent is strange to other English speaking countries, and English subtitles could be useful to an overseas English speaking market.

While it may be non-intentional on the part of the commission, the deaf and hearing impaired have been marginalised because of the lack of understanding of the hearing population. The NZ Disability Strategy has done nothing to improve this.

This issue is personal to me as a hearing impaired person who loves watching movies, and who wants to support our film industry by buying or hiring New Zealand made movies.

I walked into my local Whitcoulls store the other day and asked if the Topp Twins DVD had subtitles.

The salesperson announced his surprise when he discovered there were no subtitles. Surprising, he said, "because the DVD is targeted to an older audience".

I cannot help but notice the irony of the film commission's involvement in producing the documentary cinematic detective story in 1995 called Forgotten Silver. This story is about Colin McKenzie, a New Zealand-born film-maker who, with his brother, made the world's first talkie in 1908. However, the film was entirely in Chinese and since there were no subtitles, audiences walked out.

Today, this walking out of movies can become a form of resistance for the deaf and hearing impaired.

I suppose such persons already passively "walk out" by not paying to see or to buy movies or DVDs that have no subtitles.

The hearing population need to understand that the deaf and hearing impaired "hear" with their eyes. New Zealand has already recognised this by making sign language the official third language in New Zealand. The NZ Sign Language Act 2006 came into force last year.

Oral language is foreign to the deaf and hearing impaired. It makes no difference whether it is in French, Dutch or English.

The commission is now involved in the restoration of classic New Zealand films. I hope like heck that these will have subtitles so that I can buy and enjoy them.

The commission has noted a decline in film sales and that "it is more important than ever to create audience-focused films - regardless of shape and size - which are more likely to attract the little finance and sales available".

I hope the NZ Film Commission reads this article and stops their disabling process. Who knows, it may make the film industry heaps of money as a result.

I know that I will certainly put my money where my mouth is, and buy or hire more.

* Agnes McKay is a Hamilton lawyer. Comments to agnes@lawontheweb.co.nz