Hearing bodies campaign for universal captioning, especially when disaster strikes.

When the Seddon earthquake rocked Robyn Carter's home last July, she turned to television to tell her what was happening, but found it useless.

Robyn Carter is deaf. The 52-year-old, of Renwick, near Blenheim, has a cochlear implant, so she can hear many things including conversations on high-quality telephone links, but she can't understand speech on television or radio.

She relies on captions to understand television, and said no captions were provided for the television news coverage she watched immediately after the earthquake.

"It was really scary. The tremors went on for ages.


"I turned the TV on to get information. I very much rely on captions, so I didn't know what the hell was going on."

She said that the lack of captions could have put her in danger.

"I couldn't get the latest news, any warnings, to be able to tell me what roads were open or closed. I wanted to be up-to-date with what was happening, for my own safety. I had no idea what was happening locally."

She turned instead to news websites, including nzherald.co.nz, for printed reports on the quake effects and safety announcements.

Robyn Carter is a board member of Deaf Aotearoa New Zealand which, with the National Foundation for the Deaf and the Hearing Association, is using Hearing Week - this week - to promote a campaign for "100 per cent broadcast captioning".

The three organisations say only 20 per cent of free-to-air "public broadcasting" TV has captions, similar to the level in Third World countries and much less than the 85 per cent in Australia.

"At the current low level of captioning, we are severely impeding community integration for people who are hard of hearing," said foundation chief executive Louise Carroll.

About 700,000 New Zealanders have impaired hearing. New Zealand on Air spends about $2.4 million a year on having captions written for TV programmes - plus some "audio description" for the blind - by a newly-independent service called Able, previously part of TVNZ.


NZ on Air chief executive Jane Wrightson said the captioning service's target was to provide at least 150 hours a week of captioning and it was now routinely exceeding 250 hours.

One of the reasons for shifting the captioning service to an independent organisation was the hope that it could attract new sources of funding.

The majority of prime time content on TV One and TV2 was now captioned, as was a "fair chunk" of prime time TV3 and most of the children's programmes on Four, Ms Wrightson said.

She acknowledged the hearing organisations' concerns about captioning of reports after disasters such as the Seddon earthquake and said "long discussions" about this had been held with with the captioning service.

"Captioning live events is the hardest thing to do. It's very resource intensive. There wasn't much TV coverage from that space [Seddon] at all that afternoon, let alone for the hearing impaired."

Getting the message
*Around 700,000 New Zealanders have a hearing impairment.
*Deaf Aotearoa NZ, the National Foundation for the Deaf and the Hearing Association want TV broadcasts to carry more captions for the hearing impaired.
*They say only 20 per cent of free-to-air "public broadcasting'' TV has captions.