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Captions add to debate

In a move to encourage equal opportunity suffering, the deaf and hard of hearing communities will soon have to endure the nonsense politicians of various hues spout in the run-up to a general election.

NZ On Air has announced today that, from later this month, Able will be captioning TV ONE’s Q+A, TV3’s 3rd Degree and the TV3 repeat of The Nation. The full announcement is here.

Captions will also be provided for all TV ONE election programming including live debates and election night coverage. As TV3 is unable to carry live captioning, selected pre-recorded TV3 election programming will also be captioned.

On Wednesday, at the launch of NZ On Air’s benchmark report Where are the audiences?, it was reported that 11% of viewers use captioning services, and there are some significant groups beyond hearing-impaired people within that user base.

One surprise was the number of people who appear not to primarily access captioning because they can’t hear. Under Who is more likely to use captioning? (p68), the findings are that 14% of males use captioning compared with 9% of females. This is not a surprise because – as many women are well aware – men are generally crap at listening and need all the help they can get.

More surprisingly, Asians (27%) and Pacific Islanders (25%) use captioning. According to the 2013 census, people identifying as Asian or Islander make up 16% of the population; in Auckland they make up over 30%.

While the survey didn’t ask people their reasons for using captioning services, it seems that (while some Asians and Islanders will use them because of impaired hearing) it’s very likely there’s a significant amount of use springing from a limited ability to understand spoken English.

As this is the first time the survey has been done, there’s no data to suggest whether a higher or lower percentage of those groups are using captioning services than at some previous point. 25% of those demographic groups is significant – and throws up some interesting questions.

One, naturally, is how a survey can best capture the responses of people who can’t hear or are not confident in English? Colmar Brunton surveyed 15% of the 1400 survey respondents online, and not only to capture the responses of those groups of people. Colmar Brunton was also seeking responses from other groups such as people who don’t answer the phone because they don’t have landlines.

According to the National Foundation for the Deaf, 16.7% of New Zealanders are hearing-impaired to some degree. It’s more difficult to identify a firm number or percentage of the population whose hearing is impaired to the point they’re unable to enjoy a TV show unless it’s captioned.

The same is true of the numbers of people (not just Asians or Islanders) who use captioning to aid their understanding of English.

However accurate the count is, the numbers are significant and offer some opportunities moving forward. If the programmes to caption are chosen based on the assumption that the users of captions are deaf, some different programmes might be chosen for people who are using captions for second-language purposes.

The NZ On Air report Where are the Audiences? is available to download here.

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