What is Stopping Them

7 Apr

Why do Deaf and hearing impaired people  put up with this crap. The Australian economy is booming. At the moment the Australian dollar is worth more than the mighty US Greenback. We are rich and getting richer. Yet despite this we put up with substandard and less than 100% captioning on television and pay television. America legislates to ensure all shows are captioned. similar legislation exists in the UK. As far back as 1990 legislation existed in the US that made it mandatory for all new television sets to be equipped with technology to decode captions. This meant that both hearing and deafies paid the same price for their television sets. Not so long ago we deafies in Australia had to buy separate and more expensive televisions to watch captions. Now in the age of digital TV this is not so much of an issue, the point is that the US and the UK legislated to ensure access was provided. Here in Australia we baulk at legislating and as a consequence we have some of the worst disability access in the world despite our wealth.

It’s frustrating. Its absurd. It is also unnecessary! Most of the television shows that we watch are imported. It is imported from countries that already provide MANDATORY captioning. All that is required is to legislate and enforce our broadcasters to BUY and use the captioning files. But no! Wealthy broadcasters cry poor. They claim converting overseas files takes time and money .. WELL BULLY FOR THEM! We have a ridiculous situation where a program will be shown on free to air TV with captions yet the same program will be shown on Pay TV without captions. WHY? It’s not that you want to watch it twice,  it is simply that what ever you watch and whenever you watch you want access. Give us one good reason why Man Vs Wild can be captioned on SBS yet multiple episodes of the same program not be captioned on the Discovery channel of Pay TV.  Give us one good reason why overseas programs that are clearly branded as having closed captions are run without those captions here in Australia. Watch British shows like Location Location and British sit coms and you will see clearly in the top left hand corner the CC logo …. yet too often these captions are not shown here in Australia.

We don’t want to hear garbage about technical issues for conversion and crap like that we just want access. There is nothing more enraging than knowing that a caption file exists but that our pig-headed and thick-headed broadcasters will not buy it, convert it and use it. They claim to be working to 100% captioning. What absolute BOLLOCKS. One hundred percent captioning is possible now, enough with the excuses! At this rate by the year 3000 we can expect 92% captioning! DO IT NOW!

Lets hear no more about the expense. IT CAN BE AFFORDED. If you think its expensive why not charge a levy for it. You can add a $100 levy to advertisers that could be used to pay for captions and conversions. Whats $100 when advertisers are forking out absolute MILLIONS to flog their products. Why not follow the lead of American broadcasters  who get companies to sponsor the captioning …. For sponsoring the captioning they get brand exposure during peak hour broadcasting! Come ON! No more excuses 100 % captioning is possible NOW! Find a way in not a way out!






















The Yes Men!

30 Mar

Advocacy is a funny business. It needs people with astute political brains. It requires people to know when to be diplomatic and when to use the “hairdryer”. Often it requires a degree of sneakiness which entails embarrassing foes into action. What it doesn’t need, however, is the “Yes Man”  These YES MEN are people more inclined to protect their status quo than be your advocate.

You see them at functions. For ever smiling. They are everyone’s friend. They have their “waiters smile” permanently in place as if there were two tiny little padlocks in the corners of their mouths leaving their smiles permanently locked in. “PEEEEEETTTTEEEERRR”  they will cry, arms outstretched, ready for a hug.  Or  “CHHHEEERRRRYYYLY” … “Mwah”  …

In private they will whine and moan. They will tell everyone how disgusted they are with Government policy. They will stamp their feet at the lack of captioning on TV, DVD and the Cinema. They will decry the lack of interpreters. They will agree with EVERYTHING you say – because you are never wrong. UNTIL ….. the crunch hits. The TV executives will refuse to provide and suddenly our esteemed advocate will change from aggressive to passive. They will claim that we all need to back off. That if we don’t we will lose everything we have worked for. They will claim that we must be more understanding of the difficulties and take things one step at a time. They turn into YES MEN accepting and agreeing to every compromise AND without consulting with YOU! The hypocrisy is astounding! And of course they will always proclaim “I did it for you!”

Watch them in the presence of VIPs like politicians. They will tell you hand on heart that Julia Gillard is batty and does not know what she is doing.  They will proclaim that John Howard is dotty and slightly patronising. They will bemoan Tony Abbot as a bigot and that he is so far right that he is over the edge. YET should any of these VIPs show themselves at functions or conferences watch them drop you mid conversation and scurry away like a little puppy dog looking for a treat.  ” I must go!”  they will cry, ” I will be back soon”, and that is the last you will see of them.  They will then hurry across the room to let everyone know they are on first name terms with politician Tom, Dick. Harry,Sally, Jenny and Heidi.  “YOOOO HOOOOOO BILLLLLLLLLLL ”  Even in meetings they will leave midway because, “They have to have a word with Jenny.”  Now we know getting people of influence onside is essential in advocacy but the grovelling hypocrisy of the “Yes Men” is sickening to see.

Often these Yes Men have a private agenda. It might be to progress their career. They will tell everyone what a complete A-Hole their boss is and never ever challenge the boss. Rather they will suck up and do the bosses bidding hoping it will push them up the hierarchy. Careful what you tell them because you can be sure it will go straight back to their boss often to your detriment. Typically they have a business interest. They will weasel their way into the sector and have everyone believe they are a hard-working volunteer. The reality is that they are using every minute of their time to further their own interest. And whoa behold if any advocacy needs conflict with their personal interests. THEIR personal interests will come first.

As Wolverine said in X-Men – “Magneto’s right: there is a war coming. Are you sure you’re on the right side?”  to which Storm replied “At least I have chosen a side” … the problem with the Yes Men is that the Side changes more often than the wind depending on where their interest lies. Be wary, be very wary indeed!!!

We Did it For You

24 Mar

In the wake of the Captioned Telephony, or the lack of it, debate it turns out that Web Captel was turned off for us. By turning it off the Australian Communication Exchange decided that we would all benefit. You see the idea was to turn it off, make us all angry and protest and as a consequence lead to the Government funding the service. They did it for us! Are you grateful? Or are you, like Decorum, skeptical? We think it’s a load of tosh and that the decision to turn off Web Captel was based mainly on the assumption that the handsets would be sufficient for the demand and that ACE wanted to cut costs. Logistics and need did not come into it.

“We did it for you!” is the type of spin that this site wants to address. It is more common than you think! If it’s not spin its grandiose claims of “accessibility” . Media Access Australia are a prime example of this.  Go to their website – http://www.mediaaccess.org.au/ – You will see that they waxing lyrical about the accessibility of their website.  Pick a couple of videos .. captioned  … great … they even have a podcast for the vision impaired. Terrific.  Go to the video about audio description – if you are deaf you will see the captions of what they are saying – but do you know what the audio description is saying? Nope because there is no example of it anywhere. Are there any Auslan videos on the site? Media Access Australia CEO Alex Varley had this to say,  “Media Access Australia’s core business is about accessibility. We are out there talking to the community, to business and government about the need for accessible websites and our new site shows it can be achieved.” Well it certainly can be achieved but the MAA website is far from accessible for everyone . How many of the podcasts have text transcripts? If things can be put into audio through podcasts one would think Auslan could be presented through Vodcasts. Fair play to MAA for making the effort but they have a way to go yet before their site is accessible to deaf and hearing impaired people. Just for fun click on a few articles and then see if you can navigate your way back to the home page … maybe its just us, but we had to use the back button. Accessible????

In sleepy South Australia the Government has given the Cora Barclay Centre over $2 million to help kids with cochlear implants. No arguments from us but that seems to have come at a costs. Over at Can Do 4 Kids funding was cut by the SA Government  from their support programs for deaf kids. No doubt to help fund this new program. Auslan and familes of kids that use Auslan have once again been given the short thrift. Do we have $2 million anywhere to support kids and families that want to use Auslan? hmmmmmm???? Whats the true story here? More importantly who is kicking up a fuss on behalf of Auslan users? Where are our advocates? YOOO HOOOO!

Over in Canberra Liberal senator Mitch Fields is plugging Ai Media and their captions in classrooms technology. Good on him for that. Mitch, of course, can be found on the Ai Media Website smiling prominently. Mitch has just sent out a media release congratulating the Federal Senate on supporting a motion that will recognise, and hopefully, ultimately fund the introduction of this new technology in the classroom.  This is great news but how much access does the technology really provide? Mitch makes the claim that the technology,  “has been proven to deliver transformational results to students who use it, and can help give deaf students the opportunity to participate fully in their classroom and perform to the best of their ability.” Now this is not only classic spin, but it is dangerous spin. Mitch makes the new technology sound like the answer to everything. But a classroom today needs to be mobile … what of excursions, what of peer learning – How much access does this technology really give?  What are thee weaknesses,  the problems as well as the strengths? – WHO IS GIVING US INFORMATION ABOUT THIS TECHNOLOGY IN THE REAL WORLD? It’s great technology but far from the answer to everything! Will Ai Media give us an honest appraisal of the benefits and limits of the technology or will they allow unsuspecting but well-meaning politicians like Mitch to generate them more profit? Watch this space!

Spin and WIN! But at what cost? Do you know of other spin? Drop us a line in the comments – LET’S HAVE SOME HONESTY!

The Captioned Telephony Debacle

21 Mar

The new in-thing is captioned telephony. Using captioned telephony a hearing impaired person can now call someone, speak to them and then have what is spoken to them captioned direct to their phone.  The Australian Communication Exchange has introduced the system too much fan fare. They are currently distributing captioned telephones to select people for trial in their own homes.  Great stuff or is it?

The Australian Communication Exchange has been trialling captioned telephony for sometime now. Previously one could access the system using Web Captel. Basically you registered for Web Captel, were given a password and then you would log in, provide your phone number, the number you wanted to call and then who ever you called had what they were speaking captioned on the computer screen or a compatible mobile device like an iPhone. It was great because you could dial someone on your iPhone, speak to them and whatever that person spoke would be captioned on your iPhone screen almost instantly. Many hearing impaired Australians went out and purchased an iPhone so that they could access the  service on their mobile. Indeed the Australian Communication Exchange demonstrated at the Deafness Forum Summit last year just how wonderful captioned telephony was on an iPhone.

The system was not perfect. Sometimes the captions were not fully accurate. It depended on the skill of the relayer. Some were really good, others were more error prone. The system relies on voice recognition technology. For those that do not know, voice recognition technology is prone to error. While it is improving all the time it can be affected by accents, whether a person has a cold or if the person is tired.  All these factors can impede the clarity of ones voice and the accuracy of the voice recognition technology. A good captioned telephony relayer will spot  errors quickly and fix them.  A less proficient one can miss the errors leading to the conversation being a bit of a lottery.

Even so the system is a wonderful advance. It allows  hearing impaired people who can speak well to speak into their phone  and, because the captioning is quicker than the normal relay service, have more intimate conversations on the phone. For business it is terrific and one could, for example, phone home to their kids and their kids could hear their voice. The whole thing was an enormous advance on  the normal relay service with its cumbersome GA and SK two-way radio type conversations.

So anyway Web Captel is what was used to introduce and trial captioned telephony in Australia.  It was well received because it provided access through  a landline and also a compatible mobile device. The next step was the introduction of the fixed line handsets. Captions on the fixed line handsets appear on a screen built into the handset. The benefit of the handsets is that you do not require to access the captions through the internet. You just dial direct from the phone. So the handsets were introduced and in their wisdom the Australian Communication Exchange apparently shut down the Web Captel. Logical to some because the handsets meant that the internet site was not needed. BUT what the Australia Communication Exchange neglected to consider was that the internet access enabled people to access captioned telephony on their mobile device. The internet meant they could be mobile and have equitable telephone access on the road. But not any more! To access captioned telephony now they have to be wherever the fixed line handset is based. They can take it with them I guess and find somewhere to plug it in but being able to call on your mobile was so much easier.

Perhaps in the future there will be a captioned mobile device that doesn’t require the need for the internet. But this isn’t the case at the moment. So suddenly many hearing impaired Australians who were excited about having mobile captioned telephony,  and who had purchased  an iPhone just for this, have had it taken away. Which was better, web based captioned telephony or fixed line handset captioned telephony …. Ask most hearing impaired people and they will tell you they would prefer to be mobile hence web based was better. Access to the phone at work, in leisure and anywhere. That’s the age we live in. Who made the decision to cease Web Captel? Well probably someone who didn’t bother to ask the consumers what would happen if they took it away. Two steps forward  and twenty back. And dont let them cite money as the reason and blame the government – They just didnt think, they got carried away in the excitement of introducing the handsets.

And while we are at it, has anyone been able to get through on the Video Relay Service of late? Great service but not much cack if it’s only available for 30 minutes a day. The Australian Communication Exchange will have you think they are gods gift telephony for the hearing impaired … Not any more. They have lost the plot.

Reading Between The Lines.

9 Mar

Welcome to Decorum. This Blog aims to bring the reality to the spin that  we are fed in the deafness sector. We are all expected to just put up and shut up. Well not any more!

What is Decorum? Decorum is simply an appropriate way to do things. The right way to behave. Do we do that in the deafness sector? Well we do most of the time but unfortunately there are times, too many of them, that individuals and organisations simply behave in a way that is unacceptable or questionable.

This first article is going to deal with that nasty ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM … conflicts of interest! This article in question will discuss Alex Jones.  Now don’t get us wrong, we believe Alex is a great servant to Deaf and hearing impaired people BUT! – his involvement at various levels where his business and representative roles conflict is often discussed in the sector. Very rarely openly, rather it is kept firmly behind closed doors. Well not any more. We are letting the elephant out of the room.

For those that do not know Alex, here is a brief biography taken from none other than Wikipedia. Alex is an American and has a Deaf son and he comes from a Deaf family. He was recruited to Australia by the Australian Theatre of the Deaf. Alex is the co-founder of the fabulous, Ai Media. Ai Media provide captions for Australian pay TV companies Foxtel and Austar. Last year they released their innovative system that provides captioning for deaf students in the classroom using voice recognition technology. The system received much exposure when it was presented on the popular The Inventors TV show. They are expanding rapidly targeting live captioning in a variety of situations such as health-care and employment.  Among other things Alex is President of Deafness Forum Australia.

It is Alex’s involvement with Deafness forum Australia that gives rise many potential conflicts of interest. Decorum will respectfully outline what we perceive as these conflicts. Let’s be clear, Alex is a good guy, and its time this discussion was aired in a more public way rather than the snipey way it is now.

Let’s look at conflict of interest issue number one. It is said that Alex, through his role as President of Deafness Forum, has access to many politicians. It is said that Alex uses these connections to push his business in the right government circles. Certainly if one looks at the Ai Media Website you will see Alex and his colleagues in snapshots with a variety of politicians … Bill Shorten, John Howard, Steve Bracks and Mitch Fields are all smiling prominently with Ai Media personnel. Fair play to them, it shows that they have excellent connections. BUT people say that Alex makes these connections and promotes his business WHEN he is doing Deafness Forum business. Perhaps it also works the other way around – When Alex is promoting his business he also promotes Deafness Forum. A win win? At Decorum we think a perceived conflict of interest is as bad as a real one … So sadly, yes,  Alex has a conflict of interest. It is a difficult situation and to avoid the perceived conflict of interest it is probably better that Alex is not the President of Deafness Forum.

Let’s look at Conflict of Interest number two. Deafness Forum held two high-profile events last year. One was the Deafness Summit Conferences and the other was the Captioning Awards. Both these events were held in Sydney.  Ai Media were the major sponsor of both events. Again this is a win win situation BUT the question people raise is whether Alex is abusing his position as Deafness Forum President to promote his business. Perhaps not intentionally, but it certainly looks dodgy. Sponsoring the events is fine and  promoting Ai media is also fine. Expanding business contacts through events like the Captioning awards is a terrific opportunity for Ai Media. BUT as long as they provide the sponsorship while Alex is President of Deafness Forum people will perceive that there is a conflict of interest. Alex is probably better off being a neutral person and not representing both Ai Media and Deafness Forum at these events. It is difficult to see how he can realistically remain as Deafness Forum President in these situations.

The final conflict of interest, and one that is hard to ignore, is that Alex is very prominent in the captioning access campaign. Can he realistically campaign for captioning access when his company provides captioning for many of the media companies, most prominent being Foxtel. If one of us approaches Deafness Forum for help because we feel Foxtel is not providing good captioning access can we realistically expect Alex to be at the front of that complaint when his company is making hundreds and thousands of dollars profit from Foxtel?  Make no mistake Foxtel provide very poor access. Would you feel confident asking deafness Forum to head the complaint knowing that Alex is the figurehead? It would be an unrealistic expectation.  This is a clear conflict of interest, not a perceived one.

It is clear that Alex Jones as President of Deafness Forum and as one of the head honchos of Ai Media, has multiple conflicts of interest, both perceived and real. Ai Media is a great company and it is doing many great things for deaf Australians, long may it continue to do so. For the sake of Ai Media, Alex himself and Deafness Forum it is better that Alex is not so prominently associated with both. He is well advised to resign from Deafness Forum and focus all his energies on his business. With respect – The elephant is now out of the room.  Alex is a great servant to deaf people, lets hope this will continue for many years to come – But not as President of Deafness Forum … It is just too messy.