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December 17, 2002

Dedication to equal access for the hearing impaired rewarded

From: Newcastle Star, Australia - 17 Dec 2002

By Tamaryn Ryan
Tuesday, 17 December 2002

For many hearing-impaired people, life can be very lonely.

Karen Dempsey knows all too well about the difficulties of a life without the ability to hear – the television makes no sense, the radio is useless and people avoid speaking to you for fear they will not be able to communicate effectively.

That's why she has spent the last 12 years of her life campaigning for captions on television and in theatres.

Karen's dedication was recognised recently when she was presented with the Roma Wood OAM Community Service Award as part of the 2002 Supertext Awards.

It was the first award she had ever won, but more than just a merit certificate or a sports trophy, this was something special. Karen has dramatically improved the lives of countless Australians through her commitment to having television programs captioned for deaf and hearing-impaired people.

As a member of the National Working Party on Captioning, Karen was successful in pushing legislation through parliament which requires all news, current affairs and prime-time television programs between 6pm and 10.30pm to be closed captioned.

Regional news has until 2004 to implement the changes, unless it converts to digital before then.

As she points out, many hearing-impaired people missed out completely on the news because they could not watch it on television or listen to it on the radio.

Now they have the same access to these important programs as any other person.

"I've never watched so much television in my life," Karen said.

"I watch anything now – even the football!"

Karen was also responsible for getting open-captioned movies screened in Newcastle, the first regional cinema to show open-captioned movies outside the capital cities.

Greater Union Glendale now shows one captioned movie each month.

"I could never follow a program on television," Karen said.

"A hearing-impaired person can't go to the movies. We would have to wait for it to come to video and hope it was closed captioned so we could watch it."

In fact Karen, who has been hearing-impaired since she was 15, had not seen a movie in a cinema more than 10 years.

Now she joins in with other local hearing impaired people for a monthly treat.

However, Karen said this screening is important not just for adults, but also hearing-impaired children and those people who are still learning English.

While Karen has been successful in her campaigning so far, there is still more work to be done to ensure equal access, she said.

There are no requirements for pay-TV to use captions and many hospitals and motels do not have teletext televisions. (In fact most people don't realise that the teletext function is needed to access the captions without a decoder.)

Karen also wants children's programs and daytime television captioned as well as all videos and DVDs.

Anyone interested in the monthly movie screening (the next one will be in February due to the holiday season) should contact Better Hearing Australia Newcastle on 4968 8050.

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