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October 5, 2003

Captioned movies one more tick on the list

From: New Zealand Herald, New Zealand - Oct 5, 2003


As captioned movies start screening in Auckland and Christchurch this weekend, it's another goal ticked off by Deaf campaigner Kim Robinson.

The lobbyist last year saw the successful end to an eight-year campaign to force the telecommunications industry to commit to providing a phone relay service for the Deaf, hearing-impaired and speech-impaired, and next on his list is television subtitles, with political funding further down the line.

"It's a question of rights," he says. "It is our right to be able to enjoy the same services as anyone else."

The genesis of his campaign was a year he spent as an exchange student in the United States in 1990, where he saw facilities for the deaf that he had only dreamed of in New Zealand.

Robinson, a community support worker who was deaf by the age of 12, met people with careers unheard of for deaf people in New Zealand, such as surgeons, lawyers and pilots.

"In the USA it was like the world opened for me," he said. "When I came back here it was closed, so it was either go back and become an American, or stay here in New Zealand and kick ass -- I chose the latter."

His first target, along with other members of the Deaf community -- "we have our own identity, and we always spell Deaf with a capital" -- was the phone relay service whereby those who can't normally use the telephone, use phones with text units and screens attached, to make calls via a specialist call centre.

After eight years and a case with the Human Rights Commission, victory came when the Government last year announced the establishment of a service which is expected to be running early next year.

Captioned movies were next.

"It started in November 2000, when I started campaigning for the Lord of the Rings to be captioned," he said.

"The government was promoting this as a New Zealand thing and it was a world-wide hit, but we Deaf Kiwis couldn't be part of this because we couldn't hear it."

Robinson was back at the Human Rights Commission in 2001, lodging a complaint that led to a series of meetings with film distributors, cinema owners, the Deaf Association, the Hearing Association, which represents the hearing-impaired, and Captioning Access NZ, over the last four months.

The result was the launch on Friday of captioned movies on a 13-city circuit throughout New Zealand.

"Cinemas have always been one of society's very first picture domains -- the oldest motion media screen around," he said.

"Box office releases cannot be rented out on DVD until about nine months after the release in theatres. They can be purchased overseas earlier than that for personal use, but this is out of the range of many people. Fifty-three per cent of more than 700,000 people with disabilities earn less than $15,000 a year."

Rather than make the Deaf and hearing-impaired wait for the best part of a year before they could see a movie with subtitles on a TV screen via a DVD, Robinson decided they should be able to see those movies in proper theatres in a reasonable time frame.

With captioned movies now achieved, albeit on a limited scale of one movie a month, the next target is television, and he's already laid a complaint with the Human Rights Commission.

While many captioned programmes are available on the three main public channels -- TV One, Two and Three -- they are not available on TV4, Prime, or the Sky channels. Further, those who receive the public channels via satellite connections cannot access the subtitles.

Robinson's case is two-fold -- to get a major increase in funding for captioning, and to see those channels which do not provide captioning, made to do so.

Those who will benefit are the 220,000-plus New Zealanders who are Deaf, or whose hearing loss qualifies as a disability.

Beyond that is the longer term goal to see state funding of political parties, so those who can least afford to flex their political muscle -- the disabled -- will be able to do so, possibly through a party of their own.

"By having such funding, people with disabilities will have a platform to stand on and a voice to use," he said.

And beyond that?

"Once the groundwork of access is available in New Zealand, we can raise the bar into other arenas that were previously taboo for people with disabilities, such as the ability to serve in the police force or the military."


©Copyright 2003, New Zealand Herald