The importance of accessible communications during this Coronavirus pandemic

A statement by Deafness Forum Australia about the importance of accessible communications during this Coronavirus pandemic.

One in six Australians live with a hearing loss that impacts on their daily lives. We comprise one of the largest categories of persons with disability in the world with over 466 million persons have a disabling hearing loss.

Many of these people have an additional disability(s), making them particularly vulnerable in this health pandemic.

We experience communication issues that make it hard to interact with other people. These issues can result in loneliness, anxiety, and depression. We face challenges with social distancing and the use of face masks which impedes lip reading.

Information from the media and social media sources must be captioned

Deafness Forum of Australia has been seeking the support of television broadcasters to provide open captions on all public emergency announcements.

We support the current accessibility arrangement that includes a sign language interpreter in these announcements for the 10,000 Australians whose first language is Auslan. However, there is a large number of Australians – estimates are in excess of 1 million – who rely on captions every day. This includes people for whom English is a second language, children with learning difficulties and particularly, older people who may use hearing aids or cochlear implants, and the many people who have no aided support to assist with their hearing.

Emergency broadcasts on television must have Open Captions – these are captions that are a permanent feature of a video, meaning that you can’t switch them off so they will appear in any replays of the original broadcast, including social media.

Service providers must provide accessible communications

We want providers to offer the option of text messaging versus verbal telephone contact, and use of the National Relay Service and National Auslan Booking Service (the latter for medical and health-related appointments).

Video communications must be captioned.

We urge all governments, their agencies, businesses and community groups to commit to making their communications accessible in this time of national crisis.