Sarah (Writehandedgirl) has got a blog post up with a transcript of Sean Plunkett’s conversation with Louise Carroll of the National Foundation for the Deaf. If you’re not aware, she was arguing in the context of the Rugby World Cup that we need to mandate captioning for Deaf and HOH audiences, and Plunkett was extremely dismissive of her. Sarah’s post is a great look at the argument from a disability perspective, but I just want to add a couple of things outside of that scope: namely, that captioning is useful for everyone!
Think about it. How many times have you been watching tv when something noisy was happening in the background? Children playing enthusiastically and loudly or crying, someone vacuuming, neighbours listening to loud music, even strong wind can be pretty loud as we know in Wellington. Or a child is sleeping, and you don’t want to do anything noisy that might wake them. Rather than engaging in volume wars or having to turn it off until later, wouldn’t it be easier if you could just turn on captions? It’s the same principle as disabled access ramps – they’re marked as being for people in wheelchairs, and I think this is where a lot of the hostility to expensive PC regulations comes from, because… they’re also good for people with push chairs or prams, or wheeled shopping trolleys, or all sorts of other things. A lot of things that disability networks advocate for that make society easier to navigate for people with disabilities are useful to everyone else as well.
The other point Plunkett makes is that businesses would fund captions themselves if there was a market case for it. This sounds plausible on the surface, but there are also countless of examples of businesses acting against their own best interests. Pretty much every new technology for film – tv, video rental, video recorders, DVD, internet downloads – the studios have put up a huge fuss saying it would destroy the industry. Every single one of them has provided a huge boost to their profits as they allow greater access to their products. Then there’s all those products marketed aggressively to men or which actively snub female consumers, like the huge untapped market for merchandise for female Marvel characters. Or for a local example, TV3 ditching Campbell Live and losing a ton of viewers. A lot of businesses do not want to innovate. It’s risky. Sometimes it doesn’t work out. It’s easier to operate based on received wisdom and convention, and often they’ll cling to it even as the old model is suffering through its last gasping breaths. (See also: highly pollutive industries like coal, oil and gas extraction, as consumers increasingly divest from it and reserves become smaller and harder to access.) If we operated solely by whether businesses thought it was worthwhile to do something we would miss out on a massive amount of innovation and cultural and technological advancement.
Honestly, we should be mandating that broadcasters fund captioning on all content, most especially on pre-recorded content but also live. It’s a matter of equal access for all New Zealanders, it’s a good feature for even people without hearing loss, and it’s quite probably good business too.