Accessible Emergency Broadcasts during 2019-20 Victorian Bushfires

Deaf Victoria is Victoria’s disability led organisation representing Deaf and hard of hearing Victorians. The organisation provides an advocacy and information referral organisation funded by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Deaf Victoria advocates on behalf of deaf and hard of hearing Victorians to increase equality, inclusion and access to mainstream services.

Along with the rest of the Victorian population, the Deaf Victoria Board and staff have been shocked and saddened by devastating bushfires which are currently alight occurring in northern and eastern parts of Victoria. Our hearts and thoughts are with those who have been directly affected and impacted by the deaths of two Victorians and destruction of hundreds of buildings and homes in the affected areas. 

Deaf Victoria, on behalf of all Deaf and hard of hearing Victorians, whose primary language is Auslan (Australian Sign Language) highly commends the quick response by Emergency Management Victoria and Expression Australia in provision of Auslan interpreters for all emergency media broadcasts.  As the leading service provider, Expression Australia services Deaf and hard of hearing Victorians to ensure equal access to services and information that is available to other Victorians.

Whilst it is a legislative requirement ensure all live emergency broadcasts include the provision of closed captions, there is no requirement in the provision of Auslan interpreters on the TV screen. Feedback from Deaf and hard of hearing Victorians is that the provision of closed captions is unsatisfactory as there is often such a 5-10 second delay in the streaming of captioned content onto television screens. The captions, which need to be turned in TV settings or via a remote control, comes out in short, successive bursts of text. Many television stations in public spaces do not always have closed caption features turned on making them inaccessible for our community.  The display of text requires speed reading skills, good English literacy and mental recalibration following errors displayed in the text on screen. 

For many Deaf Victorians, English is their second language and the provision of fast, short bursts of text can create confusion, particularly in a highly stressed and emotional broadcast such as an emergency. The provision and inclusion of Auslan Interpreters on screen provides an alternative information source that is clear, straight forward and provides clear and concise information in the preferred language of Victoria’s Deaf and hard of hearing communities.  In short, Interpreters save lives.

We know that there have been Deaf and hard of hearing Victorians holidaying and residing in the affected bushfire regions who have been able to follow television information broadcasts and on video via social media channels which clearly show the Auslan interpreter in the frame. This critically important information has assisted those affected to make clear and informed decisions to stay or go during those difficult and harrowing days.

We thank those broadcasters who listened to feedback provided by members of our community, via email, social media and other avenues and made particular effort to ensure that Auslan interpreters were in the camera frame broadcast onto television screens across Australia. We also thank members of the Deaf community, Deaf Australia, ASLIA, Expression Australia, other state Deaf Societies who have all advocated tirelessly for the inclusion of Auslan interpreters on television screens and online platforms. 


Media Contact

Olivia Beasley – Board Director