Mojo Mather’s Column

Hearing Dogs, Fire Alarms and Captions

 By Green MP Mojo Mathers

Deaf Awareness Week has been an even busier time for me than usual.

A big issue for many people with a hearing impairment is safety, especially if we are living alone. Many of us are not able to hear the door bell ringing, the cooker timer or a smoke alarm.

A highlight of the Deaf Awareness Week just past was when Hearing Dogs NZ came to visit me in my office, along with four hearing dogs and their owners. Hearing dogs are specially trained so that every time they hear certain sounds such as the door bell ringing, they gently paw their owners to let them know. When asked “where is it?” they lead their owners to where the sound is coming from.

Hearing dogs have status too

These dogs have the same status as guide dogs for the blind, so have the right to accompany their owners onto public transport, into public buildings, as well as into accommodation and eating places.

Their owners shared with me the huge difference these companion dogs make in their lives and how much safer they make them feel.

Status of dog assistants

However there is a clear need for improved public awareness about the status of assistive dogs. Some places refuse to accept these dogs onto their premises, despite a legal obligation to allow them.

On a related note, I have been highlighting the need to ensure that fire alarms have a visual component in commercial buildings, including hotel and motel rooms.

This issue was brought into focus for me at the start of this year when a fire alarm sounded at the end of a work meeting, and I was not aware that the building was being evacuated until someone told me. Soon afterwards a special visual alarm was installed in my office, but I am conscious that if the alarm goes off when I am out of my office that I am still vulnerable.

This was why  I was disappointed to see that a proposal which would have updated the fire alarm regulations to make it mandatory for nearly all new buildings to have both an audible and a visual component was dropped earlier this year. We should not compromise on basic safety standards in this way.

TV Captioning needed

Another issue many people contact me about is the lack of captioning on TV programmes.

Although 100% of prime time (6pm to 10pm) on TV1 and TV2 is captioned, only 53% of prime time TV3 is captioned, which means that deaf people miss out on popular programmes such as Campbell Live . Captioning outside of prime time is extremely low.  In contrast, Australia has passed legislation to ensure that all free to air programmed from 6am to midnight is captioned by 2014. We have some serious catching up to do!