Deaf people slam equalities watchdog as lack of sign translator stalls talks

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 December, 2013, 2:59am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 December, 2013, 4:28am

Furious deaf people slammed the Equal Opportunities Commission yesterday after it failed to provide a sign-language translator - to hear complaints about a lack of sign-language translators on television.

Representatives of the 9,000 deaf Hongkongers who rely on sign language arranged a week ago to spend an hour discussing their concerns with commission representatives. They want it to investigate whether the failure of news broadcasters to provide sign translation breaches the Discrimination Ordinance.

But the lack of a translator - blamed by the EOC on a "miscommunication" - meant the meeting had to be stalled for hours until a translator could be found.

"They were informed ahead of time a week ago. But they didn't prepare [for the meeting]," said Connie Lo Chun-yi, through a friend's translation. While some members of the group could have translated, Lo said it was the responsibility of the EOC, not her friends, to provide translation.

"My friends aren't employed by [the EOC]," she said. "What if we had come alone?"

EOC spokesman Sam Ho said the deaf people had no problem communicating through translators they brought along at the start of the meeting. When they refused to go on without an official translator, the EOC called one up.

"It was mainly a miscommunication problem," Ho said.

Sign language is mentioned in the language policy on the EOC website, under which the organisation is "committed to adopting proactive and practical measures to ensure communication barrier will not be an obstacle".

Ho said the policy would include providing a translator "as far as reasonably practicable".

"If they requested a translator [beforehand], we would definitely have prepared one. We have a prepared list of who we can call," he said. The group was able to submit four complaints against television stations at the meeting.

Ho said both the complaints and the group's concerns about EOC policy would be put to senior EOC officials including its head, Dr York Chow Yat-ngok.

Anthony Wong, one of the deaf complainants, said the lack of sign-language translation left many deaf people struggling to follow the daily news. Subtitles may be little use as some deaf people also had difficulty reading, he said.

"News is important. The elections are important, the economy is important. We have the right to know about all these things," Wong said through a translator.

Lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung, who joined the complainants for yesterday's meeting, said it was disappointing that the EOC did not investigate disability issues unless there were complaints.

"They don't take proactive action when it comes to deaf people. If the EOC can speak up for ethnic minorities, why not the deaf as well?" he said.