Access to information for people with disabilities and use of sign language: PanSALB and SABC briefing

Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities

08 August 2012
Chairperson: Ms D Ramodibe (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee met for briefings by Departments of Communications and Arts and Culture, and PanSALB and SABC on the use of sign language and the levels of access to information provided to people with hearing disabilities. The Departments of Communications and Arts and Culture, however, were absent and briefings were made only by PanSALB and the SABC. The briefing by PanSALB dealt broadly with the work the Board did to promote sign language and prevent the discrimination of deaf people. The presenter also spoke about the main challenges the Board dealt with when implementing its mandate and goals. The SABC briefing succinctly spoke about how the broadcaster catered for those with hearing disabilities in terms of its programmes.

The Members raised questions and concerns with the briefings which were largely directed to PanSALB. The issues centred on the lack of sign language in important areas, lack of current statistics, schooling issues of those with hearing disabilities and bursaries for deaf students. Other concerns related to the Board itself such as the time frames attached to a discussed turnaround strategy, programmes and workshops and the promotion of sign language as an official language. Members concerns with the SABC dealt largely with the employment of those with disabilities by the SABC, how the SABC dealt with making special events and addresses accessible to those with hearing disabilities and the main challenges the public broadcaster experienced.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed all and explained the meeting was to engage with the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), the Department of Communications and the Department of Arts and Culture, and the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB).  The need for this engagement came as a result of public hearings held by the Committee and the different concerns raised by various groups within those hearings. She said the Committee needed to ascertain the challenges outlined and whether they can be overcome.  She also explained the briefings would allow the Members to get responses to their own concerns.

PanSALB Development, Use and Promotion of South African Sign Language Presentation
Mr Mxolisi Zwane, PanSALB Acting CEO, outlined the main areas the report would cover. Mr Zwane started by thanking the Committee for the opportunity to present. He spoke briefly about the mandate and mission of PanSALB. He went on to discuss the importance of sign language.

He outlined the main programmes covered by PanSALB related to the promotion of sign language, deaf culture and the protection of South African sign language. Included in these programmes where the connected workshops created to develop sign language among deaf children and schools especially the assistance of parents in that area. This was being done in cooperation with the Department of Basic Education. A future programme was the hosting of a sign language imbizo to bring together deaf stakeholders and organisations to promote the standardization of sign language.

Mr Zwane concluded the briefing by highlighting the serious challenges experienced by PanSALB. These challenges included the high unemployment rate among deaf people, the lack of training and skills experienced by deaf people which contributed to the problem of unemployment, discrimination against deaf people in general and by organs of state especially through the lack of interpreting services which was also seen as a violation of their linguistic rights. Other obstacles presented were the uncoordinated efforts to promote sign language and the shortage of specialised schools for deaf people. He added that records show there are only 48 schools for the deaf across the provinces with only one in the Northern Cape. He said these challenges required intensive collaboration with all involved stakeholders.
(See presentation document)

The Chairperson thanked the presenter for the briefing. She expressed her great frustration at the challenges that appear to be increasing and the lack of progress made by PanSALB in addressing these challenges. She questioned how old the Board was.

The Chairperson opened the floor to the Members for questions.

Ms M Nxumalo (ANC) expressed her deep concern about the lack of sign language at important points like police stations, courts and health clinics. She wondered how deaf people expressed their problems to the people meant to help them given that there were not interpretative services provided to them.

Ms G Tseke (ANC) said she was struggling to get the exact information she sought from PanSALB. She felt the information used in the briefing was out dated and referred to old statistics. She sought clarity on this.

Ms P Petersen-Maduna (ANC) expressed the same sentiments as Ms Tseke and felt the presentation was too short and did not provide enough of an understanding.

Mr D Kekana (ANC) wanted to know how many schools were actually needed for deaf children to help alleviate the problems as outlined by PanSALB. He said a concrete number could be used by Government as a real target. He also raised the issue of the lack of skills among deaf people and what the role of Further Educational and Training (FET) colleges were in that area.

Ms I Ditshetelo (UCDP) wanted to know how the information in the presentation would be made available to the public especially those in the rural areas. She also wanted statistics of the communities and schools where workshops have been held. The Member sought additional clarity on whether the schools were fully equipped or not and how PanSALB monitored these schools.

Ms H Lamoela (DA) was very disappointed in the briefing and said she was expecting much more from PanSALB. She had a number of direct questions for the presenter and wanted a breakdown of the schools in the provinces and contact numbers for each and every one of the schools. She questioned the monitoring strategy of the Board, when shortages of accredited service providers were noted and what the Board was planning to do to increase these numbers. She wondered when the training programmes where discontinued and what was being done to resolve this. She wanted elaboration on the advisory services, technical expertise and projects and programmes PanSALB intended to embark on. She questioned why the briefing contained old statistics of 2001 when information was available for later dates. Lastly, she wanted clarity on bursaries for sign language students and the number of problems associated with them like their late arrival and the late arrival of hearing aids which she felt was a waste of good money.

The Chairperson questioned how PanSALB would implement the new Use of Official Languages Bill (Introduced as the South African Languages Bill [B23-2011]).

Mr Zwane responded by stating that PanSALB was formed in 1996. In reply to other questions, he explained that he had been appointed as a courtesy to find a turnaround for PanSALB. This was especially so that the Board could go back to focus on its original mandate and forget about the less important issues. He explained that formed the basis of the report presented. He elaborated on the turnaround strategy which focused on strategic planning sessions with provincial branches of PanSALB. He said that PanSALB was charged with the development and promotion of languages and to monitor language development. He went on to make clear that in 2009, the Board suspended its CEO and that was followed by numerous court cases and that explained why many programmes PanSALB had organised had not progressed. He noted that was seen as a challenge and was included in the turnaround strategy and planning workshops. In terms of the spread of schools across the provinces, Mr Zwane said he would make the information known to the Committee. Other information to be made available to the Committee would be updated statistics. He said sign language needed to be developed which would in turn increase the number of interpreters. He noted the issue around bursaries and said it would be considered by the Board.

Ms Nxumalo questioned what PanSALB was doing to promote sign language as a constitutionally declared official 12th language.

Mr Kekana wanted to know the time-frames set for the turnaround strategy as he was wary about the strategy simply being a popular term thrown around by many CEOs.

The Chairperson thanked the Members for their questions. She sought greater clarification about the teaching of sign language in the 48 deaf schools and what role PanSALB played in this.

Ms Lamoela felt her question was not fully answered, she reiterated that she wanted a break- down of schools per province and their contact numbers.

Mr Zwane said he did not have that information on hand but would provide it to the Committee at a later stage. Talking to the making official or promotion of sign language as a national language, he said it should be the duty of Parliament while the mandate of PanSALB was the monitoring of the use, development and promotion of the language. He explained PanSALB was not charged with implementing sign language as an official language but rather the promotion of sign language. He placed a 12 month time frame on the turnaround strategy for finding a permanent solution. He said he cannot answer the lack of teaching of sign language but said he would get back to the Chairperson on that question. He added that mismanagement, low skill levels and irregular expenditure also fuelled the problems of the Board.

Ms Lamoela asked if affirmative action played a part in the filling of positions by competent candidates on PanSALB’s board as she felt it was often the case where competent disabled candidates were overlooked due to the practice of affirmative action.

Mr Zwane explained the that Portfolio Committee and the Minister of Arts and Culture made recommendations of potential candidates to an ad hoc committee for positions on the Board. This ad hoc committee then aids in selecting candidates for the Board. The Ministry then made the final decisions of appointment.

The Chairperson thanked the presenter. She said that as a Committee, Members were never 100 per cent satisfied. She cautioned against saying that information will be sent at a later stage when the information was never received. She ensured the Committee would be following up as part of their oversight duties and as representatives of the public the Committee needed PanSALB’s cooperation as vulnerable citizens where being affected. She noted this was the first but not the last meeting with PanSALB. She proceeded to the briefing by the SABC.

SABC briefing
Ms Nada Wotshela, SABC Provincial General Manager: Western Cape, began by apologising that the CEO could not be present. She explained that she was only informed about the briefing last night and hurriedly prepared the presentation and that short notice was the reason for the CEO being unable to attend.

Ms Wotshela began by ensuring the Committee of the SABC’s commitment to the promotion of sign language given the importance of the SABC as a source of connection to the outside world at large for many South Africans. She said the presentation would concentrate on television and not radio given the hurried preparation of the presentation and given the fact that the SABC was mainly judged on its work in television. She mentioned that SABC radio was making great headway in the employment of disabled candidates. She said that given more time, radio would have been included in the presentation.

She outlined the programmes of each SABC channels which where accommodating to those who had hearing disabilities by providing sub titles or sign interpreters. She said there were specially produced programmes aired on SABC 1 aimed at those living with disabilities like Cutting Edge, Play Your Part, and Matrics Uploaded, which was hosted by a wheel-chair bound presenter and news bulletins with the sign interpreters for deaf people. Turning to SABC 2, she said many programmes and prime time shows like, Muvhango, 7de Laan and the prime time news bulletin at 20h00 and Saturday and Sunday at 19h30 had sub-titles or sign interpreters for the hearing impaired. Moving to SABC 3, she highlighted the channels most lucrative show, Isidingo, had accommodating sub titles. She noted DTV which was a programme specifically produced for the deaf community which was signed, sub-titled and directed by the deaf community. She said the SABC 3 news bulletin at 21h00 was also signed.

Ms Wotshela then outlined all the programmes which were signed or had sub titles on each SABC channel. This was further broken down into the days of the week the programme was aired, the genre under which it fell, episodes per year, duration of the programme in terms of minutes, cost per minute and the total per annum. She noted that it was mostly locally produced programmes which had sub titles. It was highlighted that 90% of the content on SABC 1 and 2 was sub titled. Looking at the breakown of the cost to the SABC for the sub-titling of programmes, she noted SABC 1 cost R7 million and SABC 2 cost R8.1 million for the sub –titling of programming per annum.  She pointed out the differences in content between the three channels by explaining that SABC 3 was a commercial channel which meant most of its content was foreign but the local productions on the channel like Isidingo, The Lab, documentaries and religious programming had sub-titles. This came at a cost of R4.2 million. That resulted in a total of R19.7 billion per annum that the SABC spent on the provision of sub titles to its content. She stated sub-titling was not the only means to aid the deaf but highlighted the many number of programmes with content especially for those with disabilities and programmes produced and presented by disabled people.

The Chairperson thanked the presenter. She asked why there were no sign language interpreters or sub titles for special addresses like the presidential Christmas message.

Ms Lamoela questioned the percentage of disabled people employed by the SABC. She also expressed her regret on the presenters only preparing the report last night; had that not been the case, she felt there would have been more information presented.

Ms Ditshetelo found it unacceptable that the SABC was only notified of the presentation last night. She wanted clarity on information of programmes outlined in the presentation. She also wanted to know how the SABC made special events like the Olympics accessible to people with hearing disabilities.

Ms C Diemu (COPE) asked what the challenges were for the SABC as none were raised in the presentation. She thanked the presenters for coming up with the report on such short notice.

Mr Kekana felt that an invitation to present should have been extended to the national SABC and not just the Western Cape so as to show a broader picture. He wanted to highlight the various kinds of disabilities there were and questioned what job opportunities there were for those suffering of disabilities particularly related to blindness especially in radio particularly rural community radio.

The Chairperson pointed out that an invitation was extended to the national SABC last week. When the Committee Secretary had followed up on Friday, it was discovered the national SABC did not receive the invite and the provincial SABC had to fill in given the last minute notice.

Ms Wotshela responded to the question of events related to national interest and said that for standard calendar events like the State of the Nation Addresses, the SABC made the necessary preparations for the provision of sign language interpreters. She explained that short notice events were a problem mainly because of the lack of money and getting last minute interpreters were a costly exercise unbudgeted for. She also said short notice sign interpreters were not always readily available.

Looking at the employment of disabled candidates, Ms Wotshela said a full picture could not be provided as the SABC had many freelancers who were not reflected in the employee statistics. However, within the permanent staff she said the employment figure for those with disabilities was less than the 5% target. She said, however, employment equity was being promoted and there were structures in place to support this.

Referring to the Olympics, she said it fell under the entertainment and live programme type of event which made it difficult to sub-title or sign as it was not pre-recorded. She explained locally produced programmes were easier to sub title as the SABC could do it themselves or request for sub titles to be provided. She added sporting and entertainment events were difficult to plan around given their live nature.

Ms Wotshela outlined the main challenges experienced by the SABC which was largely connected to the Board’s funding model. She felt it would be ideal for the SABC to not worry about advertising revenue. She said the Broadcaster had a great burden to generate revenue which affected the production of local content.

Mr Kekana was concerned that freelancers or outside consultants were paid more than permanent staff. He said this was noticed during his oversight visits.

Ms Wotshela responded to say this would be taken up with Human Resources. She also said the parliamentary liaison manager for the SABC would communicate better with the Committee for future meetings so presentations were planned well ahead. She added that although the provincial SABC had to stand in for national SABC given the last minute notification of the invitation to present, the information presented came from national SABC.

The Chairperson urged the SABC to increase its employment of people with disabilities to meet the national target and freelancers should be taken into account in these employment figures.

Ms Ditshetelo asked the Chairperson what was heard about the non-attendance of the Department of Arts and Culture.

The Committee Secretary said she had received an email stating the Director-General could not attend but the Deputy Director-General would be made available.

The Chairperson ensured that a follow-up would be put in place.

The meeting was adjourned.


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