Deaf MP must bring her own technology: updated

Mojo Mathers told by House Speaker to pay $30k for her own note taking technology

Update 10:10 am Wednesday February 15: Speaker of the House Lockwood Smith has defended his decision not to fund Mojo Mathers’ note-taker from the Parliamentary budget, saying he does not have the authority to approve that kind of spending.

He has also dismissed claims that Parliament has not provided Mathers with the right tools for her to do her job, the New Zealand Herald reports.

"The Parliamentary Service has put a lot of work into providing Mojo with the technical equipment necessary to help her fulfil her role,'' Lockwood Smith said.

"She's been provided with rather different technical gear, with laptops that employ software to provide for note-takers to provide as near as possible to real time presentation of what is going on.''

MPs get funding to cover 80 hours of staff time a week, or two full-time equivalent workers, for assistants. Mathers estimates she needs 1000 hours a year for staff to send an instant transcript of proceedings in the debating chamber to a laptop on her desk.

"This is funding that could come out of budgets that run the Te Reo translators or that run the audio-visual systems," she told Stuff.

"Although it is about the employment of a person, it is a technical issue we need to resolve and part of the technical solution includes employing staff.”

She says electronic note-taking would eventually lead to the captioning of Parliament television which would enable the 700,000 hearing impaired people in New Zealand to access political debate.

Original story: Mojo Mathers, Green MP and the first profoundly deaf member of parliament in New Zealand, has been told by Speaker Lockwood Smith that she would need to pay up to $30,000 for technology to help her participate in Parliament.

Mathers is to give her maiden speech to the House tomorrow, but Stuff reports that Smith has told the Green Party that Parliamentary Services will not pay for the note taking technology needed by her to take part in parliamentary debates.

Last week she was prevented from speaking in Parliament because the technology was not available.

The technology, as described by Smith, would consist of note-taking and audio software, and a monitor to display conversations in text.

Stuff reports Smith has told deaf MP Mojo Mathers she must pay for the $20-30,000 technology to speak in Parliament out of her office budget.

According to Stuff, Smith has said that Parliamentary Services would accomodate people with disabilities, like needing wheelchairs, but not the deaf.

The decision could deter people with disabilities from considering entering Parliament, and make parties think twice about putting forward candidates with disablities, says Mathers.

Rachel Noble, CEO of Deaf Aotearoa, told Computerworld she is not surprised by Smith’s comments.

“Why is everyone so surprised. Deaf people have been experiencing this kind of discrimination all our lives,” says an emphatic Noble.

When asked about Smith's comments regarding support for some disablities not others, Noble says he needs to look beyond conventional descriptions of disability.

“When people think about disability, they need to know how wide the spectrum is,” says Noble.

Noble, who herself is deaf, related her own challenges in employment.

She recently faced difficulty securing a position at a business leadership course because it could not afford to accomodate an interpreter. She says she has had to fight to get the appropriate funding, but thinks these kinds of cases should not occur any longer.

“Note taking and accessibilty solutions shouldn’t be an extension of parliament. They should just be the norm,” says Noble.

Labour MP Claire Curran says it is "unacceptable" to expect Mathers to pay for the accessibility technology. Curran, who is also Labour's ICT and disablities spokesperson, says the investment would help open up parliamentary broadcasts to the deaf.

“The technology improvements, including on-screen captioning of debates, will not only help Mojo but will also make parliamentary broadcasts more accessible to the hearing impaired community," says Curran in a press statement.

“This is a human rights issue. Mojo Mathers has a right to the technology that can allow her to participate. It must be provided right away.”

Note Taking Technology For The Deaf

One accessibility technology provider in New Zealand is curious, but not completely surprised by the $30,000 price tag given to Mathers.

Ann Smaill, general manager of TalkLink, a trust which provides voice boxes and communication tools for children with disablities, says official communication with the deaf is still handled primarily through human-based methods.

“I’m on the chair for NZ Relay. That’s a deaf assistance company which help the hearing impaired make and recieve phone calls through interpreters over video,” says Smaill.

“At our meetings we always have stenographers, and I would expect at least the same in parliament.”

She says there might also be cheaper software alternatives for Mathers’ prediciment.

“I remember when Dragon Dictate was around $20,000. It’s now in the hundreds of dollars,” says Smaill.

“This kind of technology is getting cheaper and cheaper.”

Do you know of any note taking technology with accessibilty for the deaf in mind? Let us know in the comments section.

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