Listen to those who cannot hear you

by Breisach Alina, Deschle Michelle, Gollmann Simone, Helmer Marco, Lehner Cornelia, Zopf Ascher

We, a student group from Vienna University, take advocacy for

marginalized people. We use an institutional approach and speak

for and with the deaf community. We advocate and long towards

social justice online and more accessibility to information for this


Considering the Internet as an essential source of knowledge perceived by people, we still focus on TV as an important tool for the daily perception of important information, which shapes world views in general. Moreover, receiving information from television as a trustworthy channel, gives deaf people the opportunity to equally participate in the political discourse on the Internet and offline. Trustworthy television broadcasters such as the ORF, are often taken for granted, but are very important information sources when it comes to critical times. And now imagine yourself surrounded by silence, in a critical situation. How would you feel if you could not follow a live discussion on an important topic such as the COVID-pandemic on the television?

“TV broadcasters are still the most used information sources in critical times”

In the age of Social Media, the behavior of users searching for news has changed. Many people turn to platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to check the latest news. The corona crisis however has shown, that the classic TV broadcasters are still the most used information sources in critical times. In Austria, between March and November 2020, 70-88% of the citizens used the TV to inform themselves about the corona crisis. In comparison, about 50% used the daily newspapers, around 40% the radio and an average of 35% turned to Social Media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube etc.).[1] Connected to a quite high trustworthiness of TV in Austria (11% totally trust, 64% tend to trust) the importance of TV clearly gets revealed.[2]

Furthermore, in contrast to the Internet, which provides increasing possibilities for accessible information and entertainment but requires some technical know-how from its users, television does not require much application knowledge and can easily be used by a less technically affine audience. 

We decided to focus mainly on the national Austrian TV broadcaster ORF, as it is not only the most wide-reaching Austrian channel (80% weekly use), but also the most trusted brand (66%).[3]

© own visualizationTextfeld 2

“About 8000 sign language users live in Austria”

Article 7 in the Austrian federal constitution concerns the non-discrimination principle – no one should be discriminated in their daily life due to their disability.[4] But no access to information is discrimination. Today, 8000 sign language users live in Austria. Even though sign language is an accepted independent language in the Austrian Federal Constitution since 2005, there are only 150 people working as sign language interpreters in Austria. According to the Austrian Association of the Deaf (ÖGS), sign language translators can only work 25 hours per week even if they work full-time because of the extreme physical and mental effort. Obviously 150 sign language interpreters only working 25 hours per week are not enough for 8000 sign language users.

Also, subtitles are not an appropriate alternative to sign language translations. Some people with hearing disabilities can not read perfectly. The quality of deaf subtitles has been widely criticized. They include time-delayed, asynchronous captioning, especially during live formats. In live broadcasts, subtitles are often incorrect and incomplete, according to the experiences of deaf people.[5] Thus, TV would only be barrier-free if people with hearing disabilities can watch TV also in their mother language – sign language.

As Austria has about 10000 deaf citizens, there surely is the need for better tools to simplify the access to information on television and therefore the participation online.[6] Let us use our technological capabilities for an inclusive, fair and barrier free access to online knowledge that truly represents the diversity and ideas of our society.

“We enable them to build their own opinions and beliefs”

We want the information provided by TV to be accessible for everybody, regardless of physical boundaries like hearing impairments. If people with hearing disabilities are equally able to access the television and understand the knowledge provided, they in return can participate actively and make their voices be heard online. By providing all people the chance to access the knowledge on TV, we enable them to build their own opinions and beliefs. As a consequence, this gives them the chance to participate online and to take advantage of their enhanced knowledge. However, to guarantee these possibilities, TV shows must be translated simultaneously into sign language on a daily basis. An access to information without barriers leads to a more inclusive, fair and participatory digital space for everybody.

To achieve this goal, we bring together stakeholders from public institutions and organizations to raise funds. In cooperation with the ÖGS we request funds from the relevant Austrian Federal Ministries: The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health; Education and Science; Digitalization; Finance; Innovation and Technology. The raised money is used by the television broadcaster in order to hire more sign language translators. Especially for translating informational programs, political channels and live discussions, which are direly needed (e.g. important information during the Corona Crisis).

“A fair and equal access to communication, information and news for all members of society”

The main policy principle we follow is “supporting equity/social inclusion with services for people who have visual and hearing impairments”.[7] The main idea of this principle is that all members of society should have equal access to communication tools, regardless of physical ability and therefore can participate in the digital world. This policy principle is beyond important for our issue, as its main approach is to make people with hearing impairments socially included by providing fair conditions in the communication system. Focusing on deaf people in Austria, we rely on digital equity and social inclusion as bedrock principles for democratic society. 

This principle argues for a fair and equal access to communication, information and news for all members of society, regardless of their mental, cognitive or physical ability. Nowadays, technology is advanced enough to create a fair, free and equal access to the online world for disabled people and in our concern, especially for deaf people and people with hearing impairments. It is time to remove technical and physical barriers. Real time news and political discussions are very important for political understanding, our aim is to grant people with hearing impairments equal access to live programs, press conferences, live talk shows and political debates.

Subsequently, we also want to address a principle, listed in the Oxford university paper, “Seeking Diversity of Providers and Types of Content” to ensure a pluralistic, diverse and varied online world. People with hearing impairments should feel free to participate online and speak on their own. Only once all members of society, even those with physical disabilities, have access and the equal possibility to shape and participate in the online world, the wide range of society would be represented online in a realistic way.

Consequently, we also want to mention the principle ,,Facilitating citizen participation in debate of issues and developments affecting society’’  People with hearing implications should get a fair possibility to take part in current political debates like online discussions or workshops. This is only possible, if they can get back to accessible knowledge not only online, but also on TV. It is a fundamental human right that all individuals are legitimate to deliberate in the public sphere and vouch for their opinion, thoughts and emotions. We fight for policies that ensure those rights for ALL! 

“It is our responsibility to be allies for people from marginalized groups”

As a group of students, we do not only advocate for a more diverse online discourse, we are also taking concrete action to improve the situation for the deaf community in the social discourse. As advocates and activists we want to support people with hearing impairments and enable them to take part in live discussions and the political discourse, by including them in the process towards more justice and by being their concrete ,,ally’’ on their way out of the discriminated position in the digital world.

The lack of public knowledge about deaf communities and missing possibilities to intervene in this process leads us directly to the topic of Epistemic Justice. Establishing an equal partnership with members of the Deaf community means including them in decision-making processes. Listening to activists, authors and bloggers from the deaf community can bring new perspectives and knowledge to the debate. We consider it as a responsibility among hearing people to use voice and power and spread the message about the importance of this topic. It is our responsibility to be allies for people from marginalized groups.

Digital rights are human rights”

In further research the following steps have to be taken. First of all we need to strengthen our cooperation with the ÖGS and reach out to other deaf communities to gain more insights into their needs. Especially about what television channels they want to be translated. Furthermore, more data has to be collected concerning the costs for the additional sign language translators and the translating process. To do so and to realize our advocacy plan, we have to work closely together with the ORF and the ÖGS.

Knowledge provided by TV needs to be more accessible for people with hearing disabilities to make them feel represented and seen. Especially to increase participation in the digital discourse in an effort to diversify it. In the spirit of the DDF (Digital Freedom Fund) we pursue the principle that Digital rights are human rights.[8] By empowering the Deaf community, all of us can benefit from greater cultural exchange and more diverse ideas.


Digital Freedom Fund (2021): Niederlande,, 2.5.2021

European Union of the Deaf (2021):, 21.4.2021

Hartl J., Unger M.: Abschätzung der Bedarfslage an  ÖGS-DolmetscherInnen in Primär-,  Sekundär- und Tertiärbildung sowie  in Bereichen des täglichen Lebens (2014):, 10.4.2021

Österreichisches-Gallup Institut (2021): Gallup Stimmungsbarometer Corona,, 19.4.2021

Rechtsinformationssystem des Bundes (2021): Artikel 7,, 14.4.2021

Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (2020): Digital News Report,, 19.4.2021

Robert G., Pickard V., University of Oxford (2017): Essential Principles for Contemporary Media and Communication Policymaking,, 7.4.2021

TNS (2021): Flash Eurobarometer 464, April 2018,, 17.4.2021

Image sources:

Own Visualisations: based on the stated sources

Pexels:, 9.5.2021

[1]. Österreichisches-Gallup Institut, Stimmungsbarometer Corona, April 2021, p. 10.

[2] TNS, Flash Eurobarometer 464, April 2018, p. 7.

[3] Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Digital News Report 2020, p. 62.

[4] Rechtsinformationssystem des Bundes, Artikel 7, 2021 

[5] Hartl J., Unger M., Abschätzung der Bedarfslage an  ÖGS-DolmetscherInnen in Primär-,  Sekundär- und Tertiärbildung sowie  in Bereichen des täglichen Lebens, Septmber 2014

[6] European Union of the Deaf, 2021

[7]  Robert G., Pickard V., University of Oxford, Essential Principles for Contemporary Media and Communication Policymaking, April 2017       

[8] Digital Freedom Fund, Niederlande, 2021

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