Broadcast and social media communication in emergencies

As the current bush fire crisis is unfolding, we’ve received enquiries about messages broadcast via television, print and online media. The following guide is a simple resource for people to communicate inclusively in times of emergency.

It’s particularly important to think about inclusive communication, that is, information provided with consideration for people with different needs. Effective, accessible communication is critical and can help save lives.

Given that we’re talking about broadcast and social media, we’ve focused on three key areas - hearing, language and vision.


Communication when hearing is an issue

Auslan interpretation

Almost 20,000 people use Auslan to communicate every day and it is the main language for over 5000 Australians.

During television broadcasts, an Auslan interpreter should always be visible on screen. Avoid close up camera shots which crop out the interpreter or pop up graphics which block their visibility. If the interpreter is not clearly shown on screen, no information is being conveyed.

You can book Auslan interpreters by state and through various agencies (just do a web search for Auslan and your state) or use a national service.

If you are on the ground in one of the affected areas, learning some key Auslan phrases may be useful. In this video, Auslan interpreter Hadley Johnson demonstrates some basic signs useful for emergencies.

Video captioning

1 in 6 Australians experience hearing loss and over 1 million Australians require captioning to understand videos.

Video captioning benefits those who are Deaf or hard of hearing, as well as reaffirms the information being communicated in a written form. This aids in comprehension and memory retention. Captioning also allows videos to be watched without sound, which is particularly important for noisy environments.

Below are some captioning tools which you can use. Automatic captioning tools are quick and easy to use. However, they are not always accurate and manual corrections may be required.

Do it yourself captioning

For social media/emergency videos, captioning may be required at short notice. These are captioning tools which you can use yourself, on smartphones or computers.

Youtube generates captions for an uploaded video, here is a guide to using them. Alternatively use:

  • Apple Clips – live video captioning while you record (free on App store)
  • Zubtitle – generates captions for an uploaded video (this is a paid product)
  • Closed Caption Creator - generates captions for an uploaded video (this is paid product)
  • Amara – manual captioning (this is a free product)

Captioning service providers

These are professional captioning services who have worked with major media outlets.

Auslan interpreter vs captioning

Auslan and English contain different structures and syntax for sentences, therefore reading captions may be difficult for Auslan viewers to understand. It is recommended that both captioning and Auslan interpretation is provided.


Communicating when language is an issue

Plain English

Use of simple, plain language is a requirement for people who experience an intellectual or cognitive disability to best understand information. This is particularly vital in emergency situations. Keep your messaging clear and concise for effective communication. Jargon and abbreviations should also be avoided.

Key communications should also be repeated to ensure that your message is conveyed.

Multilingual translation

Australians and visitors to our country are multicultural, therefore our communications must also be. Translate key information into multiple languages to ensure that everyone can easily understand.

There are a lot of languages used in Australia. In an emergency, consider the critical groups in the area where you are sharing your message. You can also look at Facebook and other community avenues where your message can be translated and shared.

Some the most used languages in Australia are:

  • English
  • Chinese
  • Mandarin or Cantonese when spoken
  • Traditional or Simplified when written
  • Arabic
  • Vietnamese
  • Italian
  • Greek
  • Filipino/Tagalog
  • Hindi
  • Spanish
  • Punjabi
  • Some of the key languages used by tourists are:
  • English
  • Chinese
    • Mandarin or Cantonese when spoken
    • Traditional or Simplified when written
  • Japanese
  • Malay
  • Korean
  • Hindi

Free online translation tools

Here are some online resources that can be used to translate phrases for written forms of communication:

Professional Translation services

Longer messages translated by tools may contain grammatical and syntax errors when translated. Therefore, we recommend using a professional translation service for longer written and video forms of communication such as:


Communication when vision is an issue

People who are blind or have low vision vary in their ability to see your communications. Those in smoky areas will also experience lower vision. The following points will help to ensure your visual communication is accessible.

Accessible fonts

We recommend using these fonts as they are widely available and contain accessible design elements making them easy to read. These are also good options for people with dyslexia.

  • Arial
  • Calibri
  • Tahoma
  • Verdana
  • Century Gothic
  • Times New Roman
  • Georgia

Large font size

Using an appropriately large font size will ensure that your message can be read by people with low vision or from a distance.

Colour contrast

Having enough contrast between background and foreground colours will ensure that your message has good visibility. This is also important for people with colour blindness - which affects 8% of males and 0.4% of females in Australia.

Here are some resources which can be used to analyse colour contrast:

Desktop programs

Online tools

Static Text

Moving and/or blinding text should be avoided as this can be distracting and the message may be missed. Key information should remain static to ensure the viewer has enough time to read and understand your message.

Alternative Text

Provide alternative text/image descriptions for images for blind and low vision users of screen readers. This allows them to understand what is being shown in your image.

Here are links to how to include alternative text on various social media platforms:

Alternative text descriptions should describe what is being shown in the image – this is particularly important for things such as infographics displaying statistics. Information written in the descriptions can still be accessible by screen readers.

Text-based directions

Maps are often difficult for screen readers to access. Text-based directions should be provided as an alternative to a graphic.


Other things to consider

When you create a message, take a moment to consider how someone experiencing a disability would access and understand your communication.

Publish your communications through multiple channels

Ensure everyone can access vital information by communicating through several channels. The main channels used are television, radio, newspapers, online publications and social media. In emergency events, an Emergency Alert may be sent to designated areas – this should utilise both voice calls and text messages.

Other disabilities affected

There are other people who experience disability who are affected during emergency scenarios. Disabilities such as mobility will be very important for moving quickly during evacuations and must be catered for. Be considerate to those who are not as mobile as others and assist those in need of help.

Contact us if you have any suggestions

This document will be updated as we receive further information or feedback. Please contact us to make any suggestions or additions to this guide.