Happy AD Awareness Day!

A gold three dimensional audio description 'AD' icon on a candy pink background
Image by Maquette.pro via Shutterstock

April 16th is Audio Description Awareness Day – so of course we had to celebrate!

This initiative was conceived by a group of passionate AD advocates as a way to increase awareness and understanding of audio description in the general population, as well as the blind and vision impaired community.

Filmmaker Juan Alcazar from JC5 Productions explains:

“Audio Description Awareness Day [is a] day where a blind or visually impaired person invites a sighted or blind friend who doesn’t know about audio descriptions to stream a movie or episode with them.

During this time of social distancing we all need to connect with others, and what better way to that than to watch something together? This idea came out of a brainstorming session between myself, Captivating Magazine co-founders Chelsea Nguyen and Stephanie McCoy, and audio description narrator Roy Samuelson. Hoping this experience will be both educational and entertaining. Let us know about your experience on social media by posting with the hashtag #ADADChallenge.”

See Juan’s video from last year for more information:

Do you plan to participate? What are you watching? Let us know in the comments… and Happy AD Awareness Day!

P.S. don’t forget to have YOUR say in our survey about accessibility features for streaming video!

What do YOU love About Audio Description on TV?

Photograph of a man hugging an old television set with the letters AD on the screen. His eyes are blissfully closed and his old socks have holes in them.
Image by Vlue via Shutterstock (edited by Gwyneth)

Blind Citizens Australia (BCA) are currently running a campaign to help show the positive impact of audio description on TV for people with blindness or vision impairment.

Each week, a new video is released via the TV4All website and the TV4All Facebook group.

BCA have put out a call for people to contribute their own stories:

What do you love about audio description on TV?

What would you like to see for the future of AD on TV in Australia?

Now that audio description is available through our national broadcasters, we need to ensure its continuation and expansion.

Send us a video, voice recording, or sentence (or two!) on what you love about audio description on TV.

As we’ve reported several times on this blog and in our research, diverse audiences can benefit from audio description. Accordingly, BCA is encouraging everyone to contribute their experiences:

You don’t have to be blind or vision impaired to submit feedback; perhaps you use AD while cooking dinner, or breastfeeding, or working on a project. Perhaps you find it helps with your learning disability. Perhaps you’re fully sighted and no longer have to read all the on-screen text to your vision impaired loved one. The benefits are limitless.

What are you waiting for? Get filming / recording / writing and send your feedback to: bca@bca.org.au

Bonus points if you include a furry friend!

Introducing Audio-only Social Media

Close up photograph of a smartphone with the words 'Clubhouse drop-in Audio' on the screen and a waving hand emoji. The phone lies on a keyboard, beside a pair of headphones.
Image by Boumen Japet via Shutterstock

Alongside Audio Description, on this blog we have often highlighted the increasing popularity of audio in general. For example, Australia’s recent audio festival and the practice of ‘audiobooking’ Netflix shows.

This trend appears to have spread to social media, as a recent ABC article explores the growth of audio-only platform Clubhouse in the context of the pandemic.

Clubhouse is a drop-in audio chat hub that describes itself as “a new type of social network based on voice—where people around the world come together to talk, listen and learn from each other in real-time.” Currently invite-only, the platform has been gaining momentum as more and more people join up.

In an age of working from home, where furniture outlets are selling fake bookshelves to make people look good on Zoom calls, audio-only is a relief.

James Purtill

Curtin digital anthropologist Crystal Abidin is interviewed in the article, likewise noting that the lack of visuals is actually a selling point for this new social platform:

“Clubhouse came about and said, ‘Hey, this is audio only. No need for video — we’re only going to hear your voice […] It feels like Clubhouse is taking away from all that Zoom fatigue.”

To learn more, read the ABC article here.

We will continue to follow the ongoing evolutions of audio on this blog. If any of you are lucky enough to score an invite to Clubhouse, please share your experiences in the comments below!

Have your say: Participate in our Survey!

On a bright yellow background, the words 'Your Opinion Matters' are centred in large speech bubble emerging from a cartoon megaphone.
Image by Blan-K via Shutterstock

The AD research team at Curtin University invite you to participate in a brief survey that is seeking to gather information about the use of Video on Demand sites by people with disabilities or people who use accessibility features. 

Video on Demand is a relatively new way of accessing television through the internet and is a rapidly growing part of the media environment. We are very keen to gather diverse perspectives on how accessible the different services offered actually are!

The survey consists of 23 questions and should take approximately ten minutes to complete.

You can access the survey here.

Many thanks in advance to everyone who participates. Your input is much valued and may contribute to enhancing the future of Video on Demand services.

SBS brings audio description to VAST

A man and woman sit snuggled on the couch watching television. She holds the tv remote and reaches into a bowl of popcorn sitting on his lap.
Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

More good news for Aussie TV lovers. If you receive television services via Viewer Access Satellite Television (VAST), using a satellite dish, you can now enjoy SBS’s audio description service.

As we reported previously, SBS currently provides audio description for select programs on the SBS main channel and SBS VICELAND.

Now there are three models of VAST set top box that can receive SBS’s audio description service. Information about how to access VAST is available here.

Instructions on how to set up audio description on these set top boxes, and a schedule of SBS programs with audio description, are on the SBS website at https://www.sbs.com.au/aboutus/audio-description-services

Coming Soon: Australia’s First Audio Festival

Photograph of a girl wearing pink lipstick, lying on the floor listening to headphones. Her dark hair swirles around her head, covering her eyes and the top of her head..
Image by whoalice-moore from Pixabay

To celebrate their 30th anniversary, audio specialists Eardrum have commissioned 30 artists, thinkers, and entertainers to release a new piece of audio each day of September. The result is Earfest 2020: Australia’s first audio festival.

“[W]e guarantee you the best seat in the theatre of your mind.”

Earfest 2020

With participants including comedians, musicians, poets and actors, the lineup promises a treat for sound-lovers everywhere. ARIA winning singer/songwriter Ruel, Cold Chisel guitarist Ian Moss, and satirist John Safran are just the beginning. You can find the full list of performers here.

“Covid-19 has devastated the art’s sector. This Festival allows us to celebrate the power of audio but more importantly support those with the skills to harness it at the time they need it most.”

Ralph van Dijk, Eardrum founder

To participate, you just need to register your name and email address on the festival website. Each day of September, they will release a new piece of audio and email you the link.

Admission is free, but they invite donations to The Shepherd Centre, raising money for hearing impaired children.

VCR Fest: Melbourne Fringe Goes Online

Image depicts a colourful montage of simple 80s style graphics including the text 'Welcome to the Internet' and 'Learn to use the Internet: level 3'
Festival icon / Harriet Gillies and Solomon Thomas

Many performances and events have been cancelled recently as a result of the ongoing pandemic. Some organisers, however, decide to adapt and shift their content online. This can result in innovative new forms of sharing and collaborating with others, and has the potential to expose fresh audiences to content that is otherwise inaccessible for reasons such as geography, finances, or disability.

Streaming Fri 31 July – Sun 2 August, VCR Fest is three days of digital events coming from our home, to yours.

The Melbourne Fringe‘s VCR Fest is an example of one such event, offering 13 diverse shows and workshops that can be accessed from home. There is even a “digital foyer” where viewers can discuss things with others, just like a live performance.

The full program of VCR Fest events can be accessed here. Aiming to be inclusive, they offer detailed accessibility information about each activity or performance. Although audio description does not appear to be immediately available, recordings of each event are made that could potentially be audio described afterwards.

“For accessibility reasons we understand you may need to watch the event outside of the specified time or require longer viewing. While it is impossible to recreate the entire digital live experience (including interacting with other audience members in our digital foyer), we are pleased to be able to offer a replay of the majority of our digital content. If you require longer or flexible event access or would like to know more, please email info@melbournefringe.com.au or call (03) 9660 9600. Please note that we are unable to offer this for all events, and access will not be immediate.”

If you are interested in one or more of the 13 events, visit the Melbourne Fringe website.

Feedback is invited, if you have any thoughts or requests regarding accessibility:

“As we navigate this digital world, we welcome your feedback and ideas on how we can make our digital events as accessible as possible. Get in touch with our Access and Inclusion Coordinator, Carly Findlay, on carly@melbournefringe.com.au or call the office on (03) 9660 9600. You can also reach us through the National Relay Service, just give them our number.”

In response to COVID-19 the organisation also aims to develop “a bespoke digital platform to host digital art on our website.” We look forward to seeing more exciting developments!

Exploring the World from Home via Audio Description

Photograph of a woman with a tranquil expression, her eyes closed, wearing blue headphones.
Image by Omar Medina Films from Pixabay

Online arts activities, such as virtual tours of galleries, museums and other landmarks, have become increasingly popular in the last few months due to the spread of coronavirus. However, not all of these activities are fully accessible or audio described.

To assist people self-isolating and staying home during the pandemic, Access2Arts have posted a short list of audio described arts resources from around the world.

“Enjoy Audio Described film or head on an Audio Described tour of famous landmarks, galleries and artworks without paying a cent or getting up from your couch!”

The links include audio described content from Australia, Taiwan, Iran and the UK.

The authors invite readers to share any further resources, so please contribute if you know of any others!

How did you find your Audio Described tour? Have you stumbled across an Audio Described finding that can be enjoyed at home? We would love if you shared it with us. Flick us an email, or send us a message on our Facebook or Instagram

Access2Arts

The SBS Audio Description Trial Has Begun!

Photograph of fresh popcorn in a cheerful striped container
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

We have some much-needed good news to share.

Blind Citizens Australia this week announced that SBS has begun a trial of its new audio description service. AD will be provided for select free-to-air television programs on SBS One (ch 3 or 30) and VICELAND (ch 31).

SBS have shared a list of programs that will be audio described on their website, plus information on how to access AD on different televisions.

“Audiences can enable audio description for SBS and SBS VICELAND on their television or set top box by updating their audio language settings. These settings can be changed by selecting AUS (Australian) or ‘Unknown’ instead of ENG (English) as the secondary audio language setting, by using your TV’s remote control and on-screen menu options.”

More detailed instructions can be found here.

Programs to be audio described include popular films such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Sat 25th April 8.30pm on SBS) and Clueless (Wed 22nd April 8.30pm on SBS VICELAND).

Image shows two screenshots from the film Clueless. Best friends Cher and Dionne are sitting at lunch together. In the first frame, Cher asks "Would you call me selfish?" In the second frame, Dionne replies. "No. Not to your face."
Dionne (Stacey Dash) and Cher (Alicia Silverstone) in Clueless (1995).

SBS is keen to receive feedback during this trial, which will assist the broadcaster in preparing for a more comprehensive service to be rolled out by June 30. Feedback on both practical and stylistic matters is invited.

“The voices providing audio description will be mixed between Australian accents and international accents. SBS will generally be providing human-voiced audio description. In some instances, SBS may acquire programs with synthetic-voiced (machine) audio description. We welcome feedback on audience preferences.”

If you would like assistance in activating audio description, or want to provide some feedback about the service, you can contact SBS directly via email: audiodescription@sbs.com.au or phone: 1800 500 727 (during business hours).

Happy Viewing!

“Audiobooking” Netflix: Mainstreaming audio description during the global lockdown

Close up photograph of a keyboard, focusing on the number seven key, which also includes the word 'home'.
Photo by Alicia Solario from FreeImages

A core area of interest for the Curtin research team behind this website has been the potential benefits of audio description (AD) for television viewers who do not necessarily identify as blind or vision-impaired. To find out more, we surveyed various focus groups including audio book readers, parents of young children, people with autism, film students, and everyday television fans.

In our report we noted that “sighted participants were largely unaware of AD and had ‘no idea’ it could also be of use to sighted people.” However, “once they were made aware, sighted participants expressed interest in using the service and showed a preference for higher quality AD” (2019, p.73).

As millions of people around the world are confined to their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, the potential benefits of audio description for mainstream audiences have become even more important.

Our focus group participants found audio description useful in a variety of domestic settings, especially multitasking while performing daily activities such as cooking, crafting, playing music, or caring for children. With schools closed and many people working from home, tools that assist with multitasking are more valuable than ever.

There are increasing signs that people in lockdown would benefit from audio description. A recent article by Akriti Rana for TechPP suggests that AD is useful for “audiobooking” Netflix content during quarantine:

“[S]ometimes, it is just not possible to keep your eyes on the screen – you might have some chores, you might actually be working on something and so on […] Fortunately, there is a way around this. Your can actually listen to the Netflix show or film just as you would an audiobook – compete with descriptions, music, and dialogue, allowing you to visualise the action, even if you are not in a position to watch it.”

The article includes detailed instructions on how to access AD through Netflix and an explanation of its origins:

“[AD] was initially designed to help the visually challenged experience the Netflix universe, but it is just fine for those times when you simply cannot sit and veg-out in front of your TV but cannot wait to know what happens next either.”

This kind of article provides a valuable service by raising public awareness of audio description. It also illustrates how world events are impacting mainstream consumption of media. AD makes film and television more accessible for everyone, which is crucial in our changing world.

As many are now observing, the enforced isolation of the general public is highlighting issues that people with disability have been dealing with for a long time.

“[T]he coronavirus pandemic has brought into sharp focus the critical importance of digital communication for businesses to run smoothly during this period, and its importance in allowing those staying at home to remain connected with friends and family, deterring loneliness. The value we see in digital communications must apply to people with disabilities, too. We must ensure going forward that websites and digital media are fully accessible, and that captioning and audio description become the norm, not the exception, so that people with disabilities can enjoy the very same benefits we’re experiencing right now.”

– Caroline Casey, “COVID-19’s isolated world is the norm for people with disabilities.” World Economic Forum, 7th April 2020.
Photograph of a coffee mug sitting in front of a flat screen television showing the Netflix logo
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