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
Photo by John-Mark Smith from Pexels

Upcoming Perth Event: Audio Described Theatre

Photograph of a night sky speckled with many stars, over a dark slope punctuated by several trees. A meteor is passing, and the line of its bright tail is visible among the stars.
Night sky image via Wikimedia Commons

This month, the acclaimed Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company are presenting Djinda Kaatijin (to understand stars), a collection of Dreaming stories from various countries around the world.

Yirra Yaakin (Yir-raarh Yaarh-kin] which means “Stand Tall” in Noongar language, is one of Australia’s leading Aboriginal performing arts organisations producing award-winning, world-class theatre that is exciting, entertaining, educational, authentic and culturally appropriate.

Through a mix of traditional Noongar dreaming stories and contemporary Indigenous storytelling, Djinda Kaatijin explores the importance of the stars and how they are culturally important to us all.

Join Weitj (Emu), Dwert (Dingo) and Wardong (Crow) as they take us on a journey through the milky way to learn about the Seven Sisters (Pleiades) while interweaving star stories from around Australia and the world, including stories from India, Spain and Scotland as well as Noongar Boodjar. After all, it’s all our stars. It’s all our dreaming.

(https://coogeelive.com/events/djinda-kaatijin/)

The Sunday 8 March performance at 12.45pm on the LiveLighter Community Stage will be Audio Described by DADAA.

  • Venue: Livelighter Community Stage, Powell Road, Coogee Beach
  • Date: 8 March 2020
  • Day: Sunday
  • Time: 12:45 pm (Tactile Tour at 11:30am)
  • Cost: Free
  • See map:
    https://coogeelive.com/map-times/

The performance is free, but bookings are essential. Email: jacqueline@dadaa.org.au.

For Audio Description at the event, you will need to download the Sennheiser MobileConnect app (available for iOS and Android) and connect to the DADAA Wifi Mobileconnect WiFi network (available at the show) with your own mobile device. You will need to bring your own earphones.

For more information, please contact Jacqueline Homer:

Jacqueline Homer
Head of Production
DADAA
Email: jacqueline@dadaa.org.au
Mobile: 0400111018
Phone: 9430 6616
Address: 92 Adelaide Street Fremantle WA 6160
www.dadaa.org.au

Happy Holidays: Australian Government commits to funding Audio Description on ABC and SBS!

A close up image of a lit sparkler against a festive green background
Photo by Paul Green on Unsplash

In a media release published yesterday the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts announced that the Australian Government will provide $2 million each to the ABC and SBS to introduce audio description on broadcast television.

The Hon Paul Fletcher MP explained that “as a result of this funding, the national broadcasters are expected to begin offering audio description services to audiences by 1 July 2020.”

This is a huge development for blind and vision impaired viewers, audio describers, activists and researchers who have been working towards the provision of audio description on free-to-air television in Australia.

In response to the news, Emma Bennison, CEO of Blind Citizens Australia (BCA) states that:

“This is a fantastic step forward for Australians who are blind or vision impaired. BCA has been campaigning for AD since 1996 and more recently, organisations across the blindness sector have joined with us to highlight the human right of people who are blind or vision impaired to watch television with family and friends.’

Further comments from BCA can be read here.

Australian Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John also responded positively, with a note of caution regarding the extent of the funding:

“Whilst this is a huge win for our blind and vision-impaired communities, it is disappointing to see that this government has not committed to requiring commercial free-to-air television stations to provide audio description as well.

“The commercial stations – Channel’s Seven, Nine, Ten and Sky – are now on notice. The technology is readily available and cheap, and the community expects them to follow suit and make sure their content is accessible to blind and visually-impaired Australians!’

The Greens response can be read here.

Curtin University Professor Katie Ellis agrees that the move is very promising:

“This funding injection is fantastic news for Australian television audiences who are blind and vision impaired. Many shows screened on Australian television are already audio described but the broadcasters lacked the technology to make these tracks available. This $4 million will propel Australian broadcasting forward and in this era of personalised television who knows how audiences will make use of this accessibility feature.

“The Australian government should be applauded for their support of audio described public broadcasting. There is no reason why the commercial broadcasters can’t begin providing this feature too.’

Research conducted through this website has shown that both disabled and nondisabled people agree when it comes to accessible television; everyone who participated in our focus groups thought that free-to-air TV should be audio described and available to all.

Importantly, yesterday’s press release notes that “the Government will not prescribe the way in which the ABC and SBS deliver audio description services.” Questions regarding standards and modes of delivery are thus left open to further research and discussion, as broadcasters begin to determine how they will implement these changes next year. Past and current research into audience reception and different styles of audio description will be pivotal in ensuring the services provided by the ABC and SBS are effective.

We will continue to report on these issues as the national broadcasters move to implement audio description in the New Year.

For now, it’s wonderful to celebrate good news as 2019 comes to an end!

Labor commits to AD prior to Australian election

The image depicts a close up photograph of Australia on a map, with place names and state boundaries visible. Pins have been placed in various locations on the map, mainly down the East coast.

Ahead of the federal election this month, the Australian Labor Party have committed 4 million dollars to assisting national broadcasters in implementing audio description on television.

In a media release titled TV For All Australians Under Labor, Michelle Rowland (Shadow Minister for Communications) and Senator Carol Brown (Shadow Minister for Disability and Carers) acknowledged that:

“Australia is the only English-speaking country in the OECD yet to provide audio description – an additional feature that describes the visual elements happening on screen that sighted people take for granted. This is shameful.

Australians living with blindness or low vision should have equal access to television, and our national broadcasters should lead the way in delivering audio description in Australia.”

The media release goes on to identify how the Labor Party intends to address this problem if they are elected:

“Labor acknowledges the financial and technical challenges that implementation of audio description may involve for some television broadcasters.

That is why a Shorten Labor Government will work constructively with the wider broadcast industry to develop a framework and timetable for the implementation of audio description by commercial and subscription services.

In accordance with the co-regulatory system of broadcast regulation, and in the event the framework and timetable is not satisfactorily implemented, Labor will move to legislate for audio description.”

Vision Australia have welcomed this news.

The Australian federal election will be held on May 18, 2019.

Help us Launch our Report!

This month we are excited to reveal that our research on audio description in Australia is being launched as part of Curtin University’s Research Rumble.

The event is free to all, taking place 5pm to 7pm on Wednesday 27 March at the Old Perth Boys School, 139 Saint Georges Terrace in Perth. Food and drinks will be provided, along with copies of our detailed written report. The event is being audio described, and accessible versions of the report will be available on USB. There will be special guests, snacks, and lots of interesting discussions, so please join us as we launch this important research into the world!

To book online, please click here to visit the event page. To book via telephone, please contact Curtin’s Research Office on 08 9266 5874.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Gwyneth, Katie, Leanne, and Mike

New AD Legislation Proposed in Senate

There have been exciting developments this week as Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John introduced a bill in the Australian Parliament to amend the Broadcasting Services Act 1992.

Senator Steele-John presents the bill in parliament. He looks ahead with a serious expression, holding the document in his hand. He wears a dark suit, glasses, and a tie depicting bright indigenous art.
Steele-John presents the audio description bill in Parliament on February 12, 2019.

The Broadcasting Services Amendment (Audio Description) Bill 2019 would make it compulsory for free-to-air television broadcasters to provide audio description on some content. The bill also addresses the quality of audio description provided and recommends ongoing reviews to ensure it is satisfactory.

Vision Australia recorded the historic proposal, posting a video of Sen Steele-John on their Facebook page.

SBS World News Radio reported the events as well, posting this recording on their website:

This bill presents an important step forward in the journey towards audio description on broadcast television and Katie Ellis (from our research team) was in Canberra for the event. We are especially pleased to see a West Australian Senator at the forefront of such advancements and look forward to providing more updates as the situation develops!