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!

AD on the ABC: Get Krack!n

Promotional image showing Get Krack!n hosts Kate McLennan and Kate McCartney posing cheerfully on a couch. Text states "New season starts Wed 6th Feb 9pm on ABC iview #getkrackin"

Good news for comedy fans: the second season of ABC’s morning show parody Get Krack!n debuts tonight and will be audio described. The series stars Australian comedians Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan, who have recorded their own AD tracks as shown in this video posted on their Facebook page today.

According to their Facebook post, Vision Australia will be making audio description available for the entire season of Get Krack!n on Vision Australia Radio at 9:30pm in Melbourne, Victoria and Perth and 10:30pm in Adelaide. A podcast will also be available the day after each episode has aired at https://radio.visionaustralia.org/

This season looks set to address disability in skits that target accessibility issues and ‘inspirational’ narratives.

The provision of AD for this popular comedy is a promising development and will hopefully lead to more shows being audio described in future, on the ABC and elsewhere.

Audio Description in Australia: It’s time to allow everyone the right to watch TV

Photograph of an old-fashioned television set, up against the background of a cloudy sky. On the screen, a black and white image of a family watching television.
CC image by Robert Couse-Baker

Recent research by Comcast and the American Foundation for the Blind found that 96% of adults with vision impairment watch the same amount of television as sighted audiences. Many of these audience members make use of audio description – a track of narration describing important visual elements delivered between lines of dialogue.

Example of Audio Description:

However, Australia remains the only English speaking nation in the OECD not to offer it on free to air television.

Audio description is now available via broadcast television in the UK, US, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Italy, Poland, France, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Korea, Thailand, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and a number of other European and Asian countries.

According to Emma Bennison, CEO of Blind Citizens Australia, the Australian blindness sector has been advocating for this accessibility feature to be provided on free-to-air television for over twenty years:

“We have shown extraordinary patience and a willingness to work collaboratively with Government through the various trials and consultation processes, but twenty years is too long, and we will no longer allow Governments to ignore us.”

The trials Bennison refers to were offered by the ABC, one on free-to-air television in 2012 and an iView trial in 2015-2016. There have been no moves to date to make either trial permanent.

Instead consultation on the issue has been ongoing since the late 1990s when the sector called for the introduction of audio description at the same time as digital television. Throughout 2017 the government convened an audio description working group (of which I was a member) to discuss options for the provision of audio description on television. Although three possible approaches were identified, no clear recommendation was put forward.

Speaking on Radio National on the International Day of People with Disabilities Australian Disability Discrimination Commissioner Alastair McEwin highlighted the fact that Australian soap opera Home & Away is audio described on UK television but not Australian. In the same way many American series are audio described however, these audio track are not distributed in Australia.

Even more alarming is the fact that a significant number of Australian television dramas are audio described according to Screen Australia funding agreements yet there is no mechanism to make this track available via broadcast television.

Screenshot from Home and Away showing Roo Stewart (Georgie Parker) and Alf Stewart (Ray Meagher) looking surprised. The caption "strewth" indicates that Alf has just dropped one of his famous catch phrases.
Screenshot from Home and Away (Seven Network)

This week, TV4all launch a new campaign hoping to change this. They are asking Australians to contact their locals MPs urging them to support the introduction of legislation that requires Audio description on free to air television.

In addition to Australia’s clear mandate to offer audio description on free to air television under the United Nations Convention of the Rights of People with disabilities, sighted audiences are increasingly finding value in this service, just as hearing audiences have with captions on television.

As Emily Price explained on Lifehacker:

“I’ve tried it out with a few shows and the descriptions are actually pretty great. Stranger Things may have just become the soundtrack to my morning dog walks.”

Researchers in the Discipline of Internet Studies at Curtin University recently conducted research into the potential benefits of audio description to a mainstream audience. Sighted participants highlighted the benefits of audio description when multitasking during daily activities. Multitasking was described as being able to enjoy television when screen visibility is obscured or their attention is divided:

“For me personally it reduces the reliance on the visual aspect of the shows to follow what is going on, making it easier to follow when I’m trying to do things while watching.”

“I think it opens up more opportunities. Previously I would have only watched a show if I were able to actually give my attention to the screen, however this would allow me to divide my attention and multitask.”

Audio description was also seen as a way to make visual media more accessible when mobile and/or unable to reliably focus on a screen, for example during hands-on activities that required intermittent focused attention. These included cooking, practising a musical instrument, caring for children and crafting.

This large potential mainstream audience seeking to multitask and experiment with digital media combined with over 453,000 Australians living with vision impairment or blindness, represent a significant portion of the audience. There is clear economic and business opportunity for Australian broadcasters to implement audio description as a way to go beyond traditional stationary television ‘viewing’ in an increasingly mobile digital world.

Written by Katie Ellis

It’s time: Australian AD campaign launched

Header image depicting the symbol for International Day of People with Disability, a dark blue figure standing with arms outstretched in the wind

 

 

 

Today is the International Day of People with Disability.

The theme for 2018 is empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.

Today is also the launch of Blind Citizens Australia’s new campaign encouraging the general public to contact their local Federal MP about audio description on free-to-air television.

As it stands, Australia is the only OECD country in the world that does NOT offer audio description on TV.

It’s time to make some noise about it!

Every Australian has the right to watch television, stay informed, be part of culture and communities. It’s time for Australia to join the rest of the world and provide audio description on free-to-air TV.

We will be discussing this campaign and its importance in more detail shortly, but for now we encourage everyone to visit the TV4ALL website and participate in this growing conversation using the #TV4ALL hashtag on social media.

Let’s get the word out!

Online Piracy, Deviance and Audio Description

A person in a dark hat and trench coat peers down at two computer monitors. They are wearing a white mask, hiding their identity. The room is dark, and smoke floats in the air.
CC image by Brian Klug

For people with disability, living on the edges of deviance can be a daily experience and often an unintended consequence of their identity.

The relationship between entertainment industries and the disability community is fraught at best. People with disability continue to be blocked from easy and ready access to entertainment materials despite widespread legislation at both national and international levels to ensure inclusivity and accessibility.

Paul Harpur and Nicolas Suzor affirm that “there are over 129 million book titles in the world, but persons with print disabilities can obtain less than 7 per cent of these titles in formats that they can read.” (Read more in their article: Copyright Protections and Disability Rights.)

Copyright law has been crucial in enabling and blocking access to materials for people with sight impairment.

Special accommodation must be made for a print-based text to be converted into an accessible format for people with disabilities. In 1996, the United States introduced an amendment to enable copyrighted material to be converted into an accessible format. In 1997 a similar act was introduced into Canada. There is no comparable statute in Australia.

Harpur, Suzor and Thampapillai affirm that “there is no broad exception in Australia for reproductions made by or on behalf of a person with a print disability, but there is a statutory licensing scheme contained within Pt VB of the Copyright Act” that allows for an institution operating on their behalf to produce these texts. (Read more in their article: Digital Copyright and Disability Discrimination.)

Importantly, in an age of global entertainment media and international markets items are not transferable to other markets. A text converted under United States law may not be permitted to be sold outside of its national borders. This is particularly discriminatory in the era of the sharing economy and the rise of digital transferable content and social media sites, which have proven to be of great use in the sharing of information and resources among the disability community.

Continue reading “Online Piracy, Deviance and Audio Description”

Study finds blind people watch almost as much TV as sighted people

Image depicting a closed Apple laptop, with a pair of glasses and a smartphone resting on top. The phone is showing the Netflix logo.
CC image via www.quotecatalog.com

A 2017 survey undertaken by Comcast and the American Foundation for the Blind has found that vision impaired people are watching almost as much television as sighted viewers.

Released earlier this year, the press release outlines some important findings, such as:

  • 96% of visually impaired adults watch television on a regular basis.
  • 81% watch more than an hour per day and 55% watch four or more hours per day.

Importantly, this is happening despite ongoing difficulties with access:

  • 65% of those surveyed encountered problems with looking up what’s on TV.
  • 53% experienced difficulty in following along with key visual elements.
  • Less than half are aware of assistive technologies like video description and talking TV guides.

The provision of more readily available assistive technologies, including audio description, would therefore benefit a large percentage of the vision impaired community.

Read more here.

Another useful ‘Life Hack’: Mainstream Reporting on Audio Description

image of a woman wearing headphones
CC image by Audio-Technica

Earlier this year, Lifehacker published an interesting article by Emily Price that highlights the potential mainstream benefits of audio description. It goes beyond traditional stationary television ‘viewing’ to consider the role of audio description in an increasingly mobile digital world.

Sure, you’ve heard of binge-watching shows on Netflix, but how about binge listening?

Netflix has a category of programs that it offers audio descriptions for, where a voiceover explains to you what characters are doing in a scene. With it you can listen to shows rather than watch them, essentially transforming them into something like an audiobook or podcast you can stream while you’re out for a walk or when you’re in bed at night trying to fall asleep.

Price explains that:

I’ve tried it out with a few shows and the descriptions are actually pretty great. Stranger Things may have just become the soundtrack to my morning dog walks.

You can read the full article here.

This is not the first time mainstream media have framed audio description as a ‘life hack’ for a mainstream audience. Inspired by a reddit thread on the topic, Mathew Dunn wrote similarly about audio description in late 2017. To quote Dunn’s article:

In essence, the feature will turn Netflix content into an audiobook so you can keep up with your favourite shows and movies even if you can’t sit down to watch them.

This ‘hack’ was also featured in articles on websites like FHM and Brobible.

Somewhat predictably, FHM frames audio description as a sneaky way to enjoy your favourite shows and films when you are supposed to be doing other things.

We’re not suggesting you do this every day, but should there be a time (or two) during the week when you’re particularly hungover (or simply don’t give a crap about your career) and you want to distract yourself from the bleak reality of office life, we’ve got the perfect way to do it: Netflix audiobooks!

In comparison, Connor Toole presents audio description as both practical and healthy:

As someone with a slightly unhealthy addiction to technology, I’m usually staring at some sort of screen at virtually every point in the day.

[…] I spend a fair amount of time in the kitchen at night. While some people might decide to use music for background noise, I prefer to throw on a TV show from a bingeable series to distract myself.

Articles like these suggest there is a huge potential demand for audio description among general television fans, people who are busy, active viewers, and people who just need a rest from screens.

Australian TV well behind in accessibility for vision impaired

profile of girl listening to headphones
CC image by Jeremy Hiebert

Curtin Research Stories recently featured an article by Daniel Jauk on the subject of audio description in Australia. Associate Professors Katie Ellis and Mike Kent were both interviewed as part of this important discussion. An excerpt is quoted below:

More than 453,000 Australians are known to live with blindness or vision impairment. Despite this substantial number, Australia remains the only English-speaking OECD country in the world that doesn’t require its broadcasters or streaming services to provide audio description.

Most English-speaking countries introduced such mandatory legislation at least 10 years ago. In addition, according to Article 30 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – Australia is required to ensure people with disabilities can “enjoy access to television programmes, films … and other cultural activities, in accessible formats.”

Australia’s unique deficiencies in this regard are highlighted in the article:

“We really missed opportunities when we transitioned from analogue to digital television,” says Associate Professor Mike Kent, the Acting Head of Curtin’s School of Media, Creative Arts and Social Enquiry.

Associate Professor Katie Ellis explains. “The UK, for example, mandated standards for audio description as part of their digital transition, even though they didn’t have audio description in place yet. There was a policy that after a channel had been transmitting digitally for five years, they would need to offer 10 per cent of their programs with audio description. We didn’t do that in Australia.”

The story goes on to examine the Australian context in more detail.

Read the full article here.