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.”
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!
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!
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/
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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.