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.
On (22nd May) the Minister for Communications, the Hon Mitch Fifield, released the long awaited report of the Audio Description Working Party, some five months after it was finalised and provided to his Office.