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.