“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!

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.

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!

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.