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.

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!