In the Curtin disability research team, we sometimes use infographics and comics to help raise public awareness and understanding of our work and the assistive features we advocate for. These will periodically be shared on this blog, starting with the one below – which was created to draw more attention to audio description.
Note: all 4 sections of the infographic are accompanied by alt text.
The AD research team at Curtin University invite you to participate in a brief survey that is seeking to gather information about the use of Video on Demand sites by people with disabilities or people who use accessibility features.
Video on Demand is a relatively new way of accessing television through the internet and is a rapidly growing part of the media environment. We are very keen to gather diverse perspectives on how accessible the different services offered actually are!
The survey consists of 23 questions and should take approximately ten minutes to complete.
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.”
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!
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.
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.