Infographic: AD in Australia

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.

Infographic page 1. Title: Audio Description in Australia. A montage of bright cartoon style images run down the page, depicting people using laptops and listening to headphones. A woman walks with her guide dog, and another speaks into a microphone, recording AD. Image text: What is Audio Description? Audio Description (AD) is audio narration recorded to accompany visual events and media such as television, films, streaming video, and live performances. Why is it necessary? AD enables those who are Blind or vision impaired to access visual media by providing additional details about elements this audience cannot see, such as movement, scenery, facial expressions, and costumes. It is typically provided as an additional audio track for viewers to listen to via headphones, apps, and online streaming services. Audio description is an essential accessibility tool for people who are Blind or have low vision. Did you know? Globally, video makes up 80% of all Internet traffic in 2021. Visual media now dominates how we communicate, learn, and connect. Studies show people are twice as likely to share video content with their friends compared to any other type of content. 96% of people have watched an explainer video to learn more about a product or service.
Infographic page 2. A montage of colourful images depict people listening to headphones, watching television, and campaigning for AD. Image text: In order to participate fully in Australian society and culture, all people must have equal access to visual media, both online and offline. This has become even more important since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Did you know? According to Article 27 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community [and] to enjoy the arts." Additionally, Article 21 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that people with disabilities must be provided access to information on "an equal basis with others" through the provision of "accessible formats and technologies." Audio description is not a bonus or luxury, but a basic human right for people with vision impairment. Is it available in Australia? The campaign for audio description in Australia has been ongoing for nearly 30 years. AD is increasingly available on DVDs, in cinemas, at cultural events and subscription video on demand. However, television has lagged behind. Until 2020, Australia was the only English-speaking OECD country in the world that did not require its broadcasters or streaming services to provide audio description.
Infographic page 3. A montage of images depict groups of individuals talking, reporting on graphs, and sharing information with others. Image text: What have we achieved so far?
Infographic page 4. Images include a small globe of the Earth and a man speaking into a microphone with 'AD' on it. Image text: The Future: Where do we go from here? In addition to Blind and vision impaired audiences, the Curtin team have discovered that audio description has the potential to benefit many others in the community including parents of young children, people who work from home or multi-task, people on the autism spectrum, film students and critics, and passionate television fans. Further research and consultation with these groups will be essential for assessing the efficacy of AD and its future development. There are also ongoing questions regarding industry standards that need to be addressed, such as: How do we define quality AD? How does an audio describer negotiate complex issues such as race or gender in their narration of visual media? Do different audiences prefer different styles of audio description? While AD is becoming more available on Australia's national broadcast channels, we are yet to achieve widespread availability or see AD provided on commercial television. Legislating audio description for all Australian broadcasters is the next logical step.


For more information on this research please contact:

Professor Katie Ellis:

Infographic designed by Dr Gwyneth Peaty using Canva.

Have your say: Participate in our Survey!

On a bright yellow background, the words 'Your Opinion Matters' are centred in large speech bubble emerging from a cartoon megaphone.
Image by Blan-K via Shutterstock

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.

You can access the survey here.

Many thanks in advance to everyone who participates. Your input is much valued and may contribute to enhancing the future of Video on Demand services.

“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

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

Online Piracy, Deviance and Audio Description

A person in a dark hat and trench coat peers down at two computer monitors. They are wearing a white mask, hiding their identity. The room is dark, and smoke floats in the air.
CC image by Brian Klug

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.

Continue reading “Online Piracy, Deviance and Audio Description”

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.