BCA have put out a call for people to contribute their own stories:
What do you love about audio description on TV?
What would you like to see for the future of AD on TV in Australia?
Now that audio description is available through our national broadcasters, we need to ensure its continuation and expansion.
Send us a video, voice recording, or sentence (or two!) on what you love about audio description on TV.
As we’ve reported several times on this blog and in our research, diverse audiences can benefit from audio description. Accordingly, BCA is encouraging everyone to contribute their experiences:
You don’t have to be blind or vision impaired to submit feedback; perhaps you use AD while cooking dinner, or breastfeeding, or working on a project. Perhaps you find it helps with your learning disability. Perhaps you’re fully sighted and no longer have to read all the on-screen text to your vision impaired loved one. The benefits are limitless.
What are you waiting for? Get filming / recording / writing and send your feedback to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
“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.
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.