May 2021: We have been sharing positive stories of audio description on ABC and SBS on our #TV4All website, www.tv4all.com.au. Now, we would love for you to help our campaign by signing our petition to let our government know that audio description is important, and needs to stay.
December 2019: The Australian government announced that funding would be made available to Australia’s public broadcasters to implement Audio Description (AD). You can now trial the service that the ABC and SBS networks have started implementing, and provide your feedback to help improve this service. Find out more here.
Help us to bring television to life for more than 450,000 Australians who are blind or vision impaired.
As a member organisation that represents people who are blind or vision impaired, Blind Citizens Australia is proud to launch a stand-alone campaign to encourage the general public to contact their local Federal MP about Audio Description on Free-To-Air TV.
This has been done via a separate website and social media pages. We are trying to educate and target the general public to take action on our behalf, hence the visual aspects. The video does have a text description on the YouTube page along with closed captions.
The video explains what audio description is and directs the general public to a new website we have created for this campaign, www.tv4all.com.au. The website contains further information about audio description and a postcode search for your Federal MP. This function brings up contact details and links to a prepopulated email which is sent to the user’s MP directly from their own default email address (with the option to add their additional thoughts or make changes). The email explains the need for audio description, the fact we are the only OECD country NOT to have it, reiterates that it is relatively inexpensive (as we are already audio describing many of the programs that we export) and asks them what they intend to do about it.
On this page:
- What is audio description and why should it be available on Australian television?
- Audio description on Australian television is a human rights issue
- A modern history of the fight for audio description in Australia
- Where are we now, and how can you help?
- Further questions
What is audio description and why should it be available on Australian television?
Audio description (AD) is a service that facilitates access to film, television, live performances or other live events for people who are blind or vision impaired. It involves providing verbal narration during natural gaps in dialogue to communicate information about visual elements such as scenes, settings, actions, costumes and on-screen text.
There is currently no audio description service available on Australian television. In the absence of this service, audience members who are blind or vision impaired are left to simply guess what is happening or are forced to rely on friends or family to access information about the events that are unfolding on-screen. This continues to compromise the social inclusion of people who are blind or vision impaired Australia-wide.
Australians who are deaf or hearing impaired enjoy comparatively high levels of access, with the Broadcasting Services Act now requiring 100% of content that is broadcast between 6:00AM and midnight to be captioned.
Audio description has already been available on free to air television in all other English-speaking OECD countries for many years. In fact, iconic Australian programmes such as Neighbours and Home and Away are already audio described for overseas audiences but are still not accessible to people who are blind or vision impaired in Australia.
Want to see how audio description works? Check out some audio described clips HERE.
You can access Blind Citizens Australia’s Position Statement on Audio Description on Australian TV HERE.
Audio description on television is a human rights issue
The right to access information on an equal basis with others is clearly laid out under Article 21 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. As a signatory to the Convention, the Australian Government has made a commitment to ensure information that is intended for the general public is available to persons with disabilities in accessible formats and technologies appropriate to their needs.
Article 30 of the Convention also commits the Australian government to adopt measures to ensure television programmes are available in accessible formats and can be accessed by people with disability on an equal basis with others.
The Australian Government has laid out a plan for the progressive realisation of the rights set out under the Convention under the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020, which is now entering its final stage of implementation. Under Outcome Area 1 (Policy Directives 1 and 5) of the strategy, the Government has committed to adopting measures to increase the inclusion and participation of people with disability in cultural and recreational life. These measures involve ensuring information and communications systems are accessible to people with disability and are responsive to their needs.
A modern history of the fight for audio description in Australia
Securing a permanent audio description service for Australians who are blind or vision impaired has remained one of our top priorities for many years now.
In December 2010, the federal government released the Media Access Review final report. This report recommended that the government should commission a technical trial of audio description on ABC television, with a view towards establishing a permanent service.
In 2011, we assisted a number of individuals to lodge complaints of disability discrimination with the Australian Human Rights Commission. The complaints were made against the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for their failure to implement an audio description service for Australians who are blind or vision impaired.
In August 2012, a technical trial of audio description commenced on ABC television. The trial ran for 13 weeks, with approximately 14 hours of audio described content being broadcast each week. We worked with a number of partner organisations to produce a blindness sector report in response to the trial. The report can be accessed here (Word doc).
In 2013, we again assisted a number of individuals to lodge complaints of disability discrimination with the Australian Human Rights Commission. The complaints were made against the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for their failure to implement a permanent audio description service for Australians who are blind or vision impaired following the 2012 trial.
In 2015, service provider Vision Australia lodged complaints against Seven, Nine and Ten networks, SBS and Foxtel with the Australian Human Rights Commission, calling on the broadcasters to provide an audio description service.
In April 2015, the government commenced a second trial of audio description on ABC’s catch-up service, iView. The trial ran for 15 months, with approximately 14 hours of audio described content being broadcast each week. We again worked with a number of partner organisations to produce a blindness sector report in response to the trial. The report can be accessed here (Word doc).
In April 2017, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield announced the establishment of an audio description working group. The working group brought together representatives from the broadcasting and streaming industries, audio description service providers and consumer representatives to explore options to increase the availability of audio description services in Australia. We played an active role in the undertakings of this working group.
In December 2017, the final report of the audio description working group was handed down to Communications Minister, Mitch Fifield. The report was published on the Department of Communications website on 22 May 2018, along with a brief statement from the Minister. These can both be accessed here. Frustratingly, this process has not resulted in a commitment from the government to introduce a permanent audio description service on Australian television within a specified timeframe.
We would like to extend a special thanks to the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) who have provided extensive pro bono legal assistance to BCA and other organisations who have been lobbying for audio description on Australian television over a number of years. We would also like to thank the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Greens for their continued support for audio description on Australian television.
Where are we now, and how can you help?
Minister Fifield told us that the Audio Description Working Group would result in tangible change for Australians who are blind or vision impaired, but we’re still waiting. It took the government five months to release the final report of the AD Working Group to the public and still, they have given no indication of a timeframe or proposed pathway to facilitate the implementation of a permanent service.
In a media statement that was published in response to the Minister’s release of the report, BCA’s CEO, Emma Bennison stated:
“Blind Citizens Australia and other organisations across the blindness sector have been advocating for twenty years to get an AD service on Australian television. 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 full media release can be accessed here.
With support from Greens Senator for WA, Jordon Steele-John, and together with the sector Audio Description working group, (made up of organisations that support people who are blind or vision impaired and other interested parties), amendments to the Broadcast Services Act have been drafted, to include legislative requirements for the provision of Audio Description on Australian TV. We continue to work with Jordon Steele-John to introduce the amendments to parliament and have contacted Senators and MPs to ensure they are aware of the issue and to get their support.
If you are frustrated at the fact that there is still no audio description available on Australian television, please phone Communication Minister, Paul Fletcher’s office today and ask him to commit to a plan for the introduction of a permanent AD service in 2019. The squeakiest wheel gets the most attention, so please take up this call to action and encourage your friends and family to do the same. You can also visit our stand alone campaign page, www.tv4all.com.au, to contact your local MP in just a few clicks.
Contact details for Paul Fletcher are as follows:
Electorate office: (02) 9465 3950
Parliamentary office: (02) 6277 7480