Campaigning for Audio Description on Australian Television

 

Help us to bring television to life for more than 450,000 Australians who are blind or vision impaired.

 

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 an audio described clip from ‘The Hunger Games’ 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, Blind Citizens Australia 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. Blind Citizens Australia 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, Blind Citizens Australia 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. Blind Citizens Australia 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. Blind Citizens Australia 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 has still not been made publically available, nor has the Minister published his response to the report.

Blind Citizens Australia would like to extend a special thanks to the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) who have provided extensive pro bono legal assistance to Blind Citizens Australia 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?

 

We remain hopeful that the Minister’s response to the final report of the audio description working group will establish a clear plan of action for the implementation of a permanent audio description service on Australian television. Over the past few months, we have met with a number of politicians to discuss this issue in further detail and suspect an announcement will be made in the not too distant future. If this process does not provide us with the access we need, we still have a few other strategies up our sleeve so watch this space for further updates.

We can’t give up the fight until provisions for audio description on Australian television have been incorporated into Australian law, as this is the only strategy that will provide guaranteed access to television for Australians who are blind or vision impaired. The squeakiest wheel gets the most attention, so we’d love for you to get involved in our work and help advocate for change. If you’re willing to take up the challenge, below are a few things you might like to start with.

Step 1:

Help us increase awareness of audio description in the community by sharing the video #ADonTV on Facebook or Twitter, briefly explaining why audio description is important to you. Feel free to link back to this page or share the video directly from our YouTube channel.

Step 2:

Call or email one or all of the following in the next few days. Explain why audio description is important to you and ask them to take action to ensure steps are taken to implement a permanent audio description service on Australian television in 2018.

Senator Mitch Fifield
Minister for Communications
Phone: (03) 9584 2455
Email: senator.fifield@aph.gov.au

Your local MP. Contact details for your local MP can be found here: https://www.aph.gov.au/Senators_and_Members/Members

If you aren’t quite sure what to talk about when contacting a Minister or local MP, our short position statement about audio description on television might help. You can read the position statement here (Word doc).

Step 3:

If you are able, you might like to consider donating to our campaign to help us spread the word and build on this advocacy for 450,000 Australians who are blind or vision impaired.

 

 Support our campaign by donating today

Have more questions?

 

For further information about our campaign work around audio description on television, contact our Policy and Advocacy Manager, Lauren Henley. Lauren can be contacted by phone on (03) 9654 1400 or free call 1800 033 660. Alternatively, you can contact Lauren by email at lauren.henley@bca.org.au.