From Dots to Digital: a History of Communication

By Vaughn Bennison

For a person who is blind or has a significant vision impairment, gathering appropriate information to be able to fully contribute to the community and to feel empowered to participate equally with sighted peers, can be difficult and require significant training.

A fully sighted person has constant access to visual information. Images, signs, logos, news headlines etc., are all easily available without effort, and are often internalised without consciousness. A blind person, who must actively seek the information they require, is often at a significant disadvantage, and will sometimes interpret information differently, which can prove frustrating or embarrassing.

Several years ago during a re-branding exercise for an organisation I was involved with, we were discussing the visual aspect of our brand and its impact on the community – brand awareness. As an example, the person running the workshop was discussing the “Yellow M”. Not wishing to appear ignorant, but also extremely curious, I asked the perhaps obvious question, “what is the relevance of a yellow M”?

Much laughter ensued, and in fact the convenor neglected to answer the question. One of my colleagues leaned over and gave me the answer – the McDonalds logo, (the golden arches), of course, is a yellow M!

The above example may seem insignificant, but it is indicative of the problems people who are blind or vision impaired face on a daily basis. This obvious disadvantage is widely recognised but the ramifications perhaps, particularly in the general community, little thought of.

This is equally true for information which relates directly to blind and vision impaired people, and is a battle faced constantly by service providers, consumer organisations and other entities which support or include people with print disabilities. How do we ensure that all of our information is accessible to everyone? The method must be simple, complete, familiar and far-reaching.

A variety of innovative methods have been developed over time to communicate information accessibly and efficiently. Exploring the history of these communication methods, and highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of each, may teach us valuable lessons about how to approach this on-going communication challenge in the future.

For many years, braille has been a fundamental and significant part of the education of blind people. But educators of blind and vision impaired people once viewed braille with great suspicion. It was widely believed that blind people should read raised print and that other forms of writing, such as braille, were inappropriate.

One wonders whether the thought of blind people learning and understanding something that fully sighted people generally did not was at the root of this belief. One of the greatest advocacy victories by and for blind and vision impaired people resulted in braille being widely recognised as their official written language.

Anyone who has learned braille can freely read books and other publications. The braille reader has complete control of what they read and their reading pace. They also gain an understanding of the information they are reading – including spelling, punctuation, layout etc., which frequently eludes the non-braille reader.

More recently, with the development of electronic braille, one of the significant disadvantages of the format has been greatly reduced. Instead of having multiple bulky volumes for one book, a braille reader may have multiple books available on one device. The potential disadvantage of this, of course, is the sacrifice of layout and formatting information which can be difficult or impossible to comprehend when reading one line at a time.

To produce high-quality hard-copy braille, expensive specialist equipment is required, and expert proof readers and transcribers must be employed. These factors amplify the cost and the time it takes to produce braille, and limit the amount of braille which can be produced. This means, for example, that using hard-copy braille to enable a blind person to read the daily newspaper is generally considered impractical and extremely costly – although it is done successfully in some countries.

Furthermore, braille is often only taught to people who are blind or have a severe vision impairment, and frequently only those who have been so since birth. This means that its use as an information medium is limited to these people, and leaves the bulk of the blind and vision impaired community isolated. Education of braille must necessarily be taught by someone who is a fluent braille reader. The number of teachers who are fluent braille readers appears to be diminishing and therefore standards of braille education may well be lowering, which could have a negative impact on the relevance of braille in the future.

In the early 1930s, technology such as the Gramophone and Radio were well entrenched. It was recognised across the world that both of these held the potential to be extremely useful to blind or vision impaired people – and thus the “Talking Book” was invented. Due to the technology of the time, recording and playing “Talking Books” was initially difficult and inconvenient. In order to minimise the number of records needed it was decided to slow down the speed to fit more information on each side.

Since that time many iterations of the “Talking Book” have been used, from large metal cartridges to both two-track and four-track cassettes. Over time, audio books gained much higher sound quality, and became much more affordable to produce and purchase. The miniaturisation of technologies vastly improved their convenience, ease of use and portability. Imagine today, having to confine your book reading to one room because your audio book player could not be carried with you. Imagine today, having only one book to read and only being able to read for 15 minutes before turning over a record!

Digital technology has further reduced the size and costs of audio book production, enhanced the end-user’s ability to choose their own reading material, and enabled them to carry many books around at one time, on a small pocket-sized device. Further, it is now possible to obtain books immediately without having to rely on the post, and waiting for a copy of the book to become available. Software for smartphones has even realised the dream of being able to log into a library service, choose your book, download it and read it at your chosen speed, and in some cases your chosen format, be that audio, on screen, using Text to Speech technology or using a refreshable braille display.

Blind people now can purchase newly released books, download them and read them at the same time as their sighted counterparts. Services such as Kindle and I-Books have greatly enhanced the availability of written information and inclusion in many aspects of daily life. They have also greatly enhanced the availability of study material for people with a print disability, and increased the potential for manipulation and navigation of books for recreation and study.

But it is not all good news. Audio material may not be appropriate for people with severe or profound hearing impairments. Modern technology can be difficult to learn, potentially excluding people with learning disabilities or low technical literacy. Whilst competitive pressure is gradually making equipment more affordable, it can be prohibitively expensive for many. Certain options are only available on certain equipment, which narrows the choice for some.

Further, many of these options do not account for information of a transient nature, such as that contained in newspapers, community publications and handout material such as some educational material, pamphlets and brochures.

In 1963, a new technology became available and very rapidly gained ascendancy over other forms of audio technology for its sound quality, ease of use, portability and low cost of production. The Cassette tape, originally invented by the Phillips Corporation, was widely recognised as an excellent medium for information sharing. It was easy to mass-produce, cheap to purchase and its size meant it could be easily and affordably sent through the mail.

Not only did this greatly assist the Talking Book, but it made possible the “Talking Newspaper”. For the first time, blind people were able to gain access to information provided in newspapers, which for hundreds of years had been sighted peoples’ best form of access to information relating to their communities and the wider world.

“Talking Newspapers” were usually produced on a weekly basis and were necessarily a digest of information from local newspapers. They were usually produced by volunteers and mailed out to blind people. When the listener was finished with the cassette, it would be mailed back for reuse. This meant that the information was well out of date by the time the end-user received it. As well, the information presented, because of space and time, was incomplete and listeners had no choice about what would be presented.

In the mid 1970s, a group of interested blind and sighted people got together to discuss the use of radio to provide information relevant to blind people. The Australian government opened a broadcast licence category for “Public Broadcasting”, (now known as Community Broadcasting). It was believed that this could be used to provide widespread information for people with a print disability, enabling greater levels of participation in their communities.

This movement grew rapidly, and the first RPH station commenced broadcasting in 1982. Over the next two years, stations commenced in all capital cities except Darwin. There are now 19 stations across Australia under the RPH network. Every day, over 1500 volunteers present information such as newspapers, magazines, books, community publications and information specific to different disability groups.

Whilst this information is available to anyone with a print disability within the catchment area of an RPH station, it does not sufficiently cover those in rural and remote communities. Most RPH stations stream online, but this is not a good solution for these communities, for whom local information is particularly important.

As with the Talking Newspaper program, whilst more useful and current information can be presented, the listener has no real choice about what information they hear and when they hear it. The information tends to be provided in the interests of the bulk of listeners, people who are gaining a print disability through age or illness. This marginalises groups, particularly young people, who have different needs from the bulk of the traditional RPH audience.

Could technology provide the answer for these people? Libraries such as the Vision Australia library publish magazines and daily newspapers for people to read online, or download to their own device. This enables blind people to quickly and easily navigate their local or national newspaper. Not all information contained in a newspaper can be provided in this way, but more choice is available than ever before. Many devices allow the connection of refreshable braille technology, enabling the user to read the newspaper in braille. Otherwise the user may read on screen, or using Text to Speech technology.

This is not an answer for everyone, as a reasonable understanding of technology is required and access to the library, via an internet connection, is essential. But it enables some blind people to obtain the newspaper at the same time as their sighted counterparts, and offers a great opportunity to be fully informed.

Developments in Text to Speech, or Speech synthesis technology through the 1950s and 60s culminated in the design and production of computer access for blind and vision impaired people, principally from the late 1970s. In more recent times blind and vision impaired people are afforded, if not equal access, certainly high quality access to many forms of information via the internet, using screen-readers with speech, large print or braille. Whilst many websites and other internet forums are largely inaccessible, enough information can be gleaned for many people to use smartphones and computers much as their sighted peers would.

But again, we meet the tyranny of cost. Technology does not necessarily come cheap, and whilst it is fair to say that prices are becoming more affordable, it is still out of the range of many people, particularly those who are unemployed, or those living in developing countries. Similarly, for some, extensive training is necessary, which can prove costly and difficult to access.

Technology may also solve one of the biggest problems faced by blind and vision impaired people. What about the small stuff? In the late 1970s, the Optacon, for the first time, allowed blind people widespread access to print. A user, for the first time, could read their own mail, a newspaper, a book, computer printouts etc. entirely independently. These devices were expensive, broke down often and were very difficult to repair. As well, the user required a significant deal of training in the use of the optacon. But it allowed unparalleled access to many forms of written material.

More recently, options exist to enable blind and vision impaired people greater, cheaper and easier access to all forms of written information. Optical Character Recognition software opens up a world of options to a person who is blind or vision impaired. Similarly, the increased ubiquity of barcode reading technology offers access to information relating to household products and other items. Some of these options even allow access to the holy grail, handwriting, enabling blind people to read notes written by sighted people.

Services such as AIRA allow people to be connected directly to sighted people who can “see” for them. This allows people who are blind to get assistance with daily tasks and access to information which would be difficult or impossible without this option. These services have their downfalls; expense, reliance on technology and internet access, but may provide many answers long looked for by blind and vision impaired people.

There are two important lessons we can learn from this history. Firstly, the increasingly rapid rise of new technologies can encourage us to dismiss old ones. But it’s clear that there is no one communication method which suits every person or situation.

For a large number of people, those for whom technology is difficult and/or expensive, and those who live outside areas of good internet coverage, radio and audio books may be the best option. For others who are well versed in access technology, there are a vast and increasing number of options. For many, who require information outside what can be provided by technology, braille is still the answer.

Organisations which communicate to people who are blind or vision impaired should strive to enable as many people as possible to participate in whichever aspect of life they choose. To achieve this, it’s vital that we acknowledge the vast variety of needs and circumstances within the blind and vision impaired community. To make information genuinely accessible, it may be necessary to use a variety of these communication methods, even those which some may call antiquated.

Secondly, the communication practices we use today were mostly developed through innovative problem-solving. It’s important that both at a community level, and among service providers, we continue to encourage and support such innovation into the future. It is clear that none of these methods would have saved me from the embarrassment of not understanding the “Yellow M”. Is this the new frontier for accessibility?

Regardless of which technology or method we employ, there is still no easy way for a blind person to “discover” the wealth of information which is constantly available to the sighted person, from logos, to colours, to personal appearance. But given the progress we’ve made in the last century, it’s quite conceivable that through the evolution of technology, and more problem-solving, much of the information we still struggle to access may one day be at our fingertips.

Editor’s Note

As well as the host of BCA’s New Horizons radio program and podcast, Vaughn Bennison is the CEO of 7RPH in Hobart, and former Chair of RPH Australia. I commissioned this article from him as an experiment in longer-form essays, exploring topics in more depth than our typical word count will allow. I’m very interested in whether you’d like to see more of this kind of piece in future editions. If so, please let me know via email to bca@bca.org.au.

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My Aged Care Explained

By Sally Aurisch and Kristin Nuske

Editor’s Note

Amid all the publicity, positive and negative, around the National Disability Insurance Scheme, many readers are struggling to find an answer to their most urgent question: “what happens to me if I’m over 65”? Sally Aurisch and Kristin Nuske, who’ve both worked closely with My Aged Care participants and providers, offer some much-needed clarity around how this system will impact on people who are blind or vision impaired.

***

My Aged Care is the main entry point to the Aged Care system in Australia. It is a government program which provides information and referrals to older Australians. It helps them access services and supports that are required to continue to live independently at home, or, if necessary, move into a facility that provides a higher level of care.

My Aged Care is available to Australians who are over the age of 65, and to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are over the age of 50. While My Aged Care is not specifically designed to support people with disability, older people with disabilities who don’t meet the age eligibility requirements for the National Disability Insurance Scheme are now expected to access disability-related support under this scheme.

To begin receiving support through My Aged Care, you must first call the Contact Centre for an initial screening assessment. The Contact Centre will then refer you for a further face-to-face assessment, which will generally take place in your home. It is advisable to have a friend or family member with you during your assessment. They may be able to provide additional information to the assessor that you had not been aware of. We recommend you discuss any thoughts or concerns you both have prior to your meeting, to ensure you are both on the same page and you are in the best position to receive the assistance you require.

There are two ways you can receive support through My Aged Care; through an Entry Level Package called Commonwealth Home Support Program, or through a Home Care Package. The type of package you are referred for will vary depending on your needs.

An Entry Level Package will enable you to access a variety of mainstream services that can assist you with tasks such as home maintenance, cleaning, community transport, cooking and grocery shopping. There is generally no waiting time between when you are made eligible to receive services under an Entry Level Package and when services commence.

You will choose service providers from a list of identified service providers available in your local area, and you will make a financial contribution towards these services if you are able to. It is now a requirement of My Aged Care that all service providers publish a list of their fees and charges. You should read these carefully before signing up with any provider, to ensure that you make the most of your package.

If you are made eligible for a Home Care Package, you will be allocated a set amount of funding, as defined by your level of needs. There are four levels of Home Care Package, basic, low, medium and high. You will be supported to write a care plan, a document that contains a series of goals. You will use your allocated funding to help you achieve these goals.

A Home Care package offers you more flexibility. You can choose where you receive your services from, and use your funds towards expenses for assistive technology or a dog guide if required, as long as your expenses fit within your allocated budget.

There are only a set number of Home Care Packages available at each level at any one time. This means that unlike the Entry Level Package, although you may be eligible for services, you may have to wait until a package is available, or you may receive a lower level package until one at the level you require is available. During your wait, you may be able to continue to receive services through the Entry Level Package.

A Home Care Package also enables you to access the services of a Case Manager, who can support you to write your care plan and assist you to source the services you require. A Case Manager is an additional cost that will be taken from your Home Care Package. Case Managers are not essential; you can manage your package yourself if you choose.

BCA acknowledges that there are significant inequalities between the support available to people who are blind or vision impaired under the NDIS and that which is available through My Aged Care. We are lobbying for three urgent changes which we believe are vital to ensuring a fair and just system.

These changes include:

  • Improving equity between the NDIS and My Aged Care systems;
  • Abolishing co-payments for disability specific supports in My Aged Care, and
  • Making sure that people who have been blind for a long time who will be over 65 at the time of NDIS roll-out have the right to sign up to the NDIS.

We strongly believe that all people who are blind or vision impaired should receive the same level of support, regardless of their age. We have been proactively advocating for change on these issues through our policy and advocacy work, and will continue to do so into the future.

In October 2018, the Terms of Reference were released for a Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. The Royal Commission is accepting submissions until June 2019. Though BCA is preparing a submission, we encourage you to make your own submission online, describing sub-standard service delivery you’re aware of, or suggesting changes to the Aged Care system.

Our website has recently been updated with significant changes to the Support for Over 65’s page, including a series of new fact sheets on My Aged Care that cover a variety of topics.

And BCA’s Support Linkages Officer, Kristin Nuske, can now provide one-on-one assistance to members with pre-planning, support them in meetings and assessments, and help resolve issues with the My Aged Care Contact Centre. Please be aware that due to the national reach of this service, it can only be provided via telephone and email.

We also encourage all members to continue to provide feedback on My Aged Care to BCA. Your experiences will directly influence the work that we do in this area. To give feedback or get help accessing My Aged Care, call BCA on 1800 033 660, or email bca@bca.org.au. To get in touch with the My Aged Care Contact Centre, please call 1800 200 422.

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NSW/ACT State Division Update

By Joana d’Orey Novo

For those who don’t know me yet, I am the Chair of BCA’s NSW/ACT State Division. You may recall that the Division was formed when Blind Citizens NSW and BCA consolidated in late 2017. The task of winding up Blind Citizens NSW is almost complete. My colleagues on the Division Committee are:

  • Bill McKennariey
  • Graeme Innes
  • Justin Simpson
  • Marie Shang
  • Stephen Belbin
  • Susan Thompson.

Later this year, NSW and ACT BCA members will be able to nominate and vote for membership of this Committee. Information about nomination and election will be provided closer to the time.

It seems like only yesterday that we gathered to launch our Division and Division Plan, in Newcastle on 14 July 2018. We are once more about to turn our minds to planning for the 2019-2020 financial year. As I discussed in previous updates, the main focus of the State Division Plan was to foster and develop our sense of belonging and community. This theme has come through very strongly in the Division’s activities to date, and will continue to inform and influence future initiatives.

History and our part in it is a crucial aspect of belonging. It reminds us of what has gone before us, and that we are part of something bigger. The Legacy Project, led by Graeme Innes, is producing a five podcast series documenting the oral history of blindness advocacy in NSW and the ACT. This podcast is in its final editing stage, and we are hoping to launch it at this year’s National Convention.

One of our main initiatives in 2018 was Spring into Action Month, a series of events across NSW and the ACT culminating in our first NSW/ACT Division Convention in Newcastle on 27 and 28 October 2018. Events held during Spring into Action Month included a taxi forum in Canberra, an audio described tour of an art gallery in the Tweed Valley region, and a lunch with a visiting Taiwanese choir in Sydney.

The Convention was a great success, with the most well received sessions covering a range of topics from AIRA and other technology to diverse parenting experiences. The drumming circle was also a favourite. Interestingly, over 50 people listened to a range of sessions through our live stream. It is encouraging to know that Convention is still accessible to those not able to be there in person.

In exciting news, the Sydney Branch has been reactivated under the coordinator model, with Sondra Wibberley as Branch Coordinator and Barry Chapman as Deputy Coordinator. In an example of how technology can help bring our community together. Members gathered in Sydney to join the AGM, which was held in Melbourne. Those at the Sydney site were able to contribute and vote at the meeting. Members then held a Christmas lunch, followed by trivia hosted by Barry Chapman.

You may not be aware that when Blind Citizens NSW and BCA consolidated, Blind Citizens NSW’ funds were donated to the Jeffrey Blyth Foundation to establish a sub-fund, named the Shirley Fund after Shirley House, a property once owned by BCNSW. The Shirley Fund is building satisfactorily. Quarterly reports on this fund, and grants from it, may be found on the Jeffrey Blyth Foundation page.

We will keep you posted on upcoming Division activities. If you have any questions about the Division’s work, please feel free to send me an email at joanadn76@gmail.com.

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The Battle for Accessible EFTPOS Continues

By Emma Bennison

For over two years, BCA has been working with our members in an attempt to convince the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) to cease rolling out its Albert EFTPOS device. Albert is a touch screen only terminal which is inaccessible to many of us because it is buttonless and requires people who are blind or vision impaired to undertake a tutorial in order to enter their PIN. For many, the only option has been to divulge our PIN to a third party – a breach of our credit card contracts.

The Court Action:

Following the termination of complaints in the Australian Human Rights Commission, BCA members Graeme Innes and Nadia Mattiazzo made the difficult and courageous decision to take their matters to the Federal Court, with the legal assistance of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, (PIAC). In December, the parties agreed to an out-of-court settlement, and the case was withdrawn.

On behalf of BCA members, board and staff, we extend our sincerest gratitude and appreciation to Graeme and Nadia for their commitment to what we understand was a difficult negotiation. While we in no way hold Graeme and Nadia responsible for the outcome, BCA’s strongly held view is that the terms of the settlement are unsatisfactory and will do little, if anything, to improve access to the Albert device. Nor are we confident that it will send a strong and unequivocal message to the banking industry that people who are blind or vision impaired will push back strongly and definitively against inaccessible banking products and services into the future.

The Settlement:

The terms of the settlement include:

  1. A commitment from the CBA to release updated software which will apparently improve the accessibility of the Albert.  
  2. Endorsement of the banking accessibility principles, recently launched by the Australian Banking Association, which can be found on their website.
  3. A commitment to merchant training to increase awareness of Albert’s enhanced accessibility feature. This will involve an initial letter to all merchants, publication of an instructional video for merchants and reminders on the CBA’s invoices to merchants about how to use the accessibility feature.
  4. An agreement to publish a training podcast or video for card holders about the accessibility feature and how to use it, and a commitment to conduct annual training sessions in various capital cities, for people who are blind or vision impaired.   
  5. An agreement to make a public statement which details the agreed outcomes of the settlement and commits the bank to putting accessibility at the forefront of future product development. This statement is available on the CBA website.

BCA’s Response:

As we understand it, the accessibility enhancements that the CBA proposes releasing are not new. In fact, several members had the opportunity to test them in late 2017. Many who did so reported that while they represented an improvement, entering a PIN accurately and consistently was still not possible, particularly in noisy environments.

BCA welcomes the launch of the banking accessibility principles as a helpful road map for the future. However, we note that they are not legally binding and therefore not enforceable. While merchant training and awareness strategies are helpful, they are unlikely to be effective, given the high staff turnover in retail and hospitality. They would be unnecessary if the bank was prepared to make devices with tactile numeric keypads available in addition to the Albert.

We acknowledge that an instructional video or podcast for card holders represents an improvement on CBA’s training approach to-date. However, we continue to assert that it is unacceptable that we should be required to undertake additional training simply to enter our PIN. This is an imposition which sighted customers would neither accept nor be asked to accept.

So Where Does This Leave Us?

In a nutshell, what we are left with is a device which is inaccessible to many of us, yet continues to be rolled out at an alarming rate across Australia.  Many of us had hoped that a win in this case would compel the CBA to cease the roll out of Alberts until a solution could be found; but instead we are still expected to put ourselves and our fellow customers out while we grapple with learning how to enter our PIN, or to breach our credit card contracts by divulging it to a third party. In the mean-time, the bank continues its refusal to provide devices with tactile numeric keypads as an alternative to the Albert.

What Comes Next?

There are four key areas we will focus on in 2019:

  1. BCA is working with Graeme to develop a plastic tactile overlay template prototype for testing with the Albert device. Assuming it works, we will approach the CBA to see whether they would be willing to distribute the overlays to their merchant customers for use by people who are blind or vision impaired. Should the bank be unwilling to do so, we will distribute them directly ourselves so you can use them when you encounter an Albert.
  2. We encourage you to continue to use our “touch screen EFTPOS postcards” to make businesses aware of the inaccessibility of Albert. If you need these sent to you, please call or email us.
  3. Once the new accessibility features are released, we will work with affected members to lodge additional complaints of disability discrimination and to identify other relevant complaint mechanisms.
  4. We will work with our legal advisers to draw attention to the shortcomings of Australia’s Disability Discrimination law, and to seek solutions to the risks and challenges it poses to individuals and organisations attempting to use it to effect change.

The CBA case was covered in January by the ABC’s 7:30 program. The story is available to watch online. As always, we’ll keep you informed of all developments, and take any new opportunities which arise to advocate for our right to accessible banking.

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A New Push for Audio Description

By Angela Jaeschke

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 nation-wide.

It is important to note that Australia is the only OECD country which doesn’t have AD available on TV – with comparable countries the UK, US and New Zealand all providing an AD service on free to air TV. Australia does “describe” many home-grown films, and popular shows such as “Home and Away’ and “Neighbours” have an Audio Description track when shown in the UK. The commitment to Audio Description from subscription TV services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video shows that the service has the demand, and it continues to develop through these platforms.

Over many years, there have been a number of AD trials conducted by the ABC, and numerous complaints to the Free-to-Air TV networks directly, as well as to the Human Rights Commission. In April 2017, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield announced the establishment of an Audio Description working group. In December of that year, the final report of the working group was handed to the Minister.

The report was published on the Department of Communications’ website on 22 May 2018, along with a brief statement from the Minister, advising that further policy work is being done. Frustratingly, more than 12 months after the report was completed, this process has not resulted in a commitment from the current government to introduce a permanent Audio Description service on Australian television.

On 3 December 2018, Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John marked International Day of People with Disability by asking a number of questions in the senate, one of which related to Audio Description. Whilst the Government’s response was as evasive and inconclusive as ever, we welcomed the question and appreciated the attempt to put pressure on the Government to act.

In the same week, the Greens also tried to introduce a bill to legislate for the provision of Audio Description on Free-to-Air TV, however the Government moved to resume debate in the Senate before the bill could be formally introduced. We are appreciative of support from the Greens and hope that in the lead-up to the next federal election, all sides of politics will support our right to watch TV.

Also on 3 December, BCA launched a stand-alone campaign to encourage the general public to contact their local Federal MP about Audio Description on Free-to-Air TV. We have created a short video for sharing on social media which 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 AD and a postcode search function to identify your local Federal MP. This function brings up contact details and links to a pre-populated email which is sent to the user’s MP directly from their own default email address. The user can also choose to add their own thoughts, or make changes to the message. The email reminds the MP of the need for Audio Description and that Australia is the only OECD country not to have AD on TV. It reiterates that it is relatively inexpensive to provide AD on television, as we import many programs that are “described”, and we already produce description for many of the programs we export. The email concludes by asking the MP what they intend to do to address this issue.

The campaign has recently received some media attention, including stories on ABC’s “AM” and an interview for Network 10’s “The Project”. This rare interest from a commercial TV channel is a positive sign, and we intend to capitalise on our momentum as much as possible. If you can, please help the campaign by following our Facebook and Twitter pages, and sharing far and wide, using the hashtag #TV4All.

If you’re not on social media but would like to get involved, you could email your family and friends and ask them to share the campaign video on their social media. And, while this campaign is primarily targeted at the general public, we strongly encourage you to visit www.tv4all.com.au and send a personal message to your local MP.

The Audio Description blindness sector working group has been developing a number of plans to further the public and political awareness of Audio Description. An Audio Description event in Canberra, where politicians were invited to meet with representatives from the sector working group, was held on the first parliamentary sitting day in mid-February. Thank you to WA Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John for hosting this event. This was an important opportunity for awareness raising to politicians ahead of the progression of the Broadcasting Services Act, and in the lead up to the federal election. It was also great to have SBS News report on the event on the same day.

We will keep you updated on outcomes of the work of the sector working group, and of any further responses we might receive from the minister or other influential politicians. In the meantime, we encourage you to engage with the TV4ALL campaign, at www.tv4all.com.au.

Editor’s Note

Audio Description will be discussed in more depth in a workshop at this year’s National Convention. As part of the workshop, you’ll have a chance to talk about your personal experiences of Audio Description, and offer suggestions about how you’d like to see the practice change and improve. We’re looking forward to a great conversation about the past and present of AD, and hopefully a glimpse of a better future.

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