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Calls to Make Audio Description a Priority

26 May 2017 at 4:22 pm
Wendy Williams
The government is being called on to prioritise audio descriptions in a bid to make free to air TV more accessible for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Wendy Williams | 26 May 2017 at 4:22 pm


Calls to Make Audio Description a Priority
26 May 2017 at 4:22 pm

The government is being called on to prioritise audio descriptions in a bid to make free to air TV more accessible for people who are blind or visually impaired.

During questioning in estimates on Wednesday, WA Greens Senator Rachel Siewert asked the government to explain why there was no funding for audio descriptions in the budget, and why the issue was not being prioritised.

According to Siewert, Australia is the only country in the OECD not to provide audio description, which is designed to assist people with vision impairment and those with print, learning and physical disabilities to enhance their understanding of what is happening on the screen.

Siewert told Pro Bono News she wanted to question the government about “where they’re at”.

“There were some questions that we were following up just in terms of where they’re at and in particular in terms of licensing fees being done away with. They have made some allocation of resources for things like sport, and I basically asked why hadn’t they also made allocations for audio descriptions,” Siewert said.

“The government’s response was, they are in the working group this week and they’re going to be looking at the way forward, but my response was at the time why didn’t you allocate money to audio descriptions, you’ve already had the trial, you know it is ready to go, or it can be and he just said: ‘Well it was a government decision’.

“It is hugely disappointing… they have been putting the community off and it seems to me that they had an opportunity to make some significant progress here.”

Siewert said Australia was “so far behind”.

“We have signed up to the convention on the rights of persons with disability and here we are still just looking at the possibility of audio description,” Siewert said.

“We’ve been working quite closely with a number of the advocacy groups in the space and we are going to continue to be advocates on this issue.”

In April the Australian government’ announced plans to set up a working group to investigate how audio-described programs could be delivered on Australian television.

Speaking last month, Vision Australia lead policy advisor, Bruce Maguire said he welcomed the move and that bringing everyone to the table meant getting audio-described programming on Australian television “finally has a real chance”.

“Audio description services have been available internationally since the 1980s. Television is a very important part of Australia’s cultural, recreational and social life where asking someone ‘Did you catch that on TV last night?’ is a regular part of everyday conversation,” Maguire said.

“To date, the blindness and low vision community has been excluded from sharing major cultural, sporting and news highlights with their family and friends. As a result of the government’s decision, we are confident that this situation will change in the not-too-distant future.”

The working group is set to identify options to increase access to audio description services, and investigate potential technology, financial and copyright challenges.

It will also consider the results of the audio description trials which were conducted on the ABC in 2012 and 2016, and evaluate alternatives to legislative requirements and incentives.

Maguire said the working group was “recognition by the government that people who are blind or have low vision have the same right as the rest of the community to enjoy television, and all broadcasters have a responsibility to uphold that right”.  

“Audio description has the potential to bring improved television access and cultural inclusion to 357,000 Australians who are blind or have low vision, in the same way captioning has done for people who are deaf or have a hearing impairment,” he said.

Siewert said the working group was still focused on the “possibility” of audio descriptions.

“From our point of view, it is not the possibility of it, it is when are you going to put the resources in and what are going to be the standards. How are you going to start rolling it out and what are the terms of reference? That’s where we think the government should be, not another committee,” she said.

“I want to see some milestones put in place for achieving much better progress.”

She said audio descriptions made a “really significant difference”.

“I have now done audio description a number of times and the impact it makes on people’s ability to actually enjoy being able to engage is so important,” she said.

“Unless we do this, people are being isolated, they are being excluded, and they’re not able to enjoy the medium of television.”

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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