Australia’s first totally accessible ad hits TV screens
18 May 2019 at 12:00 pm
Despite 96 per cent of Australian adults with a visual impairment regularly watching free-to-air TV, the absence of an audio description function means they will often miss out on much of what is happening on screen.
Australia is one of the only developed nations to not have the audio description function on free-to-air TV, which narrates a program describing what is happening on the screen during pauses in talking.
But last week, broadband provider Belong launched an advertisement with audio description, and to mark Global Accessibility Awareness Day on Thursday, featured the accessible commercial across all advertising platforms.
A Blind Citizens Australia member posted to Instagram when the commercial aired and said she cried after being able to understand what was going on in the advertisement.
“As I stood in my kitchen listening to the news a commercial came on by Belong and there on public mainstream TV was audio description of the commercial… My husband and I were so amazed we rewound and listened to the gift of those words again,” the post said.
“Not only did they give me equal understanding of the television media they have given me hope that this is the beginning.”
Kathie Elliott, from the Blind Citizens Australia campaign, TV4All, told Pro Bono News that by having the commercial on mainstream television it raised awareness of an issue that many people were unaware of.
“I think most people who are blind or vision-impaired would be well aware of the fact the function isn’t available, but most of the general public is not,” Elliott said.
“Essentially we’re excluding over 400,000 Australians by not having a description because it means they can’t actually understand what’s going on.”
She said that because people with vision loss or low vision can’t understand what is going on in free-to-air TV shows, they were inadvertently excluded from everyday conversations.
“It’s being part of society to have those watercooler conversations about what happened on last night’s Bachelor or the Project,” she said.
Blind and vision impaired advocacy organisations have been campaigning on legislative action for years to make audio description services a permanent feature on free-to-air TV.
Elliott said achieving legislative change would mean funding broadcasters to provide the service.
Broadcasters have previously defended not having the service by noting the high costs, which conservative estimates place at $12 to $14 million over four years for a station such as the ABC.
Streaming services Netflix and Stan have made the function available in Australia, but Elliott said for older Australians, it was important that it was made available on free-to-air TV.
“For people who lose their vision later on in life, and may be living on a tight budget, they can’t afford to pay for these services, and really rely on free-to-air TV,” she said.
Belong approached TV4All before launching the advertisement, and Elliott said the company promised this was not a once off campaign.
“They told us that they would be running more advertisements in cinemas and such, as part of their commitment that their products are accessible,” she said.