Overview of AD
Audio description (AD) provides access to television for people who are blind and vision impaired. It is widely available on broadcast TV around the world, and Australians are calling for the service to be returned to ABC1 following its 2012 trial.
Current status and updates
The Senate supported a motion introduced by the Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, calling on the Federal Government to amend the Broadcasting Services Act to include a requirement for all free-to-air and subscription television services to provide audio description. Siewert called the audio description trial on the ABC’s iview “a step in the right direction but many who are blind or have low vision experience significant barriers to accessing iView”.
Earlier in August, Stephen Jolley, who has been blind since birth, started a petition on Change.org, asking the Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, to change the broadcasting laws so that free-to-air television channels must provide audio description for the blind and vision impaired.
In July 2015, Dr Katie Ellis, a senior research fellow in the Department of Internet studies at Curtin University, called for a new policy on audio description to be introduced in Australia to bring it in line with captioning. In an opinion piece on the Asia and the Pacific Policy Forum website, Ellis writes, “We have policy in place for those who can see but not hear, through closed captioning, but policy in Australia has failed to catch up with the needs of those who are blind.”
Eariler in July, Suzanne Hudson, the president of Tweed Blind Citizens in Tweed Heads, NSW, launched a case against the ABC in the Federal Circuit Court, claiming that it has unlawfully discriminated against her by not providing audio description. Hudson is calling for 14 hours of audio described programs per week, and is being represented by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC).
New trial launched April 2015
ABC's iview AD trial launched on 14 April and is currently available for iPhones and iPads, and Android devices. In order to receive audio description, you need to download the latest version of the iview app and activate the accessibility features before viewing a program. The trial will be extended to desktops in September, and HbbTV in October.
Programs initially available with audio description include New Tricks, Grantchester, Fortitude, Redfern Now and Poldark, as well as children's programs Bubble Bath Bay, Deadly 60 and The Worst Year of My Life.
AD has not previously been tested on iview, so there may be technical issues during the trial. Given this, the ABC has promised to provide regular updates as the trial progresses, hoping to quickly address unforeseen problems.
The results of this time-limited trial will add to the Government's understanding of the delivery options available for AD in Australia. The Government expects to receive a report on the outcomes of the trial from the ABC after it concludes in July 2016. This report would provide a basis for further engagement with the ABC.
Media Access Australia's ABC launches trial of audio description on iview article provides more information, including how to locate audio described programs, an instructional video on the trial, and the ABC's help line to call for further assistance.
In February 2015, Vision Australia lodged discrimination complaints with the Australian Human Rights Commission against the Seven, Nine and Ten networks, SBS and Foxtel for not providing an audio description service. Its Tell the Whole Story campaign webpage includes a form letter to the Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, which people can fill out, giving their own experiences of audio description and explaining why they want it on television.
Vision Australia sees the planned ABC iview trial as a positive development, but notes that it will not benefit the two-thirds of blind or vision impaired Australians who do not have access to the internet.
In October 2013, the ABC’s technical report on the trial was finally released to the public. The previous government had stated that after this report was released, discussions would be held with the ABC, consumer representative groups and other stakeholders about the introduction of a regular service. We are calling on the new government to stand by this commitment.
In July 2013, Blind Citizens Australia (BCA) lodged 21 disability discrimination complaints against the Federal Government and the ABC for not providing an audio description service. BCA commenced conciliation discussions with the ABC in 2014. The discussions are being brokered by the Australian Human Rights Commission, and are ongoing.
In August 2012, the ABC commenced a 13-week technical trial of audio description (AD) on ABC1 that aimed to assess the technical challenges of delivering AD in Australia. This was the first time that AD was made available on television for over 600,000 Australians who are blind, vision impaired or can benefit from the service.
During the trial, thousands of people sent emails, letters and postcards to the then Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, and the ABC’s Managing Director Mark Scott, urging them to commit to an ongoing audio description service.
- Greens Senator calls for audio description on TV, August 2015
- Petition started to bring audio description to TV, August 2015
- Academic calls for new audio description policy, July 2015
- Blind viewer sues ABC for not providing audio description, July 2015
- Egypt audio describes its first feature film, June 2015
- Why does Netflix’s accessible offering hit Presto and Stan for six?, April 2015
- AD 2020 – what will happen to audio description in the next 5 years?, April 2015
- Vision Australia launches audio description campaign, February 2015
- Vision Australia lodges audio description complaints against broadcasters, February 2015
- ABC's technical report released to the public, October 2013
- Disability discrimination complaints made against Federal Government and ABC, July 2013
- Federal budget fails to deliver on audio description, May 2013
- Our letter to Senator Conroy, April 2013 [439KB]
- Our letter to Mark Scott, April 2013 [467KB]
- Delivering audio description in Australia: overcoming technical hurdles, March 2013
- Communiqué to government, 28 February 2013
- Blindness sector report, December 2012