Tell the Whole Story: Audio Description on TV

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Audio Description: Tell the Whole Story

remote control pointed at a TV

Vision Australia has launched a campaign - Tell the whole story – in a bid to get the Commonwealth Government to put audio description on Australian television so it can be enjoyed by the 350,000 people who are blind or have low vision. 

Audio description is a visual description, through narration, which describes what is happening in a television program during the natural pauses in the audio, and sometimes during dialogue if deemed necessary. 

Eight-six per cent of respondents who participated in a recent Vision Australia survey said they want audio description made available on Australian television because it gives the full TV experience. 

The results also showed that news, documentaries and current affairs were the most popular types of shows they want audio described. 

The ABC’s Australian Story, Nine’s Big Bang Theory and Seven’s Home and Away also rated highly in the list of shows that those surveyed wanted audio described.

Australians who are blind or have low vision have been advocating for decades for audio description on television. Captioning is currently available for people who are deaf but television remains out of reach for the thousands of people who are blind or have low vision.

Audio description has been available on American television since the late 1980s. Since then it has been introduced in many European countries and in New Zealand in 2012. 

Vision Australia’s General Manager of Advocacy and Engagement, Maryanne Diamond, said numerous trials have been undertaken in Australia and now is the time for permanent change.

“Permanent, real-time, audio description on Australian television enforced by legislation is the only way to remove current discriminatory barriers for the 350,000 Australians who are blind or have low vision,” she said. 

Vision Australia has met with the former Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, to explain the need for audio description on Australian television.

Audio description on the ABC

In 2012, Australians who are blind or have low vision experienced full and independent access to Australian television for the very first time with the commencement of a 13 week technical trial of audio description on ABC1. For each week of the trial, 14 hours of audio described content was provided.

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.

Audio description and iView

Former Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull, announced the commencement of a new audio description trial on its online iView service from April 2015. While this is a positive development, audio description on iView alone will not meet the needs of Australians who are blind or have low vision. 

Vision Australia estimates that around two-thirds of Australians who are blind or have low vision do not have access to the internet and would therefore have no means of accessing the iView audio description service. Those with internet access will have to pay the cost of streaming iView content that is free for the general population. As iView is the ABC’s catch-up service, people who are blind or vision impaired would also not be able to watch shows at the same time as family, friends and colleagues.

What do we want Government to do?

Vision Australia is calling on the Australian Government to amend the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 to set mandatory audio description targets for not just the ABC, but for commercial stations and the SBS too. This will help to provide a more inclusive television experience for Australians who are blind or have low vision by allowing them to fully experience a range of television content.

A coalition of organisations representing people who are blind or have low vision is in the process of investigating complaints against the major free-to-air and pay television stations. If you are interested in finding out more information about this please contact

Support Stephen Jolley’s petition on

Stephen Jolley has launched an online petition to urge Communications Minister, Mitch Fifield, to change the Broadcasting Services Act so audio description will become available on Australian free to air TV.

Read more about Stephen’s petition and add your signature to help make this change. If you can, tell your friends about it and promote it through social media to help us reach 10,000 signatures.

Add your voice

Add your voice to the campaign for Audio Description on Australian television. Write to the Minister for Communications, Mitch Fifield, by completing the form below with your details and personal experience.

Your details, along with the following campaign message will be emailed to Minister Fifield's office.

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Vision Australia's campaign message

Dear Minister Turnbull,

I implore you to take action to ensure that audio description is finally made available on Australian television.

Audio description is the auditory narration of the visual elements of a television program, such as scenes, settings, actions and costumes, through a separate soundtrack between gaps in dialogue.

Without audio description, people who are blind or have low vision are unable to fully engage with their favourite television programs.

They also can’t appreciate the experience of watching or discussing television with others, which is a regular pastime that most Australians take for granted.

Limiting audio description to catch-up services online also don’t allow for this and are particularly useless for sport, news and current affairs.

Making audio description available on all Australian television stations by establishing mandated service levels would allow people who are blind or have low vision to experience television in a more inclusive way.

Australia has fallen behind the rest of the world. The majority of comparable countries around the world have audio description on television, including both the United Kingdom and Canada, who have compulsory standards for television broadcasters in the provision of audio described content.

My personal interest in audio description is...

Your personal experience

Please explain your personal experience of audio description in the following field and why you want it on Australian television. This explanation will be added to the Vision Australia campaign message (Word, 97KB) and sent to Minister Turnbull on your behalf.

This issue is begging for your leadership.

I look forward to receiving your response. 

Yours Sincerely,

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