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Australian government announces new television audio description working group

05 April 2017

Blindness and low vision advocates have welcomed the Australian Government’s decision to set up a working group to investigate how audio-described programs can be delivered on Australian television.

Vision Australia Lead Policy Advisor, Bruce Maguire explained that by seating representatives from the broadcasting and streaming industries, audio description service providers and consumer representatives at the same table, 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,” Mr Maguire advised.

“Ironically, viewers in the United Kingdom can enjoy audio-described versions of classic Australian programs such as Home and Away and Neighbours Mr Maguire advised.

“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 will 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.

“The working group is 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,” Mr Maguire concluded.

Further information

  • Audio description has been available on American television since the late 1980s. Since then, it has been introduced in many European countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Thailand, Japan, and South Korea.
  • Vision Australia has lobbied the Australian Government over a long period of time to introduce audio-described programs on free-to-air television.
  • In February 2017, Vision Australia, in collaboration with the blindness and low vision sector, submitted a report to the Minister of Communications detailing the blindness and low vision community’s feedback on the audio description trial that was conducted on ABC iview in 2016.
  • The Audio Description Working Group Terms of Reference and the ABC’s Final Report on the Trial of Audio Description on ABC iview are available on the Department of Communications and the Arts website
  • To experience how audio-description works visit the Vision Australia website
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