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Wednesday, 22 February 2012 14:20

Television for the blind and vision impaired

For the first time the thousands of Australians who are blind or vision impaired will gain full access to television content.


Media Access Australia has successfully advocated for a trial of audio description on the ABC.


Audio description, which adds an audio track to a program describing the visuals on-screen, is essential for blind and vision impaired people to fully understand video content.


Audio description explains scenes, settings, costumes, facial expressions and ‘sight gags’ during gaps in the dialogue. Currently in Australia there is no broadcast on television of audio description.


The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy has committed to 14 hours of audio described drama and documentary content per week on ABC1 for a 13 week period.


Media Access Australia CEO, Alex Varley, endorsed the announcement. “This is great news for blind and vision impaired people. Audio description will provide access for the growing population of seniors, as vision impairment increases greatly as we age.”


“Captioning has been a fundamental element of television broadcasting since the 1980s. Audio description needs the same recognition and support from the federal government,” said Mr Varley.


Audio description has been introduced across New Zealand, Western Europe and North America. The announcement of the trial is a move towards bringing Australia in line with international standards.


The trial will allow the ABC to iron out the technical delivery of audio description, which viewers will be able to turn on as desired.


The ABC will provide a report to the government on the audio description trial in the second half of 2012.


“This is something we’ve been calling for for a long time and we hope that this trial leads to a permanent commitment from Senator Conroy,” said Mr Varley.


The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy said, “I am also pleased to announce a successful tenderer for a consultancy to conduct research and identify appropriate consumer equipment for decoding receiver-mixed audio description technology has been selected.


“This consultancy will help people with a visual impairment participate in the trial by identifying digital televisions and set-top boxes capable of receiving audio description and the steps involved in activating this functionality.


The government worked closely with industry in the development of the talking set-top box technology in Australia and carried out a trial as part of the Household Assistance Scheme rollout in regional Victoria.


These boxes have receiver-mix capability and will allow viewers to participate in the audio description trial.


For those who are deaf or have a hearing or speech impairment please contact the Department through the National Relay Service:

  • TTY users phone 133 677 then ask for 02 6271 1000

  • Speak and Listen (speech-to-speech relay) users phone 1300 555 727 then ask for 02 6271 1000

  • internet relay users connect to www.relayservice.com.au and then ask for 02 6271 1000.


Media Access Australia is Australia’s only independent not-for-profit organisation devoted to increasing access to media for people with disabilities.


About audio description

Audio description is a recorded commentary on all the important visual elements of a program, delivered between gaps in the dialogue, allowing a blind or vision impaired person to follow the action.


It is well established in the UK (where the main stations must provide it for at least 10% of programs, with some volunteering to do 20%), some other European countries, and the US. An audio description service was also introduced in New Zealand last year, after a trial conducted by TVNZ. Programs now regularly audio described there include New Zealand’s most popular drama, Shortland Street.


Audio description is an additional audio track which can either be combined with the program’s original soundtrack at the broadcaster’s end (broadcast-mixed), or transmitted as a separate track which is mixed with the original soundtrack in a viewer’s digital receiver. The ABC trial will consist of receiver-mixed audio description.


The audio description will be ‘closed’, which means that viewers with the appropriate equipment will be able to turn it on and off. A blind or vision impaired person will also be able to use headphones to listen to the audio description while others in the room do not hear it.


It is believed that there are already a number of digital televisions on the Australian market which are capable of playing receiver-mixed audio description. In addition to these, Bush Australia released the Bush Talking Set Top Box last September. The box, which was designed with assistance from Vision Australia and Media Access Australia, was originally developed for the Household Assistance Scheme which is being coordinated by the Australian Government’s Digital Switchover Taskforce. As part of the scheme, talking boxes were distributed free of charge to blind and vision impaired people who requested them in regional Victoria in 2011.


22 February 2012.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 February 2012 18:10
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