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Australian government commits to Audio Description TV funding

The following is a media release from Blind Citizens Australia. This is absolutely fantastic news and a day to celebrate for people who are blind and vision impaired after a long fight for video access.

Australians who are blind or vision impaired are celebrating today, following an announcement by The Hon Paul Fletcher MP, Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, that funding will be made available to Australia’s public broadcasters to implement Audio Description (AD).

AD is a verbal narration which describes scenery, costumes and other visual elements to make television accessible to people who are blind or vision impaired. It is available on some streaming services, however Australia is the only English speaking OECD country not offering AD on free-to-air television.

Emma Bennison, CEO of Blind Citizens Australia, (the national representative organisation of people who are blind or vision impaired), congratulated the Government on behalf of the blindness sector for recognising that provision of AD is long overdue. “This is a fantastic step forward for Australians who are blind or vision impaired. Blind Citizens Australia has been campaigning for AD since 1996 and more recently, organisations across the blindness sector have joined with us to highlight the human right of people who are blind or vision impaired to watch television with family and friends.”

“We welcome the provision of $2 million to each of the ABC and SBS to implement AD. We are scheduled to meet with the ABC early in the new year and look forward to working closely with them on the implementation of AD by July 2020. We also congratulate SBS on demonstrating their commitment to AD by broadcasting a recent series profiling artists with disability, “Perspective Shift” via their “On Demand” service. We look forward to working with them on their implementation also.”

“Now that the Government has taken this important first step towards bringing Australia into line with other western countries, people who are blind or vision impaired are keen to receive reassurance from the ABC and SBS that AD will be a permanent fixture, given we have already been subjected to several trials of the service. We also look forward to AD being enshrined in legislation, in the same way that captioning is for Australians who are Deaf or hearing impaired.”

Media Release Ends:

In celebrating this giant step forward we want to acknowledge the work of our staff who developed and have managed the TV4All Campaign and the many BCA members, who have kept the issue of Audio Description before their local politicians.

BCA’s leadership of the blindness sector working party and the TV4All campaign has no doubt added substantially to our advocacy. However, more recently, two factors have clearly pushed the Government to a positive decision: 

  • Firstly Lauren Henley has been relentless in her pursuit of implementation of AD on television, through her complaint to the United Nations, under provisions of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disability; and.
  • Secondly, when our CEO spoke to staff at the Department of Communications for International Day of People with Disability she, as always, stressed our need for AD.  In a conversation with the Department Deputy Secretary with direct responsibility for broadcast content, he told her that her explanation provided the clearest argument he had heard on why AD is so important to people who are blind or vision impaired.  It seems more than a coincidence that today’s release comes so soon after a senior officer with the direct ear of the Minister had the opportunity to brief him.

And to reflect on the history for just a moment, BCA first argued for the implementation of AD on Broadcast TV when John Simpson undertook a research project in 1996/97 which led to the publication of “When a Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures”. 

Congratulations to all who have worked so hard to achieve this very large step forward.  

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