The case for audio description: ABC sued for unlawful discrimination

Suzanne Hudson, who is blind, has today launched a case of unlawful discrimination against the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) for their failure to provide audio description as part of their regular programming – a service that would make ABC TV accessible for the 350,000 Australians who are blind or have low vision.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) represents Ms Hudson in her case, which will be heard in the Federal Circuit Court.

Audio description is a second audio track that can be turned on and off. It describes the important visual elements of a television program – such as actions, scene changes, gestures and facial expressions – that a person who is blind or has low vision can’t see.

Ms Hudson believes that by failing to make its television broadcasting service accessible for people who are blind or have low vision, the ABC has engaged in indirect discrimination.

‘Australia lags behind the rest of the world in providing audio description. Many countries, including the UK, US, Ireland, Germany and Spain, already provide the service on free-to-air or subscription services,’ said PIAC’s CEO, Edward Santow.

‘By comparison, 20% of the UK Channel 4’s programs offer audio description, which works out at more than 33 hours per week.

‘In fact, people who are blind or have low vision can watch Home and Away with audio description in the UK but not in Australia.

‘While the ABC’s decision earlier this year to trial audio-described content via iview has been welcomed by the blind community, there remain significant barriers to people accessing the online service, especially for those who rely on screen-reading software.

‘Audio description has already been successfully trialled by the ABC in 2012, and the technology and accessible content exists, so we are urging the ABC to take this important, permanent step towards equality.’

The case follows the lodgement of discrimination complaints against Channels Seven, Nine, Ten SBS and Foxtel in the Australian Human Rights Commission in February.

MEDIA CONTACTS: PIAC Media and Communications Officer, Gemma Pearce: 0478 739 280. 

Photo: Suzanne Hudson (by Glenn Hunt/ News Corp)

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