Audio description: improving access to media

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Australia lags behind many other countries, including New Zealand and the United Kingdom, in making television accessible to people who are blind or have low vision. 

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 cannot see. 

PIAC is representing Lauren Henley, who is legally blind. Ms Henley claims that the Commonwealth Government has failed to take all reasonable steps towards providing audio description in Australia, in breach of her human rights under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The technology exists for audio description to be provided on television. It was successfully trialled on the ABC’s free to air television service in 2012, and its iview service in 2015 and 2016, but moves to make it introduce it permanently on either service have stalled. 

The Department of Communications and the Arts is currently convening an Audio Description Working Group to examine options for increasing the availability of audio description services in Australia. The Working Group will provide a report to Government by 31 December 2017.

PIAC encourages the Working Group to recommend legislative reforms to the Broadcasting Services Act that would make it a mandatory condition of television licenses for broadcasters to screen a minimum of 14 hours per week of audio-described content.


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