ACCAN calls on networks to use windfall to improve accessibility

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Tuesday, 10 May 2016 08:00am

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) has called on the free-to-air networks to use some of the windfall from a 25% cut in licence fees announced in this year’s budget to increase captioning levels and introduce audio description.

A woman holding a remote control pointing at a TV

ACCAN’s press release notes that the 25% licence fee cut follows a 50% cut in 2013. “This funding could be used to improve captioning on free-to-air TV for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing and to put in place technology that would allow the networks to introduce audio description for people who are blind or vision impaired,” said ACCAN Disability Policy Advisor, Wayne Hawkins.

Captioning in Australia still lags well behind the U.K. and U.S.A., where it reached 100% on virtually all TV channels years ago. In Australia, captions are currently only mandatory on primary free-to-air channels from 6 am to midnight, while the only programs required to be captioned on the multichannels (such as 7Two, Gem, One and ABC2) are repeats which were originally captioned on a primary channel.

The situation with audio description is even worse. Audio description is available on television in the U.K, U.S., Canada, New Zealand and other countries, but despite the fact that a successful trial was held on ABC1 in 2012, there is still no regular service on television here. A number of complaints have been lodged with the Australian Human Rights Commission over the lack of audio description on the ABC and other free-to-air and subscription services, but these have not yet been resolved. For more information on them, see the Audio Description website.

Another trial, on the ABC’s online iview service, is currently under way, but this is of no use to the many blind and vision impaired consumers who do not have access to the internet. The iview trial will finish at the end of June, and the ABC is currently seeking feedback on it.

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