Audio description on TV

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Audio description (AD) is a second audio track that can be turned on and off which describes the important visual elements of a program. It is essential for providing equal access for viewers who are blind or vision impaired. AD is widely available on television overseas but is yet to be offered in Australia.


The ABC's audio description trial and the future of audio description

Audio description services on television are now established in many countries. In 2012, a trial of audio description was conducted on ABC1 over 13 weeks.

Following the trial, the ABC reported to the Australian Government on the technical aspects of the trial's delivery. The report can be downloaded from the Department of Communications website. Media Access Australia has analysed the report and offered solutions to some of the technical issues it raises:

It was expected that the release of the report would be followed by stakeholder discussions about the introduction of a permanent audio description service on the ABC, but this did not happen. As a consequence, in July 2013 Blind Citizens Australia (BCA) lodged 21 disability discrimination complaints against Federal Government and the ABC for failing to provide an audio description service on television, and has since lodged further complaints. While conciliation discussions on these complaints are ongoing, there is as yet no indication when or if the ABC will introduce an audio description service on television.

Meanwhile, in August 2014 the Department of Communications announced that a trial of audio description would take place on the ABC’s catch-up TV service, iview. The trial began in April 2015, with the audio described programs available on iPads and iPhones, Android devices, FreeviewPlus and, after some technical difficulties were sorted out, desktops. At least 14 hours of audio described content was added to iview each week, with a mix of drama/entertainment, documentary/current affairs and children’s programming.

The response of consumers to the trial, which ended in July 2016, was overwhelmingly positive. The ABC has compiled a report on it, and then a group of advocacy organisations, including Media Access Australia, prepared a series of recommendations in February 2017. The Government recently responded to this by announcing the formation of a working group that will report back to Government by the end of 2017 with recommendations. For more information on the latest developments in AD on Australian TV refer to an April 2017 article on the AD on TV Working Group formed by the Government.



Levels of audio description

The highest levels of audio description on TV are found in the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada.

In the UK, all broadcasters have been working towards 10% of audio described programming since 2003, with many channels doing more than this. In the US, legislation passed in 2010 will see the major networks and cable stations broadcast 7 hours of audio described programs per week by 2012.

Germany, Austria, Ireland, France, Switzerland and other European countries have also had some audio described programming.


How audio description is delivered

Television audio description services are usually provided in a 'closed' format. This means that the viewer selects the audio description service via a menu option or button on the remote control.

Audio description is delivered as a second audio stream to your television, and can be either 'receiver mixed' or 'broadcast mixed'. For more information about receiver mixed and broadcast mixed.

View a list of companies that supply audio description services.

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Tags: TV & video