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16 December 2019

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”. 

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

The Centre for Accessibility is a joint project by Media on Mars, DADAA and Dr Scott Hollier and is funded by the Department of Communities, Disability Services.

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