Vision Australia has called on Television networks to provide an audio description service for blind and low vision viewers, similar to teletext for hearing-impaired viewers.
It has lodged complaints with the Australian Human Rights Commission against Seven, Nine, TEN, SBS and Foxtel, with representation by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre.
Audio description is a second audio track that can be turned on and off, describing important visual elements of a television program – such as actions, scene changes, gestures and facial expressions. Currently, there is no legislative requirement to provide audio description in Australia.
Vision Australia said it is asking for a minimum of 14 hours of audio described content per week on each channel.
PIAC’s CEO, Edward Santow said, “Australia lags behind the rest of the world in providing audio description. Countries such as the UK, the US, Ireland, Germany, Spain and New Zealand already provide audio description on free view or subscription television.
“For comparison, the UK’s Channel 4 offers audio description on 20 per cent of their programs – which works out at more than 33 hours per week.
“In the same way as captioning has facilitated media access for people who are deaf, audio description has the potential to significantly improve access to Australia’s cultural life for the 350,000 Australians who are blind or have low vision.”
Blind Citizens Australia has already lodged complaints on behalf of 31 people who are blind or vision impaired against the ABC.
The ABC trialled the technology in 2012 but there were over 1000 complaints from viewers whose reception of ABC1 was disrupted because of the audio description broadcast.
A new trial will commence on iview in April and run for 15 months but a report won’t reach the government until the second half of 2016.
Vision Australia’s General Manager of Advocacy and Engagement, Maryanne Diamond, said “It’s ridiculous that blind or low vision people can watch Home and Away with audio description in the UK but not in Australia.”