‘Bluey’ will be among the shows on the ABC to be audio described.
Following long-standing advocacy efforts, the ABC and SBS will officially launch audio description (AD) services this week, making their programs more accessible to the more than 450,000 Australians who are blind or vision-impaired.
AD is an additional verbal commentary of important visual elements in a film or television show, delivered between lines of dialogue. This may include movements, gestures, settings and costumes. It can be turned on and off as required, similar to closed captions.
As flagged last December, the broadcasters will each receive $2 million in Federal Government funding over the 2020-21 financial year to provide the service across an average of 14 hours of weekly programming.
Both broadcasters have been running AD trials over recent months, and there have been previous trials on the ABC in 2012 and ABC iview in 2015-2016.
Prior to this, Australia was the only English-speaking OECD country to not provide AD on free-to-air television, with the Australian blindness sector advocating for the feature for more than 20 years. Shows like Neighbours and Home and Away, for instance, are audio described in the UK, but not in Australia.
Streaming services like Stan, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and AppleTV+ provide AD for some titles, and Screen Australia has mandated the feature films it funds have AD since 2011. There are long-standing calls for AD to be legislated for FTA television in a similar way to captioning.
Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts Paul Fletcher said audio description was a necessary innovation.
“As our national broadcasters, it is important that the ABC and SBS provide greater accessibility to content for Australians who are blind or have a vision impairment so that they can better experience television programs.”
Among the shows to have audio description available on the ABC will be: Bluey, Backroads, Gardening Australia, The Heights, Compass, Little J and Big Cuz, Play School and High Fidelity. In July, documentary In My Blood It Runs, BBC series Les Miserables, film Bran Nue Dae, Rosehaven and Monty Don’s Japanese Gardens will all have the service.
Repeat episodes of Four Corners, Australian Story and Foreign Correspondent will also be audio described and broadcast on the ABC main channel and ABC News.
SBS titles to be audio described include Who Gets to Stay In Australia?, Who Do You Think You Are?, Where Are You Really From, Great British Railway Journeys, the Godfather film series, and The X Files.
ABC managing director David Anderson hoped the service would be a gamechanger.
“Since we began our trial of the service earlier this month, we have had a huge response from users,” he said.
“People who are blind or vision-impaired will now be able to enjoy many of their favourite ABC Television shows alongside their sighted friends and family.”
SBS managing director James Taylor said: “We’re thrilled to be making many of SBS’s distinctive and much-loved programs available for more Australians to enjoy with audio description. SBS’s documentaries, dramas and movies take audiences on journeys around the world, create national conversations about issues impacting our society, and provide unique opportunities to be entertained. The launch of audio description is an important step in continuing to improve the accessibility of our content, and ensure more Australians are included and able to engage with and experience our programming.
“I’d like to thank the groups and representatives who have been consulting with us and advocating for the many Australians who are blind or vision-impaired, as well as those who have taken part in our research and provided valuable insights as we have trialled the service. This has been vital in informing our approach. We continue to seek feedback from audiences to ensure we’re best meeting their needs.”
Emma Bennison, CEO of Blind Citizens Australia (BCA), hailed the introduction of AD on ABC and SBS as a “life-changing milestone” and a “landmark step”.
“BCA and other blindness organisations have worked closely with both SBS and the ABC to facilitate their roll-out, and we acknowledge their commitment to providing a quality service that truly meets the needs of our community. We look forward more Australians now being able to enjoy TV with their family and friends, and the continued development of these important services.”
Both the ABC and SBS will roll-out AD services from June 28.