Audio Description Service on television

Audio Description Service comes to ABC and SBS

You could have knocked us over with a feather the other day when a friend told us that the ABC were now running ADS on many of their TV shows.

“But being Advertising-free is the ABC’s whole point of difference,” we protested, “all the ads on the commercial networks drive us around the twist!”

Our friend took us by the hand and kindly reassured us that ADS is, in this case, an acronym for AUDIO DESCRIPTION SERVICE.

This news made us feel a whole lot better! In fact, it made our day!

And it’s not just the ABC who are running this excellent feature, SBS, our other favourite broadcaster, are stepping up to the mark as well.

So, what is the Audio Description Service and how does it work?

Let’s use the example of young visually impaired girl who, like countless other youngsters in Australia, absolutely adores the TV show “Bluey”. Thing is, she relies on Mum or Dad to ‘fill the gaps’ around the existing dialogue, and describe what’s happening on screen.

And though that’s a lovely ‘together’ activity for parent and child, it’s not always practical or possible. The Audio Description Service is essentially an extra narration track that verbally describes relevant visual elements such as, say, facial expressions, or a new background scene or landscape.

And of course this service doesn’t just delight Bluey-loving youngsters, there’s not a single age bracket in the visually impaired demographic that doesn’t stand to have their TV experience improved markedly by this technology.

We should note here that this service isn’t provided for all shows on SBS and ABC: some shows lend themselves better to Audio Description: dramas, documentaries and kid’s shows are brought to life moreso than, say, the News, where the speed at which newsreaders and reporters race through the items doesn’t allow the necessary pauses for Audio Description to be inserted. Same goes for current affairs and sports programming. (Though some sports commentary does a very good job already, describing the visuals, play by play.)

Broadly speaking, the better quality, or more popular the show, the more likely it is to get the ADS treatment by ABC or SBS, (and they have an ‘AD’ symbol affixed to them on most online and print TV guides.)

We can’t let this dispatch go by a moment longer without acknowledging the long campaign waged by advocacy group Blind Citizens Australia, that helped bring this most excellent service about. As Emma Bennison, CEO of Blind Citizens Australia says: “It just enables people to participate in that social conversation that’s often driven by the media.” Emma and her team’s efforts were certainly instrumental in persuading the Federal Government to unlock the necessary funding to make it happen

On a practical level, here’s few quick points to consider: the ability to access Audio Description is reliant on having a TV that’s set up for it. So if you’re still holding on to that old Sanyo model from 1975, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to access this function. If you’ve got a tele that was made sometime this side of 2012, however, you should be right. You may require a sighted person to assist with the initial set up.

Many TV’s have an ‘accessibility’ section in ‘settings’. If your television has accessibility settings, go to those settings and turn on audio description. (Alternately, check your remote for a button with the words ‘Audio’, ‘Settings’, ‘Options’, ‘Smarthub’ or ‘Language’. They may just lead you down the digital pathway to success.)

This is just the beginning, really. In an exciting development, streaming service Netflix is introducing Audio Description technology on many of its original shows, and we can only imagine that other content providers will ultimately follow suit.

Get ready to binge!

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