Minister to prod for TV audio descriptions

Free-to-air and public television broadcasters will soon receive a letter from the federal communications minister encouraging them to offer audio descriptions.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield will write to free-to-air and public television broadcasters to ask how they can start offering audio descriptions to cater for blind and vision-impaired Australians.

Senator Fifield has spoken about the plan while being grilled about Australia's lack of TV audio descriptions, which narrate what is happening in a program during gaps in dialogue.

That comes despite the federal government launching a working group in 2017 aimed at increasing their availability.

Senator Fifield says there is no legislative impediment to TV broadcasters rolling out audio descriptions, but it hasn't happened.

"It is clear that that has not been taken up," he told a Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday.

The minister said he will write to broadcasters to ask them how they can offer audio descriptions and what level of coverage they believe they can achieve.

He stressed public broadcasters should be ahead of the pack.

"The ABC and SBS should be leading by example in this area," he said.

The Australian government funded the ABC to run a 13-week trial on ABC1 in 2012 and the second on ABC's online catch-up service iView in 2015-16.

Both were well-received by those with vision-impairment, according to the audio description working group's 2018 report.

"The feedback received by the blindness sector consumer groups indicated that the first AD trial on ABC1 in 2012 was the first independent experience of television for some consumers who have been blind from birth," the report states.

"For others who experienced a loss of vision later in life, access to AD allowed them to rediscover the medium of television."

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