As you may have seen over the year, I’ve been running a petition to make audio description available on all films, TV shows and streaming services. So far, we have reached over 1100 signatures, but we need thousands more in order to get production companies, channels, streaming services and the government to take action.
But why is audio description so important to people with sight loss? Why can’t they just listen to the radio, a podcast or an audiobook instead? Well, as a person who has been registered blind for almost 15 years, I can tell you being able to watch films and television shows can be just as entertaining and valuable as it is for the rest of society, as long as the accessibility features are put in place.
Here I want to share five reasons why audio description is so important for people with sight loss and why it should be available on all media content:
1. Audio description gives detail to the story
Audio description is so important because it describes the scenery, colours, facial expressions, body language, action sequences and written text/images (e.g foreign subtitles, smartphones, computers, newspapers, photos).
It can make so much difference in understanding the narrative of a story. It can answer so many questions:
- Who committed that crime?
- Who kissed who?
- What did that text message say?
- Are the characters indoors or outdoors?
- What colour jacket is he/she wearing?
- Is he/she smiling or frowning?
Without AD, only blind people can hear is the dialogue, movement, sound effects and music. They can hear a gunshot but doesn’t know who shot who. They may hear somebody crying but doesn’t know who. A note is left on a desk, but the blind person watching can’t read it and it might be a vital clue or dramatic moment in the story.
In my case, I can see colours and people’s outlines but if it’s a dark, action packed scene or small images like writing, I need the audio description.
2. Having unlimited titles to watch
Currently, TV channels and film networks have to only provide audio description to 10% of their films and TV shows. But people with sight loss want to increase this to 100% so that they can access all the same films and programmes as the sighted community.
For many blind and partially sighted people, they face coming across a trailer for a new film or TV series that interests them, only to discover that audio description is not available on the film or show itself.
In some cases, a person with sight loss might watch the first series of a TV show with audio description,but then when the second series airs that audio description is not available.
Moreover, if somebody with sight loss wanted to catch up on a previous episode or box set, most of the catch-up services remove the audio description version after a few days or don’t provide audio description on certain devices
Also when I was writing up my blog post on accessibility on streaming services, I discovered Amazon Prime and Now TV had no audio described content at all that I know of.
I also understand live TV cannot use AD as there is no way of knowing what may happen. However, on programmes such as the news, The One Show, This Morning, Saturday Night Takeaway and I’m a Celebrity, they do include pre-recorded VT’s of reports or games and activities filmed earlier. Therefore, I would like to hear the reporter or voiceover, give more description about the visual elements of the videos.
In addition, I’d like to see more radio commentary synced to the television broadcast of sporting events. I enjoy watching football but heavily rely on the commentary as I can’t see all the action. Occasionally, during international tournaments such as the World Cup and Euros, the BBC do sync its radio commentary on the red button, wich is great but I wish this was available for domestic games too.
I’d just love that day to come when I can literally tturn on the TV, start a film or programme and audio description is automatically available on every title.
3. Being part of the conversation
As well as being able to watch films and TV shows, it is also about being part of the conversation. For instance, if I’m chatting with friends and they ask if I’ve watched the latest film or ox set, my first thought is; “does it have AD?” and if not, then I’m cut out of that conversation.
It frustrates me when I’m scrolling through cinema listings, TV guides or streaming service menus that I have to check if it has audio description before watching it. It’s like the equivalent of a wheelchair user finding out if a building is accessible. Without AD, it feels like blind people are not welcome.
This can lead to social isolation or even depression because when living with sight loss, you are limited as to what media content you can access and therefore cannot always attend social gatherings if audio description is not available.
4. Increase revenue for production companies and streaming services
Like with any business, if you make your product or service accessible, disabled people are more likely to purchase and use your product or service. Therefore, blind and visually impaired people will only purchase or stream films and programmes that have audio description.
There are two million people living with sight loss in the UK and having access to films, television programmes and streaming services is just as important to them as it is to the rest of society.
In addition, students training to be filmmakers should be taught about the importance of accessibility in their films and programmes and to make sure they include this in their planning stages of producing media content.
If every film and TV show provided audio description, then their audience numbers would increase by millions as well as earning millions more money in revenue. Plus, this will also increase earnings for cinemas, DVD/Blu-ray stores and streaming services.
5. Equal access to the media
We need audio description available on ALL films, TV programmes and streaming services. Strides are being made to include disabled people working on screen and behind the camera but more needs to be done to get equal access for disabled audiences watching films and programmes, particularly those with sight loss.
That’s why we need hundreds of thousands of people signing and sharing my petition. This can then lead to securing action from production companies, channels, streaming services and the government.
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