Home Entertainment ACCAN wants more accessibility on free-to-air TV

ACCAN wants more accessibility on free-to-air TV

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network and the Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Alastair McEwin, have jointly called on the federal government to increase access services for people of all abilities across free-to-air television.

And, ACCAN is calling for increased captioning across free-to-air multi-channels, like Go and 7Mate, and for the introduction of 14 hours of audio description on ABC and SBS.

The call, on Thursday, coincided with Global Accessibility Awareness Day, and with ACCAN Disability Policy Adviser, Wayne Hawkins saying the government’s recently announced proposal to eliminate television broadcast licence fees, resulting in a $90 million per year windfall for broadcasters, should be contingent on broadcasters providing greater access services for viewers with disability.

“We have been told for many years that these access services are just not sustainable from both the industry and the government. However, this huge windfall should allow broadcasters to finally make television more accessible to Australians,” Hawkins noted.

McEwin said that much of the television broadcast in Australia was inaccessible to many people with a disability.

“Access to communication is a fundamental human right for all people. Unfortunately, much of what is broadcast in Australia is still inaccessible to many people with disability, in particular those who are deaf, blind or have low vision.

“The government’s recent announcement to eliminate television broadcast licence fees provides an excellent opportunity for savings from this to be re-invested in access solutions for people with disability. Such investment will result in all Australians with disability able to access broadcast services on an equal basis as others.”

McEwin said captions had been incrementally provided on free-to-air primary channels over several years and were currently mandated to be provided on all programming between 6am and midnight as well as on all news and current affairs programming.

But he said on the broadcasters’ multi-channels, captions were only required on programmes which were previously broadcast on the primary channel with captions.

Audio description, a secondary audio channel describing important visual aspects on screen, was available in all comparable English-speaking countries but not on any broadcast television in Australia.

Nevertheless, last month the federal government announced the formation of a working group that would investigate how audio-described programmes could be delivered on Australian television. The blindness sector is calling for action on this issue now.

According to Hawkins, without audio description, “hundreds of thousands of Australians with vision impairment are unable to enjoy television with their families, friends and colleagues”.

“Previous trials of audio description on ABC and iview received positive feedback. We’re asking for 14 hours of audio description per week on ABC and SBS.”


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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).