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5 reasons audio description is important to people with sight loss

As you may have seen, over the past few years, our writer and editor Emma Purcell has been running a petition to make audio description available on all films, TV shows and streaming services. So far, it has reached almost 3,500 signatures, but it needs thousands more to get production companies, channels, streaming services and the Government to take action.

Originally posted on her blog, Rock For Disability, Emma shares 5 reasons why audio description is so important for people with sight loss and why it should be available on all media content.

If you’re debating whether or not to take a few minutes out of your day to sign my petition, you might be wondering why audio description is 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 more than 15 years, I can tell you that 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.

Even more than that, it also means that we feel included in society. When friends want to talk about the latest episode of the current TV show everyone is watching, if it isn’t audio described, a blind or visually impaired person can’t join the conversation in the same way.

Audio description adds an extra layer to simply hearing the dialogue. It is our way of ‘seeing’ the shows.

1. Audio description gives detail to the story

Audio description (AD) is so important because it describes the scenery, colours, facial expressions, body language, action sequences and written text/images (e.g smartphones, computers, newspapers, photos).

It can make a huge difference when it comes to 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, blind people can only hear the dialogue, movement, sound effects and music. They can hear a gunshot but don’t know who shot it. They may hear somebody crying, but don’t know who.

If a note is left on a desk, 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 has small images with writing, I need the audio description.

2. Audio description means unlimited titles to watch 

Currently, TV channels and film networks only have to provide AD or 10% of their films and TV shows. But we want this to increase to 100% so that we can access all the same films and programmes that sighted people can.

It’s really common for a blind and partially sighted person to come across a trailer for a new film or TV series that interests them, only to discover that AD 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 AD, but then when the second series airs, find that AD is not available, or vice versa.

It’s also often the case that people with sight loss have to wait hours or days for the AD version of the newest TV shows and films to appear. And we regularly experience catch-up services not providing audio descriptions on certain devices.

I understand that live TV cannot use AD as there is no way of knowing what may happen. However, programmes such as the news, The One Show, This Morning, Saturday Night Takeaway and I’m a Celebrity, include pre-recorded VTs of reports or games and activities. So there is no reason why the reporter or voiceover can’t give more description of the visual elements of the videos.

We’d also 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 syncs its radio commentary on the red button, which is great, but I wish this was available for domestic games too.

I’d just love that day to come when I can literally turn on the TV, and start a film or programme and AD 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 box 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 whether a building is accessible. Without AD, it feels like blind people are not welcome.

This can lead to social isolation or even depression. When living with sight loss, you are limited as to what media content you can access, so you 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 AD.

Two million people are 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 AD, then their audience numbers would increase by millions, meaning they would earn millions more money in revenue. This wwould also increase earnings for cinemas, DVD/Blu-ray stores and streaming services.

5. Equal access to the media

We need AD 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 give equal access to 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.

To sign and share the petition, visit https://www.change.org/ADForAllUK and use the hashtag #ADForAll.

By Emma Purcell 

More on Disability Horizons…

Emma Purcell

Editor & Writer at Disability Horizons. Blogger at Rock For Disability. Loves live music, comedy, acting, chocolate and is a Harry Potter fanatic.
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