12 August 2010
$500,000 for new service for blind audiences
NZ On Air today announced funding has been made available for a new service for vision impaired and blind audiences.
Audio Description allows people with vision impairment to follow television programmes more easily. An audio track describes the non verbal on-screen action in a programme alongside the normal soundtrack.
Over 75,000 New Zealanders have a sight limitation that cannot be corrected by glasses or contact lenses. "NZ On Air has long supported captioning of broadcasts for the hearing-impaired," said NZ On Air chief executive Jane Wrightson. "Now we are proud to improve access to New Zealand television for the blind and vision-impaired community."
"This is the result of many years of hard work and advocacy by the blind community, as well as ongoing feasibility investigations by NZ On Air and TVNZ," she said. "Developments in new technology have finally made a service possible. We're grateful for the willingness and support of Anna Donald and the team at TVNZ to build this service into their new digital infrastructure", she said.
"Establishing this service is a major step forward for New Zealand" said TVNZ's Head of TV ONE and TV 2 Jeff Latch. "This new service will be as critical to vision impaired audiences as the captioning service is to hearing impaired audiences and TVNZ is proud to be able to help", he said.
The Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand welcomed the announcement. "We've been waiting many years for audio description", said National President Clive Lansink. "Now the technology is finally here, it's fantastic that NZ On Air and TVNZ have been able to work together to develop this service" said Mr Lansink.
"Access to broadcasting is a human rights issue. Television plays a huge part in people's lives and now it is possible for the television industry to include us more in their audience," he said.
NZ On Air's funding is for a pilot year for a limited amount of TV One programming. After NZ On Air and TVNZ evaluate the success of the pilot, and depending on available funding, it is expected the service will roll out more broadly.
For further information:
Jane Wrightson Anna Donald Clive Lansink
NZ On Air TVNZ Captioning Association of Blind Citizens of NZ
Tel: (04) 3829524 Tel (09) 9167000 (021) 663999
Audio Description Pilot
Producer: Anna Donald
Information about audio description
Audio description, a special audio track built into broadcast programmes to describe on-screen events to audience members with vision impairment, has been described as a fundamental human rights issue. New Zealand's ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requires New Zealand to address areas where disabled people may be marginalised from full societal participation. The Association of Blind Citizens notes that 'for blind and vision impaired people, this includes full enjoyment of social and leisure pursuits including television'.
Wikipedia has a useful summary: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audio_description
Audio description is required in the United Kingdom (10% of all programming must be audio described) and Canada (in-house productions must be audio-described and all broadcasters will eventually have a quota). PBS offers it in the United States. It is not yet offered in Australia.
Audio Description will be provided on the digital Freeview service for TVNZ. New set top boxes and Freeview-integrated televisions available from 2011 will include the necessary software to enable viewers to turn on the audio description track. Viewers with existing set top boxes and integrated televisions will require a software upgrade to access the service.
Only a small number of television series might be able to be audio-described at the outset, and there will be a reliance on offshore programming, which is less expensive. Providing adequate description services for key local programmes specially sought by this audience will be a future priority, depending on available funding. Programme selection will be made taking the preferences of this audience into account (as is the case with captioned programmes for the hearing impaired).
For the past 21 years NZ On Air has provided the funding to caption programmes for hearing-impaired viewers for selected TV One, TV2 and TV3 programmes. Currently we provide $1.9million per year for that service.