By Lauren Henley
Blind Citizens Australia
You come home from work, cook dinner and finally, having time to relax, you sit down in front of the television to unwind. But what would this experience be like if you couldn’t see what was on the screen?
As a person who is blind, this is the reality that I face on a daily basis. People are often dumbfounded at the fact that I actually own a television set and do not sit huddled in the corner with a transistor radio every night. But the truth is that I’m just the same as every other sighted Australian – the only difference is that I can’t see.
You might think that missing out on television is no great loss, but it’s about more than watching the latest episode of Days of our Lives. Like the rest of my friends and family, I want to have choice about what I watch and have the ability to be informed about what is going on in the world. I lost many things when I lost my sight, but one of the things that I lost was social inclusion; a term that is often thrown around but rarely clearly defined.
On 5 August 2012, I understood what social inclusion was. Because for the first time in years, I was able to watch a television program independently and know exactly what was happening on the screen. The 5th August marked the commencement of a trial of audio description on ABC television; a service that verbally describes the visual elements of a television program for the benefit of people who are blind or vision impaired. Because of this service, I no longer have to sit silently at the dinner table while the rest of my friends talk about the latest episode of Summer Heights High; I am able to participate in the water cooler conversations at work revolving around a certain television program and I am able to access much of the same content that sighted Australians often take for granted.
It saddens me to think that on 4 November, I will have all of this taken away. Although it’s been a roaring success, the ABC’s 13-week trial of audio description is coming to a close and I, along with the many other Australians who are blind or vision impaired will be left in the dark once more. I’d love to see a commitment from the ABC to continue this vital service in the future – because in my world, a word is worth a thousand pictures.
Australian blindness and consumer organisations are currently running a national campaign to promote the importance of audio description currently being trialled on ABC TV, and appeal to Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy and ABC Managing Director Mark Scott to make the service permanent. For more information, head to www.audiodescription.com.au