Friday 2 November 2012


Graeme Innes AM, Disability Discrimination Commissioner

The following opinion pieces have been published by the President and Commissioners. Reproduction of the opinion pieces must include reference to where the opinion piece was originally published.

Confessions of an ABC lover

Author: By Graeme Innes AM, Disability Discrimination Commissioner

Published in Ramp Up - ABC, Friday 2 November 2012

For people who are blind or vision impaired, watching ABC TV has been a much richer experience lately. Unfortunately, that is about to change, writes Graeme Innes.

In the current era of cyclists making confessions, it's time I made my own. I've had a mistress all my life. She has been generous, giving, caring. I have fallen to sleep in her embrace on many nights, and often woken to her cool caress. She has taught me, made me laugh, kept me informed, and challenged my views. And she has sometimes been very cruel.

My affair started when I was a boy. She took me to secret places in my imagination with her conversation, her drama and her entertainment. She understood my love of cricket, and catered to it, telling me of cricket matches day in and day out, and sometimes late into the night. She told me stories, gave me news, and let me listen to various opinions. She recognised my love of music, and introduced me to many different genres.

But she can also be very cruel. She has been cruel to me before, and we have argued. And she is going to be cruel to me again in a few weeks' time. Her main means of cruelty is taking things away that I love.

My mistress is the ABC. Our affair started with the Argonauts Club, and blossomed into a range of plays, serials, news, current affairs, and music. And of course, cricket.

Later our affair became visual as well as aural, when she introduced television. Our daily te-a-te at 7 PM for the news is a ritual rarely missed. She has gone to the Four Corners of my life, entertained me with The Chaser and much other comedy, and even looked after my children with Playschool, B1 and B2, and Mr Squiggle.

In years gone by, she provided me with the ABC Cricket Book in Braille - the medium in which I read - each summer. Then she took that away.

She replaced it with Jim Maxwell's dulcet tones, reading the ABC Cricket Book and taped on cassette. Then she took that away.

In desperation, I deserted her and relied on my own means for this information. I scanned the book and used my computer to read it to me in synthetic speech. A poor substitute for an embrace to fall into when she had gone. I shared this scanned file with others, and she threatened to sue me for breach of copyright.

She also used to entertain me regularly on Sundays with radio drama. Then she also took that away.

But now, the unkindest cut of all. About ten weeks ago she opened a new window on my world. She lifted the veil from the television screen. She provided me with audio description.

Audio description provides someone such as I, who cannot see the TV screen, with information about what is going on. It tells me of the movements of Lionel and Jean in As time goes by. It lets me know what is happening in Rake and Sherlock Holmes when the dialogue is deficient. And it introduced me to the first episode of Jack Irish by telling me of the shooting of Jack's wife Stella by Jack's outraged client.

And now, in two weeks time, she is taking this away. She is closing this window on the world of ABC television, for me and 600,000 other Australians who cannot see the TV screen.

Marvell's lines to his Coy Mistress are apt:

Had we but world enough, and time, This coyness, lady, were no crime

She doesn't need to be cruel. She could leave this window open. I could continue to enjoy - through audio description or AD - the same benefits that Australians who can see the TV screen enjoy. So, Mark Scott and Stephen Conroy - leave my AD on TV. It's as easy as ABC.

Graeme Innes is Australia's Disability Discrimination Commissioner. Follow him on twitter here.