Has your television suddenly started talking to you, telling you the bleeding obvious? On 28 June, the ABC and SBS officially started providing audio description (AD) on their broadcast channels after over 20 years of campaigning by the blind and low vision community.  AD is an extra narration that describes visual information that's missing from the soundtrack, making the film or show more accessible to people who are blind or have low vision, or who are busy cooking, child-wrangling or otherwise not watching the screen. (Kind of like captions do for the Deaf and hard of hearing community, and those who have kids asleep in the next room, or who are eating chips, watching 'The Wire', etc.)

Some TV manufacturers have AD activated by default to make life a little bit easier for their blind and low vision customers. (If you think navigating the settings menus is tricky, imagine trying to do it without sight.) This is why your TV might've suddenly started playing AD over the past few weeks, during the trial period, in shows like 'Gardening  Australia' 'Operation Buffalo' and 'Bluey'.

You can find some examples of AD here, on the TV4All YouTube page.

Most Australians have never heard of AD, but it's been around since the '80s in the US and UK, and is quite common in Canada and much of Europe. New Zealand's had AD on free-to-air TV since 2011, and Netflix has had it since 2015. The ABC conducted AD trials in 2012 and 2015-16. It can be found on streaming platforms, iTunes, DVDs, Blu-rays, YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook and in cinemas. Providing captions and AD has also been a condition of Screen Australia feature film funding since 2011. And since 2014 all videos on  Australian government websites should have AD and captions to meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standards.This means that Editors and Assistants in all areas might run across AD professionally, and may need to provide a copy of the project for AD and captions. Exactly what you need to provide depends on how the AD is being distributed. For free-to-air TV and cinema, you will probably provide a copy of the finished cut - usually the same media provided for captions. For streaming, iTunes, DVD, Blu-ray, and other internet platforms, you might also need to provide a high quality wav of the final soundtrack mix. Internet platforms like YouTube, Vimeo, Faceboook, etc, don't have an option for alternative audio tracks, so your client might need to post two videos - one with AD and one without. If the AD company is providing the layback, they will need a copy of the video that's at least the quality that will be posted online - just like if captions are being burnt into a video.

If the internet video you are working on is legally required to have AD and captions, it can be helpful to talk to the AD and captioning provider beforehand to make sure there is enough space in the soundtrack and on the screen for AD and captions. Some videos have needed re-edting because there is no time for the legally required AD, so save everyone time and hassle, and find out if AD is needed before you finalise the edit. An option is to create a second version of the video that has time for useful AD. (Also keep in mind that a  type of caption file commonly used on online platforms always positions the captions at the bottom of the screen, covering any text or other important details there.)  It can be useful to send the AD provider an early edit so they can provide advice on how best to include AD.

AD and captions are timed to the frame, so the AD and caption files will exactly match the media provided to create them so you will need to provide a copy of the version the captions and AD are intended to be used with - correct length, frame rate, all credits, subtitles, supertitles, etc, present and correct. If there are any changes - re-edits, new subtitles, remix, frame-rate conversion, etc, your AD and captioning provider will most likely need new media. While low resolution videos make internet transfers quicker, the video needs to be a decent resolution so that the ADers can see what they're describing.  A good rule of thumb is that the credits and other onscreen text are  legible. And please position any BITC or watermark so that the onscreen details can still be seen clearly.

Australian audio described content from the ABC and SBS include  'Machine', 'Rosehaven', 'In My Blood It Runs', 'Who Do You Think You Are?',  'Australian Story', 'Foreign Correspondent', 'Bran Nue Dae', 'Beautiful Kate', 'Julia Zemiro's Home Delivery', 'Four Corners', 'Where Are You Really From?', 'Who Gets To Stay In Australia?', 'Australia's Ocean Odyssey', 'Marry Me, Marry My Family', 'Thalu', 'Little J and Big Cuz', 'Road to Now', 'The Heights', 'Escape from the City', 'Upper Middle Bogan' and 'Back Roads'.

Alison Myers
Executive Committee Member and Audio Description Manager for The SubStation