A petition has been launched to make audio description (AD) compulsory on all films, TV, shows and streaming services. Disability blogger and journalist Emma Purcell started the campaign.
Emma started the campaign as she felt it was unfair that blind and visually impaired people are missing out on blockbuster films and must-see box sets, but the petition doesn’t just cover new releases.
Emma says: “Audio description is such an important lifeline for me and so many other people with sight loss. I know big leaps have been made over the past 25 years to make audio description widely available, but more needs to happen to make all films and programmes fully accessible to blind and visually impaired people.”
Despite an increase in people watching television and signing up to popular streaming services while in lockdown, millions of people with sight loss continue to have limited access to some of the world’s most popular shows.
Having access to films, television programmes and steaming services is just as important to the two million people in the UK living with sight loss, but the screen industry isn’t yet accessible.
“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,” explains Emma.
“It’s like the equivalent of a wheelchair user finding out if a building is accessible.
“Without AD, I won’t be able to watch that film or box set, which means I miss out on the conversation and the production company misses out on audience numbers. It feels like if it doesn’t have AD, blind people are not welcome.
“Also when I was writing up my blog post on accessibility on streaming services, I discovered Amazon Prime and Now TV had no audio described content at all that I know of.”
Currently, TV channels and film networks have to only provide audio description on 10 per cent of their films and TV shows. People with sight loss want to increase this to 100 per cent so that they can access the same films and programmes as the sighted community.
Audio description is vital for people with sight loss: it describes the scenery; colours; facial expressions; body language; action sequences; written text and images like smartphones, computers and photos.
For many blind and partially sighted people, they face coming across a trailer for a new film or TV series that interests them, only to discover that audio description 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 audio description, but then when the second series airs that audio description is not available.
Most catch-up services also remove the audio description version after a few days or don’t provide audio description on certain devices.
Audio descriptions should be a compulsory part of creating and distributing any film or tv series, not just an additional extra. Emma is calling for audio description to be included in the filming budget for productions, not just an afterthought if the network has money left over.
In addition, Emma is also calling for students training to be filmmakers to be taught about the importance of accessibility in their films and programmes, and to include this in their planning stages of producing media content.
“We need audio description available on ALL films, TV programmes and streaming services and that’s why we need hundreds of thousands of people signing and sharing my petition,” emphasises Emma.
“This can then lead to securing action from production companies, channels, streaming services and the government.”
Having audio description will bring bigger audiences to TV channels and films, and will give blind and partially sighted people an unlimited choice of TV shows and films to watch – just like everyone else.