Senate Calls For TV Audio For People who are Blind

Source: ProBono news
Posted: Tuesday, August 18, 2015 – 10:45
Author: Xavier Smerdon

The Australian Senate has supported a motion which could force television stations to introduce audio description services for blind and vision impaired people.

Australian Greens Senator, Rachel Siewert, raised the motion yesterday which called for the implementation of audio description services on free-to-air and subscription television programs by the ABC and all other networks.

Senator Siewert said a large portion of the Australian population were being disadvantaged by not having full access to television shows. “Audio description describes actions, gestures, scene changes and facial expressions for those with no or low vision during pauses in dialogue,” Senator Siewert said.

“Currently the ABC, SBS, Foxtel, and the commercial free-to-air television networks provide no audio description in Australia. With approximately 350,000 people in Australia who are blind or have low vision, this is simply not good enough.

“The Senate acknowledged this today in supporting my motion. The motion calls on the Government to amend the Broadcasting Services Act to include requirements for the provision of audio description on free-to-air and subscription television programs.”

Senator Siewert said Australia had fallen behind the rest of the world in not making television shows accessible to blind and vision impaired people. “Audio description has already rolled out in the Germany, Spain, Ireland, the US and the UK on free-to-air or subscription services,” she said.

“It is time for us to catch-up and offer this service across the board. I hope Senate support for this motion increases momentum on the issue and encourages positive outcomes.”

In July this year NSW woman, Suzanne Hudson launched a case of unlawful discrimination against the ABC for its failure to provide audio description services. In February Not for Profit, Vision Australia lodged complaints with the Australian Human Rights Commission against Channels Seven, Nine, Ten, SBS and Foxtel, calling for an audio description service. The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) represented Vision Australia in the complaints and said the organisation was asking for a minimum of 14 hours of audio described content per week on each channel named in the complaint.

“In the same way as captioning has facilitated media access for people who are deaf, audio description has the potential to significantly improve access to Australia’s cultural life for the 350,000 Australians who are blind or have low vision,” PIAC’s CEO, Edward Santow said.

“The technology and accessible content exists, and it has already been successfully trialled on the ABC in 2012, so we are calling on the other Australian broadcasters to take this important, permanent step towards equality now.

Computer vision and mobile technology could help people with vision disabilities

Source: Global Accessibility News

UK: Computer scientists are developing new adaptive mobile technology which could enable people who are blind or have low vision to ‘see’ through their smartphone or tablet.

Mobile phones could help people who are blind ‘see’. Aqeel Qureshi Funded by a Google Faculty Research Award, specialists in computer vision and machine learning based at the University of Lincoln, UK, are aiming to embed a smart vision system in mobile devices to help people with sight problems navigate unfamiliar indoor environments.

Based on preliminary work on assistive technologies done by the Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems, the team plans to use colour and depth sensor technology inside new smartphones and tablets, like the recent Project Tango by Google, to enable 3D mapping and localisation, navigation and object recognition. The team will then develop the best interface to relay that to users – whether that is vibrations, sounds or the spoken word.

Project lead Dr Nicola Bellotto, an expert on machine perception and human-centred robotics from Lincoln’s School of Computer Science, said: “This project will build on our previous research to create an interface that can be used to help people with vision disabilities.

“There are many visual aids already available, from guide dogs to cameras and wearable sensors. Typical problems with the latter are usability and acceptability. If people were able to use technology embedded in devices such as smartphones, it would not require them to wear extra equipment which could make them feel self-conscious. There are also existing smartphone apps that are able to, for example, recognise an object or speak text to describe places. But the sensors embedded in the device are still not fully exploited. We aim to create a system with ‘human-in-the-loop’ that provides good localisation relevant to visually impaired users and, most importantly, that understands how people observe and recognise particular features of their environment.”

The research team, which includes Dr Oscar Martinez Mozos, a specialist in machine learning and quality of life technologies, and Dr Grzegorz Cielniak, who works in mobile robotics and machine perception, aims to develop a system that will recognise visual clues in the environment. This data would be detected through the device camera and used to identify the type of room as the user moves around the space.

A key aspect of the system will be its capacity to adapt to individual users’ experiences, modifying the guidance it provides as the machine ‘learns’ from its landscape and from the human interaction. So, as the user becomes more accustomed to the technology, the quicker and easier it would be to identify the environment.

The research team will work with a Google sponsor and will be collaborating with specialists at Google throughout the ‘Active Vision with Human-in-the-Loop for the Visually Impaired’ project.

Blind Citizens Australia Appoints New Executive Officer

22 June 2015

Blind Citizens Australia’s position as the united voice of blind and vision-impaired Australians has been secured through the appointment of Leah van Poppel as its new Executive Officer. Leah is well-known to BCA members and across the blindness sector as a former Policy Officer with BCA and through her current role with the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO).

Leah brings significant strategic development and policy skills along with her personal experience of vision-impairment to the role. The board is delighted to have the opportunity to work with her to grow our organisation.

The board also takes this opportunity to publicly acknowledge and sincerely thank Tony Iezzi for his extraordinary work as Operations Manager over the past five months.

Tony has tirelessly and passionately steered BCA through a period of significant challenge. Without his management expertise and his willingness to take on the role at short notice, our organisation would have floundered. We wish Tony all the very best for the future.

Tony will continue in his role until the end of August. Leah will commence on 3 August.

The board also wishes to acknowledge the support of Brooker Consulting and the work of the recruitment subcommittee throughout the recruitment process.

Greg Madson
Blind Citizens Australia

Media contact: Emma Bennison, 0410 553 383

Disability groups granted temporary funding reprieve

The Sydney Morning Herald
Date: March 1, 2015
Julia May

Federal government delays a 40 per cent funding cut to the disability sector amid allegations it was in breach of United Nations convention.

The federal government has made a partial backflip on its cuts to disability groups, granting a temporary reprieve to eight bodies whose funding was due to run out on Saturday.

Last month the Department of Social Services announced it would cut funding to the disability sector by 40 per cent and support an alliance of just five representative bodies. It left eight bodies representing 200,000 people with disabilities under threat and sparked allegations that the government was in breach of the United Nations convention on the rights of disabled people.

But on Thursday the eight organisations – including the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, Blind Citizens Australia, Brain Injury Australia and Inclusion Australia, representing people with an intellectual disability – were told they had secured “transition funding” of $450,000 until the end of June.

Assistant Social Services Minister Mitch Fifield said he decided to extend the groups’ funding and to “provide an additional payment to each of them to assist with a smooth transition”.
“I have also directed my department to explore other potential capacity-building projects and funding that may be suitable for organisations to apply for, such as NDIS preparedness activities,” he said. The minister did not explain what prompted the change of heart, what “capacity-building” meant or how much extra funding would be available.

Australian Federation of Disability Organisations chief executive Matthew Wright welcomed the reprieve, saying the government had listened to the voice of people with disability. He said he had noticed a new willingness from the department to engage with the sector.
“That’s definitely a positive and a very recent development,” he said. “We’re looking forward to further negotiations on our long-term future.”

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, who is leading a Senate inquiry into how the Department of Social Services awards funding, also applauded the funding extension but questioned the government’s plans beyond June. She said the new alliance model did not reflect the grassroots needs or views of people with disabilities and accusing the government of being “top-down in its approach: this is what we want, now do it”.

The funding cuts had attracted the ire of Ron McCallum, the former chairman of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Disabled Persons, and former disability commissioner, Graeme Innes.

Press Release from the World Blind Union

Braille – the Key to Accessing Language and Literacy for the Blind of the World

As we commemorate Mother Language Day on February 21st , it is important to reflect on the importance of braille to ensuring that blind persons have the opportunity to acquire and use their mother language – whatever that language may be. Braille has been called a super script, “The queen of all scripts”. For, it is the only script in the world in which any language of the world can be read or written. No other script has this unique capacity. So indeed it is only Braille that has the ability to enable blind persons to truly master their mother language.

It would be no exaggeration to state that Braille occupies the same status in reading and writing for the blind as print for the sighted. Just as recorded books or e-books cannot replace hard copy books for the sighted, similarly, books in Braille are integral components of meaningful education and rehabilitation for blind persons. That is why, Braille has stood the test of time and competition from various quarters for about 160 years, since its acceptance by the French in 1854, two years after the death of its inventor, Louis Braille, for whom the script is named.

Continuous Braille reading holds the key to learning spelling and active literacy skills. Braille is essential for subjects requiring intensive study like mathematics, science, geography, grammar, semantics, phonetics, etc. Indeed, Braille will remain the doyen of systems for giving to the visually impaired access to knowledge which is the main source of empowerment.

While the importance of Braille for developing countries is widely recognized, it is often contended that Braille is fast declining in more advanced countries due to the advent of technology. On the contrary, technology has enabled much increased production of braille, which can now be produced in quantities of thousands of pages a day using high speed braille printers housed in braille production centers in countries around the world. Moreover, advocacy efforts are underway to have more braille available – on signage, household appliances, consumer items and even pharmaceutical products.

And innovative technologies continue to be mobilized to produce a wide range of Braille reading and writing devices, bearing further testimony to the enduring importance of the system. The new upward Braille writing Frame recently brought out by RNIB in the UK, the ingenious devices recognized at World Braille 21 Congress in 2011, various heavy duty high speed Braille embossers, electronic Braille notetakers and the Smart Brailler, which is a new Braille learning and teaching device developed by Perkins Products, are just a few cases in point. Efforts are also currently underway to develop a low cost Refreshable Braille Display which will solve the issue of large and heavy Braille books and will make such technology available to developing countries.

Several UN instruments so critical to the disability sector, also recognize the continuing utility of Braille, and it receives particular mention in several Articles of the UNCRPD (UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities). And the June 2013 adoption by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities will break down barriers for the production and sharing of accessible format materials, including Braille.

It is the fervent belief and opinion of the World Blind Union that other accessible formats, including those accessed via technology, and Braille do not compete, but rather supplement one another. Indeed, they are essential for helping the visually impaired reader to keep abreast of the modern-day explosion of knowledge and information and to enhance their literacy and learning.

The impact of Braille is no better described than by quoting from “An Open Letter to Louis Braille” composed by a former Secretary-General, World Blind Union, Pedro Zurita who wrote: “And you know what, Louis? … I exhibit your invention everywhere. I read material the way you invented it standing, lying down, sitting, in any position, … Because your code, Louis, has afforded many, many blind people–myself among them, naturally–dignity, freedom, and many hours of incomparable spiritual enjoyment.”

As we celebrate International Mother Language Day, let us not forget the importance of Braille to ensuring access to their mother language by blind and partially sighted persons around the world.

The World Blind Union (WBU) is the global organization representing the estimated 285 million people worldwide who are blind or partially sighted. Members consist of organizations run by blind people advocating on their own behalf, and organizations that serve the blind in over 190 countries, as well as international organizations working in the field of vision impairment.

For further information contact:
World Blind Union
Marianne McQuillan,
Manager, Communications