ABC Report on Audio Description Finally Released

After being delivered to the then Department of Communications, Broadband and the Digital Economy at the end of 2012, the report from the ABC on the audio description trial has finally been released to the public.
The report gives the ABC’s feedback on the technical aspects of delivering audio description (AD) in Australia’s broadcast environment. A number of key findings emerged from the report which will impact on delivery of a service in the future.
In the trial, the ABC opted for a manual system to deliver the audio description, rather than trying to incorporate the service into its automated play out systems. This was partially due to the short trial length of only 13 weeks and noted that it did not install a long-term system. The report also cited the stronger likelihood of there being errors and problems stemming from the more complex automated systems.
There were a number of problems with different set-top boxes and televisions and how they worked with audio description. In many cases the receivers had been set to play AD and it was a case of then talking through the steps to turn it off to fix the problem. In a smaller number of cases viewers were unable to turn the AD off. Various solutions were suggested for this and could be properly explored as part of a permanent service.
There were some issues about a limited choice of programming and relatively long lead times to provide AD. Again, these are not major and could be solved as part of a permanent service.
The ABC suggested that it would need a lead time for a full service to be fully implemented of up to 18 months.
Media Access Australia CEO Alex Varley said, “Whilst 18 months might seem like a long time, my understanding of that timeframe is to ensure the delivery of a fully-functioning service across all of Australia. There is always the option of rolling out a service sooner and accepting that there will be teething problems and they can be fixed as it goes along.”
Feedback from blind and vision impaired viewers showed that there was a strong level of support for the service, with thousands of viewers petitioning the ABC and Government to continue the service at the conclusion of the trial.
“Overall the report provides a good insight into the sorts of issues that broadcasters face when implementing new services across a complex technical system. These issues need to be factored in and considered in the process of putting together a permanent service,” said Varley.
Media Access Australia will provide more detailed analysis about different aspects of the report over the coming weeks. We are part of a coalition of organisations working towards a permanent audio description service on Australian television.

Download the report and Media Access’s background Paper

Media Access Study into Education for Children who are Blind or Vision Impaired

Media Access Australia has today released a landmark study into how the access needs of students who are blind or vision impaired can be met in Australian schools. Launched at the Blind Citizens Australia convention yesterday, it is hoped that the study informs how new technologies and systems are adopted.
While there is no official statistic for the number of children who are blind or vision impaired in Australia, a reasonable estimate is 4,000. The vast majority of these school age children attend mainstream schools.
The study explores how the challenge of providing access to media and technology for students who are blind or vision impaired is met across the public, Catholic and independent sectors. The study draws on interviews with mainstream and specialist teachers and service providers.
The report is a comprehensive review of how access is currently provided. Solutions range from large print text books to using pipe cleaners to mould into tactile diagrams. The report’s five expert authors then scope how mainstream technologies such as tablet computers could be used to improve learning outcomes.
The report identifies a number of factors inhibiting access to learning for students who are blind or vision impaired. These include:
• Existing structures hindering knowledge sharing between schools, sectors and states
• A lack of opportunities for coordination to prevent duplication of resources
• Copyright issues affecting the availability of texts in alternative formats
• A lack of information to help educators and education departments to adapt to technological change
Media Access Australia has a long history of work in Deaf and hearing impaired education which places us in a position to offer independent evidence based advice.
CEO and co-author Alex Varley said, “This report offers a bird’s eye view of how technology and information access are currently being provided across the country and across sectors. From this vantage point we can see the common challenges and identify practical solutions which could be adopted to improve services.”

Download the report:
Vision Education Scoping Report Final Version.docx
Vision Education Scoping Report (DOCX 3.4 MB)
Filed Under: Information

Thanks for the Votes

Have been back for a few days now, after attending the Blind Citizens Australia 2013 National Convention. And what a great convention it was; packed full of interesting topics, great information and fantastic interaction with fellow members.

At the AGM on Sunday 27 I was elected as the new President of blind Citizens Australia.

Thank you to those who voted for me, and thank you to all those who have wished me well and given their support.

It is going to be a very busy time ahead. I am ready for it and hope the leadership I provide is what the members of BCA are looking for.

President of People with Disability WA

What a busy week this has been. Board meetings and A couple of AGM’s on top of work. On Thursday 24 October, at the People with Disability Wa AGM, I was elected President of PWdWa.

Thanks to all who have given me their support, and for the many well wishes I have received.

Past President, Monica McGhie, has led the organisation with great passion and a good ear to the ground, giving PWdWA great insight into the issues being faced by Western Australian’s with a disability.

I hope to lead as well as Monica has, and with people with disability, our members and the WA community hope to position the organisation so it can continue it’s work on improveing lives and reducing barriers for all people with disability.

Informed debate vital for disability justice

From the West Australian:

Mentally impaired people can’t simply be treated as
criminals, say Taryn Harvey and Andrew Jefferson.

For over a decade disability, mental health and legal advocates have been calling for law reform to end indefinite imprisonment of people deemed to be “mentally impaired” due to intellectual or cognitive disability, or serious mental illness.

People’s stories have been shared in these pages in an effort to put a human face to this issue and some context to their offences, but largely they are an unacknowledged, misunderstood and extremely vulnerable group.

Last week, the State Government introduced legislation to address this injustice by establishing disability justice centres. It comes no less than 17 years after amendments to the Criminal Law (Mentally Impaired Accused) Act (1996) allowed for the establishment of “declared places” for this purpose.

We commend the Government for taking this action, and for their commitment to pursuing a community-based service delivery approach.

Prison is never an appropriate facility for people who have been deemed unfit to plead due to mental impairment. Imprisoning people who are unfit to plead fundamentally contradicts the basic principle of a person’s right to a fair trial, What greater injustice could there be than people who are unfit to plead ending up spending longer in prison than if they had pleaded guilty and been convicted?

The current situation is harmful to the individuals themselves and counterproductive to successfully habilitating them. People with intellectual or cognitive disability are incredibly vulnerable in prison, and custodial workers don’t have the skills and experience needed to support them effectively.

The nature of the prison environment and lack of effective support can contribute to a deterioration in their mental health and the development of challenging behaviours which again custodial workers are not skilled in responding to.

These settings contradict what we know works when supporting people with intellectual or cognitive disability to live successful lives in their communities — including for those who have complex learning needs and histories of criminal offending.

While establishing the centres as a specific and identifiable place where mentally impaired accused will be supported is new, the service delivery models, knowledge, techniques and risk management that the centres will draw on are not.

Supporting people with intellectual and cognitive disability who have offended isn’t novel or untested. There is considerable evidence and experience locally, nationally, and internationally of successful community-based approaches.

What’s different is that for the first time there is a very public attention and focus on this issue. There is no doubt that there have been flaws in community engagement processes and communication about how the sites were identified, assessed and final choices made.

It is equally clear that there is a critical lack of understanding about what intellectual or cognitive disability is; what happens to people with these disabilities in our justice system; who would be eligible to receive treatment in the disability justice centres; and how would any risk to the people and the community be managed.

An example of this lack of understanding was when a member of the community called out in Parliament in June that convicted murderer Dante Arthurs might be housed in one of the centres. As the minister correctly pointed out, Arthurs would never be placed in a disability justice centre because he has pleaded and been convicted of a crime.

Examples like these only add to confusion and misunderstanding about the centres, and we need to make sure that the conversation is as informed as possible.

Only a person deemed unfit to plead following an independent assessment will be considered for being housed in the centres. And of those, only those who are considered by the Mental Impaired Accused Review Board as being appropriate would be placed there. The board makes it very clear that it places any potential risk to community safety as its top priority in making these decisions.

Disability justice centres are custodial environments but they are not urban prisons. They are staffed, secure, residential environments that allow people to receive the education, supported learning and skill development that will allow them to lead safer, more productive lives. They
are based in community settings because this is the most effective approach.

We call on the State Government to develop a planning framework that recognises that community-based services are essential and also provides community confidence in how decisions are made.

Taryn Harvey is chief executive of the Developmental Disability Council of WA.
Andrew Jefferson is executive director of People with Disabilities WA