Audio Description and Vision Australia: A 30-year partnership

20 May 2020

There has been an increased focus on the importance of audio description over the past few years.

As part of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Michael Ward, Vision Australia’s National Coordinator of Audio Description spoke to us to explain what the service is and how it supports people who are blind or have low vision.

Vision Australia’s audio description program has proved to be an industry leader, having provided audio description services across Australia for more than three decades.

“Audio description provides people who are blind or who have low vision with an understanding of the visual aspects of a stage play, recorded video or a live arts exhibition,” Michael said.

“Highly trained Vision Australia Audio Describers vividly and succinctly describe transitions, movements, gestures, props, settings and costumes during pauses in on stage dialogue,” he said”

While the majority of Vision Australia audio describers are volunteers, it takes a minimum six months of training before they are considered qualified to tackle projects on their own.

“It’s very hard to pass the audition, only people with highly developed language skills are given the opportunity to join the program due to the nature of the work involved,” Michael said.

“Once their training is finished they enter a three-month mentor phase before they can begin live description.”

Vision Australia audio describers have been on hand to support blind and low vision audience members for major productions such as Vision Australia Carols by Candlelight and the 2018 Commonwealth Games Opening and Closing Ceremonies.  Audio describers also support blind and low vision audience members at plays and other staged works.

Audio describers will watch a staged show several times in preparation to get their descriptions just right.

For certain performances, tactile tours can be arranged for users of the audio description service to get some hands on time with the props, costumes and sets of the show before they see it to enhance their experience even further.

In a typical year our team will audio describe more than 160 live performances at 26 different venues across Australia. This is provided by a team of 64 audio describers, who also commit to around 7000 hours of preparatory research.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, our audio describers are providing audio description for pre-recorded stage shows and even some live shows performed on closed sets.

Along with providing this vital service, Vision Australia also advocates strongly for the need of expanded audio description and has played a significant part in the fight to have it included on free to air TV in Australia.

NOTABLE WORKS AUDIO DESCRIBED BY THE VISION AUSTRALIA AUDIO DESCRIPTION TEAM:

  • Sydney Living Museums Exhibitions 
  • Get Krackin’
  • True Vision
  • Australian Museums Dinosaurs Exhibition
  • Westpac Long Gallery
  • Commonwealth Games 2018 Opening and Closing Ceremonies streamed on 7plus
  • Carols by Candlelight
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

You can find out more about Vision Australia's audio description team, including upcoming audio described events online.