Blog: Accessibility is good for everyone

Audio Description, Captioning, Blog, Captioning 17 Nov 2017

Cast your mind back to earlier this year – America’s Cup 2017. You arrive at work and your workmates are crowding around the television watching the racing. You’re hard of hearing, so you can’t hear what’s being said in a noisy environment. You’re finding it hard to follow what’s happening, so you drift away from the group, back to your desk.

What’s just happened here? You’ve missed out on social inclusion with your workmates and you’ve missed out on following the racing. So what’s the answer? Captions!

Another scenario – your family is settling in for a quiet evening at home watching a movie together. You’re blind, so your wife and kids try to keep you in the loop with what’s happening by whispering updates to you… “Jack’s standing with Rose on the bow of the ship.” But there’s still lots of gaps and you’re not quite sure what’s going on some of the time.

So what’s the answer? Audio description! This is a service we provide at Able where there’s an alternate audio track that describes the on-screen action. 

OK, so these services are obviously available, so what’s the problem? Well, they are not available all the time, on all content. You walk into a pub in NZ to watch some sport, and there will be no captions on SKY Sport. You head to the cinema to see the latest film, there will definitely be no audio description, and it’s pretty likely there will be no captions. You miss your favourite show on TV, so you find it on the on-demand platform – again, no captions or audio description, even if it had them when it aired on TV.

So why is accessibility not more widespread? To put it simply – it costs money; there is a lack of awareness; there is a lack of motivation, as there’s no penalty for not providing accessibility.

We know from the Access Alliance that about one in four New Zealanders have to tackle accessibility hurdles on a daily basis. This includes physical obstacles like transport and access to public buildings and spaces; inaccessible products or services, communication barriers, and lack of understanding.

Obviously accessibility is important for people that need it. Why is it good for everyone? Well, bringing it back to captioning and audio description, the services we provide at Able… If you provide captions for your media content – it’s accessible to those who are Deaf or hard of hearing; it’s accessible for those who are in a noisy environment; it’s accessible for those who are in a very quiet environment and can’t have the volume up; it’s accessible for those who are learning English or struggle to understand the accents; it’s accessible for those who are in a public environment, like an airport or a pub.

Did you know that 85% of Facebook videos are watched without sound? Why wouldn’t you caption your videos to make sure your message gets across?

If you provide audio description – it’s accessible to those who are blind and vision impaired; it’s accessible for those who aren’t looking at their screen; it’s accessible for those who are in another room.

Providing accessibility allows the inclusion of all members of society – full access to news, current affairs and entertainment.  And we know that inclusion in society leads to better outcomes for people in terms of education and career, relationships and contribution.  That’s got to be good for everyone.

Captioning and audio description are just two examples of accessibility, but the list goes on – sign language interpretation, accessible travel, signage, footpaths, road crossings, public transport, building access.

Here are some practical ways you can help increase accessibility and support a fully accessible New Zealand:

Do what’s in your control – talk to your workplace, community organisations, sports groups, schools, local shops about accessibility, and encourage them to be accessible.

Raise awareness about the things that you don’t control. Talk to your local MP or local council.

Prioritise accessibility in your own world. Don’t make it an afterthought. If you’re planning an event, a project, a new business or service, prioritise accessibility.

Wendy Youens, Chief Executive

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