Martine and her guide dog stand by a bus shelter.

Martine Abel-Williamson is President of the World Blind Union and was an early adopter of audio description. To mark the tenth anniversary of AD in New Zealand, we sat down to hear Martine’s thoughts about the emergence and importance of audio description in Aotearoa.

Kia ora, Martine. Can you tell us a bit about your journey with audio description?

I began enjoying audio description in the late nineties. We realised that you could buy it on VHS video from overseas, and every six months or so, we’d make an international call, look at their catalogue, and order some tapes with Audio Description to come to NZ. Fortunately, then, Audio Description started in New Zealand on TV. We can’t do without it. I think it’s just amazing – we really enjoy New Zealand content, especially documentaries, as well as Country Calendar – and New Zealand series, like The Luminaries.

I also love audio described theatre – we’ve recently seen The Lion King and Galileo. We’d really love to see AD in movie theatres, though – there’s still work to be done in that space.

Do you remember the first time you experienced audio description?

The first movie I saw with audio description was Fatal Attraction. I saw it with my family when I was younger, but then later experienced it with audio description, and I was amazed at how much extra detail I received.

How does your role as the President of the World Blind Union shape your perspective of audio description?

We’re really watching this space, and I really see a huge range, globally, of countries that do have audio description on TV, and others that don’t and are waiting for it to happen in their countries. In 2019, the World Blind Union joined forces with the American Council of the Blind’s Audio Description Project to survey organizations around the world on the availability of audio description in their countries. The survey consisted of eleven questions, and users from 69 countries responded. The final report is now available here. In New Zealand, we’ve obviously grown since then in terms of AD availability on TV, but now that we have surveyed people worldwide, we can compare progress, trends and solutions. I think it’s great that we are where we are in New Zealand, really.

Next in the journal:

The Earcatch logo, a yellow 'E' on a dark blue background.

On-demand audio description app Earcatch winds up, but will continue to be available in Aotearoa

Able launched Earcatch in Aotearoa a year ago – a New Zealand-based library of audio description (AD) made…

A graphic image of an old-school TV with a scene of Pulp Fiction on it.

Blind people watch TV too

Audio description comes as standard on shows streaming on Netflix and other international services. So, Able Chief Executive…

Dan Buckingham, Jai Waite and Rachale Davis are on a stage together. Dan has brown hair, a white button-up shirt and is using a wheelchair, turned away from the camera. Jai is wearing a blue button-up top, using a wheelchair, and is in the middle of speaking. Rachale has blonde shoulder-length hair and a yellow top, looking over at Jai.

Navigating authentic representation of disability

During the annual SPADA conference this year, our CEO Dan Buckingham facilitated a panel with Jai Waite from…

Picture of Virginia Philp (who was part of AD's inception) smiling. She has shoulder length brown hair and brown eyes.

Decade of Able: Virginia Philp, team leader, audio describers

Virginia Philp leads our small crew of audio describers. She overseas everything audio description: recruiting, training and managing…

David wears glasses and a hearing aid, and smiles.

Decade of Able: David Kent, trustee

David Kent is a trustee on the Able board. Since 2005, David has chaired the Southern Hearing Charitable…

A photo of Clive Lansink, who has short grey hair and a grey moustache. He is wearing a blue, yellow and red checkered flannel button-up T shirt.

Decade of Able: Clive Lansink, Chair, Blind Low Vision NZ

Kia ora, Clive. I’ve heard that you were instrumental in audio description advocacy, prior to its introduction to…