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Government Report: “Access to Electronic Media for the Hearing and Vision Impaired”

Today was the last day to provide a submission and input to the Australian Government’s discussion report on “Access to Electronic Media for the Hearing and Vision Impaired: Approaches for Consideration”.

The report explains the Australian Government’s existing regulatory framework for accessibility to audio-visual content on TV, digital TV, DVDs, cinemas, and the Internet, and provides an overview about what it is planning to do over the next 3-5 years.

It is interesting to read that according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics about 2.67 million Australians – one in every eight people – have some form of hearing loss and 284,000 are completely or partially blind. Also, it is expected that these numbers will increase with an ageing population and obesity-linked diabetes are expected to continue to increase these numbers.

For obvious reasons, I was particularly interested in the Internet-related part of the report. It was the second-last section (number five), and to be honest, I was rather disappointed: only 3 pages of the 40 page long report concerned themselves with Internet content. Also, the main message was that “at this time the costs involved with providing captions for online content were deemed to represent an undue financial impost on a relatively new and developing service.”

Audio descriptions weren’t even touched with a stick and both were written off with “a lack of clear online caption production and delivery standard and requirements”. There is obviously a lot of truth to the statements of the report – the Internet audio-visual content industry is still fairly young compared to e.g. TV, and there are a multitude of standards rather than a single clear path.

However, I believe the report neglected to mention the new HTML5 video and audio elements and the opportunity they provide. Maybe HTML5 was excluded because it wasn’t expected to be relevant within the near future. I believe this is a big mistake and governments should pay more attention to what is happening with HTML5 audio and video and the opportunities they open for accessibility.

In the end, I made a submission because I wanted the Australian Government to wake up to the HTML5 efforts and I wanted to correct a mistake they made with claiming MPEG-2 was “not compatible with the delivery of closed audio descriptions”.

I believe a lot more can be done with accessibility for Internet content than just “monitor international developments” and industry partnership with disability representative groups. I therefore proposed to undertake trials in particular with textual audio descriptions to see if they could be produced in a similar manner to captions, which would make their cost come down enormously. Also I suggested actually aiming for WCAG 2.0 conformance within the next 5 years – which for audio-visual content means at minimum captions and audio descriptions.

You can read the report here and my 4 page long submission here.