TVNZ is introducing a new service for its vision impaired Coronation Street enthusiasts. The service, called Audio Description, launched on Tuesday this week and is described by TVNZ Corporate Affairs’ Megan Richards as “the visual equivalent of captioning for hearing impaired audiences”. Similar services are already available in the UK and US.
Head of production services and technology Helen Clifton says the new service is the result of discussion with the blind community and one that has been lobbied for for years.
“We’re very proud that the technical developments in our digital broadcasting infrastructure have at last put us in a position to help. We’ve been providing captioning for those with hearing impairments for a long time, and we can now make television an experience to be really enjoyed for those with visual difficulties.”
The new technology works as an optional additional narrative spoken by a neutral voice that describes what’s happening on-screen as the characters speak.
Getting the new service up and running is all thanks to the digital professionals at TVNZ and a healthy pilot grant of $500,000 from New Zealand on Air.
The Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand (ABCNZ) requested the technology be tested on Coronation Street as the popular choice. The service will be evaluated next year to see if it is feasible to incorporate the technology with other programmes. Depending on funding, it’s expected to happen, and the intention is to roll it out in due course.
Unfortunately there’s no way to gauge just how successful it has been or will be just yet as there is no mechanism to find out how many tuned in, so right now they are reliant on anecdotal evidence to see how it has taken off. She added that everyone at TVNZ had a look, and that the ABCNZ were very happy with how the service performed.
When asked why the Audio Description function is only now being introduced, Richards says the previous analogue infrastructure didn’t allow this kind of service. But now, thanks to digital platforms, broadcasters are able to implement this kind of technology. Right now the tele-version of the audiotape is only provided on Freeview.