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Robert Pearson

  Accessible Media


South Africa Audio Description: A New Dynamic for Persons with Disabilities and Access to Cultural Venues

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Participants at the Meet me at MoMA workshop

Image: Participants at the Meet me at MoMA workshop. Access to museums and cultural spaces is increasingly becoming a focus area for cultural practioners and policy makers around the world. Article 30 of the UNCRPD stipulates the right of persons with disabilities to participate in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport.

Accessible Media Inc. (AMI) recently began working with members of the Writer's Guild of South Africa and the World Blind Union who are working to bring an audio description service to their country. Focusing initially on museums and film, and moving into broadcasting, this will be a first of its kind service in South Africa and essentially within the continent as a whole, where they intend to bring the service eventually. It's an exciting opportunity to bring a new level of access to potentially millions of persons who may have never have been aware that such a service exists and could be of benefit to them.

Building on the Described Video Best Practices and the internal techniques that we have developed over the years at AMI, we have begun to provide guidance on how to approach the provision of description in a country with 11 official languages. Renowned for its struggles with inequality, revisited recently with the passing of Nelson Mandela, providing accessible media to a population that has never known it could add an entirely new dimension to addressing traditional mind sets that have developed over decades. 

Description has been in the mainstream for at least a decade and a half in Canada. Only recently were regulations for it introduced in the United States with the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA). The United Kingdom has had description present for many years and in Australia they recently did a trial run of description on the Australian Broadcasting Channel (ABC), an initiative led by our colleagues at Media Access Australia.

In South Africa, a similar approach will be prudent and that will be what will be petitioned for on the South African Broadcasting Channel (SABC). Initially though it will be about policy development and awareness of what the service is. Offering films accompanied by description and bringing the service to museum exhibitions to provide a new perspective in that form will work to achieve awareness amongst persons who are blind or partially sighted. This will be a new dynamics to providing accessible cultural services for persons with disabilities who wish to explore museums and cultural centres. 

To bring about the required change in mindset to achieve this initiative, several arguments may need to be approached to facilitate the development of a supportive environment.  

1) Recognition of the need for meeting the accessibility requirements of an entire audience.

2) Petitioning for an executive champion for this initiative, perhaps someone with a personal connection to persons with disabilities.

3) Realization that by being accessible, you have established a business differentiator between you and your competitor and this will draw in audiences seeking the accommodations that you have provided.

4) Understanding that by being inaccessible, you are discriminating against audiences that could receive benefit from your services.  

5) Description, as with all accessibility accommodations, should never be seen as a burden to the process. It should simply become the process and the way in which business is undertaken.

In the Golden Age of Accessibility, the combined professional experience of the industry will guide others to partake in the insight gained during this time of reflection. We have always felt at AMI that given the supportive regulatory environment in which we exist, we would be well positioned to "do good" and provide insight for others as they strive to achieve prosperity by providing accessible media to their audiences.

AMI hosted a delegation from South Africa at our offices in Toronto recently. You can view that coverage on our YouTube channel


Related Resources

Blog: The Transition from Accessibility to Universal Access | Read Robert Pearson's Article.

Publication: Design for Accessibility: A Cultural Administrator's Handbook | Download PDF.

Event: Keroul Global Summit on the Accessibility of Tourism, Culture and Transportation | Montreal, Canada, October 19-22, 2014 | View Event Details.