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Wrap Up: Blind Citizens Australia National Convention (Day 1)

In March 2019 ADCET was a proud sponsor of the Blind Citizens Australia (BCA) National Convention held in Hobart.  Also, one of ADCET's newest staff members, Jane Britt attended and has sent through thoughts and reflections on the Convention.

“You Can Do It Your Way!”: Blind Citizens Australia National Convention 2019

By Jane Britt

Recently, 130 members of Blind Citizens Australia, industry professionals and volunteers gathered at the Old Woolstore, Hobart, Tasmania for an action-packed long weekend of discussion about the future of services, technology and advocacy in the low vision and blind sector in Australia. It was an invigorating, thought-provoking Convention filled to the brim with innovative pitches on technology and reflective discussion on low vision/blind service delivery and advocacy in Australia. Additionally, the Convention presented an excellent avenue for reconnecting with friends and networking with industry professionals. Every day ended with a dinner: A chance to debrief and network.

This Convention will be explored across two articles to cover each day of activities. There is simply too much rich content for practitioners in the higher education space to learn about in relation to education to be condensed within one article. It is hoped the learning across this conference will provide advice and tips for assisting students practically with technology, interacting with and even referring students to outside service providers to augment their support from equity practitioners in learning environments.

Day 1. Friday, 29th April 2018

The Future of Audio Description in Australia

The Convention opened on Friday afternoon with two concurrent sessions. For the first session, I attended the audio description (AD) panel discussion. AD is voice narration to audio describe visual imagery i.e., describe what is showing on a screen with video or on a stage in theatre. The description is typically offered between the dialogue to explain non-verbal actions, movement and changes in the environment in a visual performance. This is a hot topic issue with a recent pitch within the Australian Senate to amend the Communications Act of 1992 to allow for legislative changes to drive the enforced introduction of AD across free-to-air television in Australia. This push has been driven by TV4All, a campaign by Blind Citizens Australia.

The panellists in this session were Ross de Vent, Director of Description Victoria; John Simpson, President of BCA/Audio Description Consultant; Associate Professor Kate Ellis, Director of Centre for Culture and Technology at Curtain University.

The session commenced with a short film, Lobster. Lobster was an entrant in Tropfest 27 (2018), to raise the profile of audio description in Australia. Voice actors in the film consisted of a largely low vision/blind cast. The film conveys the necessity of audio description in a non-serious, light and sometimes frivolous fashion.

A robust discussion with a focus on three questions ensured: 1. What is effective audio description? 2. What are the other audiences for audio description outside the low vision/blind community? 3. What are some of the barriers to the implementation of audio description?

Effective Audio Description

The discussion about effective audio description initially focussed on effective audio description. The description needs to seamlessly be interwoven with on-screen or stage performance and not detract or interfere with the overall experience of the television show or theatre production. The describer should never become a performer. Human voice is generally preferred to synthetic options for the conveyance of emotion.

Secondary Market for Audio Description

Research has indicated that there is a viable secondary market for AD which can be generated through the benefits of AD: Ability to multitask whilst following a program and aiding understanding of complex plotlines.

Barriers to Implementation of AD

Even with known benefits, there are still multiple barriers which exist to the successful, universal deliverance of AD into the Australian market. Some of the barriers which exist are the pressure to deliver products meaning that AD is usually a rushed add-on or added retrospectively instead on being considered in the initial planning and development of a product. Instead of AD being an essential feature in creating a minimal viable product (MVP) prior to implementation of a product into the wider market, it doesn’t get considered until a stage which is not conducive to effective integration of the AD.

Conclusions: Learning from Conference Applied to Education

In education, not only can AD allow students the equal access to visual media used widely across educational settings, but it also suggests that there is a market outside students with vision loss by aiding understanding of visual media used in the educational setting and allowing all students to consume it in a manner which benefits their educational learning.

If development of educational resources can be created ensuring that AD is considered in the development of a MVP, the benefits of the AD can go beyond ensuring equal access and participation for VI students, but also potentially aiding all students. This is particularly critical in media, communication and journalism education.

Diverse Experiences of Blindness

The session following this one examined diverse, intersectional experiences of blindness. The first panellist, Stephen Belbin, Director of BCA discussed his experiences of being Aboriginal and blind. Belbin advocated for more education around minority groups and their approach to life, by including it into mainstream education practices. Belbin states that there is a unique approach to disability by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and there is a heightened need for understanding unique cultural perspectives. He recommended the First People Disability Network for information and resources.

Joanna Chua, Director of BCA and Chair of Cultural Diversity Advisory shared her experience as a person of colour and also with blindness. Chua discussed experiences of discrimination, first by race, followed by gender and disability, both inside and outside disability community. Chua argued that universal design and accessibility are needed by the disability community however they will be impossible to achieve until discrimination within the community is stamped out.

Paul Ugambi Mwenda, BCA member, followed with a cross-cultural perspective on disability, sharing his experience of disability growing up in Kenya. A major point Mwenda raised was that people with blindness are not often given opportunities, which lead to his own self-advocacy on the matter. He also discussed the damaging belief of curing someone in order to “fix” their blindness. In summary, he suggested that instead of attempting to cure blindness, opportunities should be offered to participate in community by accommodating blindness.

Finally, Judy Small, Convenor of the World Blind Union Asia Pacific Women’s Network, talked about her experience in Mongolia when attending a women’s forum comprised of 20 Mongolian women and 20 international women. Small learnt that the best way for women particularly to share their diversity is to share their story. Women in international settings may often be removed from a family due to disability, directly resulting from a lack of understanding due to cultural background. Small suggests that employment, education and technology can assist in empowering women in regions where access is limited or not existent. On the education front, access to literacy is fundamental in helping to empower women with disability. In conclusion, she stated a one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate and instead, responsive actions need to be implemented on a case-by-case basis.

Overall, the diverse representation of disability needs to consider the ramifications of belonging to more than one minority group. Educators need to consider how to implement education in a manner which ensures that cross-cultural and diverse experience is considered and portrayed in educational settings. In fact, education is the key to understanding diverse experiences and the more open conversations which can occur in an educational setting about the experiences of diverse students and teachers alike, the greater the possibility of achieving a truly equitable approach to education.