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Film fan pushes for sight loss aids


Industry urged to insert audio descriptors in titles

A film fan from Anstruther in Fife with vision impairment has embarked on a campaign to urge television and film producers to release all of their titles with audio-description (AD).

Billy Horsburgh has the sight loss condition glaucoma but still eagerly follows serials and films streamed on television where additional voice-over narration explains what is happening to the viewer.

But while some content is audio-described when streamed, programmes and films released for home entertainment often are not.

So Billy (39) is working with sight loss charity RNIB to urge producers and distributors to audio-describe all their films, not just a token few.

His campaign follows the launch of an Ofcom report with both RNIB and hearing loss charity RNID calling on the UK government to implement its promise to introduce quotas for the amount of subtitles, audio-description and signed content on on-demand services. Changes to the law in 2017 gave the government the power to set minimum levels, but this has yet to be put into action.

Of the providers who responded to an Ofcom data request last year, 36.2 per cent don’t currently offer any subtitles, 83.3 per cent don’t offer any AD and 88.6 per cent don’t provide signing.

"I feel it's important for people like myself who enjoy audio-described programmes to have a wider access to such content," Billy says. "Despite the number of programmes that now have audio-description when broadcast on television, none of these have an AD-track when released on DVD and Blu-ray.

"I feel that every TV series box-set - such as 'Killing Eve', 'Line of Duty', 'White House Farm', 'Skins' - should be re-released with an AD track. I'm working with RNIB to contact all the major broadcasters to hopefully encourage them to re-release all their major box-set series with audio-description."

And it's not just television series. Billy is keen that more feature films released on DVD and Blu-ray also come with audio-description by default, too.

"I'd like box-sets of films such as the James Bond series all to be audio-described, rather than just two out of 24. I'm aware of the last four Bond films being audio-described, but not all of them are included in the 007 box-set. Other producers re-release their box-sets with audio-description, as do subsequent anniversary releases of older movies, so I don’t see why this should be different with the James Bond series.

"Again with the help of RNIB, I plan to contact these companies and others to ask them to re-release all earlier versions of their box-set films this time with audio-description."

Lack of digital space can be one reason for the omission of AD. Box-sets often come with additional features like director's cut, additional language subtitles for foreign language speakers, and additional scenes that didn’t make the initial cut, all of which may leave less room for AD-tracks.

Sonali Rai, broadcast and audio-description manager with RNIB, said: "We fully support Billy's campaign for more content to be audio-described on home entertainment platforms. UK film distributors have a great track-record of releasing their new titles with audio-description on DVD and Blu-rays, but it’s when the box-sets are released that audio-description is often forgotten or left out.

"There's also the issue of how one actually finds out if a DVD or a Blu-ray comes with AD. Amazon has an audio-description section for DVDs but no other retailer does. Unless someone with sight loss asks a sighted person to check the DVD case, there is no other way. We want audio-description to be listed under the DVD and Blu-ray specifications on a retailer's website just like subtitles and additional languages are. This would make it easy for blind and partially sighted film fans to confirm which ones have audio-description." 



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