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Disability Rights: Report on DVD access

Report on the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Roundtable on DVD access

The first Roundtable meeting on DVD access took place in Sydney on 19 February 2007 . It was attended by the Australian Visual Software Distributors Association (AVSDA) and a number of its members, representatives from a number of disability community organisations, Federal Government Departments and Media Access Australia.

Opening remarks from Commissioner Innes

The meeting was chaired by the Human Rights Commissioner and Commissioner responsible for Disability Discrimination, Mr Graeme Innes AM, whose introductory remarks are produced below.


Thank you for being so positive in responding to the invitation to attend this meeting.

I want to begin by making a few comments about the Commission's interest in this issue, the role we have played in working with industry and community groups in other areas, such as banking and television, to improve access and to briefly summarise issues raised in the Media Access Australia Background paper.

Commission interest and role

Over the past five years or so the Commission has hosted a number of meetings like this in order to bring together the disability community, industry and Government to discuss identified access problems and to try to forge partnerships and agreements to address those problems.

Often the decision to host such meetings is in response to a growing number of individual discrimination complaints the Commission or other anti-discrimination agencies are receiving, but just as often it is as a result of approaches from industry or the disability community for assistance to find ways of addressing problems more systemically.

Generally we would not convene such meetings unless we were convinced there was:

  • a clearly identifiable access problem affecting significant numbers of people
  • practical and effective solutions available to overcome the problem, and
  • some indication that all parties are willing to sit round a table and find solutions in good faith.

This approach has worked well in some industries, for example Roundtables we have run in the area of health access involving the RACGP, disability sector and Government have led to a number of initiatives that are having an effect on access to health care services. Similarly in the banking sector we have facilitated a number of partnerships between the Australian Bankers' Association, its members and the disability and aged community to address issues such as access to e commerce.

My intent is to facilitate a process that will improve access and equity for people with disabilities while at the same time recognising the need for planned and progressive change over time.

It may well be that during our discussions we identify other bodies that need to be approached and brought into the discussion or more research that needs to be completed, so I am not expecting that we will necessarily be in a position at the end of this meeting to agree on a plan for moving forward.

However, if as a result of this meeting we can begin that process I think we will have achieved something. If we cannot find common ground to achieve change together then at least all parties will be better informed of the issues each sector faces.

Let me now make a few comments on the background to this meeting and the issue of access to DVDs.

First I would like to thank Media Access Australia who prepared the background paper for us. I asked MAA to prepare the paper because I felt we would all benefit from a clearer understanding of just what exactly it is we are talking about, what technical questions exist, what is happening internationally and what is happening locally.

While I am sure people will want to fill in the picture the background paper paints during our discussions I think it gives us all a better feel for the issues that could be addressed to improve access.

It seems to me that the basic concerns about accessibility can be summarised as:

  • Some DVDs that are released overseas have Audio Description ('AD') and/or captions on them but the Australian release does not.
  • Most Australian television series and features going onto DVD don't have captions or AD, including series that have been shown with captions on television.
  • There are a number of instances where the DVD covers are incorrectly marked as having captions and AD or not marked when they are captioned or AD.
  • There is a problem with public information, particularly websites, where the information about access is not provided and/or you cannot search by access features.

Views of participants

Following his introduction, Commissioner Innes invited the representatives from the disability sector to make presentations on the importance of accessible DVDs to their community and industry representatives to describe how the industry works and the issues faced in making accessible DVDs available.

Community views

Representatives from the disability sector made a number of points:

  • The population of people benefiting from accessible DVDs is growing and is not limited to people who are blind or Deaf. For example, currently 1 in 6 Australians has a hearing impairment and this number is likely to grow to 1 in 4 by 2050. Similarly, the population of Australians who are blind or have low vision is expected to increase from over half a million today to nearly 800,000 by 2020.
  • If people with disabilities cannot access the cultural, entertainment and educational material available to other Australians they are denied their rights to equal participation in our community.
  • Quite apart from the equity issues and the legal responsibilities of ensuring access, the business case for improving access must be considered.
  • Knowing that material with AD and captions is available in some parts of the world but not here in Australia is frustrating. It is even more frustrating to see, for example, Australian produced material that is captioned on TV but is not captioned when released on DVD.
  • The disability sector wants to work with industry and Government to find co-operative ways of improving access to DVDs.

Industry views

Representatives from industry provided a picture of how industry works:

  • DVD is a relatively new technology and growth over the past 5 or 6 years has been massive.
  • Industry seeks to bring content to as many people as possible and wants to work with the disability sector and others to achieve improvements where possible.
  • Most film material is sourced from Europe (due to Europe having more compatible PAL systems than the US NTSC system).
  • It is provided in the form of a Digital Linear Tape (DLT) which is generally provided to the Australian distributors for processing onto the DVDs for sale in Australia .
  • As the DVD itself has limited storage space, decisions about what additional files to put on the DVD such as languages, captions and AD for international films and overseas produced films are generally made by the European production arms of the distributors due to the NTSC / PAL compatibility issue. The DLT is then delivered for DVD production in Australia . These decisions take into account a number of factors including costs, commercial viability, promotion and distribution timelines and competing pressures for space on the DVD and the Australian distributor generally has little input or say over the DLT sent to Australia .
  • A business case needs to be developed in order to affect the decisions made about DVD file content.
  • Australian produced and funded films are an obvious target for additional content to be included for local distribution. Producers and creators need to be engaged earlier in the process to include AD as part of the content package they provide to distributors for Australian release.
  • New technologies may in future allow for better accessibility as file size will not be a limiting factor to what features, languages and 'extras' can be provided on units sold.
  • The Background Paper produced for the Roundtable has already stimulated discussion about the need for better industry knowledge about the issues and a need for consistency in areas such as labelling and advertising.


Participants then considered the issues raised in both the Background paper and earlier presentations and a number of points were noted including:

  • Recent changes to Australian copyright law have clarified that Australian consumers who purchase legitimate DVDs overseas are able to circumvent the region coding on those DVDs to enable playback in Australia .
  • There are existing legal responsibilities to ensure goods and services provided in Australia are delivered equitably - ie that do not unlawfully discriminate on the basis of disability.
  • Australian consumers should - as a matter of policy- be afforded the same levels of accessibility that their American and UK counterparts enjoy.
  • We need to ensure there is no duplication of effort to create accessible features such as AD and captioning across multiple (English language) regions because of market segmentation or the particular format of DVDs.
  • There is a need for further research on new systems for content delivery that may afford new opportunities for even better accessibility.

Discussion focussed on the four areas of concern identified by Commissioner Innes in his introduction and identified a number of areas for further consideration.

1. Some DVDs that are released overseas have AD and/or captions on them but the Australian release does not .

  • What is the feasibility and value of developing a list of available accessible DVDs from Region 1 area? Who could develop, host and maintain the list?
  • Are there technical means of making AD files available separate to the actual DVD, for example could they be made available (separately) online and would it be feasible to do so?
  • Are there difficulties posed by factors such as production timeframes, technical issues and classification timelines that might interfere with progress?
  • Do Australian distributors need to better understand the demand in the Australian market for accessible DVD's in requesting these features on the DLT from parent companies?
  • Can the momentum for change be enhanced through better knowledge of the business case for accessible DVDs?
  • Will new technologies allow for improved access?

2. Most Australian television series and features going onto DVD don't have captions or AD, including series that have been shown with captions on television.

  • How can we ensure those responsible for the funding and production of Australian film content and TV series are better informed about the importance of AD and captioning?
  • What needs to be done to ensure that TV series that are closed captioned (by broadcasters) and then produced on DVD retain the option to view with captioning?
  • How can we ensure that AD becomes part of the agenda for Australian produced content?
  • Are there areas for priority for Australian TV and features content?

3. There are a number of instances where the DVD covers are incorrectly marked as having captions and AD, or where they are not marked when they do have captions and/ or AD.

  • How can we ensure that labelling of DVDs (in respect of both captions and AD) is accurate and consistent?
  • How can we standardise the language used to describe the access features of DVDs?
  • Is there an opportunity to develop industry-wide agreement on these issues through the development of a guideline or 'standard'?

4. There is a problem with public information, particularly websites, where the information about access is not provided and/or you cannot search by access features.

  • How do we ensure distribution and promotion bodies such as Bigpond and retail outlets provide accurate and consistent information?
  • Is there an opportunity to develop industry-wide agreement on these issues through the development of a guideline or 'standard'?

Next step

Following discussion, Commissioner Innes proposed that a Working Group be established as soon as possible consisting of representatives from the Commission, MAA, the community sector and from industry to work through the issues raised with a view to reporting back in 6 months time.

Commissioner Innes also noted that the Working Group should identify other interested parties that should be involved in further discussion and any other matters relevant to achieving progress in this area.

Participants agreed to nominate members of the Working Group which would be hosted by the Commission. Participants also agreed to notes from the meeting being posted on the Commissions website following circulation.