Case study: ABC & SBS – audio description

Designing with blind and vision impaired communities for inclusive Australian broadcasting.

Case study: ABC & SBS – audio description


ABC and SBS received funding from the Australian Government to launch the audio description (AD) service in Australia by mid-2020. The main roles of both stations are to inform, educate and entertain a diverse Australian audience.  

ABC provides a wide range of programs which reflects the interests of the wider Australian community, while SBS broadcasts local and international programs which reflect the interests of multicultural and multilingual audiences in Australia. Both broadcasters aim to reach a diverse audience to promote accessibility and inclusion.  They understood that gaining information directly from blind and vision impaired communities, their needs and concerns was vital in creating accurate and relevant services.


The Inclusive Design process was a co-design process and was a collaboration between Inclusive Design, broadcast, technician and communications experts. It sought to ensure as many blind or vision impaired people as possible would be able to access and enjoy the audio description service.  

The solution involved four parts:

Qualitative research – direct interviews with people from the blind or vision impaired community to gain insights.

Quantitative research – for content discovery and selection.

Communications and marketing strategy – guidance on the strategy for promoting audio description. 

Advice/implementation support – consisted of an expert advisory group, audio description, broadcasting and disability experts.

Impact and benefits  

Conducting interviews and surveys with blind and vision impaired audiences enabled ABC and SBS to successfully launch the AD broadcast service on their main free to air channels. Research revealed the areas the target audience struggled with most, and what they wished to see going forward. It prevented any foreseeable issues and better catered to the needs and preferences of the blind and vision impaired audiences. 

“Early insights into access needs prepared us to help audiences resolve issues receiving audio description on their televisions.”

Gerry Neustatl, ABC Digital Accessibility & Inclusive Design Lead 

Audio description enhances the television viewing experience for the blind and vision impaired community. They are able to enjoy television shows more as they are better informed by the audio description, and do not have to ask their friends or family what is happening. The service now benefits the wider community, not just the blind and vision impaired audiences. Sighted people who are not necessarily looking at the TV can also now listen in and know what is happening through the audio description. 

“The Inclusive Design approach can deliver what audiences want, increase reach, and increase audiences while being as inclusive as possible. It aligns with our values to be inclusive. This project had a lot of team engagement and enthusiasm because it is such purpose driven work.” 

Michael Coonan, SBS Head of Regulatory and Government Affairs