For so many around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has meant unprecedented restrictions on their freedom to travel, gather, get to work or play, or even to simply leave the house. For others who have always faced restrictions such as these because of disability, it has reportedly been liberating in some ways, not just because everyone else is getting a taste of what has long been daily life for them, but also because so many workplaces, entertainment venues, galleries and more are finding creative ways to come into people’s homes since people can no longer come to them. When these providers do digital access well, they make their offerings even more accessible than just being able to be experienced on a screen, they add audio description.
For myself, I’m used to working from home for the most part, so my work life hasn’t changed dramatically, but the nature of some of the things I’m describing has changed. More galleries and museums are taking up the option (sadly, it’s still just an option) to have their collections described now that they’re so widely available to the public online. Streaming services are seeing hugely boosted subscription numbers, with more and more viewers, not just those with low vision, discovering the benefits of AD where it’s offered. In a recent ABC Life article, Priscilla Sutton also mentions that the simple fact of restaurant menus now going online in easily-navigable formats means that blind people can finally access them using screen readers.
People who may have found attending theatre performances, music gigs, art exhibitions or other cultural events a little too daunting because of their often-inaccessible nature (not least because many of them happen interstate or overseas!) are now enjoying the delightful ease of appreciating these treats from the comfort of home. I know I certainly am. Some arts groups are even going further and making their back-catalogues available online for the first time, like Royal New Zealand Ballet, who have included audio description on their streaming of previous productions, increasing the reach of their viewership and enhancing the enjoyment of so many subscribers.
Let’s hope these positive changes are here to stay, and that some of the lessons of lockdown won’t fall victim to collective amnesia when life returns to ‘normal’. Bring on the new normal!