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BBC Radio 4 In Touch
4 March 2008

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Ofcom, the television regulator, is currently running a campaign to increase awareness of audio-description – you may have heard the adverts on the BBC or any of the other 70 or so channels involved. Audio-description is additional narration added to TV programmes that describes on-screen action such as facial expression, movement and body language.

Peter is joined by Dr Rowena Forbes, Tim Gebbels and Leen Petre. Leen is Principle Manager of the RNIB's Culture and Media team, which has been working with Ofcom, Tim Geobels is a an actor, media watcher and has been a user of audio description for some time, and, prompted by the adverts, Rowena Forbes has been trying to discover how she can make the most of audio description.

A number of products were discussed and more details of all ways of receiving audio description can be accessed via the RNIB’s helpline.

Audio description helpline
Tel: 08456 01 01 81
Online help:

Audio description at the BBC
To find details of audio description on the BBC you can call 0800 934 999 or vist

Digital Switchover Help Scheme
Tel: 0845 650 50 50
If you are registered blind or partially sighted you will be eligible for help to covert one TV set to ensure you can receive digital TV.


Peter also talks to Andy Dalby-Welsh who lost his sight aged 20 to Leber’s Optic Neuropathy. He gave up on playing football but turned to cricket instated and now helps young visually-impaired people to get involved in cricket through the London Community Cricket Association, part funded by Sports Relief .

London Community Cricket Association
0 208 669 2177

Sports Relief
Sports Relief – get invoked
To find out details of how you can get involved with Sports Relief, to sign up for the Sports Relief mile or to get more information on the Sports Relief weekend visit

Action For Blind People
Helpline: 0800 915 4666
Action for Blind People is an expert national organisation, ensuring blind and partially sighted people receive practical support in all aspects of their lives.
This link has information on Leber’s Optic Neuropathy.


105 Judd Street
Helpline: 0845 766 9999
Tel: 0207 388 1266 (switchboard/overseas callers)
The RNIB provides information, support and advice for anyone with a serious sight problem. They not only provide Braille, Talking Books and computer training, but imaginative and practical solutions to everyday challenges. The RNIB campaigns to change society's attitudes, actions and assumptions, so that people with sight problems can enjoy the same rights, freedoms and responsibilities as fully sighted people. They also fund pioneering research into preventing and treating eye disease and promote eye health by running public health awareness campaigns.

John Derby House
88-92 Talbot Road
Old Trafford
M16 0GS
Tel: 0161 872 1234
Henshaws provides a wide range of services for people who have sight difficulties. They aim to enable visually impaired people of all ages to maximise their independence and enjoy a high quality of life. They have centres in: Harrogate, Knaresborough, Liverpool, Llandudno, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Salford, Southport and Trafford.

Burghfield Common
Tel: 0118 983 5555
The GDBA’s mission is to provide guide dogs, mobility and other rehabilitation services that meet the needs of blind and partially sighted people.

14-16 Verney Road
SE16 3DZ
Tel: 0800 915 4666 (info & advice)
Registered charity with national cover that provides practical support in the areas of housing, holidays, information, employment and training, cash grants and welfare rights for blind and partially-sighted people. Leaflets and booklets are available.

Central Office
Swinton House
324 Grays Inn Road
Tel: 020 7837 6103
Textphone: 020 7837 6103
National League of the Blind and Disabled is a registered trade union and is involved in all issues regarding the employment of blind and disabled people in the UK.

RNIB Customer Services on 0845 762 6843
The NLB is a registered charity which helps visually impaired people throughout the country continue to enjoy the same access to the world of reading as people who are fully sighted.

Trustees from the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) and the National Library for the Blind (NLB) have agreed to merge the library services of both charities as of 1 January 2007, creating the new RNIB National Library Service.

Stratford upon Avon
CV37 9BR
Tel: 08457 622 633
Textphone: 08457 622 644
Fax: 08457 778 878
Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri 9:00 am-5:00 pm; Wed 8:00 am-8:00 pm.

1st Floor
3 Callaghan Square
CF10 5BT
0845 604 8810 - Wales main number
0845 604 8820 - Wales textphone
0845 604 8830 - Wales fax

9:00 am-5:00 pm, Monday to Friday (an out-of-hours service will start running soon)


The Optima Building
58 Robertson Street
G2 8DU
0845 604 5510 - Scotland Main
0845 604 5520 - Scotland Textphone
0845 604 5530 - Scotland – Fax

9:00 am-5:00 pm, Monday to Friday (an out-of-hours service will start running soon)


380-384 Harrow Road
W9 2HU
Tel: 0845 130 9177
The Disabled Living Foundation provide information and advice on disability equipment

The BBC is not responsible for external websites 

General contacts
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Good Evening. How many of you are making use of this?

On the rocky shore a lizard barely flinches as it's swamped for a foamy white wave.

Well, that's an audio-described version of the Blue Planet, and, if you're visually-impaired and you're not sure what audio-description is, stay with us; you soon will! And, we'll also be talking to the man for whom cricket has played a huge part in restoring his confidence after he lost his sight; we'll be talking to him a little later on in the programme.

Today the Royal National Institute of Blind People is launching a campaign which is also spreading word - audio-description is the subject. Some of you may already have caught some of the TV adverts on this; this one on the BBC.

A 30 something male awakes beside an attractive lady. Her father enters. He runs from the bed and opens a window. He jumps. He tumbles down a hill into a road. A car races towards him. It breaks just in time. The door opens - it's the girl. They drive into a beautiful sunrise.

If you have sight problems and would like to find out about audio-description from the BBC call our helpline on 08000 934 999 or visit

So why now, when it's been around for quite a while - I saw my first example of audio-description in the States in 1998 - and what's the message?

Well I'm joined by Leen Petre, who's the principle manager of the RNIB's Culture and Media Team. So first of all, just for those who don't know, explain the principle behind audio-description.

Well the principle really as people could hear in that clip and in that advert is to provide an additional commentary that explains everything that's important on the screen that people might not be able to pick up if they've got difficulty watching the screen - so that's movement, facial expressions and so - and it really helps blind and partially-sighted people follow the plot of the story.

And why push it now because as I said it has been around for a while?

It has indeed been around for a while. Recent research found that actually 6 out of 10 people in the UK don't know what audio-description is and a similar figure amongst blind and partially-sighted people. And lots of people call RNIB and are quite upset about the fact that they can no longer watch television and no longer watch films and they're amazed when we tell them about audio-description. So we thought the time was right to get the message out on a wider scale really and to tell people audio-description is there, it's for you or for people you know and try it out.

Right, well we'll come back to the issue of perhaps why more people don't know and why even if they do know they don't always use it but also with it are two people who have got the message, indeed use audio-description, first of all Dr Rowena Forbes, who has partial sight and is joining us from Edinburgh. Now you got in touch with us when you realised that audio-description was being promoted, and that the RNIB had a question and answer presentation for it, so what prompted you to do that because presumably you were a user already?

I was a limited user of audio-description but really via sort of DVDs or with films with audio-description but I was very interested in getting audio-description on television and I wasn't really aware of the different platforms that were available. So I decided to go to the websites and have a look and there were a number of different platforms available and once I started looking into it obviously it became a bit more complicated than I'd first imagined.

Right and we asked you sort of to be our guinea pig and to test out what was available and how easy is was to find out about it. So what have you discovered?

Well there are numerous ways that you can get audio-description on your television. Perhaps the most simple way is to have a television that's digitally enabled. There are several models available that can provide this service, the complicating factor is it's not intuitive that this service is available to you, you really need to do a bit of digging on websites and things like that in order to realise that a simple click on a menu on the television will activate the audio-description.

Leen Petre, if I can just bring you in here, can you just explain what is the position about digitally enabled televisions?

Well there are a couple of companies who've recently started putting audio-description in their integrated digital tellies and we very much welcome that. But we do realise that it's not always easy for people to know which models to look for and also if you enter a shop the shop assistant might be one of those 6 out of 10 people who's never heard of audio-description. So what we've done to try and help people is we've set up a helpline where they can talk to an assistant and get all that information and that's especially set up helpline that runs this week and in the weeks to come and there people can give you the information or the models that have it and send you the list for you to take to the shop.

But when we say, Leen, digitally enabled what do we actually mean by that, in terms of audio-description?

What we mean is that you first of all, as Rowena rightly identified, you have to have a television that can receive a digital signal and digital television comes in three main ways really - you can have Sky, you can have cable from Virgin Media or you can have digital television via an antenna, which is also referred to as Freeview. Now the really good news is that for those listeners out there who've got Sky or Virgin Media if you've got any of those you have audio-description, it's just a matter of switching in on. If you have Freeview then you need to have one of those televisions or one of those set top boxes that is enabled to receive the service.

Right. Rowena, so you looked at a digitally enabled TV, what about the other options as far as you were concerned?

Going back to the Freeview option, again there are models of Freeview boxes that can provide the service but they're very limited, I think there's only one actual set top box that's available and then there's a very nice bit of kit called a Port Set but that's a sort of media centre that's stand alone without a screen. So my issue is becoming what's going to suit me best? I'm not a Sky customer, I'm not a Virgin Media customer, although looking at those again it became clear that with both those sets of services you would get the audio-description. I have a Freeview box that's built into another device, so I didn't really need one. So my options were becoming limited as to how to get this service and I don't need a new television. So you know it's a question of weighing up what my best option would be.

Right. Well can we bring Leen in, maybe you can advise what her best option is.

I think the best option is to connect a Freeview box that can receive audio-description to your existing telly because obviously if it's an integrated digital television it's presumably rather new, we wouldn't want to advise you to get rid of it, so you can keep that but you can connect one of the set top boxes that RNIB sells, for example, to it and that then basically overrides the tuner in your television and thereby gives you the audio-description.

So you don't need to get a new set, you can use what you've already got?


Yeah, that's the more or less the conclusion I've come to except I'd have to invest in the new Freeview box that would be able to get the service but that's a relatively limited expense compared to some of the others.

I think the one thing that this debate makes clear though, Leen, that it is quite complicated and isn't this part of the reason why more people aren't taking up the option of audio-description?

That could be part of the reason, yes. And we realise it's quite complicated and what is suitable for one person might not be suitable for the next person, so that's also one of the reasons we thought well actually we have to have a helpline where people can talk about their individual situation, for example, so one like Rowena who already has an integrated digital telly can be advised but also someone who doesn't have anything yet can be advised through our helpline on whether they are in a region that will switch to digital soon, they'll be advised on whether their area can receive cable via Virgin Media and so on. We're here really, at the moment, to make it easier for people to find out about it and to switch it on.

Right. Let me bring in our other audio-description user Tim Gebbels, who's totally blind. Now you've been on the programme before as a bit of an enthusiast, I mean looking, for example, for audio-described Doctor Who DVDs, just from a cultural point of view what sort of difference has it made to you?

The thing about audio-description is it basically means inclusion because what's happening on Eastenders or Coronation Street or some big film, the latest film, that's what people talk about in the pub or it's what sighted people know about it, it's mainstream culture. And with audio-description you, as a blind person, can be part of that, you know what people are talking about, you can take part in a conversation. I went when Troy was out, which was a big thing at the time, wasn't it, a few years ago with audio-description, I went with my girlfriend and a friend and we came out, afterwards there was chat about it, some of us didn't like it and some of us did and I was able to join in that discussion and have an opinion and it sort of doesn't matter what you think of it really, it doesn't matter what your opinion is, you're able to take part in films and TV programmes which are mainstream cultural events basically.

Lene Petre, one of the things that people say about this is just the fact that the amount of audio-description is so small, it's about rising to 10% at the maximum at the moment, isn't - when people are talking about sums of money going into hundreds of pounds that explains why people perhaps don't want to do it more than they are isn't it?

Yeah 10% is only a proportion of programmes and we realise that and obviously if broadcasters want to take the initiative to do more we'd very much welcome that. I mean we've got people who say to us audio-description is the best since sliced bread, so obviously they would want more of that and we support that. But I think it's important also for you to realise that as Tim says there is a range of programming already out there, for example, tonight people can watch Holby City, Shameless, Neighbours, CSI Miami with audio-description, Friends - so there is a range of programmes already.

They'd have to record Holby City because they'll miss us otherwise.

Can I also say Peter that several friends, more than one, I used to proselytise at about audio-description and them going oh no I don't need it, I'm used to managing without. And that's fine but the same people who have subsequently got it via Freeview of Sky or Cable or whatever are complete converts. So I think blind people - we're very used to managing without something when we've never had it but actually it is a fantastic boon when you get it because all the time you're watching a film or watching telly you've got that little detective working away in your skull trying to figure out what's going on from the little clues on the soundtrack, by the music, by the sort of sound effects and audio-description takes all the work out of that, you can enjoy the programme, you're not having to work so hard all the time trying to figure out what's actually happening on screen.

What about this concern that was expressed for some time that you could enjoy but then so did everybody else who lived with you because if you've got audio-description everybody has to listen to it?

Well it won't do them any harm will it? My experience has been - I mean certainly with my flatmates it used to make me laugh because I wasn't into Eastenders but I'd walk past the living room and hear her listening - watching Eastenders with the audio-description, it just struck me as a bit incongruous a sighted person keeping the audio-description on all the time. But she didn't seem to mind. And my partner's said to me, certainly with films on DVD, that often the audio-description enhances it for the sighted view, it gives them information they wouldn't have noticed by themselves or means you can focus on the ironing a bit and still take in the film.

Rowena Forbes, you alerted us to this, what conclusions have you come to and how much money are you prepared to spend to do it?

Well I'm definitely going to go ahead to get audio-description on television and I think I'll do what Leen suggested and get a separate digi box, separate Freeview box, and splice that into things such that I can get the audio-description because even if though I would like to see more than 10% of programming with audio-description but every little helps and yeah I'm definitely keen to pursue it further.

Right Rowena Forbes, Tim Gebbels, Leen Petre, thank you all very much indeed. And we'll have some information about audio-description, of course, on our action line, details at the end of the programme.

Of course it's arguable that audio-description has been around much longer than we might think; haven't we had it ever since we had television cricket commentary from the 1950's? A few murmured words to accompany the action! Have to give credit for that point to Tim Gebbels but it's relevant to our next guest because as a fan it doesn't surprise me that cricket has been so socially useful. It's been rather more than that to my next guest, Andy Dalby-Welsh because I think you've seen it really as a bit of a saviour for you since you lost your sight.

Absolutely Peter. I developed an eye condition when I was 20, having grown up as a sports enthusiast through my - well early years and my teens and basically when I suffered my sight loss I thought that was pretty much it for my sporting dreams. And I came across a visually impaired cricket side that was setting up through Sussex County Cricket Club and got involved through there and to be honest it's opened up all manner of things for me from that point on.

I guess to the novice we'd better explain that blind cricket does bear a resemblance to mainstream cricket but there are certain things that are different, there are different rules aren't there, different balls, all that sort of thing.

That's right, that's right. I mean the main difference, if you watched a game of blind cricket being played in this country I mean we've had an example of it to be honest training in the park and people coming up and saying why are you playing cricket with a football. And basically the way the game has been adapted is to play with a bigger ball - a size three football - but there is noise makers inside that ball that basically make the game audible. And so if you have a severe sight loss or total blindness you can still take part in that game by using your eyes rather than your eyes.

So, it sounds an unusual form of rehabilitation nonetheless. How has it helped you?

It's helped me, basically I got involved at that point at Sussex and there's a real structure of basically blind cricket that you can participate in and I was fortunate enough to then go on and represent the England blind cricket team, just as I was finishing my university degree. Had incredible experiences playing for the England blind cricket team in the World Cup in India and from there assisted in setting up blind cricket in the West Indies and following that it led to employment for me, working for a cricket charity, which is known as the London Community Cricket Association, soon to be Cricket for Change, which says a little bit more about what we do. Yes so basically it's been a catalyst to really changing my life.

The West Indian experience you had and Cricket for Change, they're sponsored by Sport Relief aren't they?

That's right, we've very recently received funding from Sport Relief which has been fantastic because it's - what it's enabled us to do is we've worked with young visually impaired cricketers in the past but Sport Relief's funding this time has enabled us to continue some work and to attract new young visually-impaired people to the game of cricket. But also on top of just the actual giving them the chance to play it's also giving us a chance to run a community sports leaders award programme for those young visually-impaired cricketers and basically it will hopefully inspire and enthuse them to enjoy a pathway that I've managed to enjoy and if they want to be the new sports development professionals in the future just because they've got a visual impairment why should that stop them?

And I must just ask you, just briefly, about the Caribbean because that must have been an exciting experience, I'm quite surprised in a way that blind cricket came to the Caribbean so late, given the status of the West Indies.

Absolutely, I mean we did the work about five years ago and they at the time were the only test playing cricket nation that didn't have a blind cricket side. And so we started in Barbados, we moved on into Jamaica, as you can imagine it was a tricky and horrible piece of work to have to deliver but we made the most of it out in the Caribbean. And basically they've - they've gone on and taken it to the various islands out in the Caribbean and in the last blind cricket world cup they had a West Indian representative side there which was a fantastic achievement really and now they're competing with all the other countries in the world.

And just finally, I think you've got a theory about why cricket, in particular of all the sports, is kind of particularly good for confidence building for blind people.

Absolutely, I mean we, as I say, you know we're going to be Cricket for Change, we think cricket can change people's lives basically, the reason we think it's good for the young people that we work with is that they benefit from playing a team sport, more often being educated in mainstream schools now, so may not get to take part in many team games. So one, this gives them opportunity to access a team sport but what cricket has that many other sports don't have in being a team game is you still get your chance within that game to really excel individually because you get your chance to bat, you'll get your chance to bowl and through those two disciplines, and with maybe doing something exceptional in the field within that team environment, you've had a brilliant opportunity to excel individually. So we think it's absolutely perfect, there's no chance of the game passing you by completely, as football possibly could do, for a visually-impaired person, you get your chance in cricket and that's why we like it so much.

Andy Dalby-Welsh, thanks very much indeed.

And if anyone would like to know more about Sport's Relief and their connection with the organisation or want to leave your comments on cricket, sport in general, audio-description or indeed anything at all you're very welcome to do so. You can call our Action line on 0800 044044, and e-mail us via the website. And there'll be a podcast of this programme to download from tomorrow. Just to tell you very briefly: Sad news, the blind blues guitarist Jeff Healey - we'll be featuring him a future programme. From me Peter White, my producer Cheryl Gabriel, and the rest of the team, goodbye.

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