TV thrills now on show for blind community

A faint-hearted filmgoer might watch the iconic shower stabbing scene from Psycho from behind the safety of parted fingers, but just try it with your eyes closed.

That's how thousands of blind and vision-impaired New Zealanders have had to cope with interpreting television every day.

Now a helping voice - known as an audio description or AD - is becoming more widely available to all of Sky Television's 850,000 subscribers.

Audio descriptions describe the visual action on screen, helping blind people understand the visual nuances of their favourite television shows.

"If you watch the shower scene from Psycho there are three-and-a-half minutes where the only dialogue is a scream and 'no, no, no'," said Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind [RNZFB] innovation manager Kevin Prince.

The descriptions make a huge difference to the participation of blind people in an activity sighted people take for granted, he said.

"With AD you would know that Janet Leigh had written, torn-up and flushed away a letter, that she looked nervous, that she'd gone into the shower and that the door opened and a shadowy shape appeared.

"Then the knife, the frenzied attack, blood flowing, Janet falls to the floor lifeless - that's how AD helps the blind."

RNZFB member Kirstan Mooney said: "I honestly haven't enjoyed TV this much since I could see 30 years ago! Absolutely love it and feel as though I am not missing a thing because of AD."

Prince said the demand for AD was high from those who had experienced it, and they were spreading the word among friends.

"Kirstan's reaction is typical of first-time users and it really makes a difference to participating in the things that the rest of us take for granted."

With the right equipment, the AD track could even be sent to headphones so that a blind user can watch alongside their sighted friends and family, he said.

Programmes with audio descriptions include each episode of Shortland Street and Coronation Street, along with one or two other TVOne or TV2 shows per night.

Government agency NZ On Air provides the funding for the descriptors for Television New Zealand programming, which was only available through digital Freeview boxes until now.

Sky spokeswoman Kirsty Way said the broadcaster had been working on the launch for several months and spent about $50,000 to enable the Sky decoders to access the service.

The launch coincides with Blind Week which this year is aimed at supporting the aspirations of blind people to participate in the community, says the RNZFB.

The foundation supports more than 11,000 blind or partially sighted people in New Zealand with two-thirds of its budget coming from public donations.

To enable ADs on Sky decoders, customers need to select the Italian language option. Further instructions can be accessed at