An odd question perhaps but one that is not altogether unusual in lunch rooms around the country. Why? Because if one of the staff in the lunch room is blind, there’s a good chance that, like most of us it seems, they are a fan of the street. And somehow that programme is designed in such a way that it tries to end on a dramatic note that all too often is conveyed only through visual action. All you hear is a crash or a shout or a groan or whatever it might be, or just someone looking suspiciously at something from a distance, and just when you’re trying to work out what happens, on comes that familiar tune to tell you that you’ll have to wait until next time to find out. Sighted people of course will probably have seen what happened.

But New Zealand took a small but still very significant step forward on 1 March this year with the first broadcast of audio description on television.

An odd question perhaps but one that is not altogether unusual in lunch rooms around the country. Why? Because if one of the staff in the lunch room is blind, there’s a good chance that, like most of us it seems, they are a fan of the street. And somehow that programme is designed in such a way that it tries to end on a dramatic note that all too often is conveyed only through visual action. All you hear is a crash or a shout or a groan or whatever it might be, or just someone looking suspiciously at something from a distance, and just when you’re trying to work out what happens, on comes that familiar tune to tell you that you’ll have to wait until next time to find out. Sighted people of course will probably have seen what happened.

But New Zealand took a small but still very significant step forward on 1 March this year with the first broadcast of audio description on television.

Coronation Street was picked because it is still amongst the most popular and also readily available with an audio description already recorded.

So what is audio description?

As a blind person, have you ever watched a TV programme and wondered what the heck is going on? Great if you’ve got someone with you who can see and who doesn’t mind explaining what’s happening. But if you can see, just stop for a second and think, if you were blind, how would you understand what is happening when there is no dialog or anything to even give you a clue. That is what audio description is; a voice that quietly tells you what’s happening on the screen. This voice is broadcast as part of the programme itself. You just push a button on your Freeview remote, and, if the programme you are watching has an audio description, you will start to hear that extra voice telling you what’s happening, while making sure not to talk over the top of the dialogue.

Last Thursday 3 March, for many blind people watching Coro Street (yes we do refer to “watching” TV) all they would have heard at the end was the fireworks and some loud music from a passing car. But those using the new audio description feature would have known that Tony had collapsed in the street, presumably because of a serious medical problem such as a heart attack.

At the moment, only Coronation Street is available with audio description. So it is just a small first step. Still, we express our appreciation to New Zealand On Air and TVNZ for seeing the potential of the new Freeview system to deliver, and it certainly does deliver.

So now when Coronation Street comes on, anyone with a Freeview certified set top box or TV can press the buttons and hear the audio description. You don’t need any specialised equipment. The advantages to blind people are obvious. It will ultimately make television far more accessible to everyone.

But think about it. If you’re sighted, could audio description be important to you too? Imagine you are just washing the dishes or something so you can’t see the screen. If you have Freeview, why not switch on the audio description and have a nice voice tell you all that’s going on visually. I’m sure audio description has the potential to impact on the lives of even sighted people who for whatever reason might not be fully concentrating on the screen. Just turn on the audio description and enjoy.

My only fear now, having successfully weaned myself off the Street a number of years ago, is that I might once again become hooked on it. Of course we hope it won’t be very long before we have more choice of audio described programmes.