Cinema and DVD

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Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth)

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) (DDA) has been the major policy instrument which has provided access in to cinemas and DVDs in Australia. There are no legislative requirements for access in these media.

Section 24 of the DDA prohibits disability discrimination in the provision of goods and services. This has been held to include the cinema accessibility. The DDA also enables the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) the power to grant Temporary Exemptions from the DDA to allow time, where necessary, to make changes to comply with the DDA. This means that if a temporary exemption is granted the activities covered by the temporary exemption cannot be the subject of a complaint under the DDA.

The AHRC gains its regulatory functions to grant temporary exemptions to the DDA through section 55:

  1. The Commission may, on application by:
    1. a person:
      1. on that person’s own behalf; or
      2. on behalf of that person and another person or other persons; or
      3. on behalf of another person or other persons; or
    2. 2 or more persons:
      1. on their own behalf; or
      2. on behalf of themselves and another person or other persons; or
      3. on behalf of another person or other persons;
      4. on behalf of another person or other persons;
        by instrument grant to the person or persons to whom the application relates, as the case may be, an exemption from the operation of a provision of Division 1 or 2 (other than section 31 or 32), as specified in the instrument.

This essentially means that, so long as the AHRC is satisfied the applicant makes a good enough case to warrant an exemption from the DDA (ie they propose to reduce disability discrimination), then this exemption will be granted. In effect, the issuing of temporary exemption has been a powerful policy tool for increasing accessibility on Australian television.

Screen Australia’s Terms of Trade

Screen Australia (formerly the Australian Film Commission, the Film Finance Corporation Australia, and Film Australia Limited) is the key Commonwealth Government direct funding body for the Australian screen production industry. Since 1st July, 2007, Screen Australia has required all the films which it finances to be captioned through its Terms of Trade. As of 10th January, 2011, the current requirements are as follows:

  1. Accessibility of Screen Content

Screen Australia requires that feature films it finances be captioned and audio described to provide access for the hearing and/or visually impaired, for cinemas and DVD. The producer will need to budget for these requirements. Feature film producers are also required by Screen Australia to use reasonable endeavours to ensure that all Australian distribution agreements include access for the hearing and/or visually impaired via captioned and audio-described theatrical screenings and DVDs.

Screen Australia also encourages producers of all non-feature film content to budget for captioning and audio description, and for accessible web or game design, to provide access to their projects for both hearing and visually impaired audiences.


There is scant regulation of access to DVDs in Australia. Although DVD companies are potentially exposed to complaint under the DDA, no DVD company has sought a temporary exemption through the AHRC. Instead, Screen Australia’s Terms of Trade require all publicly funded films be captioned and audio described.  The Terms of Trade also require producers to use reasonable endeavours to ensure that all Australian distribution agreements include the access features theatrically and on DVD.


An Australian Human Rights Commission agreement and the Cinema Access Implementation Plan have been the major policy instruments to improve cinema accessibility in Australia.

Australian Human Rights Commission Agreement

Cinema captioning was established as a result of an Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) brokered agreement. This covered 8 locations initially and then expanded to 10 in 2005. It is important to note however that while the agreement was brokered by the Commission it does not operate as an exemption to the DDA. Therefore, consumers are still able to make complaints to the AHRC alleging that they have been discriminated against.

The AHRC rejected an application from Hoyts, Greater Union (including Event and Birch, Carroll & Coyle), Village, and Reading cinemas for a temporary exemption agreement under Section 55 of DDA. Under such an agreement, the four cinema providers would have been exempt to complaints under the DDA. The cinemas had offered to undertake to:

  • Increase the number of screens in cinemas operated by the applicants capable of delivering captions to 35 over the next 2½ years following the granting of any Temporary Exemption;
  • Provide audio description capability in all those 35 screens, including a retro-fit of the current 12 cinemas offering captioning to include audio-description;
  • Commit the applicants to a review of the current program in consultation with representatives from key stakeholders starting 9 months before the end of the Temporary Exemption period; and
  • Commit the applicants to working with representatives of disability organisations to ensure the availability of accessible information on film schedules within 6 months of the granting of any Temporary Exemption.

The AHRC stated that it made the decision in light of the provisions of the DDA and that 'on balance the Commission did not consider the application to represent sufficient progress to be considered reasonable'.

Cinema Access Implementation Plan

Following the AHRC’s rejection of their temporary exemption, in May 2010, Hoyts, Village Cinemas, Event Cinemas, and Reading Cinemas proposed a new strategy to improve cinema access. The Cinema Access Implementation Plan, brokered by the former Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers, the Hon Bill Shorten MP, will result in the following:

  1. By the end of 2014 captions and audio description will be available in at least one screen in every one of the 132 cinema complex run by Hoyts, Village Cinemas, Event Cinemas, and Reading Cinemas.
  2. In addition captions and audio description will be available in:
  3. one screen for every complex with 6 or less screens;
  4. two screens for every complex with 7 to 12 screens;
  5. three screens for every complex with 13 or more screens.

This will equate to captions and audio description being provided at 242 screens in 132 complexes compared to the current situation where only 12 screens in 12 complexes run by these cinemas provide captioning.

  1. The timetable for achieving this goal is:
  2. By the end of 2010, access will be provided in 24 screens (10% of target).
  3. By the end of 2011, access will be provided in 73 screens (30% of target).
  4. By the end of 2012, access will be provided in 145 screens (60% of target).
  5. By the end of 2013, access will be provided in 194 screens (80% of target).
  6. By the end of 2014, access will be provided in 242 screens (100% of target).
  7. Captions and audio description will be available at every session of a movie where the screen is caption and audio description equipped. For example, the initial rollout of 10% of screens will result in 840 shows per week of closed captioning and audio description content (ie 24 screens at 35 sessions per week).

Accessible Cinema Advisory Group

As part of the plan, an Accessible Cinema Advisory Group (ACAG) was established.  The ACAG includes representatives from the disability sector, the AHRC, Media Access Australia, and the relevant Government departments.  The functions of the Group include, but are not limited to:

  • Providing advice and assistance to cinemas to facilitate timely implementation of accessible technology;
  • Providing feedback on proposed technology solutions and evaluating developments in technology;
  • Providing advice and assistance on specific promotional and communication issues around advertising of accessible sessions, including ensuring that the information is accessible to audiences who are deaf or hearing impaired, blind or vision impaired;
  • Providing feedback on the provision of accessible movies to encourage implementation of agreed minimum standards of service and communications across all cinemas;
  • Providing advice on the development of appropriate channels for complaints/problems to be addressed and resolved quickly and efficiently; and
  • Assisting in the development, review and distribution of accessible cinema training material for staff within accessible cinemas.

The Commonwealth Government is assisting the cinemas to upgrade their technology by contributing $470 000 toward the estimated $2.2 million cost over four years.

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