Australian Open broadcasts become accessible for blind and vision impaired

Paige Murphy
By Paige Murphy | 17 February 2021

Tennis Australia, Monash University and AKQA have launched Action Audio, an online audio stream designed to make the Australian Open broadcasts accessible for the almost 600,000 Australians and 285 million people globally who are living with blindness or a vision impairment.

Action Audio allows people with blindness or vision impairment to stay connected to the tennis experience throughout the entire match, and follow it in real-time.

Action Audio uses Tennis Australia’s real-time ball position data to make the ball ‘audible’ to blind audiences. 

“We’re incredibly proud to be launching Action Audio during this year’s Australian Open finals. For the first time, thousands of blind and visually impaired fans will be able to follow the on-court action in real time, enabled by this ground breaking new use of technology,” Tennis Australia head of innovation Machar Reid says.

“It’s a great example of our commitment to expanding access to the game, and making the Australian Open experience as welcoming, safe and inclusive as possible.”

By applying sound design principles to the ball data, blind and low vision audiences can follow the speed and trajectory of the ball, its proximity to the line, and a player’s shot type in 3D audio. 

“Tennis is a very fast paced game, leaving people with visual impairments to miss out on critical moments of the game,” Monash University faculty of information technology research fellow Cagatay Goncu says.

“Action Audio is designed to address this by using spatialised sound to give audiences more information about what’s happening, when it’s happening.”

AKQA AUNZ executive creative director Tim Devine says Action Audio will become useful for other sports as well.

“The real innovation of Action Audio is that it requires very few new tools to implement. Our vision is that Action Audio will be rolled out to support many more sports codes and broadcasts around the world,” Devine says.

“This launch sets a new bar for inclusion and accessibility for every other global sports tournament that follows the 2021 Australian Open. It opens up sports to potentially millions more fans. It really is a game changer.”

The launch of Action Audio is one of many Tennis Australia initiatives to ensure tennis is accessible to the whole community, such as Glam Slam, tailored programs for people with blind or low vision, deaf or hard of hearing and people with intellectual disabilities or Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Electronic line calling systems are used at over 80 tennis tournaments worldwide, offering a huge opportunity to open access to sport for millions of blind and low vision fans.

Action Audio has been developed through a partnership between Tennis Australia, Monash University and innovation agency AKQA, and was refined through a co-design process with members of the blind and visually impaired community, including input from Blind Sports Victoria.

“I think everyone has the right to have as much access as possible. I love tennis, but being totally blind, all I can usually hear is the ball going up and down and then I have to wait for them to announce the result," Blind Sports Victoria CEO Maurice Gleeson says.

"I’m really looking forward to this next step forward in accessibility."

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