Accessible television

Captioning and audio description help make television accessible.


Captions show the dialogue and describe any other sounds in a television program as text on the screen.

When captions appear with speech, the colour of the text and position on the screen shows who's speaking. Captions are usually placed somewhere on the screen that doesn't interfere with the picture.

There are two types of captions:

  • Closed captions are added to the television signal after the original program or movie is recorded. For television services in Australia, closed captioning is available on most televisions by clicking on the 'CC' button on the remote control or through the digital set-top box.
  • Open captions don’t need to be turned on. This is because they are burned into the original print recording of a program.

Live captioning is used for news programs and other programs that are broadcast live or near-live. They are created in real time so they usually appear on screen one word at a time with a delay of several seconds.

Non-live programs such as dramas or films use prepared captions which have been created in advance. These pre-prepared captions usually appear one or two lines at a time with no delay.

The rules for captioning

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) regulates television captioning in Australia. Captions must comply with requirements set out in legislation, industry codes of practice and the Television Captioning Quality Standard.

The Broadcasting Services Act 1992 requires free-to-air television broadcasters to caption all news and current affairs programs and any program screened on their primary or main channels between 6am to midnight, unless the program is music-only or not in English.

Captioning requirements on subscription television channels vary according to the type of programming. Subscription television licensees have annual targets on the amount of programs that must be captioned. These targets vary depending on the category of the channel. Subscription television licensees may apply to the ACMA for particular services to be exempt from captioning.

There are also obligations on free-to-air and subscription television broadcasters to caption repeat programs. Free-to-air broadcasters are required to caption any program screened on their multichannels if that same program was previously screened with captions on any of their channels. Subscription broadcasters are also required to caption any program screened on one of their channels if the program was previously screened with captions on another channel provided by the same channel provider.

More information about captioning rules and compliance can be found on the ACMA's website.

The Television Captioning Quality Standard requires broadcasters to ensure that captions are readable, comprehensive and accurate. More information about the Standard can be found on the ACMA's website.

Information about making a complaint about captioning can also be found on the ACMA’s website

Audio description

Audio description is an extra soundtrack that explains what is happening on the screen, for example, by describing movement, scenery and facial expressions.

On free to air television, audio described programs are available on the ABC and the SBS.

How to turn audio description on and of varies depending on the make and model of the television. Usually the feature can be found under the Settings or Accessibility menu of your television. Instructions can also be found in your television’s instruction manual

To find audio described programs viewers should look for the AD symbol in their TV program guide, the ABC TV guide , the SBS TV guide and selected online and print TV guides. 

Further information about audio described services are available on the ABC and SBS websites.

A number of streaming services including Netflix, Stan, Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus also provide audio described programs.