Audio description, also referred to as a video description or more precisely called a visual description, refers to an additional narration track intended primarily for blind and visually impaired consumers of visual media (including television and film, dance, opera, and visual art). It consists of a narrator talking through the presentation, describing what is happening on the screen or stage during the natural pauses in the audio, and sometimes during dialogue if deemed necessary.
The technique is similar to that of an old-style radio play.
For the performing arts (theater, dance, opera), and media (television, movies and DVD), description is a form of audio-visual translation, using the natural pauses in dialogue or between critical sound elements to insert narrative that translates the visual image into a sense form that is accessible to millions of individuals who otherwise lack full access to television and film. Occasionally when there is dialogue that is in another language from the main one of the film and subtitled on screen, the subtitles are read in character by the describer.
In museums or visual art exhibitions, audio described tours (or universally designed tours that include description or the augmentation of existing recorded programs on audio- or videotape), are used to provide access to visitors who are blind or have low vision. Docents or tour guides can be trained to employ audio description in their presentations. Audio description of sporting events is now becoming more common, in particular at soccer stadiums.
Researchers are working to show how description, through its use of varied word choice, synonyms, metaphor and simile, not only benefits children who are blind and others who have learning disabilities but can also boost literacy for all children.
In early 2009, The American Council of the Blind (ACB) established the Audio Description Project (ADP) to boost levels of description activity and disseminate information on that work throughout the United States and worldwide.
With respect to description and media, broadcast systems in Canada and the United States are transmitted digitally and access to description on the former SAP secondary audio program channel is no longer available. Ideally, it is now possible to access multiple streams of audio, e.g., Spanish translation, audio description, audio description in Spanish, etc. In the United States, affiliates in the top 25 markets and the top five-rated cable network are required to provide 50 hours of video-described programming per quarter under the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010. Audio description for television is commonly called Descriptive Video Service (DVS).
Similarly, the limited number of DVDs available with description in North America (less than 100—as compared to over 500 in the United Kingdom and over 700 in Australia) is further complicated by the lack of an audio menu on no more than a handful of those DVDs.
Broadcast audio description in the U.K. is delivered digital terrestrially on a separate track containing the narration only, making it possible to adjust the AD volume separately from that of the main audio track from the television programme before the receiver mixing is performed. However on digital receivers that lack any kind of audio pre-mixing ability such as is the case with a number of digital satellite television or cable television or ATSC receivers, the AD track is provided with the narration already mixed in and has to be manually selected as either a SAP for ATSC or another language for DVB. In the UK, certified satellite receivers emulate the terrestrial method by the receiver's software hiding the manual selection option behind an AD auto select option.
In live theaters, patrons also receive the description via a wireless device, a discreet monaural receiver. However, the description is provided live by describers located in a booth acoustically insulated from the audience, but from where they have a good view of the performance. They make their description which is fed to a small radio transmitter. It is possible to provide the facility to a theater entirely with portable equipment, delivered to the theater in two equipment cases of suitcase size.
The description of the performance can be augmented with tactile tours of the stage or costumes or both.
Audio description logo
Audio description logo can be used by equipment manufacturers i.e., television and set top box manufacturers, broadcasters, cinemas, theatres, DVD and Blu-ray disc production companies to convey that their services or products offer audio description. The logo makes it easier for people with sight loss to identify products which would be available with an additional audio description track.
This is a standard logo that has been in the UK for many years but it is now being adopted by service providers across countries to indicate that a product or service has audio description.
The logo is available to download in various formats and sizes, as well as horizontal or vertical versions.
- "Description Key for Educational Media". The Described and Captioned Media Program. November 4, 2008. Retrieved September 7, 2009.
- "Networks Set to Launch Video Descriptions". TVNewsCheck.com. Retrieved June 20, 2012.
- "Audio described DVD Database". Australia: Media Access. Retrieved 10 December 2012.
- "BBC iPlayer audio description is now available". BBC Internet Blog. BBC. August 27, 2009. Retrieved September 7, 2009.
- "Audio Description on TV". Royal National Institute of Blind People. January 29, 2009. Archived from the original on 14 August 2010. Retrieved July 27, 2010.
- "Enjoying theatre, museums, galleries and cinema". Australia: Vision Australia. Retrieved 10 December 2012.
- Hirvonen, Maija: Multimodal Representation and Intermodal Similarity: Cues of Space in the Audio Description of Film. (Ph.D. thesis.) University of Helsinki, 2014. ISBN 978-951-51-0368-0. On-line version.
- "Description Key for Educational Media" by The Described and Captioned Media Program
- ACB's Audio Description Project
- Audio Description Associates
- "Who's Watching? A Profile of the Blind and Visually Impaired Audience for Television and Video"
- What is Audio Description and how do you get it UK
- List of UK audio described programmes on TV
- List of UK audio described DVDs
- Joe Clark on audio description
- E-Inclusion Research Network
- Media Access Australia: Audio Description
- (French) Audiodescription-france.org
Examples of audio description
- Description of Neighbours and The Motorman from the National Film Board of Canada (QuickTime)