As a person with a visual impairment, my vision loss has been gradual. Over the years, I have had difficulty when viewing certain television programs and movies. When first introduced to audio description (AD) and described video (DV), I was amazed at the detail and information offered to me through these mediums. Each one of us has our preferences in terms of narration and description. For example, some individuals may prefer more description than others. For me, I appreciate both AD and DV accessible formats and what they have to offer me as a person with a visual impairment. I can go to the movie theatre and request DV, and they will provide me with a device that I can plug my headphones into and hear the described video as I watch the film. I have found this medium to be particularly useful when watching films with less dialogue, dark scenes that are difficult for me to see, and scenes that are action packed. At home I have also enjoyed DV as an option in viewing programs and video on streaming platforms such as Netflix and Disney+. Audio description and described video “help people who are blind or visually impaired gain more complete access to the creative content of TV programs and movies and thereby more fully participate in society” (American Foundation for the Blind, Audio Description, n.d.).
Television, films, and live theatre are made accessible for people living with vision loss through described video (DV) and audio description (AD). AD is a format that involves “…a program host or announcer to provide…voice-over by reading aloud or describing key elements of programming, such as text and graphics that appear on the screen” (Canadian Radio- television and Telecommunications Commission, 2020, para. 2). It is typically used for programming that is information based: news and weather broadcasts, sports, and financial stats. Most Canadian networks are mandated to include AD in their broadcasting (Canadian Radio- television and Telecommunications Commission, 2020). DV provides a “…narrated description of a program’s main visual elements, such as settings, costumes, and body language. Description is added during pauses in dialogue, and enables people to form a mental picture of what is happening in the program” (Canadian Radio- television and Telecommunications Commission, 2020, para. 3). DV involves using an audio track separate from the main program. Accessibility is crucial for persons who are blind to have full access to information and mainstream content. Television is the main source by which today’s society accesses information such as news and sports. It is also a key entertainment platform. It is imperative that people who are blind and visually impaired have equal access to information and entertainment, and are able to fully participate in contemporary society (Canadian Radio- television and Telecommunications Commission, 2020).
Although audio description and described video are accessible formats that were designed for people with visual impairments, accessibility can benefit everyone. AD can benefit people who are on the autistic spectrum. This accessible format can help individuals to “identify emotions which may be difficult for them to pinpoint. Having this audio track also provides another input which reinforces the information so that they can process it through both a visual and auditory channel” (Lewis, 2018, Individuals on the Autistic Spectrum, para. 1). Life in contemporary society can be very busy and not leave a lot of time for reading or watching programming on television or streaming platforms. It is common for individuals to multi-task in their daily lives. Many people are able to view programs and movies through audio description without having to physically watch the program. AD enables everyone to view a program when they are commuting to work, driving, and at home while cooking or doing housework (Lewis, 2018). Audio description can also be important for children in regards to their language development. When children are developing language and comprehension skills, AD can be beneficial. Listening is a major component to developing language skills. Audio description can be valuable when introducing new vocabulary to children, and can support students to become engaged in their learning (Lewis, 2018). Each person learns differently, and audio description can be an important tool for children when learning how to read, write, and develop language skills. AD can provide another medium in the tool box for teachers to enhance their students’ learning. Accessibility for everyone is key to promoting an inclusive society.
Most television networks in Canada and the United States are required to provide programming in AD and DV for viewers who are blind and visually impaired. There were challenges with streaming platforms to offer programs in AD or DV. Changes have come to fruition in regards to accessibility: “A 2012 court ruling deemed Netflix and other streaming services “places of public accommodation,” and, under the ADA, such places are required to provide access to those with disabilities. Therefore, streaming services require video captioning and other online aids” (Canary, 2020, para. 1). My hope is that the more programs and films become available in accessible formats, and the more people become aware of the benefits of AD and DV, the more people will want to use these mediums when viewing content. As we advocate for change, we can help to promote an inclusive and accessible society for all people.
American Foundation for the Blind (n.d). Audio Description, Retrieved March 26, 2021
Canadian Radio- television and Telecommunications Commission, (2020). TV Access for people who are blind and partially sighted: Described Video and Audio Description, Retrieved March 20, 2021
Canary, A. (2020). How Netflix and Hulu Are Solving Video Accessibility, Retrieved March 28, 2021
Lewis, E. (2018). Deep Dive: How Audio Description Benefits Everyone, Retrieved March 24, 2021