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Audio description

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Audio description (AD) makes the visual images of media accessible for people who are blind and visually impaired—the visual is made verbal. Using words that are succinct, vivid, and imaginative, describers convey the visual image that is not fully accessible to a segment of the population and not fully realized by the rest of us—people who see but who may not observe.

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 would lack full access to television and film.

AD also allows people with visual impairments to hear the visual content of museums or visual art exhibitions. Via audio described tours (or universally designed tours that include description or the augmentation of existing recorded programs on audio- or videotape), or through the training of docents, audio description has been employed in a range of museum disciplines, from planetariums and gardens, to art and natural history museums.

In addition to arts settings, audio describers provide services in a range of other settings, including educational venues and offices, circuses, rodeos, ice skating exhibitions and myriad sports events. Even funerals.

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.

“Audio Description uses words that are succinct, vivid, and imaginative to convey the visual image from television, film, DVDs, theater, museums and many other settings,” stated Mitch Pomerantz, president of the American Council of the Blind. "Without description, many elements of our culture are unavailable to us. Description helps people who are blind become more informed, more socially aware citizens. And that can lead directly to higher levels of employment.”

The ADP offers training in audio description, an annual conference on audio description, sponsorship of a website and listserve, and is working to establish standards for quality description in its various genres (media, live performance, museums, etc.). Additional information is available at:

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. However, in the United States there is, at this writing, no standard for the use of a particular audio stream for the description audio. In addition, consumers who are blind or visually-impaired face the accessibility obstacle of having to turn the description track on and off using visual menu systems they can't see.

Similarly, the limited number of DVDs available with description in North America (less than 100--as compared to over 500 in the U.K.United Kingdom) 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 on a separate track, making it possible to adjust the AD volume separately from that of the audio from the television programme. However most people receive audio description via digital satellite television or cable television. Consumers can simply select audio description (or Narrative) via the menus on a set-top box. On satellite television and cable television the AD soundtrack is pre-mixed - the traditional way of experiencing description through TV.

In movie theaters, audio description can be heard using DVS Theatrical and similar systems (including DTS-CSS and Dolby Screentalk). Users listen to the description on a wireless headset.

Recently the Center for Learning Technology has launched a new free web based video description service at ( Describers can download LiveDescribe, a free video description authoring tool and create video description for video files such as avi, mov and mp4. Once the descriptions are complete, the description can be uploaded with one click to Blind or low vision audience members can then download the descriptions and play them back with the LiveDescribe Player ( Due to copyright restrictions both the describer and viewer of video description must have their own individual copy of the video file.

See also

External links

Examples of audio description