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Audio Descriptions for the Visually Impaired

Being left-handed and the subtle discrimination that brings (exactly whom are you calling sinister?!?!) can make me a little feisty. During my research for this page I discovered closed captioning for the hearing impaired went into use in 1972. 1972! Are you kidding me?!?! Then why did we not get audio descriptions until 1990? What was the hold-up?

Audio description versus closed captioning

Audio description? Yep. Audio description is to the visually impaired what closed captions are to the hearing impaired. However, while most everyone who has seen TV knows what closed captioning is, pretty much nobody knows about audio description. And if you are one of those folks who does not know, allow me to enlighten you.

What is audio description?

Audio description is an added narrative track on TV or a movie. The narrator describes what is happening on the screen. He does this in natural pauses in the dialog although sometimes dialog is so densely packed he has to talk over – or maybe it’s under – the dialog. Either way, those of us who don’t have the vision to figure out with our eyes exactly what is happening on the screen can figure it out with our ears. It eliminates having to be a pest and constantly asking your companion what just happened!

Communications and Video Accessibilities Act

I would suspect at least half of you are saying something like “Gee, that’s great, but I cannot get that on my TV.” There is a pretty good chance you are wrong-o, bucko. In 2010 the United States Congress passed the Communications and Video Accessibilities Act that gave the Federal Communications Commission the power to enforce an older act that required major broadcasters and cable companies to offer a certain amount of programming with audio description1…why do we have to force people to do what is right? ::sigh::

Audio description for videos

There is also a requirement for there to be audio descriptions for videos. And ALL sorts of video makers are complying with that law. According to Wikipedia, in 2016 Pornhub announced it was producing a series of pornographic videos with an audio description track because, as they note, Pornhub Cares. That is the name of their philanthropic venture, by the way.

Disney and audio descriptions

And moving right along from where my imagination is going with THAT information, every Disney Pixar film is available with audio description. Also, in any Disney park, you can obtain an audio description device (deposit required) that will, among other things, describe what is happening on the ride, like It’s a Small World, after all. It’s a small world, after all…uh, sorry. I got carried away. The audio description device also describes what is happening on whatever stage is in front of you. Cool.

TV and audio descriptions

According to Descriptive Video Works, over 200 popular TV shows feature audio description. I have never tried this but the folks at Descriptive Video Works suggest you go into the menu and locate the audio menu. There you should find an option to turn on S-A-P. That stands for “secondary audio program.” If you only have the choice of languages, try activating Spanish. If you don’t get an audio description, you may get a free language lesson. Habla Espanol? The article concedes this process can be a bear to accomplish and particularly ursine-like if you are visually impaired. They recommend we get help. A heck of an idea in my book.

So, there you go. Audio description exists. It was a long time coming, but is here now…if you can find the right setting. Good luck with that!

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  1. 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA). Federal Communications Commission. https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/21st-century-communications-and-video-accessibility-act-cvaa.

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