TV Audio Description

I have written about audio description in the past. Audio description to the blind is roughly what closed caption is to the deaf.

What are audio descriptions?

Audio description gives us access to what is happening visually on the screen. It describes in a few words what fully-sighted folks are seeing. Audio description lets us in on the joke... describes the action, giving us some idea of what the actors are doing.

I have been told most movies now come with audio descriptions. I have also been told many, if not most, television shows come with audio description.

Taking advantage of TV settings

However, I have a confession to make: I have never accessed them. Poking around on television menus is, for me, a perilous undertaking. I have a tendency to push buttons at random and end up in a mess. Consequentially, I never went looking for audio description settings on my television.

Recently I was on my iPad looking for something to watch. Considering it is now summer, none of my regular shows were offering new episodes.

Time to watch NOVA

If you cannot find entertainment, try education. If I cannot find anything in a police drama - my preferred genre - I turn to PBS. Although I occasionally will go in for a historical drama, l generally watch NOVA. I have been a NOVA fan since Carl Sagan presented Cosmos in 1980. I also like Neil deGrasse Tyson, if that matters.

Anyway, I clicked on PBS, then NOVA. Looking for the free offerings (and they do have some), I discovered half a dozen short specials. Every one of those specials was labeled as having audio description.

Wow! VIPs have made it big time! NOVA is taking us into consideration.

Glued to the screen

Now, it was a bit of a paltry offering, but nonetheless, a good start. The one I watched was Beyond the Elements and had to do with the development of life and photosynthesis on Earth. I can imagine that would have you glued to your screens in anticipation.

No more guessing!

The audio description consisted of snippets such as “aerial view of a field,” “the periodic table,” and “model of an enzyme.” Again, maybe not compelling, but the point is, they were there! Out front and for all to hear, NOVA was giving the visually impaired a “glimpse” of what was being presented on the screen. There was no need to guess anymore.

Describing the audio description experience

The audio descriptions were short, and I did not find them at all distracting. The show narrator’s voice was male, and the audio description narrator's voice was female. There was no confusion about who was who.

The audio description was short - generally just a few words - and occurred during natural lapses in the narrative. The two voices did not compete for attention at the same time. I cannot imagine a fully-sighted individual would find the audio description to be a problem. In fact, they might find it preferable to having to clue a visually impaired companion in about what is going on on the screen.

Serving the visually impaired community

So, there it is. NOVA, and by extension PBS, is making efforts to better serve the visually impaired community... or at least serve those members who have an interest in photosynthesis! It is nice to see they are trying to accommodate us.

Now, is anyone interested In looking for life on Mars? That one has audio description, too!

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