It’s no secret that I love using audio description when watching streaming media, going to the movies, and even going to Broadway plays, but it’s only recently that I learned how to configure audio description for live TV, meaning shows that are playing on cable. While audio description isn’t available for every channel or program, a growing number of TV shows are now including audio description in live broadcasts, though it isn’t as easy to find as captions. Here is how to configure audio description for live TV for different cable providers.
What is audio description?
Audio description, sometimes referred to as descriptive audio or described video, is an additional narrator track that provides visual information for people who otherwise would not be able to see it. While it may not be as common as captioning, audio description can still help to fill in gaps of information for people with vision impairments, as audio descriptions play during natural pauses in dialogue. Audio descriptions are typically recorded by professional narrators or created with speech synthesis software.
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Networks with audio described content
Many popular cable networks have audio description available for select TV shows, including:
- USA Network
If a show does not have audio description on cable, there is still a chance that audio description may be available on another streaming service. The Audio Description Project from the American Council for the Blind has the most up-to-date list on programming with audio description.
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How audio description works
When the Secondary Audio Programming (SAP) setting is enabled and audio description is available for a given show, the additional audio description track will play on top of the other audio on the program during natural pauses in dialogue. The program run time is not altered in any way. However, SAP does not only play audio description tracks- it also plays audio tracks in other languages, so if audio description is not available then the program audio may be played in a different language. Since my family doesn’t like me messing with the TV, I prefer to configure the SAP settings whenever I am watching a program that I know has audio description, and disable SAP afterwards.
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Finding TV shows with audio description
When navigating through the channel guide, programs that have audio description tracks available will include the audio description logo, which features the letter D emitting an outward signal. This is a universal sign of audio description and is typically found underneath the program title in the guide menu.
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How to configure audio description
Users can configure audio description by turning on the Secondary Audio Programming. This varies by cable company, so I recommend searching for instructions by running a web search for the cable company name followed by SAP. If available, users can also contact the accessibility support phone number for their cable provider. For my cable company, I can turn on SAP in the audio settings menu of the TV.
Finding audio description elsewhere
Just because audio description isn’t available on cable doesn’t mean that it isn’t available anywhere. Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, and many other streaming services provide audio description for original programming as well as TV shows from other networks. The Audio Description Project is the best way to find which programs and movies have audio description available.
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I’m so glad to see that more and more cable networks are adding audio description to their programs, and am highly grateful for the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act that has helped to expand offerings for audio described programming on cable networks. By knowing how to configure audio description for live TV, you can easily watch your favorite cable programs- or discover a new favorite!