Veronica With Four Eyes

8 Myths About Audio Description

Confession- I never used audio description until my first year in college, because I had believed one of the common myths about audio description and assumed that it wouldn’t be beneficial for someone with low vision like me. I was thrilled to discover that I was wrong, and have since spent a lot of time learning more about audio description and creating resources to help others learn more about this awesome tool. In honor of Audio Description Awareness Day, here are eight common misconceptions and myths about audio description and how it is used.

Audio description describes audio/audio description is another word for captioning

Audio description is an additional audio track that describes visual information in a nonvisual way so that viewers don’t miss out on important details. It is not a description of audio, and audio description typically doesn’t anything that is already explained by sound effects or dialogue. However, audio description and captioning services can be used simultaneously by users if needed, though the audio description track is not likely to be captioned.

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Audio description is only beneficial for people with visual impairments

While audio description services are targetted at people who are blind or that have low vision, audio description isn’t just beneficial for people with visual impairments. Other people who can benefit from using audio description include:

  • People who are sensitive to flashing lights, as audio description often gives users a warning before flashing or strobe lights appear on the screen
  • People who want to watch their favorite content without having to look at the screen
  • Anyone who asks a lot of questions when watching a movie or TV show
  • Students who are taking notes about content for their classes and want to ensure they don’t miss any important information

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Users can only find content with audio description on streaming services

While it is fairly easy to search for content on streaming services that has audio description (sometimes called video description or described audio), users can also configure audio description for content on live TV by turning on the Second Audio Program (SAP). When enabled, audio description will play for movies and TV shows that have audio description available, though for some content the SAP track is used for other purposes such as playing audio in Spanish.

A great source for finding out what content has audio description is the Audio Description Project from the American Council for the Blind, which is linked below.

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Audio description is only used to describe video content

Audio description can be found in movies, TV shows, and other video content, but it’s also used in a variety of off-screen settings, including:

  • Plays and musicals, including those on Broadway
  • Performing arts events such as dance performances or comedy groups
  • Museums
  • Amusement parks, such as Disney World/Disneyland
  • National parks
  • Art galleries

Users can also benefit from unofficial audio description services in the form of radio broadcasts at sporting events and similar commentary.

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All TV shows and movies are required to have audio description

Captioning is required for 100% of new, non-exempt programming that is broadcast in the English language in the United States. While there is progress being made to have audio description available across all programming, audio description is not as widely available as captioning quite yet. However, the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act states that they expect to have 100% of new programming audio described by 2020, though no exact date is set.

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Just like captions, audio description can be automatically generated

While there are lots of tools to help create automatically generated captions, audio description can’t be automatically generated. This is because audio description is much more subjective and requires a writer or narrator to examine a scene and determine the following information:

  • Which information is relevant in the scene
  • Write out a script for the narrator
  • Find natural pauses within the scene to deliver the description
  • Record the description
  • Finalize the description and deliver the final product, sometimes within 24 hours

While some audio description uses synthesized voices, most audio description is still delivered by humans.

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Audio description tracks are the same across all platforms

At one point, I was watching a movie while I was on a plane (specifically The Breakfast Club) while using audio description. When I went to watch the movie again on another streaming service, I was surprised to find out that the audio description used a different script and narrator, and another streaming service had the movie with no audio description. This was surprising to me, as even though the movie on the plane had cut out a few short scenes, I had expected the audio description to be identical across services, and expected audio description to be available no matter where I was watching the movie. Moral of the story- audio description tracks are not always the same across platforms, and sometimes platforms don’t have the audio description track at all.

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Only professionals can create audio description

While audio description from professionals is definitely the best option whenever possible, amateurs can still learn how to create their own by following guidelines for how to deliver quality audio description. My favorite tool for creating audio description for YouTube videos is the free YouDescribe website, and I have written several posts about how to create audio description for several different types of content for YouDescribe. I also have a post about cast involvement in audio description, which is linked below as well.

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Final thoughts

Audio description is one of my main research interests, and I am glad to be able to spread awareness about this awesome tool and how it helps me as a person with low vision. I hope this post on myths about audio description is helpful for others!

8 Myths About Audio Description. Eight common misconceptions and myths about audio description, and how audio description can help audiences. Part of Audio Description Awareness Day 2020



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