Questions and answers regarding audio description, descriptive video and our services.

What is the difference between audio description and descriptive video?

Although different terms are used in different countries, the meaning is essentially the same.

Audio description is a specialized service that makes visual media accessible to people who are blind and visually-impaired. It’s a secondary audio track with a narrator describing key visual elements that are inserted into natural pauses in the dialogue. The term audio description (also referred to as AD) is commonly used in the United States and other markets, including the United Kingdom, Australia, China, Europe, The Netherlands, Scandinavia, India, Korea and New Zealand.

In Canada, this process is known as descriptive video (also referred to as DV, video description, described video or described narrative). The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) defines descriptive audio as using a program host or announcer to provide a voice-over by reading or describing text and graphics that appear on screen, usually in information-based programming such as newscasts, weather reports, sports scores, and financial data.


What types of visual media can be described?

Television shows, feature films, mobile media, visual media on the web or at museums, plays and musicals can all include audio description.


What are the steps in the audio description process?

  • Descriptive Video Works requires the final version of your program or video, preferably with all titles and graphics. We can also work from a final picture-lock version if your deadline is tight.
  • A specially-trained AD writer is assigned to view your program or video and writes a script to describe key visual elements. Occurrences and durations of the descriptions are carefully timed to fit within pauses in dialogue.
  • We select one of our professional narrators to voice the script. The narration is recorded and inserted between the natural pauses in dialogue.
  • Our technician mixes the recorded narration with the original audio to create a secondary audio description track.
  • The audio described file is digitally delivered to you to meet your deadline.

Quality control checks are conducted at each step of the process to guarantee the gold standard in audio description.


What key visual elements are described?

A script is written to clearly and vividly describe key visual elements that a blind or partially-sighted person would otherwise miss, such as actions, clothing, facial expressions, settings and scene changes.


How is the narrator selected?

We carefully review your project and make the best selection from our professional voiceover team. We have a wide range of female and male specially-trained narrators with experience in radio, TV, film and stage. We choose a voice and tone that matches the genre and style of the video to ensure an engaging viewing experience.


Does Descriptive Video Works use standard broadcast formats and digital files?

We work with all standard broadcast formats and digital files, including QuickTime, FCP, AVID, .mov, .aiff, .wav, and DVD.


How long is the turnaround time for audio description?

Our turnaround time is usually three to seven days, depending on the volume and length of the video to be audio described. If you need a faster turnaround, we will gladly work with you to accommodate your needs.


How do viewers know which television programs are described?

Networks, broadcasters and subscription TV systems may provide information about the availability of programs with audio description on their websites or in program schedules.


How does a viewer watch audio description on television?

The secondary audio program (SAP) can usually be activated through your television’s remote control, or on screen for streaming services. When audio description is part of the selected program, it will be heard during the natural pauses in the program’s dialogue. For more instructions, check the user manual for your TV or receiver, or contact your cable company or subscription TV provider.

For more information on how to access description on your television, follow the link below to the American Federation of the Blind’s website where additional detail is provided. 


How is audio description accessed at a theatre?

Many theatres across North America have installed special equipment to include audio description with feature films. If a film is audio described, you can request a headset at the theatre that will deliver personal narration throughout the film.


What is closed captioning?

Closed captioning is a display of the audio portion of the program as text on the screen, giving accessibility to people with hearing disabilities.


Regulatory Guidelines

How much audio description is required by Federal regulators in the USA? 

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Regulations for US Video Programming Distributors


US Congress passed the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) in 2010 and mandated an escalating requirement for audio description (AD) shows on TV.

On July 1, 2015, the FCC Description Rules were modified to increase the audio description requirement:

Commercial TV broadcast stations – that are affiliated with one of the top four TV broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC), and licensed to a community located in the top 60 TV markets, must provide 50 hours of video description per calendar quarter, either during prime time or on children’s programming.

Multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) systems – that serve 50,000 or more subscribers must provide 50 hours of video description per calendar quarter during prime time or children’s programming, on each channel on which they carry one of the top five national non-broadcast networks (currently Disney Channel, History Channel, TBS, TNT and USA).

Multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) systems of any size – must pass through audio description on each broadcast station/non-broadcast network they carry, when the broadcast station/network provides audio description, and the channel on which the MVPD distributes the programming of the broadcast station/network has the technical capability necessary to pass through the audio description, unless the secondary audio track is utilized for an alternate use (such as another language).

The CVAA audio description requirements do not apply to live, or near-live, programming.

In 2016, the FCC is proposing rule revisions, including:

  • increased number of hours of programming that must be audio described from 50 hours to 87.5 hours per quarter.
  • increased number of covered broadcast networks required to provide audio description from top 4 to top 5; increased number of non-broadcast networks from top 5 to top 10.
  • improved access to information about audio described programming.

In 2020, the CVAA gives FCC the authority to increase audio description requirements by 10 new TV markets yearly beyond the current top 60 TV markets.


How much described programming is required for Canadian broadcasters? 

CRTC Regulations for Canadian Broadcasters 

In 2001, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) began to require minimum levels of described programming by certain broadcasters. The CRTC addressed their policy again in 2009 to include:

  • Broadcasters must provide audio description for all in-house productions related to information-based programs
  • All conventional broadcasters, as well as certain French and English pay and specialty broadcasters, must offer four hours of described video per week, and are encouraged to make described programming available online

The CRTC Broadcast Regulatory Policy in March 2015 sets out a further increase to the availability of described video from programming services. Beginning in September 2019, certain broadcasters will be required to provide described video for all prime time programming (broadcast 7 pm to 11 pm), seven days a week, while all other non-exempt broadcasters will be required to provide four hours of programming with described video per week.

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Descriptive Video Works
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