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Audio description for the vision impaired

As a video producer, animator, or communicator, how do you share visual work with people who are blind, or have low vision?

Audio description

You’ve probably heard of on-screen audio captioning for the hearing impaired, however, audio description for the vision impaired is a little less common.

Audio description is an additional narration that paints an image of transitions, movements, gestures, props, settings, costumes and scenery woven between the dialogue. 

This is achieved by having an audio description on a separate audio track, where a narrator describes what is visually happening on the screen. 

If you haven’t seen an example before, take a look at this clip from the movie Frozen.

When to use audio description

A video only requires audio description if there is something that needs better visualisation.

For example, if the video simply shows someone delivering a speech, an audio description might not add any value however, if the video has graphics, or particular character actions that provide context to the scene, an audio description might be useful.

Accessibility

WCAG is a technical standard developed under the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Australian Government agencies, affiliated organisations and contractors, are required to be compliant with WCAG guidelines.

WCAG has three levels of conformance when it comes to audio description: A, AA and AAA.

Common among all levels of WCAG is that an audio described version of a video can be provided either by enabling it using a button on a video player, having it on the video by default, or providing a completely separate video which is audio described on the same page or a nearby hyperlink.

Why should I use audio description?

Aside from WCAG requirements, today, more than 453,000 Australians live with blindness and vision impairment. 

This greatly impacts their ability to consume visual media like television and participate in cultural events such as sport, theatre, museums and galleries. 

Without audio description, a significant portion of the population is excluded from fully engaging with these activities.

Who is currently using audio description?

Following a $2 million funding injection from the Federal Government, the ABC and SBS have introduced an audio description service for audiences who are blind or vision impaired.

Audio description is available on selected programming on ABC TV, ABC ME, ABC TV Plus and ABC Kids. On SBS Audio description is available on selected programming on SBS (SD and HD) and SBS VICELAND.



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