People with impaired vision can find it difficult to follow the plot of a television programme especially when there are periods of silence. To alleviate this problem some of the digital television programmes in the UK include audio description. Audio description is a spoken description of the visual aspects of a television scene, inserted in the gaps in the dialogue. Audio description can enable not only the blind and partially sighted to get more enjoyment from TV programmes, but can also help people with learning difficulties, older people and indeed sighted people (who like to watch TV while doing other tasks such as ironing).
At present there are different transmission systems for audio description depending upon whether cable, satellite or terrestrial digital television are used.
The method preferred for digital terrestrial television, and recommended in the DTG receiver guidelines, is a flexible open system where the AD can be switched on or off independently of the main sound at the touch of a button, and where the level of the AD sound can be varied independently of the level of the main TV sound. Not all set top boxes currently offer audio description, so it is necessary to take advice before buying one that does; many integrated digital TV receivers now offer this form of AD as standard. It is useful to choose a set top box that allows AD to be selected via a dedicated button on the remote control rather than via a menu system.
The Virgin Media cable services offer audio description which is pre-mixed with the main programme audio, but it is necessary to turn on the facility from the “Display and Audio” menu and save the setting ‘Audio Description when available’. Even when AD has been turned on, certain channels need to be viewed on a different channel number to their regular one:
BBC1 - Channel 851, BBC2 - Channel 852 , ITV1 - Channel 853, Channel 4 - Channel 854,
Five - Channel 855.
All other channels can be watched on their normal number and still receive AD.
Satellite viewers using Sky TV (whether under the current ‘freesat’ arrangements or subscription) also have AD available, using the ‘pre-mix’ or ‘open’ system, with no means of adjusting the relative levels of the AD and main sound channels. The AD service needs to be turned on via a number of menu steps:
Press the ‘services’ button on the remote control, move to ‘system setup’ and press ‘OK’. Then highlight ‘languages and subtitles’ and press ‘OK’. The AD menu allows you to turn on AD, to Indicate with a beep AD programmes when channel hopping, and to flag AD programmes in white on the on-screen TV listings guide. Once the settings are saved, AD will work automatically when it is available with a satellite programme. As with AD on the cable system, certain channels need to be viewed on a different channel number to their regular one in order to get AD, depending on where you live. In London all channels are at their normal location.
In England (outside London), BBC1 - Channel 974, BBC2 - Channel 102, ITV - Channel 993, Channel 4 - Channel 994.
In Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, BBC1 - Channel 974, BBC2 - Channel 989, ITV - Channel 993, Channel 4 - Channel 994.
All other channels can be watched at their existing channel number and still receive AD.
- Audio description should describe characters, locations, time and circumstances, any sounds that are not readily identifiable, on-screen action, and on-screen information.
- Key features of characters should be identified as soon as practicable, to help identify the person in the listener’s mind’s eye. Aspects such as dress, physical characteristics, facial expression, body language, ethnicity and age may be significant.
- Use names (rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’) more often than in normal speech, so as to avoid confusing the audience, particularly when there are several people taking part in a dialogue.
- Describe at the same time as the action occurs. This is particularly important with regard to comic situations, where the audience, sighted and visually impaired, should be able to laugh at the same time.
- It may be necessary to set up the next scene during the current description. When describing locations, try to cover scene changes, the locations, the time of day/season/date, any sounds that are not readily identifiable; and on-screen information (e.g. signs, hieroglyphics, open subtitles for foreign languages, captions, and opening and closing credits).
- Audio description should not encroach on dialogue, or sound effects unless really necessary. Even then, audio description should only be used to impart relevant information when the dialogue or other sound is inconsequential, or to read subtitles or on-screen captions.
- Audio description provides a real-time commentary, so should generally be in the present tense.
- Balance the amount of detail that is conveyed, and the risk of overburdening the audience with detail and detracting from the enjoyment of the programme.
- Long gaps in the dialogue may need to be explained if the viewer is not to be left confused.
- Describers should be chosen to fit the genre, the nature of the programme and the intended audience.
- Periodic announcements should be made about programmes with audio description.
For further information see the RNIB Audio Description pages.
Last updated: 20.11.2009 © Copyright reserved Website design: Digital Accessibility Team