What is Described Video and Why Do I Need It?

Described Video (DV), the sister to closed captions, is a narrated description of visual elements (typically during natural pauses in dialogue) such as surroundings, costumes, facial expressions and actions that enable a blind or low-vision audience to create a mental picture of what’s happening on screen. These descriptions are ordinarily on a secondary audio track that can be toggled on or off, or easily removed / added to the program without being permanently embedded in the video file.

The terms Described Video and Audio Description are essentially synonymous, with the exception being in Canada where Audio Description refers to a more basic narration that reads on screen text and graphics such as scores, weather reports or numerical data and is seen most often in live broadcasting.

Described Video can be applied to any number of visual media formats including but not limited to TV shows, plays, musicals, social media, feature films, and videos at museums. In fact, many movie theaters offer described video viewing, using headphones.

Accessibility and the Law

Some countries, such as Canada and the United States, have put quota requirements in place for broadcasters, regarding described video programming. In the United States, the Rehabilitation Act (Sections 504 and 508), the Americans with Disabilities Act (Titles II and III) and the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act all stand to ensure that content is accessible to people with sensory disabilities. Our reliance on technology, particularly video and internet based content, is growing exponentially, making it even more critical that this content is accessible by everyone, including those with visual impairment.

Regardless of federal or state regulations, it’s a good idea for anyone producing video content to make efforts to include the largest possible audience size for a number of reasons.

Why Should I Use Described Video?

The estimated number of visually impaired people worldwide is a staggering 285 million, with 39 million being blind and 246 million having low or impaired vision. In the United States alone, a whopping 10% of adults have some degree of visual impairment, totaling an approximate 23.7 million American adults – and that doesn’t even begin to account for children and teenagers. Without the option for described video, that is a large number of people unable to access your video content – an audience your material simply can and will not reach.

You don’t have to be visually impaired to benefit from audio descriptive video. There are those who are auditory learners who best understand and retain information through hearing it. Those on the autism spectrum can utilize audio descriptions to better help them understand body language and emotional cues. Plus, sometimes viewers are simply in an eyes-free situation that having visual descriptions of the media can be helpful and enjoyable. There are multiple articles across the internet following a Reddit post about “turning movies and TV shows into audio books” that can be enjoyed anywhere such as moving about the house, going for a walk, doing housework, exercising or driving.

Where Do I Start?

Creating a descriptive video is a fairly simple process. The process starts with a final version of your video, complete with all graphics and text. Next, a qualified Descriptive Video writer watches your video and creates a script to accompany the important visual elements, carefully timing it to fit between the pauses in dialogue. A narrator then voices the script, which is recorded and inserted into the video on a separate audio track. This audio track being separate allows the option for toggling on or off.

Here, you can see the different layers of a Described Video project. On top is the original, final version of the video (in teal), original video’s audio & dialogue (in red) and separate, Described Video audio track (in blue.)

There are a number of services that can take your video to the next level of accessibility with Descriptive Video. For example, Websites such as 3PlayMedia, Video Caption Corporation and Audio Eyes are great places to start. Or, drop us a line and we’ll take care of it for you!

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