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Robert Pearson

Accessible Media

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Art of Audio Description: Setting Standards and Regulations for a Universal Audience

Accessible Media Inc. (AMI), in conjunction with the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) has recently embarked upon the process of developing Canadian broadcasting industry wide best practices for described video (DV).

Note: Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are part of a series of Web accessibility guidelines published by the W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative. They consist of a set of guidelines for making content accessible, primarily for disabled users, but also for all user agents, including highly limited devices, such as mobile phones. The current version is 2.0.

The W3C WCAG 2.0 guidelines are the benchmark for international description standard. First, it will always follow a specific protocol and second, it can be interpreted based upon user perspective. The elements of protocol are the essential technical ingredients required for good quality description, while the elements left up to interpretation are defined based upon numerous qualifiers. This variability is what has prevented description from being standardized in a manner similar to other accessibility regulations.

Audio description is both a science and an art form. How do we then set benchmarks for elements that might not be universally standard? The use of the word standard though may not be appropriate within the context of a discussion on ‘audio description.’ Any formalized documentation would be considered a "living" document that may change and evolve as the science that it regulates also continues to evolve. Further, in order to make a declaration that an element of an art form is more appropriate for standardization than another is unrealistic. Rather, an assessment of the best practices that have been developed to date is more feasible in the development of industry-wide best practices.

Some elements of the art form

Use of profanity


Political correctness

Describing race

Onscreen maps


Period pieces

Identifying titles

Scene transitions



Accessible Media Inc. (AMI), in conjunction with the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) has recently embarked upon the process of developing Canadian broadcasting industry wide best practices for described video (DV), which is how we refer to audio description in Canada. We believe a proactive approach may help the industry find common ground and resolve any outstanding issues related to on-air DV presentation. This initiative is restricting its activities to outstanding issues related to the on-air presentation of DV programming. The ultimate objective is to develop and introduce DV Best Practices to harmonize DV presentation on regulated television stations and services across the country.

  • English-only
  • Canadian produced
  • Post-production only

As with all initiatives focused on the provision of accessibility, finding a place to begin and balance stakeholder perspectives is critical. In this instance, it begins by initially focusing upon post production description, with the intent to move towards live and embedded description in the future. Canada has an established focus on providing media accessibility and AMI has extensive experience in each of these three areas. As we work towards the summer of 2013, we'll be developing a best practice for the Canadian broadcasting industry, but which could be applicable to any broadcasting system. With recently established requirements for description in both the United States and Australia, it's a logical time it begin to look towards establishing international best practices for description in an effort to find consistency in both the science and the art of DV.


Read related news

Blog: Generation Paper by Robert Pearson | Accessible Media Inc. (AMI) recently launched the Described Video (DV) TV Guide in Canada on the AMI website. Read the blog here.

Publication: Making Television Accessible: Ensuring that all of the world’s population has access to television services is one of the targets set by world leaders in the World Summit on the Information Society. Download the report here.

Event: ITU Telecom World 2012: G3ict presents a session in Dubai, UAE | October 14-18, 2012. Read more about the event.


Related Items:

• LIA - Libri Italiani Accessibili (Italian Accessible Books)


• First Public Working Draft: Requirements for WCAG 2.0 Extensions

• Delivering accessible Electronic & Information Technology (E&IT)

• BSI documentary points the way to accessibility in buildings and the Internet

• W3C Workshop: Referencing and Applying WCAG 2.0 in Different Contexts, Brussels, Belgium

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