G3ict is the Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs

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Robert Pearson

Accessible Media

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How Accessible is your Television?

For people with visual impairments, such as people who are blind or have low vision, audio description and described video make TV programs more accessible, especially in the case of accessing emergency broadcasts.


Making television viewing accessibleAudio description (AD) uses a program host or announcer to provide a basic voice-over, reading text and describing graphics that appear on the screen. AD is often used for newscasts, weather reports, sports scores or financial data, and is best suited to live, information-based programming. Generally, broadcasters are expected to provide audio description.

Described video (DV) is also called video description or described narrative. DV is a narrated description of a program's main visual elements, such as settings, costumes, or body language. The description is added during pauses in dialogue, and enables people to form a mental picture of the program. It works best for pre-recorded programs, such as dramas and documentaries. Described video uses a separate audio track (Source: Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission)

It's a question asked by many and one which can be answered only by a few who understand how the technology works or because they depend on it - and always have - for their media consumption.  Historically, audio described track has been considered "secondary audio", something that is not present when you first tune into a television channel, However, if you turn on what is known as the "secondary audio channel" or the "SAP channel" or the "Spanish audio channel" then you are able to hear both audio tracks playing together in sync with the program that you are watching.

How do you turn on secondary audio?
The answer can be different with every broadcaster and different remote control models that they provide to users. Can this process be rethought to be more straightforward? Yes, the solution is to simplify the remote control design or to open up the description track so that it's always accessible and not closed and buried within the secondary audio channel. That is how audio description is provided on AMI-tv.

Beyond the difficulties of providing consistent and easy access to a closed secondary audio channel, technical issues have always existed in the provision of content on that channel. Not only is there a lack of awareness about what is described, but sometimes the broadcaster may neglect to pass through any content on that channel or in some systems it may not even be technically possible to do so.  Unfortunately, due to the smaller proportion of users who utilize this content, these technical issues can quite easily go unaddressed. In Canada, we have the benefit of a very supportive broadcasting system when it comes to ensuring accessibility and many of these issues have begun to be addressed.

There has been some success with implementing a ‘one button’ solution for accessing SAP content, which can dramatically simplify the ability to gain access to this content. Accessible Media Inc. created and implemented the Described Video TV Guide under the guidance of our regulators Described Video Working Group (http://www.ami.ca/dvguide/) not only to increase awareness about what is described, but also to provide instructions to users about how to access SAP on their remote, through their broadcaster, anywhere in the country. This Working Group has also made great strides towards addressing many of the technical issues that have existed within the system for many years.

Many of these issues around SAP were recognized as AMI-tv was being conceived prior to its launch in 2009. We realized that if we were to ensure full accessibility in all aspects of this service, then the description we provided, be it post-production, live or embedded would need to be open. Removing it from the SAP and integrating it into the main audio track, allows a user to turn to the channel and view the content easily while also avoiding any technical issues. While it may be confusing for the uninitiated user when they tune into our channel for the first time, our mandate is to ensure that our audience has the easiest possible access to the content that we provide through open description.


Related Resources

News: FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is circulating a proposed order among commissioners that would give broadcasters and cable operators two years to convert emergency text crawls into audio for the blind and sight-impaired | Read full story.

Resource: World's First Talking Televisions from Panasonic - A Factsheet from RNIB | Read the article.

Blog: Art of Audio Description: Setting Standards and Regulations for a Universal Audience | Read Article by Robert Pearson.

Publication: Making Television Accessible - G3ict-ITU report | Download free PDF.

Event: Accessible Voting Technology Research Workshop - April 1-2, 2013 | Event details. 


Related Items:

• LIA - Libri Italiani Accessibili (Italian Accessible Books)


• G3ict Expresses Heartfelt Condolences on the Demise of AMI Accessibility Officer Robert Pearson's

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

• ITU Workshop on Making Media Accessible to All: Options and Economics, Geneva, Switzerland

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