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Robert Pearson

  Accessible Media


Describing Music in Television Programming

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Regardless of what programming content a viewer requiring description may be watching, they should be able to expect consistent video description. This will ensure fully accessible entertainment for viewers with vision disability, writes Robert Pearson.

Maybe you've had the experience of feeling a certain emotion when you hear music. Perhaps it was the song that was playing when you had your first kiss, when you won the big game, or when you found that someone you cared for had passed away. There could be any number of scenarios and equally any number of pieces of music that could define them for you. Then upon hearing that piece of music again, it causes you to feel something emotionally, to have an experience that is unique to you and which exists only within the context of the experiences that you've had in your life. It's your song and only you know why.

image: a woman providing audio description to a TV program

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Consider then the occurrence of a piece of music within the context of a television program. That music was chosen to represent a scene in which it plays, to add context to events taking place on the screen and to offer insight into the emotions of the characters of the serial, play, advertisement, or movie. The producer of the program defined each of these aspects and crafted a scene defined by driving an emotional response to the music.

To the viewer of that program who may be blind or partially sighted, they are able to hear the music. However, without the knowledge of the visual elements being displayed on the screen, they may be left without an understanding of the character’s emotional response to it. It becomes the responsibility of the audio describer of that content to ensure that all visual – and non-visual - elements are being accurately described within a proper context so as to ensure that all viewers, regardless of their vision ability, are provided with the same viewing experience.

This was one of many questions recently addressed by the Described Video Best Practices (DVBP) Working Group in Canada in the development of the Described Video Best Practices to be adopted by the Canadian broadcasting industry. Completed in June 2013, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters as well the three major vision advocacy organizations in Canada have all signed off and shown their support for the adoption of these best practices. Their overall intent is to drive towards consistency, to ensure that regardless of what programming content a viewer requiring description may be watching, they can expect consistent description due to the industry support and adoption of this work.

In all, 14 organizations assisted in the development of these best practices, including several major Canadian private for-profit description houses. Describing music was one of only many aspects reviewed during the course of this process. Describing sensitive topics such as race and religion, as well text-on-screen and non-verbal sounds, were all components of the discussion in seeking consensus amongst the committee members. In the end though, this was achieved and while the scope of these best practices was for Canadian English language television broadcasting, they could be applicable in many senses and in many jurisdictions around the world.

Accessible Media Inc. (AMI) led this committee in partnership with the Canadian Association of Broadcasters and the final product of this process is free to distribute. If you would be interested in obtaining a copy of this work or in learning more about its development and adoption please contact Robert Pearson, Chair Described Video Best Practices Working Group or visit


Related Resources

Blog: Every Book Born Digital, Should be Born Accessible | Read Abigail Rekas's Blog.

Publication: Making Television Accessible - The Canadian Perspective - a G3ict and AMI Publication | Download PDF.

Event: MM-AID 2013 First International Workshop on Multimedia-Enabled Aids for Disabilities, San Jose, July 15-19,2 \013 | Event Details.