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Robert Pearson

  Accessible Media


Audio Description Has Come of Age

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Audio description on television programs is mandatory if persons who are blind or living with vision disabilities are to experience social and cultural inclusion on par with sighted people. 

Netflix's new show Daredevil
Image: Netflix rolls out audio descriptions for blind superhero series Daredevil after fans petition on behalf of the visually impaired.

Daredevil. The story of a blind superhero and lawyer becomes the first show on Netflix to offer audio description. It's brilliant marketing. What better way to welcome the visually impaired community as consumers of your video-on-demand service than by offering the accessibility accommodation that they require to enjoy such a service, in a story about someone who is blind. One might further suppose that the fact that the character is also a lawyer is an ironic coincidence.

  • In Canada, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announces sweeping regulatory changes to the delivery and amount of description and recognizes the need to be further proactive in development of an accessible set-top box, thereby building on the lead of Comcast's Xfinity box.
  • In the UK, the RNIB launches the Movie Reading app. Buy a description track and have it automatically sync from your iDevice to any other screen that you may be watching.
  • In Australia, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) launches its second audio description trial along with the iView app with similar functionality.

There are a dozen other accessible media players, including the BBC iPlayer, YouView and the AMI-player. Whatever name or term you chose to describe it, audio description, video description or described video, this service has come of age. The Netflix announcement came as a surprise, but I hope it has set a base level benchmark for the most dominant players in the field to recognize the need for the delivery of audio description. Description has, until now, struggled to find recognition alongside captioning and with the recent breakthrough, we might have reached a turning point in accessible media content.

What's on the horizon?

Along with a host of other accessibility accommodations, regulations (such as the CVAA) will go a long way in the development of an accessible media industry. Broadcasters will begin to understand and support audio description and address deployment and delivery issues. Private businesses will grow to meet increased requirements for the accommodation and audio description will move beyond broadcasting into other media. Most importantly, increased provision will lead to decrease in cost. 

While our organization AMI was created to serve the media consumption needs of those who may be blind or partially sighted, we recognize that we can play a role in the delivery of broadcast services to persons of all abilities. In conjunction with that primary role, another is to remain a neutral body. The practice of providing inclusion to all is something that remains difficult to comprehend for some, and by filling that advocacy role from a position of neutrality, we can also provide guidance and education as to how to best navigate any roads related to providing accommodations to persons with disabilities.


Related Resources

Blog: Stop Ableism: Mainstreaming the Rights of Persons with Disabilities | Read Robert Pearson's Blog.

Publication: Making Television Accessible to Everyone: The Canadian Perspective | Download Free PDF.