The Gift of Audio Description

If anyone got this two or more times I apologize. I’m having some difficulty with email at the moment.

Thanks for your understanding. Now on to today’s topic.


With all of the high-impact visuals abundant in TV and movies now, getting to the audio description (AD) is paramount 😉 to having an entertaining time. What I’d like to do is provide a quick and easy way to get to the AD content on the various platforms out there. But wait … there’s more, as you will see later in this article. Audio Description is out and about so I’m going to help you use it to the max!

Note: much of my information has been put together from the ACB and their Audio Description Project. They have been updating this info for years, and  its thanks to them and their efforts that we have information abounding about audio description, so thanks, guys! 👏 And now… Our feature presentation! 🎦

Performing Arts

Today, many theatrical companies enlist the services of trained audio describers to enhance the theatre experience for people who are blind or have low vision.  The describer occasionally speaks “between the lines” to describe entrances, exits, actions, and key props to people who cannot see them.  Often, before the show and during intermission, a describer “sets up” for the performance by detailing the stage layout, props, characters, and costumes.  There is never any charge to the theatre patron for the use of audio description, although the theatre may pay a fee for the service.

The typical scenario for using description would be to locate a table in the theatre lobby where description equipment is being handed out.  You will usually be given a small hand-held receiver about the size of a pack of cigarettes.  It has an on/off switch, a volume control, and a jack for a headset, which you will also be given.  Headsets vary in style, and you may even prefer to bring your own.  Put the headset on and turn on the receiver as soon as you get seated, as you may find someone is describing the stage or characters for you already.

If you don’t find description offered for a favorite theatre or for a specific production that you would like described, call and ask for it!  The theatre will be dependent on finding local audio describers — not always an easy task — but there is no harm in asking.  Advocate for your own needs!

The Law on Description

Under the ADA, offering an accommodation is always on a case by case basis, and the decision is based on what is “readily achievable.”  That will vary from one venue to another, of course, according to administrative and financial resources.  A large theatre organization will be a much more likely candidate for offering description than a small one, for example, and you must also take into account whether or not audio describers are available in the area.

Each venue should develop a policy in accordance to what is readily achievable for them; then they should market their policy so that the public knows what to expect and how to request the service.

Find out more about AD for the performing arts where you live.

Enter the Maze of AD on Your TV

TVs are all different, cable boxes are all different, and of course programming… Flip a coin because it’s difficult to tell.

To help you through the maze, ACB has a guide on various TV providers, cable boxes, accessible interfaces for TV programming, getting AD with antennas, channels with AD, shows with AD, terminology, and even how to get your bill in an accessible format from your TV provider.

Find out how to Get AD on your TV

Movies 🍿

Audio description is finally available for almost all first-run movies, and more and more movie theaters are being built or renovated with the necessary equipment to offer the description track to patrons.  In fact, the law now requires them to upgrade to include description equipment.

Find out about AD for movies in theaters and on DVD.

Audio Description for Streaming Services

When you start talking about audio description for streaming, you may think of Netflix or Hoolu. However, this just scratches the surface. You also have adapters that can plug directly into your TV, such as the apple TV, or the Amazon fire stick. We are now beginning to get audio description for in-flight entertainment systems, such as Virgin Atlantic and others.

You can also have audio description provided on a smartphone app or via a website, either through a TV provider or other service such as Netflix.

Find out more about AD for streaming

If you are thinking about cutting your cable cord, check out one guide to cord cutting and AD.

Audio Description at Museums, Parks, Exhibits, and More!

Audio description at a museum, park, or exhibit is not the same as an audio tour or a docent-led tour.  Audio description has a different focus:  describing the actual object, rather than addressing its creator or history, for example.  A true audio description tour of a museum would actually assist in leading you from exhibit to exhibit, and the emphasis would be on size, shape, color, texture, detail, etc.  If you are lucky, you will be allowed to touch some of the objects on display, but you should not expect this accommodation.

For an example of museum description, checkout Audio Description of a Museum Painting.  See also the Verbal Description Database by Art Beyond Sight’s Museum Education Institute.  You can also play the video on the following page to hear a visually impaired art museum tour guide explain How Visually Impaired People Enjoy Art?.

Cruising? 🛳

Some cruise ships are dipping their tows into audio description. Check out this whitepaper on early efforts. Note this is a PDF.

National Parks

The UniDescription project is seeking to describe the world starting with national parks. Find out what happened when someone tried the beta at Yosemite national park.

Find out more about AD for other venues

The End: Fade to Black

In conclusion of this tour of AD, I have to say that with the advances being made in technology, along with so much research and consumer demand for AD services, I think the future is looking good. If you would like to find out more about the future plans for AD, check out ACB’s research. Enjoy AD wherever you happen to be crusen or jetten!

To all of my readers out there, I want to say a big thank you for helping me get to my 50th blog post. I can’t believe it! Your comments, feedback, and support mean a lot. Thanks also for spreading the word about Web Friendly Help. I am always appreciative of your ideas and suggestions. Keep ‘em coming! Wishing all of you a merry Christmas, happy holidays, and many blessings in the coming year.


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