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What Is Audio Description?

An audience wearing headphones
The official logo for Audio Description - the letters AD and three lines representing sound waves
A table with a microphone, headphones, a notebook, and a laptop with post-production editing software open

Audio Description is a service that provides a succinct and precise account of visual information to people who are blind or have low vision. Audio Description (AD) is sometimes referred to by other terms, including: video description, descriptive video, descriptive video service (DVS), described video, English descriptive video, video translation, descriptive audio, described narrative, visual description, and visual translation. In 2020 legislation was passed to make “Audio Description” the official term to be used in the United States.

AD may be written and provided for almost any vision-related experience. Art, education, culture, live events, live performances, web content, media, film, and television all can be audio described. For performances, the descriptive narrative is inserted during the natural pauses between dialogue, song lyrics and sound effects. AD informs the listener about facial expressions, body language, physical comedy, dance movements, costumes, changes of scene, and other visual information crucial to fully understanding and experiencing the performance. AD provides the blind or low vision listener a more complete and satisfying access to cultural experiences.

AD may be scripted and pre-recorded or performed live. For theater performances, live events narrated in real time, and in movie theaters, AD is often transmitted and heard through an earpiece receiver. It is added to broadcast TV, Blue-Ray/DVDs, and streaming services as a narration track, and may also be available through mobile apps. In exhibitions, installments, museums, and parks, AD can be narrated live by a docent or can be part of a pre-recorded audio tour.

There are a multitude of other venues where AD can accommodate and be inclusive. Even beyond the blind community, this evolving art is proving to be a valuable tool in expanding literacy and cultural consciousness around the world. Globalization and the concept of universal design increase awareness of accessibility as a human rights issue. Audio Description gains more and more traction in the mainstream population as technology, regulations, and understanding move forward.

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