Audio description has been around for sometime and the practice is relatively widespread worldwide. However, the practice still needs to be expanded as well as adapted to the new media that is being introduced virtually every day. In this section, the state of affairs and, especially, the new developments that have taken place in a number of countries as a consequence of a newly introduced legislation that mandates the provision of audio description, have been studied. Since the development of audio description is an ongoing process, this offers a snapshot at the time of writing.
Under the Communications Act 2003, all broadcasters are currently working to a target of 10 per cent of their programming being audio described. New broadcasters have five years to reach their targets. Smaller broadcasters (with less than one per cent of audience share and where the cost of providing access services is more than 0.05 per cent of revenue) are not required to provide description. Description appears on all television viewing platforms i.e., terrestrial, cable and satellite. In 2010, three broadcasters BSkyB, BBC and Channel 4 committed to audio describing 20 per cent of their programming.
United States of America
Currently, audio description is delivered as an audio mix on all platforms in the US: terrestrial, cable, and satellite. Descriptive video service (DVS) or audio description is available on a percentage of programming on a few television channels such as CBS, Fox, PBS, Nickelodeon and Turner Classic Movies.
In August 2010 the Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act was turned into law. The new act in the US will make digital television more accessible with provisions such as mandating audio description quotas on broadcasters and cable and satellite programme providers.
Since 2001, the Canadian Radio Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) have made it compulsory for an audio description commitment to be made before it renews broadcasting licenses. On 3 December 2008, The Accessible Channel was launched by the National Broadcast Reading Service (NBRS), a Canadian charitable organisation which provides media in accessible form for the country’s print and vision impaired?. This digital-only service has the distinction of being the first fully audio described television channel in the world.
The Accessible Channel shows a range of programmes, including movies, drama, news/current affairs and children’s programmes, sourced from the various television networks. The audio description is broadcast in ‘open’ format, which means that anyone switching on the channel will hear it.
The Royal Decree 1494/2007 provides that people with disabilities will have access to the content of audiovisual media in so far as technical progress allows (Article 10). This article also specifies that the means of accessibility will be subtitling, audio description and sign language interpretation, as regulated.
The Law 27/2007, of 23rd October 2007, established the national centre for the standardization of Spanish Sign Language as well as a national centre for subtitling and audio description.
Two standards have been set regarding broadcasting: UNE 153010 (2003) and UNE 153020 (2005). UNE 153010 (2003) concerns subtitling for deaf and hard of hearing people through teletext. UNE 153020 (2005) concerns audio description for vision impaired people. It contains guidelines for audio description procedures and for the preparation of audio guides.
In 1997 Bayerischer Rundfunk BR, the public broadcaster for Southern Germany started a self-financed regular audio description [AD] service. It was the first of its kind in the German broadcasting industry. Till today, BR is the only television broadcaster in Germany with a full-time AD editor.
Until 2010 Bayerischer Rundfunk had described around 300 films, television-films and television series and some documentaries and making them into "Hörfilme" (the name for audio described programmes in Germany).
In 2010, the total number of programmes with AD on German television stood at 1150, each one about 90 minutes long. Around 100 DVDs are available with AD in the country.
Audio description started appearing on television in South Korea in 2007. The 4 terrestrial broadcasters were required to provide description on at least 4.9 per cent of their programming. The plan to increase this quota to 10% is underway and the target year to achieve this level of audio description on television is 2012. Relevant Laws for the promotion of audio description are:
1. Article 26; Clause 1 Para 10 of the Framework Act on Broadcasting and Communications Industry Development,
2. Article 69; Clause 8 of the Broadcasting Act
3. Article 21 clause 3 of the Disability Discrimination Act
Aside from these, some European countries such as Austria, Finland, Ireland, Slovakia, France, Greece and Switzerland, have had audio description on some limited content on television.
Nevertheless, it should be noted that the lack of detailed pan-world statistics about the extent to which audio description is being rolled out constitutes a problem in its own right. A study on "Measuring Progress of eAccessibility in Europe" [DG Information Society and Media, 2008] was commissioned by the European Commission. The main aim of the study was to provide an evidence base to support the future development of EU policy in the eAccessibility field generally. With respect to digital television (DTV) the executive summary of the report  states that:
"Public broadcasters in only five Member States provided any of their programmes with audio description (for visually impaired people) in 2006 and, where they did, the levels provided amounted to a very small percentage of their overall programming; only in one country [UK] did any commercial broadcaster provide any AD.”
Appendix 3: Existing consumer equipment standards and guidelines
Digital television equipment- vulnerable consumer requirements: (UK, March 2006)
The document compiles a list of features and user requirements that should be incorporated in a UK specification for digital television boxes and systems for vulnerable consumers. The specifications in this document are platform-neutral and would apply irrespective of whether a vulnerable consumer was given a DTT, digital cable, digital satellite or internet-based receiving system for digital television. It draws upon the needs of people with sensory and dexterity impairments, cognitive impairments and older people as identified in user research and published work as referenced.
CERMI Accessibility to digital television for people with disabilities (Spain, 2006)
This paper on accessibility to digital television for people with disabilities covers all issues relevant to access to digital television for people with disabilities. It has been drafted by the Nationwide CERMI Audio Visual Group.
INTECO Interactive Television Group - Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) Accessibility Recommendations (Spain, 2010)
This document aims to act as a reference guide for the implementation of accessibility initiatives for DTT at all levels. As mentioned in the report, the recommendations of this guide are not only based on the group's technical experience with accessibility and DTT, but are also based on information obtained through interviews and surveys, performed at national and international levels, of manufacturers, users and organisations that represent disability groups. The report also lists various television accessibility standards in Spain i.e. Standard UNE 153.020 “Audio description for visually impaired people” and then goes on to list other similar existing standards across Europe and America.
National Center for Accessible Media - Best Practices for Talking Menus (USA, 2009)
As a follow up to NCAM's 'Developer's Guide to Creating Talking Menus for Set-top Boxes and DVDs', which mainly addresses operational concerns that directly affect the user's ability to easily control the audio navigation system, these best practice guidelines refer to the user's ability to understand the content of the menus. It is suggested that the content for the menus be designed with a global approach in mind, which could potentially help establish a universal grammar for the design of audio interfaces.
Appendix 4: RNIB Clear Print Guidelines
Royal National Institute for Blind People (RNIB)
Clear Print Guidelines
Clear print: Type face and font
A minimum of 12 pt font size, though RNIB recommends 14 point to reach more people with sight problems
Type weights which are bold or semi-bold are easier to read
Images and text aim to support each other. If information is provided in an image, this should be conveyed by the text as well
If pictures are placed in boxes, include the frame/outline so that the image is easily located
Illustrations should be line drawings with thick, dark strokes or outlines as images with undefined edges, such as watercolour, are harder work
If using photos, ensure that the message conveyed is clear and not too cluttered by detail. A picture in which a dark-coloured foreground is set against a light-coloured background will be easier to read than a picture where tonal values are similar
Avoid setting text over images, unless an image is completely even in tone. Readers are not expecting to see text on an image so this can be easily missed
Paper type and format
Avoid glossy papers because reflective light can obscure the print and glare makes it difficult to read.
Chose uncoated paper that weighs over 90gsm – where possible (to avoid the text showing through from the other side and blurring any text
Make sure that the central margin in any book or publication is wide enough to ensure that text is not distorted by the centre of the spine
Is the type-face at least 12 points or above?
Does the text contrast clearly with the background?
If the type is reversed, does it contrast sufficiently with its background? Is it big enough?
Is there space between each line of type?
Is the typeface roman, semi-bold or bold?
Are whole sentences written in capital letters (this should be avoided)
Are the numerals clear?
Are any words split between two lines (there shouldn’t be)?
Is text unjustified, aligned to the left margin?
Are there any uneven gaps between words or letters?
Is any text centred? (Avoid central alignment except for titles)
Are there 60-70 characters per line?
Is there enough space between columns?
Does text follow easily from column to column?
Is the page layout clear and unfussy?
Is there a contents list?
Are page numbers and headings consistent and in the same place on each page?
Is there a space between paragraphs?
Is the text set horizontally?
Have you set text around illustrations? (This can be confusing)
If the reader needs to write on the page, is there enough space?
If there are images, are they cleared defined and easy to read?
Are images clearly separated from the text?
Is the paper matt? (Avoid very glossy paper)
Is the page a size which is easy to handle?
Do folds obscure the text?
Can the document be flattened, so that it can be placed under a scanner or a screen magnifier?
Extracts taken from the RNIB See it Right Pack, available from:
2. In the context of Button Size, Shape and Distinctiveness: Adult Data: The Handbook of Adult Anthropometric and Strength Measurements – Data for Design Safety. DTI Publications [May, 1998]
3. In the context of a Remote Control providing feedback:
TRACE Trace, University of Wisconsin [Jan 1998] Accessible Design of Consumer Products, Section 1: Output/Displays.)
3. In the context of a raised nib:
ES 201 381 Human Factors (HF); Telecommunications keypads and keyboards; Tactile Identifiers
4. In the context of alphanumeric entry:
ETSI 300 640 Human Factors (HF); Assignment of alphabetic letters to digits on standard telephone keypad arrays
5. DTG D-Book v6.1 (only available to DTG members)
Chapter 25 contains an overview of the general principles of remote control design, plus recommendations for the labelling of remote control buttons and the receiver functions that these buttons are mapped to.
6. The following web site provides a checklist for remote controls:
Accessed on March 10 2011 at 11:00
7. This e-accessibility toolkit website has information about remote controls http://www.e-accessibilitytoolkit.org/toolkit/technology_areas/remote_consoles
Accessed on March 10 2011 at 11:00
Appendix 6: Current audio description standards
In an attempt to achieve qualitative improvement in film/ television description being produced in the UK, Independent Television Commission (ITC) in 2000 rolled out a code giving guidance on how description should be written and produced (ITC guidelines). This code was updated in 2006 by Ofcom and is now available as Ofcom's Code on Television Access Services. Aside from the UK, a number of countries such as Germany, France, Spain, Sweden, Belgium and Greece also rolled out their guidelines/ standards/ codes for the production of AD in their countries.
An in-depth study of these guidelines reveals that they are more similar than different in nature. Guidelines/ standards/codes as the national authorities choose to call them (hereon referred to as guidelines), provide guidance on standards for the production and presentation of audio description.
In principal these guidelines and/or standards are very similar in nature; however there are minor differences in a few of the recommendations i.e. anticipation of the names of characters, freedom to mention colours or not, use of adjectives and adverbs.
These differences could potentially be because of different formats of film/ television programming being produced in different countries. It could also be attributed to the different ways of watching films / television programmes, cultural differences leading to relative levels of understanding of set-ups, specific to different films / television programmes and also different ways in which audio description is made available i.e. synthetic spoken subtitles on many foreign films instead of audio description in Finland,
5.2 Desirables for audio description
In this day and age, when content / television programming is not restricted to any specific geographical location, it may be time to think about setting an International Audio Description Code that aligns itself with the basic idea behind the provision of audio description and can be tweaked to suit different cultural nuances. This universal nature of programming has now opened a window for a comprehensive code that can be adapted as needed. In time, it may be possible to attain an understanding between content providers to set up an exchange of access assets i.e. audio description and subtitles along with the main piece of content in order to avoid duplication.