Described Video: Canadian Innovations In Accessible Media
Research and Innovations Described Video is paving the way for accessible media as a promoter of inclusion for the blind.
Here’s an exercise: the next time you’re watching television, close your eyes and try to visualize the story as it unfolds using only your ears. As you listen, see if you can distinguish between characters and follow the plot as it moves from point A, to point B, to point C. Pretty difficult, right?
Now imagine doing the same thing, but this time when you close your eyes, a narrator’s voice comes on to describe key visual elements of the show during pauses in dialogue. Do you think you could follow along this time?
Most of us take for granted our ability to switch on the news, flip between channels, and catch the last period of the hockey game. But for the thousands of Canadians who live with vision impairment, television represents a fundamental challenge: how can such an overwhelmingly visual medium be made accessible for those who can’t see?
It was this question that prompted the development of something called described video (DV).
According to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the regulatory agency for broadcasting in Canada, described video is “a narrated description of a program’s main visual elements, such as settings, costumes, or body language” that “enables people to form a mental picture of the program.”
"What described video essentially does is create equal opportunity for people with visual impairments to receive television broadcasts in as complete a form as possible. It allows them to be included in this “everyday” medium."
Currently, there are three different types of described video: post-production, live and embedded. The differences between the three is primarily a question of when the descriptive narration is integrated into the program.
For post-production described video—the most common of the three—narration is integrated after the original program has been produced. In terms of processes, it usually involves writing a script, hiring a narrator, producing the description and then integrating that description back into the program.
“Promoter of inclusion”
What described video essentially does is create equal opportunity for people with visual impairments to receive television broadcasts in as complete a form as possible. It allows them to be included in this “everyday” medium.
“It’s a promoter of inclusion,” says Robert Pearson, the accessibility officer at Accessible Media Inc. (AMI), a Canadian not-for-profit broadcaster. “When a family with an individual who is visually impaired wants to sit down to watch TV, if description is available, that person will be able to follow along with the program at the same pace as everyone else.”
“He or she can laugh with the rest of the family when a joke is made, and pick up on background details that only people who are fully sighted could acquire if description was not available,” he says.
Check your listings
Lucky for us Canadians, described video programming is rapidly becoming more and more mainstream each year. But how exactly do you access it?
On the one hand, Canadian broadcasters are required by the CRTC to provide at least 4 hours of described programming per week.
“In total there are about 2000 shows a week across Canada that have video description available,” says Pearson. “If you visit the AMI DV guide online, it has the listings of all the programs that have description available across every Canadian network, every single day of the week.”
Additionally, all cable providers with 2,000 or more digital subscribers are required by the CRTC to carry AMI-tv and AMI-télé—English and French channels that provide all programs in an open described video format.
So if your cable provider has 2,000 or more digital subscribers, you automatically have access to these specialized channels at no extra cost.
In today’s digital age, the capability to deliver high quality accessible programming to people with visual impairments is greater than ever before.
With with new efforts currently underway to increase the provision of described video programming in Canada, access is only going to rise.