Canada pioneers audio description methods

Friday, 6 January 2012 09:31am

A Canadian media company is changing the way television is made accessible for people who are blind or vision impaired. Accessible Media Inc (AMI), owner of The Accessible Channel, the world’s only channel on which all programs are captioned and audio described, has pioneered the audio description of live television events. AMI has also produced the first TV program where the audio description was integrated at the production stage.

Audio description usually involves the writing of a complete audio description script which is then recorded so that the descriptions always fall within gaps in the dialogue. It was believed by many that the unpredictable nature of live TV means that audio describing it was impractical if not impossible.

AMI’s first described live event, the Royal Wedding in April 2011, demonstrated that, with careful preparation, a live event could be successfully audio described. The program was screened on the public broadcaster CBC with closed audio description (which could be switched on or off by the viewer), and simulcast on The Accessible Channel with open audio description (heard by all viewers). Since then, Accessible Media Inc has ‘live’ audio described several other events, including  the Canadian Federal Election and the Canada Day Ceremonies, and a 17-part reality show, Battle of the Blades.

While most of The Accessible Channel’s programing derives from other networks, it does run some original programming, including a documentary looking at medical and scientific research into vision loss in Canada, A Whole New Light, which went to air on 3 December. This program represented another first for audio description, as the description was integrated into it at the production stage. (In other words, instead of being added as an extra voice after the program was completed, all necessary description was contained within the narration and other dialogue.)

The Accessible Channel, which was launched in 2009, is available as part of the basic packages of all satellite, cable and licensed Internet TV services in Canada.

In Australia, the Federal Government’s Media Access Review has recommended that a trial of audio description be conducted on the ABC. It is expected that an announcement about this trial will soon be made.

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