Audio description in the classroom

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Audio description is an audio track of narration which describes the visual elements of a video or performance. It is an essential access tool for people who are blind or have low vision, and is growing in availability around the world.

Below is an audio described scene from The Hunger Games.

Availability of audio description 

While audio description is widely available on television elsewhere in the world, it is not currently broadcast in Australia. There is no online video service which provides audio description, however it is hoped that this will change in the coming years. Education-specific content is rarely, if ever, audio described.

Options for audio described texts are limited to mainstream DVDs. Approximately 35% of all movies released on DVD in Australia feature audio description. These are identified with a black and white ‘AD’ symbol on the back of the case. The audio description can be turned on and off via the DVD’s menu.

Media Access Australia maintains an audio described DVD database which is updated every two months. You can also search for and order audio described DVDs on the EzyDVD website. To search for audio described content, find ‘Languages’ on the left hand side, click on ‘more’ and find ‘English – AD’. This will display all the audio described titles available from Ezy DVD.

English prescribed texts with audio description

Years 7-10:

  • Dead Poets Society (2002 re-release only)

Year 12:

  • The Castle (2011 re-release only)
  • Elizabeth

Tomorrow When the War Began and The Hunger Games are also audio described and are popular elective texts for students and teachers.

Other benefits of audio description

Audio description has been demonstrated to help people with autism spectrum disorders. Children on the autism spectrum may have difficulties recognising emotional cues, such as facial expressions and gestures. The audio description track, providing information such as “James turns the car around angrily”, can help take out the guess work.

Extensive research on audio description and the autism spectrum has been conducted by Judith Garman in the UK.

Like captions for students who are Deaf or have hearing impairment, audio description is an example of universal design for learning. Although it was developed for a specific group, turning on audio description can benefit a much broader audience.

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