What is Audio Description?

May 16, 2018 · 4 min read

“When you’re doing a film, narrative is your most important tool, but it’s a tool to create a cinematographic experience, to create those moments that are beyond narrative, that are almost an abstraction of that moment that hits your psyche.” — Alfonso Cuaron

Imagine you’re heading to a movie theater to watch a movie you’ve been waiting to see all week. You walk up to the ticket counter to purchase your ticket. As you enter the theater, the familiar and savory smell of popcorn wafts through the air. The lobby is filled with sounds of people chattering about the movies they just saw.

As you enter into the theater, you take your seat. The lights dim. The crowd quiets. Now imagine a blindfold is placed over your eyes as the movie begins. You know the movie is playing. You hear the music. But you are unable to see the visuals on the screen. You can only rely on the dialogue and soundtrack from the film to relay the story unfolding on screen.

This is the reality for millions of Blind and Low Vision people who love movies.

Movies have a foundation in visual storytelling. And many great movie scenes and movie memories are made by creating intricate and nuanced visuals that movie-goers “discover” as they watch. However, there are many people who are unable to see these visual cues and are left in the dark, not knowing exactly what is taking place on screen.

This is why Audio Description exists. Audio Description is essentially a soundtrack over the film that has a narrated description of the visual components.

The universal logo for Audio Description — an “A” and “D” letters next to one another with three sound bars to the right of the “D”.

Audio Description is a resource that is used by millions of Blind and Low Vision movie lovers. And they are not the only ones who enjoy it. Many people who are sighted have also found that they enjoy the narrated description of movies as well.

Noah Carver, a Blind teenager from Maine, explains why Audio Description is important for him to fully enjoy movies like Star Wars. “For me to watch a movie, I need a special audio headset that plays something called Audio Description. It’s like a really in depth audio book of the movie so while everyone else is watching the battles on screen, a narrator is describing every saber swing and leap in amazing detail to me.”

Audio Description tracks are required by law to be made for all large productions so everyone can enjoy the movie and be included in entertainment.

Below are two clips of an Audio Description track. Close your eyes, have a listen and see how incredibly descriptive and informative just audio can be.

Audio Description track clip from Forrest Gump.
Audio Description track clip from Finding Nemo.

Audio Description is also sometimes referred to as video description, visual description, or described video. The narration of what is happening on the screen is hugely helpful for people who are unable to see to get a full picture of what is going on in the movie.

A woman in front of a computer records the Audio Description track into a microphone as the movie plays on the computer screen.

Widespread support for Audio Description got its start in 2009 when the American Council of the Blind established the Audio Description Project. The purpose of the project was to increase description activity and share information on that work throughout the US and the world.

In addition to movies, Audio Description is available for television programming, live events such as sporting events or live performances, and for guided tours in museums. While Audio Description is becoming more widely available, it is not always available everywhere.

People wearing headphones listen to Audio Description tracks as they watch a movie in a theater.

The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 aimed to improve the availability of Audio Description, and the Act was successful in requiring affiliates in the top 25 markets and the top five-rated cable networks to provide 50 hours of video-described programming per quarter.

It is our hope that one day the inclusion of Audio Description tracks for all forms of entertainment will be available and accessible to anyone who needs them.

At Actiview, we’re working to help make this a reality. Currently, the Actiview app provides Audio Description support for any in-theater and in-home movies that we have the licenses to. To experience a movie with Audio Description, check out the Actiview app today.


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At Actiview, we are working hard to make inclusive access to entertainment a reality. Activiewapp.com

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