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Benefits of Audio Description

  • Blind Person Using a Walking Stick

    Benefits of Audio Description

    When ramps were first developed and implemented at restaurants, hotels, libraries, and other public facilities, they were meant to provide access to disabled individuals using wheelchairs. However, the benefits of these ramps reach far beyond wheelchairs, as they are helpful for pushing strollers, rolling suitcases, moving heavy objects, and so on.

    Likewise, although audio description was originally intended for people who are blind or have low vision, audio description has proven to be beneficial for a much broader audience. The concise and objective translation of visual content promotes a new way of learning through auditory means and can help individuals with language development, improve learning outcomes, and strengthen writing skills. Audio description can also assist those on the autism spectrum who may have difficulty recognizing emotional cues, and can be useful in eyes-free situations where you might have a TV on, but are unable to look at the visual cues.

    Improved Learning Outcomes

    Research into how the brain processes information reveals that there are two channels– visual and auditory. So it makes sense that when the brain uses both channels simultaneously – for example, by utilizing audio description – it can accommodate and process a greater amount of new information. It is for this reason that audio description is a useful resource for all individuals to acquire new information and develop several important learning skills in the following areas:

    • Language Development:
      Listening is a key step in learning language.
    • Auditory Learners:
      It’s estimated that 20–30% of students retain information best through sound.
    • New Media Literacy:
      Listening is a building block in the ability to understand and produce communication in many forms.
    • Writing and Speaking:
      High quality description is succinct and context-relevant, making listening to description a useful tool for improving written and oral communication skills.

    Audio description also helps synthesize the stimuli around us. Have you ever had the experience where there was just so much going on in a video that you completely missed something until it was pointed out to you? If so, you’re not the only one! In fact, this phenomenon is referred to as inattentional blindness. Inattentional blindness can be described as “the event in which an individual fails to recognize an unexpected stimulus that is in plain sight.” Oftentimes this occurs when there are just too many stimuli in a situation, making it impossible for your brain to recognize each and every one of them. Typically, this “temporary blindness” causes individuals to fail to see objects that are unexpected given the context. Audio description actually prevents this inattentional blindness from occurring by supplementing the visual content with an audio track, and thus helping individuals to take in more stimuli.

    Audio Description and the Autistic Spectrum

    In addition to being a learning aid, audio description also helps individuals on the autistic spectrum by giving more information about emotions and social cues.

    It is common for people on the autistic spectrum to struggle with understanding human emotions and social interaction. For example, someone on the spectrum may not understand humor or sarcasm, or may struggle to understand body language, facial cues, or other non-verbal communication. Non-verbal communication can reveal a lot of information, so someone who can’t interpret these cues will have difficulty understanding emotions, such as if a character is feeling angry, sad, or entertained.

    Since audio description is designed to provide purely visual information in an audio format for blind users, a describer might dictate that someone “walked into the room with a frown on their face.” This description is extremely useful for someone on the autistic spectrum, as it helps identify an emotion which may be difficult for them to otherwise pinpoint. It also provides another sense (visual) to reinforce the information, helping them gain a better sense of understanding. Providing additional viewing support through audio description allows people on the autistic spectrum to watch TV or movies without relying on family and friends to answer questions such as ‘What does that mean?,’ ‘Who’s that?,’ and ‘Why did that happen?’

    Audio Description for the Multitasker

    Sighted people often watch TV as background noise while engaging in other tasks such as cooking, exercising, working on a project, or cleaning. When multitasking, it’s easy to miss visual cues since you may not be directing your full visual attention at the TV screen. Audio description is a great tool for this, as it describes the visual content in audio format. Similarly to audiobooks, audio description of TV shows or movies could also be beneficial to a driver who can’t take their eyes off of the road.

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