Described Video vs Audio Description: What’s the Difference?
Updated: June 3, 2019
Described Video and Audio Description
Both Described Video (DV) and Audio Description (AD) consist of an audio track that narrates a program’s visual elements. The description may include information about actions, characters, scene changes, surroundings, costumes, body language, and on-screen text. The purpose of this description is to describe the visual elements essential for comprehension, as an accommodation for blind and low vision viewers. In order to enhance – rather than detract from – the original program, descriptive snippets are typically added during pauses in dialogue, and enable people to form a mental picture of what is happening in the program. Described video typically uses a separate audio track that is added to the program in post-production.
A Subtle Difference
As you can tell, Described Video and Audio Description are practically synonymous, as both consist of a separate narrated track that accompanies the program in order to provide descriptions of relevant visual elements. The distinction, however, is that the term Described Video is commonly used in Canada, whereas Audio Description is commonly used in the United States and United Kingdom.
This subtle difference is important because in Canada, Audio Description has a separate definition from Described Video. In this case, Audio Description uses a program host or announcer to provide a basic voice-over, reading text and describing graphics that appear on the screen.
Despite the different terms, both are crucial tools for video accessibility. Each are also required by law.
Canadian Accessibility Laws for Described Video
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA):
The AODA sets accessibility requirements for organizations in Ontario, Canada with the aim of creating a universally accessible province by 2025. The AODA is the most progressive accessibility law in the world.
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC):
In 2001, the CRTC began to require minimum levels of described programming by certain broadcasters. In 2009, it addressed the issue with a specific policy requiring DV for many programs, and to use the DV logo. More recently, the CRTC’s Let’s Talk TV initiative has resulted in a decision to further increase the availability of described video.
US Accessibility Laws for Audio Description
The Rehabilitation Act:
Section 504 and Section 508 both impact video accessibility. Section 504 is a broad anti- discrimination law that requires equal access for individuals with disabilities, and closed captioning and audio description requirements are written directly into Section 508.
Americans with Disabilities Act:
Title II and Title III impact video accessibility. Title II applies to public entities, and Title III applies to places of public accommodation.
21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act:
This applies to online video that previously appeared on TV. Audio description has requirements under the CVAA that phase it in between 2010 and 2020.
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