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Chapter 13. Enhancing Accessibility thro... > Enhance User Experience with Audio D...

Enhance User Experience with Audio Description

Synchronized audio description—a spoken description of the activities presented through video—is another essential element in making video accessible, in this case for people who are unable to see the video, whether because they are blind or for some other reason. The audio description is recorded on a separate track, which is usually inserted into natural pauses in the soundtrack. It describes key visual elements of the presentation. The audio description may include information that describes the scene, the characters, their body language, and any other visual elements that may be important to understanding the video but are not available from the soundtrack alone. Like captions, audio descriptions must be synchronized with the video stream they describe.

Like closed captioning and other accessibility techniques, audio description existed before the Web was born. But it’s not all that old, either. Audio description of live theater events began in 1981 with the pioneering work of Margaret and Cody Pfanstiehl of the Metropolitan Washington Ear, along with Arena Stage in Washington, DC. Now audio description can be found in several other states as well as the District of Columbia. In 1987, the Boston PBS affiliate, WGBH, which had pioneered closed captioning in the early 1970s, launched its Descriptive Video Service (DVS). In 1989, Congress for the first time appropriated funds for described television, as authorized by the Education of the Handicapped Act. By 1997, WGBH had established a policy that all national programming would be described. [4] The Na-tional Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awarded Margaret Pfanstiehl an Emmy for “leadership and persistence” in pioneering accessible TV for people who are visually impaired, and the DVS has received many national and international awards as well.

[4] “DVS Milestones.” Accessed January 19, 2002, at http://main.wgbh.org/wgbh/access/dvs/dvsmilestones.html.


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