What is Description?

Audio description, video description, descriptive video, DVS®, English for the Visually Impaired, narrative video… many names for this essential accessibility feature.

A Definition

Description is additional narration that translates images and other visual information into spoken words so that people who are blind or visually impaired can access, enjoy, and learn from works of popular, cultural, or educational importance. For LIL’s purposes, description is most prominent on video-based media (in movie theaters and on DVD/Blu-Ray and the web), where it is typically inserted into pauses between dialogue, narration, music, and ambient sounds in the original soundtrack.

A Bit of History

Description “began” with the work of Dr. Gregory Frazier when he founded his company, AudioVision, in 1972 (though it had been envisioned by Chet Avery, a U.S. Department of Education administrator, as early as 1964). It really took off in the early ‘80s under the pioneering guidance of the late Dr. Margaret Phanstiehl, who would later win an Emmy for her leadership in making television accessible to people with visual impairments.

Read the complete Description Timeline Highlights from the DCMP.

Examples of Description from Around the Web

The “Breakfast Scene” from The Miracle Worker »

An excerpt from the 1979 version of The Miracle Worker, which is also available from the DCMP. (Visit the DCMP’s The Miracle Worker page to watch an accessible trailer and another accessible preview of the film.)

How Museums Use Touch »

An example of expanded description from the Art Beyond Sight YouTube channel. Note how the picture and original audio pause so that the visuals can be more fully described.

The Power of 504 »

Part one of the 18-minute The Power of 504 documentary, available with open captions and description on YouTube. (Part 2 of The Power of 504.)

Pineda Foundation YouTube Videos »

Most of the videos produced by the nonprofit Victor Pineda Foundation and featured on its YouTube channel are captioned and described. (Shown above: Stephanie’s Video at the AAPD Paul G. Hearne Award.)

Segment from The Ultimate Gift »

The Narrative Television Network website contains a collection of educational videos and classic movies available for free with description. (Shown above: an excerpt from The Ultimate Gift, the inspirational story by founder Jim Stovall.)

Samples from Audio Description Associates »

Several clips from various description genres (television, educational programming, theater, dance) are available from Audio Description Associates.

Samples from Bridge Multimedia »

Several examples of described commercials and a clip from Symbiosis in Ocean Communities (available from the DCMP) from the Bridge Multimedia website.

Sample from CaptionMax »

Several clips from Minneapolis-based accessibility vendor CaptionMax demonstrating description of NASA video clips.

Samples from YourLocalCinema.com »

Hundreds of clips and trailers (mostly produced in the U.K., which explains the British accents with which most of the voicers are speaking) from major motion pictures released in the past few years. Available as a mix of MP3s and streaming video.

Movies for the Blind »

A free podcast of classic, public-domain movies and episodic features with description by Valerie H productions.

Samples from Audio Description Solutions »

Several clips from a variety of programming genres are presented on the website of Audio Description Solutions. One of these clips is from The Ecology of Kelp Forests, available from the DCMP.

DO-IT Videos »

A listing of described educational videos from the University of Washington’s DO-IT program.