Audio Description (AD)

Audio Description (AD) provides descriptive narration of key visual elements during natural pauses in the audio and sometimes during dialogue. It makes television more accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired.

Audio Description was formerly known as Video Description and is also known as Descriptive Video Service (DVS). In Canada, it is known as Described Video (DV). The audio track with Audio Description is carried in the Secondary Audio Program (SAP).

According to estimates from the 2018 National Health Interview Survey, 32.2 million American Adults, 18 years and older, reported experiencing vision loss. This includes individuals who reported they have trouble seeing, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses, as well as those who reported they are blind or unable to see at all.

While some broadcasters are mandated to air a certain number of hours of primetime or children’s programming with Audio Description, there is no such requirement for commercials.

Audio Description has been around for over two decades but we have only seen significant interest in the last few years as advertisers learn about Audio Description and the value it brings to those who are blind or visually impaired.

Not all commercials are candidates for Audio Description. For example, if a commercial has dialogue throughout, it likely doesn’t make sense to add it.

There are, however, a lot of commercials with little or no dialogue, and for those, Audio Description can make all the difference for those who are blind or visually impaired.

Another thing to keep in mind is that not all broadcasters support Audio Description for commercials. As of 2024, fewer than 100 broadcasters in the U.S. have the ability to air commercials with Audio Description.

This becomes more complex when a program utilizes the Secondary Audio Program for a language translation. For example, if a show has Spanish audio on SAP, English-speaking individuals who are blind or visually impaired will not be listening to SAP. If the commercial has Audio Description, the Spanish-speaking viewer will hear the Audio Description when listening to SAP.

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