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for the Blind

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Accessing Video Description, Step by Step

How Do I Access Video Description on My Television?

When a television program includes video description, it is currently made available over something commonly called the Secondary Audio Program (SAP) channel. This is the same channel that is sometimes used to provide Spanish (or other language) translations for TV programs. Each of your main TV channels has a SAP channel (although it is often not used) and it is not very easy to access.

The SAP channel has been used to deliver described TV programs for a number of years, but only by a few networks, such as PBS and CBS. Unfortunately, turning on the SAP channel on a television or set-top box is usually inaccessible if you cannot see the screen. This is because turning on the channel almost always requires on-screen menu controls that must be read and navigated to choose the channel. AFB offers the following information about selecting the SAP channel in an effort to help TV viewers with vision loss understand the menus. In most cases, this information will be of most help in seeking assistance from a sighted person.

In the future, selecting description will be easier because the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act also requires that set-top boxes and other television equipment be made accessible and usable by people with vision loss and other disabilities. However, those provisions will not take effect until sometime after October 2013.

Cable with a Set-Top Box

Cable subscribers with a set-top box will need to enable the secondary audio channel through the set-top box. There are many manufacturers and models of these boxes and unfortunately there is no standard way to select the SAP channel. In some cases, there may be a dedicated audio button on the remote control, but that is very uncommon. To select the SAP channel, you will typically need to start by pressing the "Menu" button or the button labeled "Settings" on the remote control. Then you will select either "Settings" or "Preferences" from a list of options. Under Settings or Preferences, you should find an "Audio" option. Finally, under audio, you can enable description by selecting the language option and choosing either "Alternate," if it is available, or "Spanish."


The two major satellite providers in the United States are DirecTV and Dish Network. DirecTV uses equipment from multiple vendors with different model numbers, so the problem of consistency is the same as with cable boxes. Follow the same procedure for locating the menu items as for the cable boxes.

Dish Network only uses a few different models for their receivers and the menus for accessing description are similar. Press the menu button, select "Preferences," and then select "Alternate Audio" and change the setting to "Alternate." Save this option. On some models, the "Alternate Audio" option is on the top-level menu after pressing the menu button.

Broadcast Digital Converter Box

Individuals receiving free, over-the-air programming from an antenna or basic cable connected directly to the TV will need to choose the SAP channel for description through the digital converter box or directly on the television. In these cases, enabling description is usually a matter of finding a button on the remote labeled "Audio," "MTS," or "SAP" and pressing it to switch between audio tracks. If the remote does not have a dedicated button for changing the audio track, you will have to go through the menus and find the options that way. Remember, often the SAP channel is labeled "Spanish."

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