Technology: Video Description
This document is archived as it is no longer timely and may be only of historical value.
For information on current issues see the Public Policy and Policy Research section.
Video Description is a technique in which spoken explanations and descriptions of visual elements are inserted into a television or video program without interfering with the sounds and dialogue that are a regular part of the program. This technique is available on a limited basis on certain broadcast and cable television channels, on Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) television shows, and on dvds and videotapes for purchase or rental.
A research project completed by the American Foundation for the Blind in 1997 (partially funded by the U.S. Department of Education, grant #H026G40001) studied issues related to video description, and to television and video watching by people who are blind or visually impaired. The following are highlights of that study:
- Blind and visually impaired people (approximately 3% of the U.S. population)
watch television and videotapes about as often as those who are not visually impaired. In addition, their households own televisions and VCRs, and subscribe to cable television, to the same extent as other households. However, many find the experience frustrating.
- In order to increase their understanding and enjoyment of television shows, people who are blind or visually impaired take various actions including sitting closer to the television set, buying larger television sets, and asking other people questions about what is happening on the screen.
- Most people who are blind or visually impaired find that their enjoyment of
television is increased when sighted companions informally describe the visual
aspects of programming to them.
- The vast majority of those who have experienced formal video description say they
would be more likely to watch a television show or video with description than without.
- The vast majority of blind and visually impaired people who have experienced
description say that it is important to their enjoyment of programming.
- Most people who have watched video description with a sighted person say it rarely or never interferes with the sighted person's enjoyment of programming.
- People who have experienced video description feel that it affords important benefits, which fall into the categories of enhanced viewing, learning, and social experiences watching television and videotapes.
- "Dramas or Mysteries" and "Nature or Science" are the two most popular categories of television shows that blind and visually impaired people would like to see described. For videotapes of movies, the most popular categories are "Serious Dramas" and "Documentaries."
A text-only version of the complete Who's Watching? chartbook is available on AFB's web site.
American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)
11 Penn Plaza, Suite 300
New York, NY 10001
Web site: http://www.afb.org
Descriptive Video Service(r) (DVS)
125 Western Avenue
Boston, MA 02134
800-333-1203 (for pre-recorded information)
Web site: www.wgbh.org/dvs
Narrative Television Network (NTN)
5840 South Memorial Drive, Suite 312
Tulsa, OK 74145-9082
Web site: www.narrativetv.com
U.S. Department of Education
Office of Special Education Programs
600 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, DC 20202-2731
Web site: www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/osers/osep/osepfunded.html?exp=0