TV Access for People with Visual Impairments: Described Video and Audio Description

Audio description and described video make TV programs accessible for people who are blind or who have visual impairments:

  • Audio description (AD) relies on a program host or announcer to provide a voice-over by reading aloud or describing key elements of programming, such as text and graphics that appear on the screen. It is often used for information based programming, including newscasts, weather reports, sports scores, and financial data. Most broadcasters are required to provide audio description.
  • Described video (DV), or video description, is a narrated description of a program's main visual elements, such as settings, costumes, and body language. The description is added during pauses in dialogue, and enables people to form a mental picture of what is happening in the program. Described video typically uses a separate audio track.

Why are audio description and described video important?

Television programming is a primary source of news, entertainment, and sports, and reflects the wide range of ideas and perspectives that characterize Canadian society. It is important for people who are blind or who have visual impairments to be able to access programming in as complete a form as possible, so that all Canadians can participate in this "everyday" medium.

The CRTC, described video, and audio description

Recognizing the importance of described video and audio description, in 2001 the CRTC began to require minimum levels of described programing by certain broadcasters.

It addressed the issue again in 2009, with a policy specifying that:

  • Broadcasters must provide audio description for all in-house productions related to information-based programs
  • All conventional broadcasters, as well as certain French and English pay and specialty broadcasters, must offer four hours of described video per week, and are encouraged to make described programming available online
  • Graphic which represents the Described Video icon
  • Broadcasters are expected to display the described video logo shown here, and to make an audio announcement before the start of a described program. They are encouraged to repeat the logo and audio announcement after each commercial break

More recently, the CRTC’s Let’s Talk TV initiative has resulted in a decision to further increase the availability of described video.

The impact of Let’s Talk TV on described video

One outcome of the Let’s Talk TV initiative was a decision to enhance the objectives of the CRTC’s Accessibility Policy by ramping up the amount of described video provided by broadcasters, with tiered requirements geared to the broadcaster’s size and resources.

As a result of the decision, beginning in September 2019, certain broadcasters will be required to provide described video for all suitable programming broadcast between 7 PM and 11 PM (prime time) seven days a week, while all other non-exempt broadcasters will be required to provide four hours of programming with described video per week.

Programming that is not well suited for described video, including newscasts and sports, will continue to be exempt from these requirements.

Also as part of the Let’s Talk TV decision, broadcasting distributors are required to make accessible hardware and remote controls available to subscribers, provided these are available and are compatible with distribution systems. This requirement will be reflected in the broadcasting distribution undertaking (BDU) regulations, which are expected to be in effect by the end of 2015.

Ongoing activities

An industry working group made up of broadcasters and distributors will continue to work with the CRTC to make described video more reliable and accessible, and to develop and refine best practice guides for described video.

Other TV services for people who are blind or who have a visual impairment

Reading services other than described video and audio description are available to people who are blind or who have a visual impairment. These include AMI-tv/AMI-télé, AMI audio (English), and Canal M (French).

Most distributors are required to carry these services, which are usually provided as digital audio channels. Ask your distributor how to access these services.

AMI-tv and AMI-télé

AMI-tv, and its French-language equivalent AMI télé, provide 24-hour digital service for a variety of described programming, such as movies, series, specials, current affairs, and original programs that can be enjoyed by everyone. All shows feature Open Described Video and Closed Captioning, and no special equipment or extra steps are required to access this programming.

All distributors with more than 2,000 subscribers must provide AMI-tv and AMI-télé in their package of basic services.

AMI-audio (English)

AMI-audio (formerly Voiceprint) is the world’s largest broadcast reading service. It makes local, national, and international news and information accessible. Current articles from leading newspapers and magazines are read and recorded every day, and are broadcast on TV and online. AMI-audio also broadcasts original programs and described audio presentations of movies and TV shows. AMI-audio is a service of Accessible Media Inc. (formerly the National Broadcast Reading Service or NBRS).

Canal M (French)

Canal M (formerly La Magnétothèque) is a 24-hour-a-day newspaper reading service for people who are blind, have a visual impairment, or are print impaired. It also offers original programming.

Making a complaint

All broadcasting complaints, including the ones relating to described video and audio description, must be made in writing. For more information, see How to make a broadcasting complaint.

Related information

For more information about described video and audio description, see:

AMI-audio and Canal M

Described video

Distribution of video description by Class 2, Class 3 and exempt cable distribution undertakings (BDUs) and by multipoint distribution system BDUs (Public Notice CRTC 2006-6)