TV access for people with visual impairments: described video and audio description

For people with visual impairments, such as people who are blind or have low vision, audio description and described video make TV programs more accessible.

Why audio description and described video are important

Television is a primary source of news, entertainment, and sports programming and reflects the wide range of ideas and perspectives that characterize Canadian society. It’s important for people with visual impairments to be able to receive TV broadcasts in as complete a form as possible, so that we’re all included in this "everyday" medium.

Audio description (AD) uses a program host or announcer to provide a basic voice-over, reading text and describing graphics that appear on the screen. AD is often used for newscasts, weather reports, sports scores or financial data, and is best suited to live, information-based programming.

Generally, broadcasters are expected to provide audio description.

Described video (DV) is also called video description or described narrative. DV is a narrated description of a program's main visual elements, such as settings, costumes, or body language. The description is added during pauses in dialogue, and enables people to form a mental picture of the program. It works best for pre-recorded programs, such as dramas and documentaries. Described video uses a separate audio track.

Generally, broadcasters are required to provide at least 4 hours per week of described programming. Programming that’s not well suited to described video, such as all-news and sports services, is exempt.

By 1 September 2009, all distributors (cable, satellite or other) must make DV available for all digital programming services. Some distributors providing analog services must offer free digital set-top boxes to subscribers who are blind or have a visual impairment, so that they can access described programming in a digital format. Ask your distributor how to get described video.

How did the Broadcasting and Telecom Regulatory Policy 2009-430 change the CRTC’s regulation of audio description and described video?

Broadcasting and Telecom Regulatory Policy 2009-430 requires broadcasters to provide audio description for all in-house productions.

The described video requirements were extended to include all conventional broadcasters and more pay and specialty TV broadcasters. This means that at least 15 more English-language broadcasters and 5 more French-language broadcasters will provide described video when they renew their licences. Broadcasters are also encouraged to make described programming available online.

Graphic which represents the Described Video icon

To promote the availability of described video, broadcasters are expected to display a logo and make an audio announcement before a described program starts. Distributors must also identify which programs have described video in their electronic programming guides or in other ways.

Distributors must provide subscribers with visual impairments with at least one simple way of accessing DV programming. An industry working group that includes broadcasters and distributors will be working with the CRTC to make described video more reliable and accessible.

Other TV services for people with visual impairments


AMI-tv is a 24-hour, English-language digital service providing a variety of described programming – movies, series, specials, current affairs, original programs – that can be enjoyed by everyone. All shows feature Open Described Video and Closed Captioning. No special equipment or extra steps are required to access this programming.

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

AMI-audio (English)

AMI-audio (formerly Voiceprint) is the world’s largest broadcast reading service, making local, national and international news and information accessible. Daily, AMI Volunteers read and record current articles from leading newspapers and magazines, which 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).

La Magnétothèque (French)

La Magnétothèque is a 24-hour-a-day newspaper reading services for persons who are blind, visually impaired or print impaired. Also creates original programming.

Most distributors are required to carry these reading services, which are usually provided as digital audio channels. AMI-audio may be offered via CBC News Network's secondary audio programming service (SAP) channel on some analog cable services. Ask your distributor how to access these services.

Related information

Accessibility of telecommunications and broadcasting services (Broadcasting and Telecom Regulatory Policy 2009-430)

Voiceprint and La Magnétothèque

National Broadcast Reading Service Inc. (VoicePrint) (Decision CRTC 2000-380)
Revised Distribution Order for VoicePrint (Decision CRTC 2000-380-1)
Licence Renewal of La Magnétothèque (Decision CRTC 2003-516)
Licence Renewal of National Broadcasting Reading Service Inc. (VoicePrint) (Decision CRTC 2004-28)

Described video

Distribution of video description by Class 1 cable broadcasting distribution undertakings (BDU), direct-to-home BDUS and satellite relay distribution undertakings (Public Notice CRTC 2007-101)
New digital specialty described video programming undertaking (Decision CRTC 2007-246)
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)