Audio Description

Do you enjoy watching telly?

I do and, yes, I do “watch” TV. Please don’t feel you have to alter your language when speaking to visually-impaired people. We “watch” TV; we “see” our friends.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I’m going to tell you about how I watch TV.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to watch a detective programme without looking at the screen but, if you have, you’ll have discovered that it’s very difficult to follow the plot. For most of my life, my family gallantly explained the action to me in various TV detective series, thrillers and comedies.

This was always a challenge and it became even more of one as my parents got older and filming techniques changed. Sometimes they would say, “Well, we would tell you what’s going on, but we don’t actually know ourselves. They’re currently creeping around in the dark!”

Over time, my parents’ ability to remember names also became less reliable and their commentary would often degenerate into something like this: “A man has just come into the room… It’s that one, you know… The one who was in the pub earlier with that girl, what’s-her-name…”

Or words to that effect!

Then a new system was introduced: audio-description. You pressed the appropriate button on your remote control and a soundtrack would be played with a description of what was happening on screen.

As I understand it, the additional soundtrack is created by amazing people who watch the programmes with great care and attention and note everything a viewer might want or need to know. They then write and record a script.

With audio-description, the visually-impaired viewer is told what is happening, what actors look like, what they are wearing, and, if they are reading a text, what it says. The commentators aren’t allowed to talk over the dialogue, so they have to get all this information in during breaks in speech.

The introduction of this system not only transformed watching television for me, but it also made life much easier for my parents as well. They no longer needed to remember who was who because the audio-describer would always use the correct names. They could also watch whilst doing other things, such as, in my mother’s case, knitting.

Which is not to say that they didn’t have the occasional argument with the audio-description. If the commentators got the make of a car wrong, my father would correct them every time they mentioned it. My mother, meanwhile, if the programme was set during the Christmas period, would say things like, “I would have described the decorations to you!”

Mainly, though, audio-description was a huge hit with all of us.

Sadly, my parents are no longer with us, but I still love detective programmes and am pleased to say that most of those appearing on prime-time TV are fully audio-described, as are many thrillers, comedies and documentaries.

And this wonderful invention is not limited to television. These days, it’s also often available in cinemas and theatres too. You are given a pair of headphones and you can listen to the audio-description without disturbing other members of the audience. In the case of theatres, there have also been some even more exciting developments to improve access for those with visual impairments, but I’ll tell you all about those another time.

I’m going to watch some telly now. I think I’m in the mood for a good murder mystery!