Yo, Human! - Audio Described People: Accessing Life with Adaptive Technology

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

A black rectangle fades in on a soft background, it's top suddenly split by a thin line of white, streaming down and filling the bottom third. In the upper portion, bright capital letters A and V become typed on either side, accompanied by two solid strikes of an old typewriter. Underneath, the sounds change to soft clicking, as small dotted patterns start to appear, looking at first like Braille. The clicking becomes melodic as a sudden flurry of pixels forms the word AppleVis. The sounds fade into the background, a soft, continuous digital echo.

Transition to a dim room, lit by a single lamp. A gentlemen sits facing a laptop resting on a large wooden computer desk, dark glasses underneath a baseball cap pulled down over his forehead.

The man reaches to the computer, pushing the On button. Bong! The system startup sound reverbs from the paneled walls. A voice begins emanating from the laptop.

"Yo, Human! VoiceOver is on. Welcome to macOS." The scene fades to black.

I wish people came with audio descriptions. Came with what?

There are ongoing efforts by many in the blind, research and entertainment communities that are helping to bring an entire form of communication into the non-visual realm. Audio described videos have an extra track that is created by talented writers, and artistically recorded by voice actors. These recordings describe the visual content that occurs in-between the actors dialogue. They are provided for the blind and visually impaired. If you have never experienced one of these specially created videos, it can be difficult to even understand the need.

If you are a visual person, try the following example for better awareness. Close your eyes for a few minutes during a new movie or TV show. You will discover...

2 lines of dialogue + 3 minutes of music and sound effects = lost. What just happened, and who is that new voice? Often, before you can figure out what is happening, the story is moving ahead.

Up until very recently, audio described video was difficult to find. This is starting to change in no small part thanks to the current efforts of ACB, The American Council of the Blind, among others. See the link below for more information.

Back to the original topic...

As I lost my sight, I began to notice some communication problems with people on a one-to-one basis. This is actually a well known issue for which people learn to adapt, at least to some degree. Facial expressions and body language to help interpret the communication can be greatly reduced on the non-visual side. This does not mean that they should be avoided, but rather allow them in your normal interactions. They cause small changes in your tonal inflections that can be learned with practice. This situation can even occur in reverse if the non-visual person is wearing dark glasses. The all-important eye-contact to verify the intent simply may not be there. It can cause misunderstandings and adjustment periods in any relationships, for both parties.

I'm thinking I need someone to follow me around and say stuff like, "While she may sound convincingly put off, she is actually smiling and winking at the same time."

Maybe Morgan Freeman is available? :-)

Short of having Mr. Freeman follow me around (To which you are most certainly welcome!), I can only offer the following links and advice, patience and understanding are beneficial on both sides.

There are some very good tips here... Vision Australia, Communicating effectively with people who are blind: http://www.visionaustralia.org/living-with-low-vision/family-friends-and-carers/communicating-effectively-with-people-who-are-blind

One step at a time.

Audio described Video is one step towards an environment of better inclusion for blind and visually impaired people. There are now more avenues of access for these specially made videos than ever before. The offerings are expanding into more genres, including entertainment, children's videos, documentaries and some news broadcasts. Sitting and enjoying a movie or TV show with family and friends has become a staple of many modern cultures. Now through recent efforts, the blind and visually impaired can be more included in the fun.

This is not to say that the struggle is over, the ball is finally getting rolling. A few thousand videos is a drop in the bucket compared to the millions of available videos and broadcasts that visually exist. However, I whole heartedly applaud the recent and ongoing efforts! it's always more than I am aware of, some of which has been going on for years.

Something to ponder, the animated video described in this blog does not actually exist, I created the description to match the topic. From the blind viewpoint, I could listen to a description at the beginning of a video, and never know if the animation was really there. A perplexing situation, in one case, if the animation is really there then something is being described that some cannot see. If the animation is not there but the description is, then again, something is being described that some cannot see. It's a good thought-exercise that shows how easily things could be turned around. However, in both cases, if the descriptions 'are' there then no one gets lost. :-)

In this upcoming age of inclusion, can we learn to be inclusive by default? Can we learn to include all forms of information, even if we don't yet understand it's uses? For instance, I would like to have the description track as text, mixed with the transcript, like having an instant ebook describing the movie. But, maybe this is already being done?

It seems like communicating with others can be a moment-by-moment exercise for all people. Adjustments to interactions can be made as the conversation evolves. Videos on the other hand, have always been very visual and story driven. If a portion is missed or misunderstood, the video will not wait for you or try to explain itself better. Audio Descriptions is a major step towards adjusting the inclusion conversation with our own evolving culture.

If you would like to learn more about Audio Described Video...

Audio Description Project, American Council of the Blind: http://acb.org/adp/

Of note, Netflix has recently begun adding Audio Descriptions to many of their original productions since 2015-ish. I personally have begun watching several TV series, Dare-Devil, Travelers and OA. All of these seem to be done very well!

You can also do a search on your favorite search engine for "Audio Description", and find some good resources.

To turn on Audio Descriptions:

In iOS: open, Settings>Accessibility>Audio Descriptions>Prefer Audio Descriptions and set to 'On'.

In macOS: open, System Preferences>Accessibility. In the Accessibility Features Table, choose "Descriptions". In the main window, select the checkbox for "Play audio descriptions when available".

Some apps on either platform may have their own settings as well.

Additionally, some of the major broadcast networks, on cable and over-the-air , use the SAP (Secondary Audio Programming) channel to provide any additional audio track that might be available. These can be Audio Descriptions, Spanish or French languages, or sometimes even emergency alerts. Any video that supplies another language may turn off the default language. To correct this simply turn off the SAP channel again.

And, I'm sure if Mr. Freeman were here he would end up describing himself a lot, because that's the direction I would be looking most of the time, a big grin on my face! :-)

A descriptive reminder that all of our cool digital stuff that we work with, play with and enjoy, is all about "Living." Live well!

A black rectangle fades in on a soft background, it's top suddenly split by a thin line of white, streaming down and filling the bottom third. In the upper portion, bright capital letters A and V become typed on either side, one after the other. Underneath, dotted patterns start to appear looking at first like Braille, then in a flurry of pixels, the word AppleVis forms. Below, in fine lettering it reads, "A community-powered website for blind and low-vision users of Apple's range of Mac computers, the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Apple TV and Apple Watch."

A small twinkle appears on a random letter for a brief moment. The scene fades to black.

All copyrights and trademarks mentioned above are property of their respective owners. All rights reserved.

Blog Tags



Submitted by Dawn 👩🏻‍🦯 on Thursday, January 12, 2017


I loved the post! I'm a person who loves independence. My preferences for TV. are that I really don't bike it. Unless someone is sitting & describing what's going on, forget it.

However, I've found a source that has some content on it. It's audio of the show, & description. I love it because while I'd like to do what (for lack of a better word), normal people do, & heat up a bag of Movie Theater Butter )with extra butter) Popcorn & flip on the TV. and watch a show or movie, it's better than nothing. The name of this website is: www.blindy.tv. The slogan is taking the vision out of television. You can listen on the site, or iTunes or TuneIn or other players. I encourage people to check it out.

Submitted by Nicholas on Thursday, January 12, 2017

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

In reply to by Dawn 👩🏻‍🦯

Hello Dawn,
Thank you for the great resource! I found them on Tune-in Radio app on iOS. Seems like there are several channels you can subscribe to, Documentaries, scifi, etc. Thank you for the heads up! I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

Submitted by JeffB on Friday, January 13, 2017

There is a big issue with audio description on TV within the US. The issue is that blind watchers have to compete with those who wish to watch shows in Spanish. This frustration can’t just be from the blind right? Wouldn’t those that speak Spanish also get frustrated when a show is being described instead of being in Spanish? So why, is SAP being used for both Spanish and audio description? It makes no sense at all! When we look at close captioning it’s its own system. There is nothing to compete with it. Also it’s a lot easier to produce when compared to audio description. We both have a right to our content be it audio description or Spanish they need to be 2 separate systems on the TV network.

Submitted by Nicholas on Friday, January 13, 2017

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

hello JeffB,
Thank you for sharing this, you are correct, there is a mixture of issues and partial solutions that don't currently play well together. I have done a bit more digging, from what I can find;
SAP only applies to 'broadcast' networks, over the air and through some cable channels. In 2009, when the fcc changed all broadcast network channels to move to a digital format, this caused issues because the 'second language' and 'audio Descriptions' were still being broadcast in analog. Another caveat, all allowable channels for broadcasting additional audio channels were not being utilized, resulting in multiple audio sources to be broadcast on the SAP standard channel. If this is the current situation, I have no idea what Spanish speaking blind people do for a solution. Additionally, the industry uses repeater stations to boost their signals out into more remote areas. Some of these repeater stations will not rebroadcast the secondary audio channels because of lack of proper equipment. Only the digital parts get broadcast.
As the industry works through these convolutions, keep in mind that the FFC regulations will only legally apply in the US. A real solution may only come about from the entertainment industry providing standards that can be used for broadcast and streaming media internationally.
I am new to this entire situation myself. Admittedly, my understanding of this situation is limited. I would like to point out, huge efforts have been going on in regards to audio descriptions for years, some of their fruits are just becoming mainstream. Many organizations have addressed this issue. For better awareness I will point to the people who have the most current information.

American Council of the Blind. SAP broadcasts. More information.

I hope this helps some, and thank you again for bringing this up!
Best wishes to you!

Submitted by JeffB on Friday, January 13, 2017

Thanks for the info I will look into this.

Submitted by Ekaj on Friday, January 13, 2017

Nicholas, thanks for this wonderful post. I'm a big fan and supporter of audio description too. To be honest I never thought about the issue of conflicting channels and such, but now that you guys mention it I know exactly what you mean and I agree something needs to be done about it. I have listened to BlindyTV and really like it. I'm on their email list but haven't received anything in awhile. I watched my first audio-described iTunes movie late last year. It was "Peanuts," and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I discovered that these descriptions can also be accessed using Quicktime Player. But in addition, I borrowed 2 DVD's not long ago from my local public library. At first I had difficulty enabling the audio description track, but then someone with working eyeballs assisted me. So now I'm pretty sure I know where to go on my next DVD. The DVD menus themselves need to speak though. But I think I still need a bit of practice regarding the whole issue of downloading content from the iTunes store once it's been purchased, and then listening to it.

Submitted by Nicholas on Saturday, January 14, 2017

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Hello Ekaj,

Thank you for adding to this post! I love the comments coming in, it makes this a much better resource. I did not know about QuickTime Player allowing for AD. A great tip. QuickTime Player is a fantastic utility and does much more than simply play media. :-)
Thank you again, I am glad you are enjoying and contributing to the post!

Speaking of DVD menus, in the US the deadline (Dec 20, 2016.), has past for the new laws enacted by congress, for all set-top TV boxes and stand-alone TVs to have accessible menus. I am not sure, but it seems like that would include DVD players. You can find more info about the new laws at:

Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act

Another related link, one of my favorite podcasts is IAccessVO. A recent episode interviews someone who has worked in providing Audio Descriptions for decades. A very interesting listen. Plus, Brian and Ed are always worth a visit.

IAccessVO: iAccessVO, with Brian Fischler, Ed Plumacher and guest, Joel Snyder from Audio Description Associates, LLC
Episode title: TiVo releases new screen reader for accessing menus and content - Guest, Joel Snyder of Audio Description Associates - Is your television provider offering accessible menus?


Submitted by Ekaj on Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Thanks for the link to IAccessVO. I never came across their podcast before, but it seems to be very good. I just subscribed in iTunes and previewed part of the episode with Joel Snyder. They seem to have lots of other good content as well.

Submitted by Nicholas on Thursday, January 19, 2017

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Hello Ekaj,
You are most certainly welcome! I don't contribute the link as anything official from AppleVis, just one of my personal favorites. Plus that particular episode hits the topic well.
Best wishes.

Submitted by Orko on Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Thanks for that tip about Blind.TV, I searched for them on my Victor Reader Stream and found five channels. I don't know if there are more channels, but since the VRS uses O O Tunes instead of Tune in, I'm happy those five are there, they are, Etcetera, Comedy, Drama, SciFi, and Brain.

I believe the deadline for the 21ast century communications act has been pushed back, December 2016 has come and gone and so far, the only readily available accessible TVs are from Samsung, and the last time I looked at them they had a long way to go before those accessibility features would be ready for prime time. The only accessible DVR is the cable system specific one from Comcast. Roku has come out with a streaming player that's accessible, but only if you can live with the horrible TTS voice they are using.

The next hurdle for SAP isn't so much that it's used for foreign languages as well as audio description, but that many TV stations simply don't have the equipment to broadcast the channel. Where I live, the Tampa Bay region of Florida, the CBS affiliate station, channel 10, doesn't have the SAP equipment. A number of CBS TV shows, such as NCIS, are audio described, but if you turn on SAP on your TV all you get is the original, non described audio. And while PBS put audio description on more of their programs than any other network, neither of our two PBS affiliates has the equipment to broadcast it. So, until they do get the equipment qand start broadcasting the SAP channel with audio description, I ignore them when they go on one of their frequent fund drives.

Submitted by Nicholas on Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Hello Tipperton,
Thank you for your comment and all the great info! I agree with you about the lack of equipment for stations, seems like this could be a major hurdle, or at least make for long delays. Maybe when broadcast is completely replaced by internet streaming, software will do the job instead.
Thanks again for the additional info, it helps make this a much better resource.
Best regards.