Audio description is an important aspect of video accessibility, particularly for shows and programs that rely heavily on visual cues and stimulation. Audio descriptions provide voice-over narration of what is happening on-screen, including what the characters are physically doing, like important movements and body language, as well as other visual clues, such as graphics or text on-screen. Recently, the FCC expanded the accessibility of audio descriptions by requiring more than 40 broadcasting markets to implement audio descriptions in their programming within the next four years, contributing to the evolution of accessibility in broadcasting.
As technology is advancing, so is the accessibility of technology to people with disabilities that impact their ability to enjoy media independently, in many cases. Audio descriptions not only benefit those that are blind or have vision disabilities, but can offer easier accessibility to people with sensory or cognitive impairments, people attempting to learn a new language, and even people who may be multi-tasking while enjoying the program implementing the feature.
The audio descriptions, when done well, are non-intrusive and do not speak over dialogue, ensuring an easy-to-follow experience. Audio descriptions do not require any special TV set or box; rather, they are a standard feature of many TV sets, accessible in setup menus under secondary audio options, along with alternative languages and closed captioning.
With the new FCC expansion, which comes into effect on January 1, 2021, every year for the next four years 10 new DMAs, or designated market areas, will be required to add audio descriptions in their programming. Prior to the expansion, only the top 60 DMAs were required to implement audio descriptions into their programming. With the expansion of audio descriptions into formerly untapped DMAs, people around the country will now be able to enjoy broadcasting to a fuller potential.
The expansion ensures that by 2024 the top 100 DMAs will have at least 50 hours of audio-described programming per calendar quarter during prime time television and children’s programming, as well as an additional 37.5 hours of audio description between the hours of 6 am and midnight during the same quarter. This expansion also updates the terminology from "video descriptions" to "audio descriptions," as suggested by the Commission’s Disability Advisory Committee. These new expansions were put in place after the commission concluded that the overall cost of recording audio descriptions was reasonable and within budget for broadcasting companies in the top 100 DMAs.
After 2023, the FCC will determine if the success of the expansion warrants requiring audio descriptions to be included in broadcasts beyond the top 100 DMAs. Expanding the overall markets and utilization of audio descriptions is an important step toward making television broadcasting as inclusive as possible.