Audio description (AD)

If you're struggling to see your favourite television programmes or movies, then Audio Description (AD) may be for you.

Man listening to headphone on sofa with headphones on and looking at tablet

AD is commentary that describes body language, expressions and movements, making the programme clear through sound.

Audio Descriptions on TV

To get audio described TV programmes, you will need digital television. You get digital TV via Freeview, satellite or cable. This is either built into your television or it is a set top box connected to your television.

Broadcasters (like the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky) must add AD to 20 per cent of their programmes. AD is also available in Welsh on selected programmes.

Download our factsheets to find out more about audio description for Freeview, satellite and cable television.

Find out more information in our Television section.

Audio Description in cinemas

Many cinemas are equipped with a system that delivers audio description (AD) through a headset, which is provided when you collect your ticket. The audio description runs each time the film is shown and is undetectable to anyone not wearing a headset.

Video on demand (VOD)

A number of web based video on demand services deliver audio description on films and TV programmes.

What are the types of services available?

There are two types of VOD services: 

  1. Broadcaster-led – these are services from television broadcasters such as the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 which allow their programmes to be watched for some time after their original broadcast (often for 30 days). These are commonly known as ‘catch-up services’. 
  2. Independent services – these are services such as Netflix, iTunes and Amazon Instant/Prime. These services allow the user to access their content libraries at any time on a vast range of devices. These are also known as ‘streaming services’. 

How do I access these services?

In order to use these services, you will need a device which is capable of connecting to the internet. VOD service providers make their content available online in a number of different ways, the most popular being using the provider’s website. 

There are also apps for various platforms (Android, iOS, Windows Phone and on Smart devices such as internet connected TVs and Roku Streaming Players). In addition to these, these services can also be used on set-top boxes provided by companies like Sky and Virgin Media.

You can normally view the content in the following ways: 

  1. By streaming – this means that you must be connected to the internet for the duration of the time that you’re viewing the program but streaming requires no download to your device.
  2. By downloading to the device – this means that you’re able to take the content away and watch it anywhere but this has the disadvantage of the content taking up a lot of space on your device.

Most of the main providers in the UK now offer AD in some form or another. The key ones are listed here:

  1. BBC’s iPlayer delivers AD on most platforms (the iPlayer website and apps on various platforms i.e., iOs, Android).
  2. ITV has some audio described content available through their Android app.
  3. All4 (formally 4OD) has audio described content on their web player which can be accessed via their website.
  4. Demand 5 delivers AD on most of most of the platforms (their website and apps on various platforms i.e., iOs, Android).
  5. Sky has AD on a very small number of their programmes. These can be watched via their Sky Go service.
  6. Netflix delivers AD on a substantial number of films and TV dramas on most platforms (their website and apps on various platforms i.e., iOs, Android).
  7. Amazon Video has recently introduced an AD section in the video library 
  8. iTunes has a substantial collection of audio described films and TV programmes.
  9. AMI Player, a Canadian service that is also available to UK viewers has general interest programmes with integrated audio description. Worth a go, if you’re interested in cookery shows, travel and some sports.

Watch our video on how TV catch-up and on-demand services can be made more usable for people with sight loss.

VOD services

Audio description at sports venues

Blind and partially sighted spectators at the famous home of cricket, Lord’s Cricket Ground, are able to follow every ball bowled and every boundary scored through the dedicated ‘Ball by Ball’ commentary service at the ground. Lord's provides commentary on every international match, Middlesex county games, and the majority of minor fixtures at the ground.

Commentary is provided at many of the professional football league clubs as well as some non-league clubs, as well as rugby league and rugby union clubs. Information regarding facilities provided at each club, for home and away fans, is available from Level Playing Field.

RNIB, through our Soccer Sight project, was instrumental in helping to set up many football clubs with an audio described commentary service. If you are a stadium manager hoping to make your venue more accessible to blind and partially sighted people then you might find our Soccer Sight Guide useful to read:

Access Audio has designed equipment specifically for the purpose of broadcasting description to blind and partially sighted people attending public events. The RAD system offers a superb level of reception utilising radio signals.

Contact Access Audio by emailing webinfo@accessaudio.co.uk or calling 0131 663 0777.

Useful resources

Please visit our useful resources page for other factsheets and helpful links.