July 1, 2012 marked the date for reinstatement of the mandate for video description in the USA! This page is updated regularly as we learn new information. (Page last updated April 6, 2013)
Listen to a 9-minute audio on
Video Description for Television,
or listen to the full 24-minute on
Audio Description: Where and How?
If a reasonably accessible schedule of described programs is available, we provide a link labeled Schedule! below. If there is a phone number available for specific questions about video description for a particular station, we list it [in brackets] at the end of the line. Remember, some of these are for NEW SEASON only, so repeats may not have description.
Master Schedule of Described Shows (except PBS) by Sebastian
Or use the AFB's Described TV Listings service
You can also be informed of described shows via NFB's Newsline service
Note 1: Any network may also choose to provide description for selected movies. Please notify the webmaster of additional series that you find described or schedules exlusively for described shows.
The bottom line is that there is no single standardized method for receiving description, but most systems rely on the Second Audio Program, or SAP, facility. We rely on user experience; so if you have been able to receive audio description, please write the webmaster (via the link at the bottom of this page) and tell us your experience, including HOW you receive your signal (i.e., which cable company and cable box), what settings you use, what TV you have, and your location.
You may wish to also note that there is a conflict between the use of the Second Audio Program (SAP) channel for description versus Spanish Language in the USA. The "plan" is to carry description on its own audio channel in the future (i.e., not using the SAP facility), but we are a long way off from equipment standardization in this area. The FCC concedes this conflict of legacy equipment in paragraphs 28-33 of its Report and Order and gives local stations leeway on which signal to pass, until such time as multiple audio channels are readily available to end users.
Currently, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, USA, the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, TNT, and TBS are each required to provide 50 hours of video-described prime time or children's programming per calendar quarter. PBS and TCM voluntarily provide description. Whether or not their "description track" or Secondary Audio Program (SAP) is available to you is a different question.
Local Stations: Officially, the FCC's mandate only applies to the top 25 markets. Outside of those markets, the requirement to pass along the description is voluntary at the present time ... but CALL your provider for help anyway! Many of them supply it regardless of the market. In fact, according to the FCC, although only ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC affiliates located in the top 25 markets must provide video description, any broadcast station, regardless of its market size, that is affiliated or otherwise associated with any television network, must pass through video description when the network provides it (which is essentially always done), if the station has the technical capability necessary to do so**, and that technical capability is not being used for another purpose related to the programming (for instance, Spanish language).
Satellite providers (Dish Network and DirecTV) must pass through SAP for the top five non-terrestrial networks Nick, Disney, TBS, TNT, and USA regardless of a subscriber's location. However in the cases where a local affiliate of a terrestrial network (i.e., a local station affiliated with a network like ABC, picked up and fed as a convenience to subscribers in the area) is not broadcasting SAP, the satellite provider is not required to pass along the SAP from the stations' networks since the satellite provider gets the signal from local stations. If the local affiliates are broadcasting video description, the satellite companies must pass that signal on to subscribers if they have the technical capability to do so**.
Cable Companies (like Comcast or Time Warner) must pass along description from the cable stations (like USA and TNT), as long as they have over 50,000 subscribers. If any local affiliate (a station picked up and passed along by the cable company) is broadcasting SAP, then they must pass that signal on to subscribers if they have the technical capability to do so**.
NOTE: Lots of people are reporting success after contacting their local cable or satellite provider for help! PLEASE CALL THEM FOR ASSISTANCE. If they are not cooperative or unsuccessful in resolving your situation, you can tell them you will be filing a complaint with the FCC that they will have to answer; and if they still don't resolve your problem, then file the complaint (link below)!
** Reference FCC Report and Order 11-126 paragraphs 23-27, where technical capacility to do so is defined as having "virtually all necessary equipment and infrastructure to do so, except for items that would be of minimal cost." These five FCC paragraphs, particularly paragraph 27, demonstrate a minimal tolerance for excuses in this area, especially over time.
There is a product called TV Speak, by Code Factory, which allows you to access the SAP channel sound via your PC without a TV. User Sam Joehl has provided the following helpful information (September 2012):
The program is self-voicing so all functions of the interface speak and no screen reader is required within the application. Users can nonvisually turn on and off the secondary audio. The drawback that I have found with the current version of TVSpeak is that it appears to only work with NTSC tuner cards to receive over-the-air [OTA] broadcasts. It did not even detect my Ceton tuner card, so it was not a solution that worked for me. It is a solution that would work for users receiving OTA broadcasts.
FCC Votes to Reinstate Video Description
On August 25, 2011, the FCC was finally able to vote (unamimously) to reinstate video description, effective July 1, 2012. ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, USA, the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, TNT, and TBS are each required to provide 50 hours of video-described prime time or children's programming per calendar quarter. Read Commissioner Clyburn's statement. Read the full FCC Report and Order.
NOTE: The FCC's order applies (at this time) to the Top 25 TV Markets. View the ranking of TV markets. The markets near the cutoff are: St Louis (21), Portland OR (22), Charlotte (23), Pittsburgh (24), and Raleigh-Durham-Fayetteville (25). Just over the line are Baltimore (26), Indianapolis (27, formerly 25), San Diego (28), and Nashville (29). Indianapolis was the only area in the top 40 to move more than 1 position in the last year. In six years, the top 60 markets must be covered, adding 10 more markets per year after that.
FCC Adopts Two Key Provisions
In early March, 2011, the FCC adopted two key provisions of the newly enacted 21st Century Communications & Video Accessibility Act without the need for further public discussion:
Further details are available at COAT. At the same time, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps has praised CBS, FOX, PBS, TCM, and TNT for having voluntarily continued producing some shows with description even after the FCC's mandate was overturned in 2002.
Video Description Legislation Becomes Law
On October 8, 2010, President Obama signed The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. Earlier, the House passed HR 3101 (Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009) and the Senate passed a modified S 3304 (Equal Access to 21st Century Communications Act), which was closer to HR 3101 than their original version, then voted on some technical amendments (S 3828). The House then voted on the modified Senate bill on September 28, 2010,which was subsequently signed by President Obama. Passage of those bills required a lot of lobbying by members of COAT and others, so congratulations to all who helped!
The new law assures restoration of the FCC's authority to mandate video description, at least for the largest networks in the largest population areas (although not for one year, October 2011). Now actually being able to receive description on your TV is a different story, but this is the start that we've been waiting EIGHT long years for!
• After 1 year, restores FCC rules
requiring 4 hours per week of video description on 9 television channels
(top 4 broadcast networks and top 5 cable channels) in the top 25 most populated
markets. [See UPDATE above]
• After 2 years, requires FCC to report to Congress on video description.
• After 4 years, permits the FCC to increase video description to 7 hours per week on 9 television channels.
• After 6 years, requires the FCC to apply the video description requirements to the top 60 most populated markets (not just the top 25 most populated markets).
• After 9 years, requires the FCC to report to Congress on the need for additional markets to carry video description.
• After 10 years, permits the FCC to expand video description to 10 new markets annually to achieve 100 percent nationwide coverage.
• Requires cable/satellite set-top
box on-screen text menus and guides to be audibly accessible to individuals
who are blind or have low vision, if achievable.
• To provide access to built-in closed captioning and video description features through a mechanism that is reasonably comparable to a button, key, or icon designated for activating the closed captioning or accessibility features.
• Requires devices designed to receive or play back video programming:
1. to make controls of built-in functions accessible to and usable by individuals who are blind or have low vision, if achievable;
2. to make controls of built-in functions accessible to and usable by individuals who are blind or have low vision through audio output;
3. to provide access to built-in closed captioning and video description features through a mechanism that is reasonably comparable to a button, key, or icon designated for activating the closed captioning or accessibility features.
• Requires video programming owners, providers, and distributors to make emergency information accessible to individuals who are blind or have low vision.
For more information, see the section-by-section summary of what S. 3304 (as amended) will do for us at http://www.coataccess.org/node/9776.
Watch this website for updates, and you can learn more at the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT), the advocacy group that has made this possible. The ACB and its representative Eric Bridges have contributed valuable input on the content of these bills which finally made it to congressional votes.
There is a long history on the subject of audio description for television, which is typically called video description. The short version is that the FCC mandated it to start in April 2002, but their authority to do so was challenged successfully that same year, and for the next eight years measures got introduced in Congress to reinstate that authority, failing to get passed (probably because of tacked-on unrelated provisions) until the second half of 2010.
The only good news during those years was that some networks continued to produce audio description tracks for some of their shows (many shows for PBS, a few for CBS, for example). With the conversion to digital television, the problem of receiving the description increased immeasurably.
Originally description was offered by a feature of analog televisions called Second Audio Program, or SAP. By activating SAP via your remote, you could receive a secondary audio channel, replacing the primary one. The audio channel could be a Spanish language translation of the audio, or it could be a version of the primary audio that had been modified with description overlaid.
With the transition to digital TV in June of 2009, reception issues got significantly worse. While an audio channel was designated for audio description on digital TVs years ago, without the mandate for description the TV manufacturers did little or nothing to allow access to the channel, and very few TV networks have offered a digital audio description feed.
And then there is the question of the cable and satellite networks. They need to take a network feed and rebroadcast it, then make it available through their own set-top boxes. Historically this has required costly additional equipment, and implementation has been spotty.
So, to put it bluntly, we are in limbo regarding actually being able to receive description on TV! Congress has finally given the FCC the authority to mandate it from broadcasters and (we believe) will require manufacturers to make the description channel easy to access on all new TVs at some point in the future, but we're not there yet.
The key committee working on these problems is the FCC Video Programming Accessibility Advisory Committee, co-chaired by Larry Goldberg of WGBH Media Access, and a key workgroup is the Video Description Pass-Thru Workgroup, co-chaired by Brad Hodges of the AFB.
In the meantime, you can check some of the following topics for reference.
For audio described television outside the USA, see our International page.