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Welcome to the Description Key!

Description is the key to opening a world of information for persons with a vision loss, literacy needs, or loss of cognitive abilities. The American Foundation for the Blind reports that 21.5 million adults have vision loss and 94,000 children with a vision loss are being helped by some kind of special education. While description was developed for people who are blind or visually impaired, sighted children may also benefit from description’s concise, objective translation of media’s key visual components. Specialized learners, such as students with learning differences, English language learners, and children on the autism spectrum, benefit from its value in literacy development (e.g., vocabulary and reading) and content learning. DCMP’s Listening Is Learning campaign focuses on these benefits.

These guidelines are a key for those performing description, and cover a range of topics from preparing to describe to determining both what information needs to be described and how to describe it. The information is also applicable to vendors and other businesses that provide description for broadcast television, movies, and other media. Thus, it will also be useful to media producers/distributors and others who are considering describing their products or learning about description. Some background information and rationale are included for the novice, as well as an evolving list of description resources to help improve the quality and efficiency of one’s description.

For those interested in a condensed version of these guidelines, a “Description Tip Sheet” is available from the DCMP Learning Center. In addition, this YouTube video from a Video Description Research and Development Center (VDRDC) webinar presented in October, 2012 summarizes important considerations.

A Definition of Description

Description is the verbal depiction of key visual elements in media and live productions. Also known as “audio description” or “video description,” the description of media involves the interspersion of these depictions with the program’s original audio.

The vocabulary and language structure used in the description of educational media should be consistent with that used in the program being described. It is also important to make a distinction between media that is produced for educational purposes and that which is produced purely for entertainment—the “key visual elements” of an educational program should be those that serve in conveying a specific learning goal.

DCMP Description Philosophy

It is vital that media be described in such a manner that an individual program’s educational content is accessible to students with a wide range of visual impairments. It is important to ensure that description does not distract viewers from the educational content of a production by being overly complex or, on the other hand, overly simplistic. It’s been long said that “pictures are worth a thousand words,” and it’s in choosing which of those words best convey otherwise inaccessible images to students with vision loss that the true skill of a describer is practiced.

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