Joe Clark: Accessibility | Design | Writing

Comments on U.K. guidelines on audio description


The Independent Television Commission (ITC), a regulatory body overseeing certain television channels in the United Kingdom, has produced guidelines for captioning (the U.K. term is “subtitling”), sign language, and audio description on British television.

The guidelines are available on the Web. Also:

The Guidelines are extremely valuable: They are the only publicly-accessible set of instructions for audio describers. Moreover, they are not proprietary: Though called Guidelines, in effect they are requirements that any U.K. describer must follow (though there is no apparent enforcement mechanism for noncompliance). By comparison, training materials by the Descriptive Video Service or even the manifestly incompetent AudioVision Canada (see analysis) are not posted publicly. (It is, however, possible to order an AudioVision training kit.)

These comments point out the successes and failures of the U.K. Guidelines, and provide warnings for inexperienced describers who might be tempted to take the Guidelines’ advice too literally.


The Guidelines were conscientiously developed by intelligent and educated staff after extensive field testing and interviews across Europe in the so-called Audetel project, for which there is no definitive online resource. The Guidelines get a lot of things right, or nearly so.


The iffy parts

Since audio description relies on razor-sharp and highly precise writing skills, it was a bit of a surprise to run across so many ambiguities which, if followed to the letter by inexperienced describers, might well result in description even worse than what we’re stuck with in Canada.


The Guidelines need significant updating, but are a tremendously valuable and worthy addition to the extremely limited scholarship and portfolio of practical advice on audio description.

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Comments on U.K. guidelines on audio description

See also: Comments on U.K. guidelines on “subtitling”

Updated 2003.01.17, 2007.11.26

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