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MAG Guide Vol. 4

How to Access Description on Your Television
These days, television is more accessible to viewers with visual impairments than ever before, thanks to the FCC's mandate for the provision of video description, and its subsequent availability, on both broadcast and cable networks. Video description provides narration of key visual elements, making television programs accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. Key visual elements are those elements that such viewers would ordinarily miss, including actions, costumes, gestures, facial expressions, scene changes, and onscreen text. Inserted within the natural pauses in dialogue, descriptions of important visual details help to engage blind or visually impaired viewers with the story.

If you're a viewer who is blind or visually impaired -- or are the parent, guardian, or teacher of someone who is -- it's simple and convenient to adjust your television to access the described programming that's being provided. The Media Access Group at WGBH has prepared the following explanation of how to access description on your television, and we hope you find it helpful!

Additional programs will introduce video description in the future, so be sure to check our Web site often for updated information about what's on TV with DVS®.

How to Access Description on Your TV
To access video descriptions, you must have either a television or VCR equipped with the Secondary Audio Program (SAP) feature or a stand-alone SAP receiver. Most modern stereo television sets have Multi-Channel Television Sound (MTS)-which offers a choice of mono sound, stereo sound, or SAP, a feature mandated by the FCC as part of its standards for stereo televisions.

The SAP feature is accessible through your television's remote control or through onscreen menus. If you're using a stand-alone SAP receiver, which functions very much like a radio, simply tune it to the channel that broadcasts the description soundtrack. (It may be used in addition to a TV or for audio only.)

The SAP Feature
The SAP feature allows a television station or other program provider to broadcast an alternate soundtrack to viewers without changing the program's visual presentation (as with captions) -- a capability used in different ways by different broadcasters. Meanwhile, the mono and stereo channels typically carry audio that reflects the program's original audio soundtrack. Alternative audio information may be the same program audio in another language, as in the case of some news and sports programs with Spanish soundtracks, while some TV stations use their SAP channel for audio services like radio reading services or weather updates. In the case of many PBS programs, and an increasing number of network and cable programs as well, the SAP channel is used for video description.

SAP Receiver
Available in either pre-tuned or adjustable versions, SAP receivers may be purchased from FM Atlas, 218-879-7676.

For information about how to access video description on your television or VCR, consult your owner's manual or contact the manufacturer. The top five TV and VCR manufacturers are:

TV Manufacturers





VCR Manufacturers






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Caption Services Description Services NCAM