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New research examines audio description production practices and aims to enhance audio description experience for vision impaired

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Research conducted by academics at DKIT, IADT, RTÉ and DCU and funded by Coimisiún na Meán

A new research report relating to services used by the vision impaired to access television content has been launched this morning (27.06.23) at an event hosted by Coimisiún na Meán.

Entitled ‘Investigating a Standardised Approach to Setting Audio Description Dip Values’, the aim of the research is to better understand the relationship between audio-described TV programme volume levels and the perceived quality of the programme’s audio descriptions.

The report, which was completed in June 2023, summarises overall findings from the multi-stage research project and suggests actions that may be taken by industry practitioners to create more standardised AD production practices and an improved listening experience for vision impaired service users.

Funded by Coimisiún na Meán through its Sectoral Learning & Development Diversity programme, the research was conducted by Kieran Lynch from Dundalk Institute of Technology & Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology and Oran O’Neill from RTÉ, in collaboration with Professor Tomás Ward from the Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics, Dublin City University. The National Council for the Blind of Ireland also played a significant role in enabling the completion of the work.

Audio Description (AD) is a commentary that gives a viewer who is blind or vision impaired a verbal description of what is happening on the television screen at any given moment. In order for the narration to be clear, the original programme material may require a reduction, or Dip, in volume, so as to prevent masking of the audio descriptions. The Dip Value (DV) is the resultant amount by which the programme material is reduced. The study examines how AD production practices can be improved, how greater consistency can be brought to the setting of AD volume levels, and how the listening experience can be enhanced for AD Access service users.

The research was carried out across a number of stages, comprising:

  • An industry survey among the international AD production community to establish current production trends and duties, to document the technical knowledge of those producing AD, and to explore whether the automation of setting AD Dip Values (DVs) would be welcomed. The findings indicated discrepancies within AD production practices, suggesting the need for international guidelines and recommendations for the setting of DVs within audio-described programmes.
  • A set of experiments benchmarking the mixing practice of professional sound engineers when setting DVs. Eight experts from the Irish sound engineering community participated in this in September/October 2022. Arising from this, a range of ‘test’ AD Dip Values – a set of three DVs for each of the ‘Quiet’, ‘Normal’, and ‘Loud’ programme loudness ranges – was proposed for evaluation by a target audience.
  • Listening tests to assess the proposed DV settings on an audience. These were carried out in February 2023 and involved 35 participants, including AD service users, and listeners from a wider range of groups.

Commenting on the research, Kieran Lynch said: “It is clear from our research that not only is accessibility hugely important when it comes to audience inclusion but so too is the quality of the access services provided. Audio Description services should bring consistent clarity to the descriptive passages, while also maintaining the integrity of the original programme’s narrative. However, the evidence here suggests that AD user experiences are inconsistent across broadcast and streaming services, that these inconsistencies stem from a lack of industry recommendations and guidelines for setting Audio Description Dip Values, and quite often this technical task is carried out by non-technical production personnel. It is therefore important to establish a set of technical standards and guidelines for setting appropriate AD Dip Values.

“We feel that best practice in the production of AD content is to employ experienced, professional sound engineers when setting Audio Description Dip Values. However, we recognise that this is not always an option and therefore the proposed set of technical actions should allow AD producers to bring consistent quality to their content and positively impact the vision impaired community.”

Broadcasting Commissioner Celene Craig added: “Coimisiún na Meán is committed to ensuring a thriving, diverse and safe media landscape, building on the work of our predecessor, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. The BAI conducted a review in 2022 of the Access Rules, which are designed to increase the understanding and enjoyment of television by people who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind or partially sighted. Over the coming year, An Coimisiún will conduct a public consultation as part of the revision of these rules. The research published today will help to inform discussions and policy developments in this area.”


Contact: Joanne Ahern / Síona Cahill, DHR Communications. Tel: 087-9881837 / 087-753 0255.

Notes for Editors:

  • The research report can be found on the Coimisiún na Meán here.
  • Kieran Lynch (Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology) and Oran O’Neill (RTÉ) are available for interview on request on Tuesday, 27th June on the findings of the research.
  • The Industry Survey was conducted in October 2021 and involved 42 participants, including AD scripters, narrators, sound engineers, media producers and directors in Ireland, the UK, Europe, the USA, Canada, Argentina and Australia.

About Coimisiún na Meán:

Coimisiún na Meán is Ireland’s new commission for regulating broadcasters, on demand and online media, and for supporting media development. Established in March 2023 under the Online Safety and Media Regulation Act 2022, it builds on the work of its predecessor, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. It is responsible for ensuring and maintaining a thriving, diverse and safe media landscape in Ireland that facilitates a mix of voices, opinions and sources of news and current affairs.

Its responsibilities are to:

  • Oversee the funding of and support the development of the wider media sector in Ireland.
  • Oversee the regulation of broadcasting and video-on-demand services.
  • Develop and enforce the Irish regulatory regime for online safety.

Coimisiún na Meán is led by an Executive Chairperson, and currently includes an Online Safety Commissioner, a Media Development Commissioner, and a Broadcasting Commissioner. Recruitment is currently underway for a Digital Services Commissioner.