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Blind people to get their own special channel for the Olympic opening ceremony

Emma Emma | 14:11 UK time, Friday, 27 July 2012

On 27 July, one of the many ways to catch the Olympic opening ceremony on the BBC will be on a sepaerate channel aimed exclusively at visually impaired people.

In a UK first, 5 live's Nick Mullins will make the very visual spectacle more accessible to those who can't see, by building audio description into an alternative commentary for the event.

In audio description, a narrator uses breaks in dialogue to describe visual elements of a programme that blind viewers wouldn't pick up on, for example: body language, facial expression and movement.
It's usually an extra track on pre-recorded shows and can be heard through all digital and satellite services if you have the right equipment.

Typically, soaps, major dramas, children's shows and nature programmes are audio described, but the extra audio is prepared in advance and then recorded to fit perfectly into gaps in a programme's main dialogue.

Audio description rarely ventures into live TV, where gaps in dialogue are difficult to anticipate, and where anything could happen on screen.

For the Olympic opening ceremony, rather than have an audio describer accidentally talk all over Huw Edwards and other BBC commentators when trying to add information here and there, Nick Mullins will provide an alternative commentary that you can choose, but with extra visual description built in.

Nick is used to commentating on sporting events for TV and radio but has never attempted AD.

Ben Pennington at Red Bee Media, which provides audio description to the BBC and other major channels, has given Nick a crash course. He explains: "Commentators often talk about what is happening around them. The big difference with audio description is that you must describe what's on the screen. Blind and visually impaired people want to share in the TV experience."

Deciding on what information to share is really a judgement call, says Ben: "You need to put yourself into the position of the audience and also the programme makers. Once you've done that you have to decide what is the most important information based on what's being conveyed already by music, sound effects and the commentary."

Tune in tonight to hear the enhanced audio description and event commentary soundtrack.

There are a variety of ways to listen. On your television, it will be available on Sky Channel 451, on Virgin by pressing the red button and on Freeview, (without pictures due to technical constraints) on channel 301.

Follow this direct link to watch the opening ceremony online with the AD enhanced commentary, or catch it afterwards on iPlayer.

The AD commentary starts at 8.50pm.

Nick Mullins can also be heard on the BBC's temporary new digital radio station 5 live Olympics Extra.

The BBC would love to get feedback on this commentary, the concept of which is so new that it doesn't yet have a name. Let them know how it was for you in the comments below.


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