Audio description is the term used for narrative description of visual content in video that would otherwise not be accessible or available to blind or low vision users. Audio description is helpful for conveying information that is presented only visually in electronic and digital media.
Learn about Best Practices, how to create audio descriptions in Do it Yourself, and explore additional Resources about audio description.
The Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) states that quality description must be accurate, prioritized, consistent, appropriate, and equal.
- Watch a video or other presentation in its entirety before beginning audio description so that appropriate locations and levels of detail can be identified throughout.
- Use terms and language that are consistent with the target audience of the video and choose appropriate people to voice the description.
- Describe visual elements objectively. Do not censor, interpret, or provide opinions or comments upon the materials being described.
- Describe all relevant visual content, attempting to craft audio descriptions to match the time available in existing pauses. If necessary, add or lengthen a pause in existing audio in order to accommodate a complete and accurate description.
Two types of audio description are most frequently used for pre-recorded video content in synchronized media:
Inline Audio Description
- Inline audio description is designed to be added to an audio source file in segments during pauses in audio
- Occasionally the main audio volume is reduced ("ducked") during audio description when needed
- Inline audio description is the most common form of audio description
View an example of inline audio description.
Extended Audio Description
- Extended audio description is used when more visual content must be described than is possible within the natural pauses of main audio of a video. The video is temporarily paused while an extended description is spoken and afterward playback is resumed.
- Use extended audio description when important visual components of a video would be unavailable without additional description
Watch an example of extended audio description.
In addition to video, audio description is used for a variety of media, including the following:
- paintings, as shown on the web sites of the United Kingdom’s Victoria and Albert Museum and New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
- logos, as shown by the ADI logo and its audio description on the Audio Description Project’s web site
- museum and historical artifacts, as shown on Art Beyond Sight’s web site
- live performances, such as those presented by the Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago and other national theaters listed on the Audio Description Project’s web site
Do it Yourself
Creating audio descriptions does not have to be a difficult process. Start by viewing examples of others’ work, learning the basics of audio description and use of any necessary tools, and workflow planning. Below, a selection of resources including webinars, free audio recording devices, software, and transcription tools are provided.
(Key: F = free, $ = paid, D = download, W = web)
Audacity is an open source, cross-platform software program for recording and editing audio on Windows, Mac, and GNU/Linux.
Audition (F, $,
Adobe Audition CC (“Creative Cloud”) is a professional recording software suite that offers tools for audio editing, mixing, restoration, and effects.
Online Course: Audio Description: The Visual Made Verbal
This free online course in audio description will “introduce participants to the principles of audio description, how to produce quality description, and the importance of close communication with the “end users”—people who are blind or have low vision and all people who support this innovative use of technology to provide greater media access” (from the web site). This course is self-paced and can be completed within 3–6 hours.
"Do it Yourself"
Educational Description: Guidelines and Tools
This 90-minute YouTube webinar provides guidelines and tools for audio description, including a demonstration of two free software programs for creating audio description: MAGpie and LiveDescribe.
LiveDescribe video description suite was designed and developed at the Inclusive Media and Design Centre at Ryerson University by Carmen Branje. At the web site, users can download authoring software, a player, and access a library of audio description audio files for download or transcript versions posted online for a variety of media (including movies, music videos, and TV shows).
“An experimental platform for adding extended audio description to YouTube videos” (from the web site).
General Audio Description Resources
- Audio Description Coalition
- 21st-Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA)
- Art Beyond Sight
- Audio Description Vendors
- Audio Description Resources
- American Council of the Blind’s Audio Description Project
- American Council of the Blind’s Education Resources
- WGBH Descriptive Video Service
- Perkins Scout: Perkins School for the Blind
- Perkins Audio Description Calendar
- Video Description Research and Development Center (VDRDC)
- WebAIM audio description
Audio Description Tools
- Audio Description Project Guidelines: American Council of the Blind
- Audio Description Guidelines: National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM)
- Creating Accessible iTunesU Content: from WGBH and NCAM
- Audio Description Tip Sheet from DCMP
- Description Key from DCMP
- Listening is Learning
- Joe Clark, a journalist and author with an interest in web accessibility, explains standard techniques in audio description that are particularly helpful for beginners.
An audio description is a narration of visual media that is designed to relay the information primarily to blind or low vision users.
Video is the recording, reproducing, or broadcasting of moving visual images.
Audio, in this context, is a digital form or representation of sound. It is a format that stores, copies, and produces sound according to the data in its file(s).
A transcript provides a written version of content that has been presented in an audio, visual, or audiovisual format.
Captions are words that are displayed on a screen to describe audio content.