Audio Descriptions: What They Are and How They Work

Audio descriptions guide
Have you ever been watching a movie and felt confused by a scene? Maybe you couldn’t quite tell what the characters were feeling or where they were because you missed some visual details. This is a situation that many blind individuals and people with visual impairment face. There’s a helpful solution called audio description that can bridge this gap.
Audio descriptions are short narrated explanations that fit into the quiet moments of a movie or TV show. They use words to paint a picture of what’s happening on screen, describing things like the setting or a character’s expression. By explaining these visual details, audio descriptions can make movies, TV shows, and even live events much easier for everyone, including individuals with disabilities, to enjoy.

What Is an Audio Description?

Audio description provides spoken explanations of what’s happening on screen in a video. This includes things like actions, visuals, gestures, and scenery. With audio description, people who are blind or with visual impairment can enjoy videos just as much as anyone else.
Here’s an example: Imagine a funny moment in a video that depends on a character making a specific hand gesture. If someone can’t see the video, they might miss the joke entirely. An audio description would explain the hand gesture, making sure everyone watching can understand the humor.

What is Included in an Audio Description?

Here’s what you can expect to hear in an audio description:
  1. Setting: The description will establish the location and its atmosphere. Think of it like painting a word picture – is it a bustling city street or a quiet living room?
  2. Characters: You’ll learn about the character’s appearance, including what they’re wearing or if they use any mobility aids like a cane.
  3. Action: The description will explain what’s happening on screen – are the characters running in a chase, having a conversation, or showing affection with a hug?
  4. Facial Expressions: Subtle details like raised eyebrows or warm smiles can be very revealing. Audio descriptions capture these expressions to help you understand the characters’ emotions.
  5. Unspoken Cues: Sometimes, body language speaks volumes. The description might explain crossed arms that indicate someone is upset, or it might read aloud any text that appears on screen, like a newspaper headline.

Here's how an audio description might work:

Consider a movie scene with two friends on a park bench. The original audio might only have their conversation. An audio description would add details you can’t hear and may sound something like this:

(Pause in dialogue)


Narrator: (calm, neutral voice) Sarah is on a park bench, a smile on her face. She’s wearing a yellow sundress and sandals. Her friend David sits next to her, arms crossed. He has a serious expression and is dressed in a denim jacket and jeans.


(Dialogue resumes)


This description paints a quick picture of the scene and the characters, without needing to see the screen.

Importance and Benefits of Audio Description in Accessibility

Audio description plays a significant role in making visual media accessible for people with visual impairments. It helps create a more inclusive experience by providing descriptions of the visual elements, allowing everyone to understand and enjoy the content. Beyond just entertainment, audio description can also be a valuable tool for learning, social participation, and promoting independence for those with visual impairments.
In addition to this, adding an audio description can significantly increase the reach of your content. Here’s how:
  1. Greater Accessibility: Audio descriptions bridge the gap for viewers who are blind or have low vision, allowing them to enjoy your video alongside everyone else.
  2. Enhanced Experience: This description can create a richer experience for viewers with visual impairments, ensuring they learn all the details.
  3. Inclusive Approach: Audio description fosters a more inclusive environment for everyone who might prefer audio over visual information, including people on the autism spectrum and auditory learners.

Audio Description Types

1. Standard Audio Description

This is the most commonly used type. A narrator clearly explains the video’s visuals, focusing on key elements like setting, characters, and actions. These descriptions are typically inserted during natural pauses in the dialogue to avoid disrupting the viewing experience.

2. Extended Audio Description

Extended descriptions offer a more in-depth explanation of the visuals compared to the standard type. This approach is helpful for videos with complex visuals or fast-paced action. The narrator provides a more detailed description of the setting, characters, and actions to ensure viewers fully grasp what’s happening on screen.

3. Web and Multimedia Audio Description

This type of audio description focuses on online content, including websites and multimedia elements. It provides information about visual components like graphics and images. This makes digital content more accessible for people who use screen readers or other assistive technologies. To meet accessibility standards set by organizations like W3C WCAG, Section 508, and the EU, audio descriptions are considered essential for pre-recorded multimedia content.

4. Live Audio Description

This type is used for events happening in real-time, like plays or sports broadcasts. Specially trained describers narrate the action, describing things like costumes, set changes, and what’s happening on stage or the field. Imagine a sports commentator explaining plays during a live game, but also including details for those who can’t see the action.

How to Create Audio Description?

Creating good audio descriptions involves several steps, each playing a part in making sure the final product gets key visual information across to viewers with visual impairment. Let’s look at these steps in more detail:

Step 1. Analyzing the Content:

This first step involves carefully watching the video content. We want to identify all the important visual elements that need explanation. This could include things like what characters are doing, their expressions, how scenes change, any text on screen, and anything else visual that helps tell the story or understand the content. While watching, take notes to create a complete list of these elements.

Step 2. Scripting

Once you’ve analyzed the content, it’s time to write a script that describes those visual elements we identified. This script should be clear, concise, and easy to understand. It should also fit in between the existing dialogue and sound effects without getting in the way of the original audio. Use simple language and avoid technical terms or jargon.
When writing the script, focus on describing the most important visual details in a way that’s easy to follow. This might involve breaking down complex scenes or actions into smaller, easier-to-understand parts. To keep listeners engaged, write the script in the present tense, like you’re describing what’s happening right now.

Step 3. Recording

With a finished script, we can move on to recording the audio description. This job is ideally done by a professional voice actor or someone trained in creating audio descriptions. They should have a clear, easy-to-understand voice and be able to deliver the information without overpowering the original audio.
It’s important to give the voice actor a well-organized script and clear instructions on how you want the audio description to sound, including the speed, tone, and overall style. This helps ensure a smooth and efficient recording process, leading to a high-quality audio description.

Step 4. Editing

After recording, the audio description needs editing and syncing with the original content. This involves carefully matching the description with the video, making sure it fits neatly within natural pauses in the dialogue and sound effects. During editing, you might need to adjust the timing or wording of the description to create a seamless flow with the original content.
This stage also involves checking for any inconsistencies, mistakes, or unclear parts in the audio description. Any issues found should be fixed to ensure the final product is polished and professional.

Step 5. Quality Assurance

The final step is to review the finished audio description and make sure it meets accessibility standards and is of high quality. This might involve getting feedback from people with visual impairment or having accessibility experts check the work for any problems or areas for improvement.
During quality assurance, it’s important to confirm the audio description is clear, and accurate and effectively conveys all the necessary information. Any issues identified should be addressed, and the audio description revised and retested until it meets the desired quality standards.

Common Mistakes to Avoid While Creating Audio Descriptions

Let’s explore some areas to watch out for when writing audio descriptions. Even seasoned creators can fall into these traps! By avoiding them, you’ll ensure your descriptions are clear, concise, and accessible to a wider audience.
  1. Over-describing: Don’t overwhelm listeners with excessive detail. Focus on conveying essential visual elements while maintaining clarity and conciseness.
  2. Subjectivity: Personal opinions or interpretations can be confusing. Stick to objective descriptions that accurately depict what’s on screen.
  3. Clashing with Original Audio: Audio descriptions shouldn’t compete with dialogue or sound effects. Ensure descriptions seamlessly fit within natural pauses and don’t overshadow important audio elements.
  4. Complex Language: Stick to clear, easy-to-understand language. Avoid complex terms that might confuse listeners.
  5. Quality Assurance: Don’t skip the quality check! Take the time to review and test the final audio description. Address any issues and make necessary revisions to guarantee it meets the desired quality standards.

Advancements in Audio Description Technology

Technology keeps getting better, and that includes ways to create audio descriptions. This section will take a look at some of the recent developments in tools, software, and ideas that are helping to improve audio descriptions and make things more accessible for everyone.

Tools and Software for Creating Audio Descriptions

  1. Scriptwriting Software: Tools like Final Draft or Celtx can help you write well-organized and formatted audio description scripts. These programs often offer features like automatic formatting, collaboration for multiple writers, and keeping track of edits.
  2. Audio Recording and Editing Software: Once your script is ready, professional audio software like Adobe Audition, Audacity, or Pro Tools comes into play. These offer advanced features for capturing, editing, and polishing the audio, ensuring a clear and high-quality final product.
  3. Transcription Services: Accurate transcription is key for effective audio descriptions. Websites like Continual Engine offer fast and reliable transcription for various applications, including audio descriptions. Using our services can significantly streamline the scriptwriting process.

Future of Audio Description and Accessibility

There’s a lot of room for improvement in audio description and accessibility as technology keeps getting better. New tools like artificial intelligence and machine learning might help create descriptions faster and more accurately. Voice recognition technology is also improving, which could lead to even better recordings.
On top of the tech side, getting everyone involved is important. This includes content creators, people who specialize in accessibility, and people with visual impairments. By working together, they can figure out the best ways to do things, develop new tools, and make sure audio description is available for everyone who needs it. This kind of collaboration looks promising for the future, making things better for both those who create content and the people who use it.

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Closing Thoughts

Audio description is a powerful tool that bridges the gap for viewers who are blind or viewers with visual impairment. It fosters a more inclusive environment for everyone and unlocks a world of visual content that might otherwise be inaccessible. As technology continues to evolve, so too will audio description.
The future holds the promise of AI-powered creation, improved voice recognition, and even greater collaboration between creators, accessibility specialists, and the community of individuals with visual impairments. This exciting landscape paves the way for a more inclusive future where everyone can fully enjoy the richness of visual media.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Do audio descriptions and subtitles serve the same purpose?

Nope! Audio description and subtitles are different tools for different needs. Audio description provides a spoken voice explaining what’s happening on screen, which is helpful for viewers who can’t see the video. Subtitles, on the other hand, display written text of spoken dialogue and sounds, making them perfect for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

2. What's the difference between an audio description and a transcription?

Think of audio description as someone describing a video out loud, perfect for people who can’t see. A transcript, on the other hand, is just everything written down from the video, including what people are saying and any sounds, for reference or to make the video accessible.

3. How can I turn off the audio description?

You can usually turn off the audio description by going to the accessibility settings on your device or the video playback settings. Look for the option labeled “audio description” or “narration” and switch it off.


Debangku Sarma

Digital Marketing Associate
Continual Engine

Vijayshree Vethantham

Senior Vice-President, Growth & Strategy
Continual Engine US LLC

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