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Audio description


An audio-described video uses verbal descriptions to convey a video's important, visual-only information. You can think of audio description as a little like producing image alt text as audio.

All pre-recorded digital video content produced or controlled by the University must be published with a separate version of the video that includes audio description if there is important information shown that’s not relayed in the audio.

What and why: Blind or partially sighted people cannot see the visual-only information in a video. Providing audio description means everyone can access the information in the same way.

When not to produce audio description

You do not need to produce an audio described version of your video if everything important that's displayed in the video is also discussed in the audio (e.g. a presenter explains what's being communicated in a graph).

Similarly, visual-only content that's not important to communicate doesn't need audio description (e.g. the type of chair someone is sitting in for a video about research funding).

How to avoid the need to produce an audio-described video

Important visual-only content can be avoided or reduced via planning. If your video is due to show something without verbal commentary or description, consider recording a contributor, presenter or the narrator explaining what's being shown. For example:

  • A name may be shown on screen to introduce a speaker. Ensure that person introduces themselves and that audio is played at the same time as their name is displayed.
  • Part of the video may show a graph going up. Plan to have someone explain what the graph is showing and use that audio at the same time as the graph is displayed.

We advise that when you're preparing for a lecture that will be recorded, doing a voiceover for a video, or commissioning a video, you plan to verbally describe anything that's visual only and informative. This will mean your video doesn't need audio description.

How to produce an audio-described video

If you're commissioning a video, ask your supplier to produce audio description. If it's not done by the supplier, it will be difficult for you to add later if you don't have strong video editing and audio recording facilities/abilities, or access to people who can do this for you.

If you cannot rely on a supplier to produce an audio described version of your video, you need to:

  1. Write out what will be announced in the description.
  2. Record the descriptions as audio.
  3. Edit a new version of the video and pause it long enough to for you to insert your recorded audio descriptions at the appropriate points.

How to script out audio description

To produce a script for audio description:

  1. Watch your video and pay careful attention to what’s happening on screen.
  2. Consider what's displayed and judge whether it's important.
  3. Listen to see whether this important information is also covered in the audio.
  4. If it's not in the audio, write a description of what's shown. Think about what important things a sighted user is being ‘told’ that a non or partially sighted user isn’t.
  5. Repeat this process for the length of the video.

Add the script of your audio description to the transcript of your video.

Note that some versions of audio-described video do not freeze the video at appropriate points to allow audio description to be announced. Instead, they present the description between existing pauses in speech. However, you will find that pausing the video for audio description makes it easier to communicate everything you need. Shorter spaces for audio description require more script and audio editing.

How to determine what visual-only information is important

Accessibility standards say that audio description should provide "information about actions, characters, scene changes, and on-screen text that are important and are not described or spoken in the main sound track".

What's important is typically down to the context of the video. The weather in campus scenes might not be important in a video about a new staff initiative at the University, but may be correct to communicate if the video is about campus life through the year.

The key isn’t just providing information about everything that can be seen, but providing information sighted people are getting that adds valuable detail.

Err on the side of more description if you really can’t decide whether to describe it or not.

Tip: Play the video and close your eyes and ask yourself whether what you can hear is enough to explain the important visual information.