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Digital Accessibility

Writing Audio Descriptions

You’ll need to follow some simple guidelines to make sure you’re capturing all relevant visual cues and contextual information.

Information to Include in Audio Descriptions

Focus on what the listener needs to know that is being communicated visually, including people in the video and background visuals that impact the video’s message. You should include:

  • Names of all speakers
  • When people come onto the screen and when they leave
  • Facial expressions
  • Action or movement
  • Scene or setting details
  • Charts, diagrams, and other images 

How to Write Audio Descriptions

Follow these tips to make your audio descriptions fit as seamlessly as possible into your videos:

  • Integrate visual information into audio while filming.
    Have your subjects identify themselves and their surroundings (rather than only showing their name on screen). This way, anyone—whether or not they have a visual disability—will know who is speaking. 

  • Try to add descriptions between natural pauses.
    As much as possible, audio descriptions should occur between the natural pauses in the original audio, such as between dialogue. The descriptions should enhance rather than detract from the existing content.

  • Prioritize information based on the time available.
    If there are few natural pauses, try to work in the most important information based on the time available while still using complete sentences. If there is no time to add crucial information, you can add it before and after the video as necessary. 

  • Make descriptions clear and concise.
    • Speak in the present tense and describe action as it unfolds.
    • Use gender-inclusive language (e.g., police officer instead of policeman).
    • Use plain language and avoid technical terms.
  • Match your style, tone and pace to the video.
    Audio descriptions should enhance the information presented in videos, not detract from it. If what you have to say doesn't fit in the natural pauses in the video, consider using extended audio descriptions.

Standard vs. Extended Audio Descriptions

Your decision to write standard or extended audio descriptions will depend on how well your descriptions can fit into the video's natural pauses in audio:

  • Standard audio descriptions fit within the natural pauses of your original audio. They work best when a video has frequent pauses or few amounts of visual detail.
    Video thumbnail of Frozen trailer, with a snowman smiling at a purple flower.
    Example of standard audio descriptions.
  • Extended audio descriptions pause the original video, adding extra audio time to give you space for the necessary descriptions. They work better for videos that don't have many pauses in the original audio track.
    Video thumbnail of Sarah.
    Example of extended audio descriptions.

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