Hi Pecan! I’ve heard a lot about “descriptive audio” for videos in the news lately. I don’t know what that means - is it like captions?
Thanks for asking! “Descriptive audio” means that your video has additional audio content that describes aspects of the video that are purely visual and not accessible to blind or visually-impaired people. Usually, there’s a second audio track that contains the description. Viewers can listen to the second track along with the primary track.
Captions are different - they’re necessary to make audio content accessible to hearing-impaired people, and are also useful in situations where audio cannot be played.
If you’re providing a transcript of your video - and you should! - it should include the text of both the captions and the descriptive audio.
Sometimes descriptive audio might be called “audio description” or “video description.”
So does every minute of my video need to be described?
Not necessarily. Could you cover the screen and still fully understand what’s going on in the video? If not, it needs some description. Consider these made-up scenes from a nature documentary . . .
- The narrator says “Look at that!” followed by silence.
- Scene 1 requires the most additional description. There’s no information about what’s going on in the video.
- The narrator says, “I’ll stand over here while Jim wrestles the anaconda,” followed by the sounds of the snake-wrestling match.
- Scene 2 requires some additional description. How does an anaconda wrestle? Who is winning?
- The narrator says, “The baby birds chirp and open their beaks. Mama has returned to the nest. One of her babies pushes forward and hopes for the choicest worm.”
- Scene 3 might not require any additional description, depending on whether there are other important details about the scene that are only available visually.
Other types of visual content that might require description include text displayed onscreen during the video, charts shown during a presentation, equations, or important background details in a narrative video.
Where can I hear some examples?
There’s a lot of professionally-produced video content available with descriptive audio. For example, all of Netflix’s original video content comes with descriptive audio. iTunes also offers many movies and TV episodes with descriptive audio.
I’m not a professional video producer! How do I get my videos described?
First, check to see if your video has already been described! If you’re using a clip from a publicly-available video - for example, as material for a film class - you might be able to find a described version. There’s no complete database of described video, but check out the Audio Description Project.
If you can’t find a described version of your clip, or you produced it yourself, you have a few options. You could hire a vendor, you could do the description yourself, or you could get an employee, a community member, or a volunteer to do it. Ideally, the describer would be familiar with the material.
Anyone who wants to do a good job describing video needs to have a clear speaking voice and should also get some training. It’s important to know what kinds of content need describing, how to do it concisely, and how to work with the flow of the existing audio. Check out Description Key.
Once you’ve found someone to do the describing, you need to get it added to your video and make it available to viewers. If your video is hosted on YouTube, you can use the public YouDescribe tool. Anybody can use this tool to create a descriptive audio track for any available YouTube video. The tool generates a link to the described version of the video (it does not change the original video), which you can publicize along with the original.
The AblePlayer video player also supports adding captions and descriptive audio.