Audio Description: Enhancing Content Accessibility for Visually Impaired Audiences

Audio Description: Enhancing Content Accessibility for Visually Impaired Audiences

Published: August 2, 2023

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    With visual media playing such an essential part in our daily lives, ensuring accessibility for users with visual impairments is crucial. And one of the better ways to ensure this is through the use of the appropriate audio descriptions.

    These audio descriptions provide additional narration of a scene to visually impaired or blind users. The problem is that creating an audio description is not always a cup of tea. It can get complex and inconsistent enough to prove challenging to content creators and viewers.

    However, you need not worry if you need to create audio descriptions but do not know how. We at ADA Site Compliance can step in and help. We are today the #1 source for all ADA website accessibility issues.

    Our team of experts will not only conduct a digital accessibility audit but also help create the necessary audio descriptions for you. Our team is well versed with and keeps updated with the legal and regulatory requirements for website compliance and will be able to create optimal ADA-compliant audio descriptions.

    What is an audio description?

    Audio descriptions are carefully crafted to give an immersive viewing experience of synchronized media to the blind and visually impaired. They are also called video descriptions and are audio tracks giving context to visual media and live performances to visually impaired consumers.

    All visual media today must have audio descriptions. Without audio-blind and visually impaired, individuals cannot understand and enjoy media to the fullest extent.

    So no matter what your content is in a movie, a corporate training, or an introductory video, having an audio description ensures everyone experiences and understands what happens.

    How is it different from captions?

    Incorporating written transcripts, audio descriptions, and closed captions in video and audio presentations makes them more accessible. Including captions in videos, films, live events, and television broadcasts with audio provides a textual counterpart to the audio. They work to improve accessibility to those with hearing disabilities.

    Besides, captions present all details like speaker identification and sound effects in text format in audio presentations. In short, captions improve accessibility to those with hearing disabilities, while audio description accessibility is for visually impaired individuals.

    Types of audio descriptions

    There are three main types of audio descriptions you can add to your visual content for everyone to enjoy:

    • Standard audio description:

      These are generally short snippets of descriptive narration fitted into the natural pauses of the original dialogues. As they fit into the allotted time frame pause, the description enhances and does not distract from the content.

      Standard audio descriptions described videos are challenging to create as describers must first decide on essential visual elements. And then decide on how to properly convey them by fitting them into the natural dialogue gaps. This is challenging for long videos and films with millions of words.

    • Extended audio description:

      These descriptions are not confined to the full audio track’s natural pauses. In this case, listeners can always pause the original content to create space for them.

      It works by the media player, playing both the video and description and then pausing the video until the audio completes. The video starts once again when the extended description is completed.

    • Real-time audio descriptions:

      As the name suggests, these audio descriptions have a trained professional giving a life commentary or narration with a live performance with the help of headphones and a small transmitter.

    How do You Choose?

    If you wonder which is best for your needs, then standard descriptions are generally a better option for content:

    • With frequent pauses
    • That needs only a small amount of detailed description.
    • Video with lots of space for description.

    Extended audio descriptions are better options where key visual information cues need to be described and are generally longer descriptions. Extended descriptions are a better choice if the video does not have enough space to add narration snippets.

    Real-time audio is ideal for audio descriptions for live events like theatrical performances and in-person tours.

    How do Audio Descriptions Enhance Accessibility?

    If you wonder how audio descriptions will enhance accessibility, it is better understood if you picture yourself trying to watch a movie. Imagine you do not enjoy it because the lighting is improper.

    The virtually impaired feel the same discomfort while watching videos. An audio description improves the experience. Besides users, people with disabilities may find it difficult to understand video content solely through captions.

    Innovative ways to create audio descriptions

    Keep these innovative options in mind while creating the perfect audio descriptions for your content:

    • 1. Using appropriate technology

      Audio descriptions traditionally started out depending solely on human labor. This is where humans had to write the audio description services transcript and hire voice actors to record it. This, however, is a very time-consuming and expensive option.

      It is better to use a combination of both humans and technology. You thus reduce the audio description cost while speeding up the process. This is preferably done by certified human describers crafting high-quality descriptions and then having advanced synthesized speech technology to record and give the end description.

      In addition to reducing costs, this hybrid option provides better user control and language and faster production time. Besides, the visually impaired are more comfortable listening to the robotic output as their screen readers have a similar voice.

    • 2. Learning to describe while you go

      There are questions if this is the wrong way to add audio descriptions or if it is a way to describe one. Either way, this is a very cost-effective way to create your audio.

      For example, if you are creating a talking-head video, include many descriptions at the start so that you do not have to return and add additional audio track descriptions post-production.

      Another tip to remember while creating accessible videos for blind and low-vision viewers is to describe the video as if you were recording a podcast or are on the radio. Do not focus on taking a videotape and assume that your audience is only listening and will not be watching videos.

      It is also essential that you remember to take pauses, leaving enough space for additional descriptions as needed. Do not forget to identify who speaks and to describe any action or participation from the audience or other members.

    • 3. Write everything out

      If you are unsure what to include in the audio description examples above, write it out first. You can then create a text version of the description. Creating a time-coded text description like a time-coded caption file makes it more accessible as it has to be read aloud by the screen recorder.

    Benefits of Audio Description

    You may not even realize the multiple benefits of creating and using audio descriptions in your video or other visual media. They include:

    • Improved accessibility

      There are more than twelve million elope in the US alone aged more than 40 and having vision impairments, and about a million completely blind people. The visually impaired can access your video and entertainment content.

    • Flexibility

      Audio descriptions also offer flexibility to consume the content in an eyes-free environment. In other words, they can enjoy the content without being confined to one spot, watching the content. It is why an increasing number of people now listen to television shows and movies like they would audiobooks while driving, cooking, or performing other household tasks.

    • Helps with language development

      Not many realize that audio descriptions can improve the language of two important groups of people- those with autism and children. It is because listening is an essential key to learning languages. And in the case of children, audio descriptions improve their language and broaden their vocabulary once they start associating words with actions and behaviors.

      Audio descriptions help users with autism understand the emotional and social cues demonstrated through actions and facial expressions in visuals they would otherwise find difficult to pinpoint or understand.

    • An essential form of auditory learning

      It is a human tendency to process information either visually or auditory. That is why some people say they are visual learners or learn better upon hearing specific information.

      Those who tend to pick up things better with auditory learning agree that audio descriptions help retain new information while learning. Besides, 20-30% of students agree they consume better information after listening to it.

    • Helps in case of intentional blindness

      It is human to err, so we may miss out on a few visual elements while watching video content. This is where the audio comes in useful. They can effectively point out any essential visual elements you unintentionally miss.

    • Needed by law

      Lastly, these laws require that all content be accessible and ADA-compliant. Failure to do so can lead to long and expensive lawsuits.

    Audio description laws

    Let us look at laws supporting and requiring audio descriptions. Generally, anti-discrimination laws require standard audio descriptions in visual content to provide blind and low-vision individuals access to the content.

    There are three main accessibility laws impacting video in the US, with the web guidelines and standards.

    • 1. The Americans with Disabilities Act

      The Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA was enforced in 1990 with a statement requiring the use of ‘auxiliary aids’ in communication. This means that visual content should have audio descriptions to facilitate easy access to users with visual impairments.

      The Act is broken down into two titles:

      • Title I This title applies to services, activities of state and local government, and programs
      • Title II This title applies to places of public accommodation like hotels, museums, and theatres.

      The law has since then been revised to include the necessity for online-only businesses like Netflix to have audio descriptions.

    • 2. The Rehabilitation Act

      The Rehabilitation Act or Rehab Act was passed in 1973. It prohibits any form of discrimination based on disability by federal agencies and employers, programs receiving federal financial assistance, and federal contractors’ employment practices.

      Two sections are highlighting closed captioning and web accessibility that impact video accessibility:

      • Section 504 requires equal access to individuals with disabilities applying to deferral and federally funded programs. It requires that all organizations requiring federal funding make accommodations for equal access, which means audios are necessary for those with low vision.
      • Section 508 was added in 2018 and requires that all federal communications and technical technology be accessible. It also states that federal agencies producing or procuring film, video, multimedia, and information technology include audio descriptions.
    • 3. The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act

      According to the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, all modern communication technologies should be accessible to people regardless of vision or hearing loss. President Barack Obama signed the Act in October 2010 while focusing on phase-in requirements for audios between 2010 and 2020.

    Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

    WCAG 2.0 is the international web accessibility standard referenced in various laws and lawsuits. It provides recommendations for making web content accessible to a wider range of people, including users with disabilities. According to the WCAG, audio in visual content makes it more accessible to those with low or no vision.

    Disabilities That Benefit from Audio Description

    It is undoubtedly proven that audio descriptions are essential in promoting equal access and inclusivity to visual content for users with visual impairment. Some disabilities that benefit from audio descriptions:

    • Visual impairments

      Those with low vision benefit the most from audio descriptions as it helps them understand visual content better. Individuals get an opportunity to fully engage with visual media through detailed descriptions of actions, visual cues, and scenes.

    • Cognitive disabilities

      Audio descriptions are helpful to people with cognitive disabilities who find processing or understanding visual content challenging. Clear, precise language and concise audio help create a more inclusive experience for the individuals.

    • Language Barriers

      Audio helps overcome any language barriers people have. For example, non-native speakers and those who cannot understand language in a video or film benefit through extended audio description. These audios help bridge gaps in understanding and enhancing content comprehension.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Here are four of the most frequently asked questions with answers to help clear your doubts better.

    • 1. In what ways can audio description be helpful to users who are blind or with low vision?

      Audio descriptions let consumers who cannot see or who are visually impaired experience and enjoy any form of visual content. These audios play an important role in helping them understand the text.

    • 2. What is the audio description for the visually impaired?

      Audio descriptions are also known as video descriptions and described videos and are a form of narration useful in providing information about key visual elements in any media. They are most helpful to those with limited vision or who are blind.

    • 3. What is the audio description of ADA?

      According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, using audio in video content is compulsory. This is to provide those with visual impairments easy access to all types of video content.

    • 4. What is enhanced audio description?

      Enhanced or advanced audio description techniques are an alternative to traditional audio descriptions. They include audiovisuals, audio spatialization, and first-person narration used to create accessible and interactive audio experiences.


    In a nutshell, audio descriptions play a huge role in providing the blind and visually impaired with access to the visual world. They help the visually impaired in the same manner that captions and transcripts help those with hearing disabilities.

    And while accessibility is a broad category, both services fit under it as they serve the same purpose of making video content accessible to everyone.

    This is why all website owners and designers must adopt an accessible approach while designing a website, as users with disabilities may use various assistive technologies to interact with your website.

    Ensuring web compliance is not an easy job or a one-time solution. This is where and why we at ADA Site Compliance can help. We have a team of web compliance experts who will carefully audit each web page to identify and remediate any issues.

    ADA Site Compliance is the #1 source for fixing all ADA website compliance issues. Our team knows all the legal and regulatory requirements for website compliance and makes it a point to keep ourselves constantly updated on the accessibility laws.

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