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Audio description

An audio description is an additional audio track that’s added to the video to describe and give context for essential information that’s only presented visually on the screen.

The audio description can be turned on or off by the viewer, in the same way that closed captions can be.

When turned on, the audio description plays in the gaps between the programme’s dialogue. Essential visual information you should include in an audio description relates to things like:

  • characters — for example, “Anne, a tall, elegant woman in a black dress, appears anxious.”
  • actions — for example, “Rick shrugs.”
  • scene changes — for example, “Anne walks into the kitchen.”
  • on-screen text — for example, “The note on the table says, ‘Call the police if I’m not back by midnight!’ ”

Here are some examples of videos with audio description:

How an audio description makes a video more accessible

Audio descriptions provide access to video content for people who:

  • are visually impaired
  • cannot keep their eyes on the screen because they are doing something — for example, cooking
  • want help keeping track of details in the story.

Meeting the Web Accessibility Standard

Audio descriptions are always good to provide, if possible. However, to meet the NZ Government Web Accessibility Standard, audio descriptions are only required for pre-recorded videos that contain high-stakes information.

When you provide an audio description, you meet WCAG’s Success Criterion 1.2.5 Audio Description (Prerecorded).

How to create an audio description 

Before a video is produced

It’s cheaper and easier if you plan for the creation of an audio description before a video is produced.

Plan for audio description of visual information — storyboarding, recording

Adding an audio description to an existing video

If the video has already been produced, you’ll need to write the audio description and narrate, record and integrate the audio description in new audio or video files.

Alternatively, if the media player you are using supports text-based audio description that is read aloud, you can create a Video Text Track (VTT) file with the timed descriptions.

If you do not have these skills and tools, you can pay a service to create the audio description for you using:

  • writers to create the description with a time-coded transcript, and
  • human voice actors or synthesised speech to deliver the description.

These are some examples of services that provide audio descriptions for videos:

Testing your video’s audio description

Check that the audio description accurately describes and includes all meaningful visual information in the video, including body language, actions, scene changes and on-screen text. The idea is that someone who cannot see the video can understand exactly what’s happening just by listening to the audio.

More information on audio descriptions

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