Woman sitting with headphones and looking at her tablet

Audio Description Services: What Is It and Why We Do It?

Let’s back up and look at why we are doing Audio Description services (AD) in the first place. Have you ever been in a room when everyone else is laughing, but you don’t get the joke? This experience is something that those with blindness or visual impairments experience daily during their video consumption. Traditional TV or movie viewing does not accommodate those who can’t see what is happening on screen. This is where the AD comes in.  A National Health Interview Survey conducted in 2018 reveals that over 32.2 million Americans, about 10% of the population 18 and older, reported experiencing loss of vision, making Audio Description increasingly important.

Audio Description is a vital accessibility resource for those with blindness or visual impairments. These groups can fully experience movies, TV shows, YouTube videos, and other visual content by describing the visual elements playing out on screen.

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How To Add Descriptions

Embedded Voice Descriptions: Using this method, Audio Descriptions are separate digital tracks. They can be turned on as needed. This strategy may be the most effective because all students are viewing the same content, however, they all have the choice to turn AD on for assistance.

Separate Video: This method is often used when embedding tracks is not an option. In this case, there would be two separate videos, one with AD and one without it. Though all students will still have access to the video with AD, keeping track of two copies of each and every video may be unnecessarily time-consuming and confusing.

Before and After Audio Description Example

The audio sample below illustrates the experience of a visually impaired viewer.  Playing the audio-only track really drives the message home.  First, watch the video, then listen to the audio-only soundtrack.  Listening to an audio-only version of the video soundtrack you can really see the Visual Descriptions bring the viewing experience to life for those that have visual impairments.


Now listen to how a visually impaired user will experience the video’s audio above using Audio Description.


How Audio Description Services Can Help Educational Institutions

Aids in Comprehension of Complex Topics

Whether it’s a description of a video, an online book, or any other virtual media, Audio Description services bring what’s on-screen to life for those with visual impairment. In a biology course, an online textbook will describe DNA through a written description, but there is also a visual description included that people with blindness are unable to experience. Audio Description of DNA will paint a picture of DNA strands, providing a much more complete understanding.

Audio Description Services Help Universities Become Accessible

The understanding of pre-recorded video content is essential to achieving learning objectives. Because of this, all government organizations, including schools, are legally required under the 2018 Section 508 Refresh to provide Audio Description, even without a special request being made.

More Complete and Searchable Libraries

Another major goal of universities is to index their resource libraries in the most robust and complete way possible, giving students every chance for success. Audio Description tracks come with a very comprehensive transcript which can be used for search functions, filled with keywords beyond the media dialogue, to help properly index the content.

Audio Description Resources

There are a few AD resources that institutions should be aware of. These include Description Key, Section 508, Described and Captioned Media Program, and the Audio Description Project.

Description Key

The Description Key is a set of guidelines for successful AD published by the captioned media program by the National Association of the Deaf. It is funded by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs.

Section 508

Section 508 gives an overview of Audio Description services and is published by the “Office of Products and Programs in the Technology Transformation Service of the U.S. General Services Administration.”

Described and Captioned Media Program

This resource provides a variety of articles on AD. It is funded by the “U.S. Department of Education and administered by the National Association of the Deaf.”

The Audio Description Project

This resource is an initiative by the American Council of the Blind. It offers up some good information for Audio Description creators. This can be found on the “All About Audio Description” page. This page has a myriad of resources including general guidelines for AD.

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Nicole E. Flynn, CMO at cielo24, is deeply interested in exploring and communicating the ways in which Artificial Intelligence (AI) intersects with various aspects of our daily lives. She is passionate about exploring the ways in which AI can be ethically harnessed to improve the quality of life and make our world a better place. Nicole seeks to educate and inform audiences about the potential of AI technology and how it can be used to drive innovation and growth.