According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 7 million people in the United States are affected by vision loss or blindness. In today’s increasingly virtual world, it’s more important than ever to consider solutions for making digital spaces inclusive of those who are blind or have low vision. Audio description is one of the most effective tools for making media and other digital content more accessible to those with vision loss. This advanced solution supports more equitable experiences for audiences across a wide variety of content and communications. Let’s discuss the ins and outs of audio description and explore how this new technology makes the digital world more accessible, inclusive and engaging.
What is Audio Description?
Visual media, like video content, is not always accessible to individuals with vision loss. Much like captions improve accessibility for those who are Deaf or hard of hearing, audio description services can support people who are blind and have low vision.
Audio description is a type of assistive technology that uses recorded narration to describe important visual elements of media content. There are two primary styles of audio description: standard and extended. Standard audio description uses clear and concise descriptions of visual elements that are designed to fit into existing pauses in an audio track. With standard audio description, the descriptive narration doesn’t overlap with any important audio elements like dialogue.
On the other hand, extended audio description, as the name suggests, offers more enhanced, detailed descriptions of on-screen actions and visuals. In order to fit these longer descriptions, the video will pause to give more time for the detailed narration. Each style of audio description provides a more inclusive media experience to audience members who need additional support to meaningfully engage with visual content. However, one style may work better than another depending on the specific type of video.
For instance, standard audio description is often the best option for video entertainment. If a video is serving an educational purpose, extended audio description, with additional details, might be the better solution.
Benefits of Audio Description Services
Audio description is an incredibly valuable tool for supporting audience and community members who are blind or low vision. Oftentimes, on-screen information is critical for context, and without audio description, audience members who are blind might be unable to fully engage with the visual content. Fortunately, creators can support these audience members by providing accurate, clear and concise descriptive narration of all critical visual elements and offer a more inclusive media experience in the process.
Audio description can also improve accessibility for those with certain neurodivergent conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder. Some individuals with ASD need additional support to accurately interpret visual cues like facial expressions and body language. A well-crafted audio description track can provide clarity and context for these physical cues and make it easier for viewers with ASD to understand moments of non-verbal communication.
Types of Audio Description Services
In addition to the types of audio description outlined above, a few other varieties of audio description serve for support specific use cases, including:
- Live Audio Description: Live audio description offers real-time descriptive narration of live events like TV broadcasts, webinars, public performances and more.
- Pre-Recorded Audio Description: This style of descriptive narration works best for pre-recorded content like TV shows, movies and online videos.
- Integrated Audio Description: Projects specifically intended for audiences with vision and eye disorders may benefit from this option. Rather than inserting a narration track into an existing piece of content, a creator will write a piece of content that incorporates descriptions of visual elements into the actual script.
As with all other types of assistive technologies, it’s important to carefully consider the needs of your specific project and audience to choose the audio description style that is right for you.
Implementation of Audio Description Services
There is an ever-growing list of possible uses for audio description technology. Pre-recorded audio description tracks improve access to movies and TV shows across a wide range of platforms. Many movie theaters provide audio description devices to patrons who request them, while at-home viewers can take advantage of the audio description features on major streaming platforms like Netflix.
Similarly, there are a number of options available for audio description users who are attending live performances and events. Theatrical productions often use pre-recorded audio description tracks that audience members can access via a personal AD device. Additionally, other live events like conferences and webinars will use live audio description services to support attendees with visual disabilities. These audio description tracks work with wireless receivers for in-person attendees or stream digitally for virtual participants.
Other institutions like museums and galleries use audio description solutions to offer more inclusive experiences. An audio description track in a museum setting may provide an auditory description of various exhibits, so patrons who are blind or low vision can still engage equitably during tours and other events.
Challenges and Solutions in Audio Description Services
There is one factor that separates the good from the bad when it comes to audio description: accuracy. Creators must work tirelessly to ensure their audio description tracks offer accurate, clear and concise descriptions of visual elements. It is also critical that all narration tracks sync appropriately with the visual media to provide equitable viewing for those with disabilities.
Also, audio description services, like other accessibility solutions, must constantly evolve to keep up with changes and developments in modern technology. Over the last several decades, there have been major changes in communication methods. This trend is only going to continue. As a result, it’s important for creators to stay up to date on technology and changes to media styles that could impact audio description.
The best way to ensure your audio description offerings are accurate and effective is to partner with a professional audio description service like Verbit. Verbit employs professional audio describers to deliver accurate, reliable descriptive narration tracks. An audio describer with professional certification and familiarity with a range of media formats can help creators of visual media make their content more accessible and their messaging more equitable.
Best in Show: Award-Winning Audio Description
Every year, the American Council of the Blind hosts its Audio Description Awards Gala to honor and recognize individuals and institutions that demonstrate excellence in audio described content. The Awards Gala also celebrates inclusivity and accessibility in media and provides much-needed visibility for the disability community.
Some previous Audio Description Awards winners include:
- Academy of Television Arts and Sciences
- Paramount Global
The American Council of the Blind’s recognition of people and organizations that are helping make an impact in the disability community and beyond further increases awareness of audio description technology and its benefits.
Future Developments in Audio Description Services
The need for audio description technology will continue to grow in the years to come. Major production companies, streaming platforms and game developers are noticing its potential for improving accessibility. In the future, audio description services will appear in additional styles of media, including virtual reality experiences, 360-degree videos and more. Audio description technology offers enhanced opportunities for collaboration between creators and audiences. Additionally, this solution will allow for more inclusive, engaging content experiences across the board.
Audio description is an important innovation that enables individuals who are blind or have low vision to engage more equitably with content. The benefits of audio description extend to others as well and help content creators expand their audiences.
Verbit offers a wide variety of assistive technology – including audio description – that help creators and institutions offer more inclusive media experiences to all community members. Reach out today to learn how Verbit’s solutions can help you support diverse audiences.