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Audio Description contributes to a more inclusive and accessible media environment, allowing individuals with visual impairments to enjoy and engage with visual content on a level playing field with their sighted counterparts.


Check out our video series about Audio Description best practices called Audible Sight "Soundbites" to see and hear good AD in action.


What is Audio Description?

Audio description, also known as video description or descriptive narration, is additional narration that makes visual content more accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired. It involves the narration of key visual elements, such as actions, settings, facial expressions, and other relevant details, to provide a comprehensive audio representation of what is happening on the screen.


The goal is to ensure that people with visual disabilities can fully understand and enjoy the content by receiving additional verbal descriptions of visual information.


Audio description plays a crucial role in promoting inclusivity and equal access to media and entertainment for people with visual impairments.

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Federal law defines requirements that guarantee equal access to blind and low vision individuals

In the United States, audio description is mandated by several anti-discrimination laws that guarantee equal access to technology. These laws are the 21st Century Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as Section 504 and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

In short, any video produced with federal funds, or by most state governments, must include audio description - even without a specific accomodation request.

Section 504


Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a national law that protects qualified individuals from discrimination based on their disability.


Section 504 safeguards the civil rights of individuals with disabilities by mandating that institutions receiving federal funding make necessary adjustments to ensure equal access. Specifically, video with audio description must be provided to users with blindness or low vision.

Section 504 is not referenced nearly as much as 508, but it is a foundational part of United States disability law.

Section 508


In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to require federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities. When people refer to "508 requirements," this is what they are referring to.

The 2018 refresh to Section 508 assigns WCAG 2.0 success criterion to the existing Section 508 standards in order to strengthen requirements for captioning and audio description.  

This means all videos produced since 2018 are required to have Audio Description.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0)


WCAG 2.0 guideline 1.2 lists audio description as a requirement for timebased media.


WCAG 2.0 is the legal requirement under the 2018 refreshed section 508 standards (see above) and is required by many state laws.  The Section 508 Refresh incorporates WCAG 2.0, Level AA standard by inclusion:

1.2.5 Audio Description (Prerecorded): Audio description is provided for all prerecorded video content in synchronized media. (Level AA)

21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA)


In 2010, President Obama signed the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) into law. The CVAA updates federal communications law to increase the access of persons with disabilities to modern communications. 

CVAA Title II - Video Programming: Restores audio description rules promulgated by the FCC in 2000 and authorizes some expansion of those obligations over the next 10+ years.


What makes effective Audio Description?

The purpose of Audio Description is to provide the visual information that is needed to understand the content of a video.  The descriptions should portray only what it seen, not what is implied such as the motivation or intention of an on-screen character.

The intent is to provide the visually-impaired audience an equivalent experience but it's rarely practical to describe everything.  Ask yourself: what visual information does a viewer need to understand what’s going on?

What is not being described by the dialogue or narration?

At Audible Sight we are primarily focused on making AD practical for the vast number of informational videos produced by government, corporate and social media producers so here the most important elements to look for in these types of videos: 

  • On-screen text, when it’s not read aloud by the narrator

  • Key events or images that convey important information, when they are not explained in the voice over or narration

  • Any charts or other slides that present important information

  • Logos or other visual-only graphics that identify the creators or sponsors of a video

Other elements to consider include:

  • Facial expressions and body language, but only when it contrasts with audio content

  • Age, appearance, race, or ethnicity of people on screen, but only when it’s relevant to convey the main points of the video

  • Clothing or other aspects of a person’s appearance but again, only when it’s relevant to convey the main points of the video


Standards for Effective AD

The DCMP Description Key, created by the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP), is a set of guidelines designed to standardize the process of audio description in educational media. The DCMP is a leading organization that provides accessible media for students with disabilities, including those who are blind or visually impaired.

The DCMP Description Key outlines specific conventions and guidelines for creating effective audio descriptions in educational videos. It includes recommendations for what to describe, how to convey information succinctly, and how to integrate descriptions seamlessly into the overall audiovisual experience.

Some of the key elements covered by the DCMP Description Key include:

  1. Verbs and Tenses: Providing clear guidance on the use of present tense and other verb tenses to describe actions and scenes.

  2. Pronouns: Guidelines on the use of pronouns to maintain clarity and consistency in the audio description.

  3. Placement of Descriptions: Recommendations on when and where to insert audio descriptions in relation to the original audio.

  4. Repetition: Guidelines on minimizing repetition to avoid unnecessary redundancy in the audio description.

  5. Conciseness: Encouraging brevity and conciseness in descriptions to convey essential information without overloading the listener.

  6. Language Considerations: Addressing language choices to ensure descriptions are clear, neutral, and objective.

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