Describing Visual Elements

A powerful aspect of videos is their wealth of nonverbal communication. Images can convey much, and minutes can pass without any words being spoken. Unfortunately, this excludes someone with a visual impairment from receiving information that is conveyed only visually.

Audio description provides a description of visual or nonverbal information in videos. Similarly to alternative text on images, audio description states for the listener any important visual information that they may miss from a video. This can be time-consuming and expensive to accommodate after the fact, so it is best to minimize the need for audio description during the recording of any video.

When creating a video, consider the fact that not everyone may be able to see it, and incorporate as much description in the audio as possible.

  • Have participants narrate or describe visual information during filming. This habit is also helpful for including non-visual students in real-time situations such as lectures.
  • Consider timing. If something important is being conveyed visually, leave enough space for audio description to have time to play.
    • Timed audio description transcripts may pause the video while the description is being spoken if there isn't enough time for the audio.

When a proactive approach is not possible, the solution is audio description (AD). Audio description provides an additional audio track which describes important visual information. Support for audio description is not yet widespread. Below are several options.

Video Player Support

Not all video players have the capability to play an audio description track, and some only work on desktop computers. For those with support, the file can be added in a similar way to a caption file.

  • Players with native support for AD:
Publish a Second Video
  • A common solution to the lack of native support in video players is to publish a second version of the video with an AD track 'burned in'.
  • If you use 3Play Media to create the audio description, you can download an mp4 with the AD and video already combined.
Audio Description Plugin
  • 3Play Media also has a plugin that allows you to add AD to a video player without having to publish a second video. The plugin is compatible with platforms including YouTube, Vimeo, Brightcove, Kaltura, and Wistia.

Audio description is still very expensive and may not be possible for everyone. Another solution is to provide a text transcript of the video that includes both the audio and visual information. This provides the full content of the video for individuals with both hearing and visual impairments.

Start with a transcript based on captions, and then add audio descriptions as necessary. Keep in mind that you only need to describe meaningful visual information.

YouDescribe is a free service that allows anyone to manually record audio descriptions for existing YouTube videos.

  • YouTube does not yet have support for an AD track
  • Videos must be viewed through the YouDescribe website for users to access the descriptions
Preparing to Record
  • The service requires login with a Google ID
  • An external usb microphone is recommended
  • Only describe visual information that is needed for a viewer to understand the video
  • Describe visual content factually and concisely, without interpretation or censorship
  • Do not record over existing audio
Recording AD with YouDescribe
  1. Paste a YouTube url into the search box on YouDescribe. (Scroll to the bottom of the page to see undescribed videos.)
  2. Click on "Describe" on the video thumbnail
  3. Play the video, and pause when you want to insert a description
  4. Click on "Add Inline" to begin recording (Use the extended option sparingly)
  5. When finished with the current segment, click the square icon to stop recording
  6. Resume playing and repeat these steps until finished
  7. Click Save when finished

The current cost to add audio description to videos through 3Play Media is $9 per minute. This is an additional cost beyond any captioning.