Audio Description for Online Learning

April 9, 2020 BY SAMANTHA SAULD
Updated: May 1, 2020

student reading while sitting at a chair

Now more then ever, educational institutions are providing online learning options for students instead of teaching in a traditional classroom.

Online learning offers students the convenience and flexibility to learn new skills and topics, acquiring knowledge whenever and wherever they see fit. 

Many students prefer an online experience because they can work at their own pace, access personalized learning, and pursue passions outside of the classroom. 

Online learning has captured the interest of many learners and as it continues to gain popularity, it’s imperative that all students have equal access to educational content. 

Audio description, an audio track that narrates the relevant visual information in media, is a great tool to make your content accessible to a wider audience – including students who may be blind or low vision. 

In addition, audio description benefits people who are on the autistic spectrum, multi-taskers, and auditory learners. 

Before getting started with audio description for online learning, we’ll cover what’s important, some common challenges, and essential vendor features. 

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What’s Important for Online Learning?

Woman sits in a window seat and does schoolwork.

Accessibility: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are 1.3 billion people living with some form of vision loss. Audio description meets accessibility requirements so that viewers who are blind and low vision can access your content. Without audio description, your content becomes inaccessible to a large group of students who want to engage with your video. These are potential viewers you could be excluding! 

Legal Compliance: In addition to making your videos accessible, there are many laws in place that protect people with disabilities such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. These laws protect individuals and ensure that they are able to equally access media. 

Quality Descriptions: Well-done, accurate descriptions are important to educational institutions. With so much video content, it’s imperative that the descriptions are clear and concise for users. Oftentimes, online learning videos will have complex diagrams and graphs. High-quality descriptions ensure your viewers will understand vital information shown in your video. 

Improved Learning Outcomes: The purpose of online courses is to teach a subject matter that accommodates the viewers’ various learning styles. It’s important that viewers understand the information as easily as possible. With audio description, learners who digest information best through audio will have a better time comprehending and retaining information. Audio description benefits all students, not just people with disabilities. 

Budget: Year after year, cost has been the number one reason why organizations don’t implement accessibility into their video initiatives. Organizations must find a cost-effective solution to provide audio description for viewers. Traditional audio description vendors are very expensive due to the length of time it takes during production, recording, and utilizing human voice actors. In order to afford audio description, educational institutions need a solution that meets their budget. However, there may be an even greater risk if audio description isn’t provided. Violating the law can lead to potential lawsuits and legal fees. 

What are Common Challenges for Online Learning?

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Scalability: It can be challenging to find an audio description solution that can provide cost-effective, accurate descriptions for all of your videos. When organizations have a bulk of videos, oftentimes, the challenge can be finding a vendor that can keep up with the amount of video that needs to be described. 

Ease of Use/Workflow: The process of traditional audio description is quite labor-intensive and time-consuming. It’s challenging to find a solution that is easy to use and allows you to publish on a video platform that actually supports audio description. It’s important to find a vendor that understands how to simplify the workflow and offers tools to make publishing efficient. 

Cost: Typically, audio description can range between $15 per minute to $75 per minute. It can become very expensive simply because of the amount of time and skill it takes to create quality descriptions. The challenge can be finding an audio description vendor that doesn’t break the bank but also, doesn’t drop the ball on quality. Luckily, there are solutions available that deliver high-quality descriptions are competitive prices.  

Understanding What’s Important to Describe: When describing the visual elements of a video, it’s important to focus on what is essential for the user to know. For eLearning videos, you may want to focus on certain aspects of a graph, diagram, or who is speaking, if there is more than one speaker. Knowing what to describe is dependent on how much time is allotted for the descriptions and how relevant the information is to understand the content. Since users will rely on the descriptions to understand the visual information, it’s imperative to create descriptions that don’t distract or mislead the viewer. 

Quality/Accuracy: Accurate descriptions are essential to understanding the information in a video. Without it, your video becomes inaccessible and incomprehensible. eLearning companies want to ensure that the audio description vendor they choose follows the DCMP comprehensive guide on how to describe for best practices and standards.

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What Vendor Features are Important?

Competitive Pricing: At 3Play, our price for audio description is significantly less than the industry standards. Since we use a combination of technology and human describers, we’re able to offer audio description starting at $9 per minute for standard audio description and $14 per minute for extended audio description. No matter which option you decide to go with, we always guarantee high-quality descriptions. 

Easy Publishing: Our goal is to make publishing as easy as possible. We integrate with a number of video platforms that support audio description, like Ooyala, Brightcove, and JW Player – just to name a few. But what if you don’t use any of the platforms we integrate with? No worries! The 3Play Plugin allows you to embed the descriptions into your video for seamless publishing with any platform. The 3Play Audio Description Plugin also allows viewers to toggle the description on or off, and lets them control the volume of the description, which is separate from the main track. 

Accuracy and Option to Edit: In order to ensure content that is both accessible and enjoyable to your viewers, it must be accurate. 3Play Media follows the DCMP Description Key to ensure high-quality descriptions for all videos. Our descriptions are accurate, prioritized, consistent, appropriate, and equal. We even offer cheat sheets to allow account users to list any tricky terms, pronunciations, or provide notes to editors on what information to prioritize. If needed, there’s a preview and edit feature which allows users to edit descriptions in just a few clicks. 

Online Learning Platforms Using 3Play Media

university of Washington, Perkins School for the blind, and Colorado state university


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