How to Select an Audio Description Vendor

January 18, 2019 BY ELISA LEWIS
Updated: March 16, 2021

Audio description is an accommodation for blind and low vision viewers that narrates the crucial visual information of a program. Audio description is meant to provide information on visual content that is considered essential to the comprehension of the program. Standard audio description involves the interspersion of audio description snippets within the program’s original audio components, in order to allow the individual the benefit of the description, without sacrificing the information in the existing the free checklist 10 crucial questions to ask when selecting the right audio description vendor

With the recent 508 refresh, and several lawsuits targeting audio description, this accessibility tool for blind and low vision viewers is just beginning to get a place in the accessibility spotlight. As we continue to see more online video permeate our society, audio description will likely become more popular, widely enforced, and offered by more vendors. This means that when choosing a vendor, you will want to know how to tell which is the best fit for you. You will want to make sure the vendor is knowledgable and has the capacity to grow and scale to fit your needs now, as well as in the future.

When choosing between audio description services there are many factors to consider. Some of these things include cost, process, editing, help with publishing, and quality.

Price & Process: A Crucial Balance

Like with anything else, cost plays a factor when it comes time to choose an audio description vendor. It’s important to remember, however, that while cost should be considered, understanding the vendor’s process will give you better insight into what’s behind the cost. This will help to make an informed decision on whether to splurge, go with the lowest-cost option, or maybe somewhere in the middle.

Cost of Audio Description

The cost of audio description can vary greatly because the need for description is so diverse. Generally, the price for traditional audio description will range from $15-$30 per minute. Traditional description providers use humans for the entire workflow. Description writers create a transcript and human voice actors deliver the description within the specified timecodes. Voice talent is expensive and paying the writers and other skilled laborers is also costly. The cost of talent, combined with the cost of all the tools necessary to record and implement the audio description can add up quickly.

If cost is a concern, don’t worry. There are measures that can be taken to bring the cost of audio description down without sacrificing quality. One of the main ways to do so is by taking advantage of current technology.

Implementing Technology

Working with technology is an extremely effective way to bring costs down. At 3Play, combining humans and technology has been a critical part of our captioning service, and it’s at the forefront of our audio description service as well. We use a combination of humans and technology in every step of the process. Certified human describers write high-quality descriptions, then synthesized speech is utilized to voice these descriptions. This allows us to make the process of writing and time coding description easier, faster, and more cost-effective.

Customizing and Editing

One of the key elements of audio description is that it complements the original content, rather than detracting from it. Some ways in which this is achieved is through accent and word choice when describing. A vendor that lets you customize and edit your descriptions is one that truly understands the importance of flexibility when doing audio description. The 3Play account system allows you to select your speaker’s voice, as well as preview and make edits to your audio description.

With traditional audio description vendors, editing is a long and expensive process. If you want to make changes you essentially have to redo the process. Because the process for traditional audio description includes human voice, you will have to pay quite a bit to record again. Since our output utilizes synthesized speech, it is easy for users to edit files right in the Account System. After making tweaks to grammar or word choice, you can save your changes or select “revert to original” to get back to the original audio descriptions created by our describers. Any edits you’ve saved will process quickly and will automatically propagate to all output formats – and there’s no extra charge!

3Play Account System Edit Screen

Help With Publishing

A big difficulty with audio description is that most video players and platforms don’t support it. In the case that they do, the only ways to publish audio description are to add a second video asset with description burned into the audio track or to use a secondary audio track that contains both the description and the original audio. You’ll also want to consider whether you want to obtain controls that let the user turn the description track on and off or adjust the volume. When selecting an audio description vendor, it would be wise to consider whether or not the vendor offers assistance for publishing.

Multiple Output Formats

One way to alleviate technical difficulties is to offer access to multiple different output formats to accommodate varying technology. These formats include WebVTT, MP3, WAV, or MP4. Being that most popular video players and platforms do not support WebVTT description tracks or secondary audio tracks, we offer another simple alternative.

Audio Description Plugin

We’ve developed an audio description plugin to mitigate this issue for our customers. The plugin is a simple embed that references your video and plays the secondary audio description track along with your video, making it a great option for video players that don’t support audio description in a usable way.


When choosing an audio description vendor it is crucial to select one that will provide high-quality descriptions. This is necessary in order to make sure that your content will be both accessible and enjoyable for your viewers. The DCMP description key and general guidelines for how to describe outline several key elements for creating high-quality description. These guidelines should be considered when looking for a vendor.

Quality Description Must Be:

  • Accurate: there must not be any errors in word choice, pronunciation, diction, or enunciation.
  • Prioritized: content essential to the comprehension and enjoyment is of the utmost importance. The description should portray only what is physically observable, rather than motivations or intentions, and should complement the original content.
  • Consistent: the content, as well as the voicing, should match the style, tone, and pace of the program. Patterns should be used for things such as announcing on-screen text and introducing new people.
  • Appropriate: keep the intended audience in mind, be neutral, simple, and succinct.
  • Equal: equal access requires that the meaning and intention of the program must be conveyed. This also means that the describer should not inject their personal interpretations or opinions.


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This post was originally published on August 8th, 2017 by Elisa Edelberg under the title “How to Select an Audio Description Vendor.” It has since been updated.

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