Standards and Requirements for Quality Audio Description

March 3, 2017 BY ELISA LEWIS
Updated: February 2, 2021

Audio description (also referred to as “description” or “video description”) is defined as “the verbal depiction of key visual elements in media and live productions.” Audio description provides information on visual content considered essential to the comprehension of the program, in the same way that captioning provides information on essential audio content for Deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

Legal Requirements for Audio Description

In the US, audio description falls under many of the same accessibility laws that require closed captioning for video. This includes the 21st Century Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Section 504 and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Additionally, WCAG 2.0, the international standard for web accessibility, requires audio description under guideline 1.2 for time-based media. Most web accessibility experts recommend aiming for WCAG 2.0 Level AA compliance, which requires audio description be provided for all prerecorded video content in synchronized media. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) lists several sufficient techniques for adding description to audio-visual material. All of these methods are reliable ways to meet the WCAG Success Criterion.

What To Describe

Although what to describe may seem obvious, there are several things to keep in mind when describing. It’s important to only describe the seen, and not the unseen, such as motivations or intentions. The job of the describer is to describe what is physically observable, not to provide the listener with personal assumptions or conclusions.

When describing, it may be helpful to consider a circumstance where audio description might be used, such as a video being described for use in a college course. It can be assumed that the students in the course will be tested on the information contained in this video. In order to keep things fair, all of the students should be provided with the same information. This exercise can be helpful in remembering to describe the crucial information for understanding and comprehension, but not giving excessive information, such as explaining personal interpretations and opinions.

Quality Description

With technology rapidly advancing, it is becoming even more important to ensure accessible content in entertainment, as well as education. While audio description was originally developed for people who are blind or low vision, the description’s concise and objective translation of visual content proves to be beneficial for a much broader audience. Audio description promotes a new way of learning through auditory means and can help individuals on the autism spectrum who may have difficulty recognizing emotional cues, who are learning English as a second language, or who have other learning difficulties. The DCMP description key and general guidelines for how to describe outline several key elements and audio description standards for creating high quality description.

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. 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.


3Play Media is excited to offer audio description! Get started today.

Get Started CTA

3Play Media logo

Subscribe to the Blog Digest

Sign up to receive our blog digest and other information on this topic. You can unsubscribe anytime.

By subscribing you agree to our privacy policy.