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HHS Guidance for Audio Description (AD)

What is Audio Description?

Audio description (AD) is narration that has been added to a video to make visual content accessible to individuals who are blind or have other visual disabilities. In general, AD captures significant actions and text-based information provided onscreen.

Do all videos need AD?

No, if there is nothing onscreen that is vital to the understanding of the video, or if everything on screen that is informational is included in the narration, then there is no need for AD.

How Can I tell if AD is needed on my Video?

Perform the following test:

  1. Watch your video all the way through and make notes of any important visual content that may be missed by a person who is blind.
  2. Minimize the screen or turn off your monitor and replay the video
  3. Determine if anything noted in step 1 is indeed missed, if so, then your video needs audio description.

Common examples of videos that fail:

  • An interview where questions appear on screen with text but are not narrated, the interviewee goes right into the answer (Blind users do not know what the questions you are answering)
    Screen shot of the following text on a video "What do you want to be?''
  • At the end of the video, the narrator says “Go to our website or visit us on social media” and a screen with the URL and social media information, such as twitter handle, appears (Blind users will not know how to get to the website or social media sites)
    Screen shot of the following text on a video "Take your HRA Today. www.FOH.hhs.gov/HRA

Common things to watch out for:

  • Be sure to evaluate the beginning and end of the video, this is where most videos contain textual information
  • Be sure to evaluate all on screen text including that which identifies speakers (John Doe, President of ACME Motors)
  • Be sure to evaluate content after phrases like “As we see here….”
  • Be sure to evaluate videos with long sequences of events that have no narration

Can I put AD in the Captions?

No, captions are for the hearing impaired only. Blind users do not use captions.

Do you have any examples of videos with suitable audio descriptions?

Is AD covered in Section 508?

Yes, here are the applicable Section 508 standards:

  • 1194.22 (b) Equivalent alternatives for any multimedia presentation shall be synchronized with the presentation.
  • 1194.24 (d) All training and informational video and multimedia productions which support the agency’s mission, regardless of format, that contain visual information necessary for the comprehension of the content, shall be audio described.
  • 1194.31 (a) At least one mode of operation and information retrieval that does not require user vision shall be provided, or support for assistive technology used by people who are blind or visually impaired shall be provided.

It is also covered in WCAG 2.0 which is in the 508 refresh:

WCAG 2.0 1.2.5 Audio Description (Prerecorded): Audio description is provided for all prerecorded video content in synchronized media. (Level AA)

How can I plan my Video so it does not need AD?

The key is scripting the entire video including narration, dialogue, action sequences and on screen text. Analyze the script and identify any areas that would require sight to understand and then adjust the narration or dialogue.

For example, if an initial draft of the script has a speaker identified with on screen text only “John Doe, President of ACME Motors,” adjust the dialogue so this is initially announced… “Hi, I’m John Doe, President of ACME Motors.”

Guidance if your Video does need AD:

Decide on how to implement

Acceptable techniques stated in WCAG 2.0 are as follows:

  • General Technique #78 - Providing a second, user-selectable, audio track that includes audio descriptions
  • General Technique #173 - Providing a version of a movie with audio descriptions
  • General Technique #203 - G203: Using a static text alternative to describe a talking head video (Note – This only applies if there is a single speaker, if multiple speakers are included in the video this may NOT be used)

If implementing 2 versions

  • Put the link to the Audio Described version of the video adjacent to the original version of the video
  • Indicate in the link text that the version is audio described and the title of the video, for example “Audio Described Version of HHS Reimagined”

Additional Resources:

Content created by Digital Communications Division (DCD)
Content last reviewed on February 8, 2018