Monday, November 23, 2009

What’s Audio Description?

Audio description allows people who are blind or have low vision to enjoy equal access to cultural events such as live performances, film, or television, providing individuals with descriptive information about visual elements during pauses in dialogue or narration.  Information is transmitted to listeners through a wireless earpiece, allowing people with visual impairments to sit anywhere in the audience during live performances.
Audio description is a means of communicating the most essential information about significant visual elements such as actions, body language, costumes, and settings.  Bill Patterson, owner of Audio Description Solutions and a founding member of the Audio Description Coalition, explains audio description as “being the eyes of the audience.  So much of our world comes to us through visual information.”  The audio describer’s role is to describe what he or she sees without interpretation or explanation.  For instance, rather than describing a character as “angry,” the audio describer would say, “Sarah clenches her fists.”  This allows listeners to draw their own conclusions. 

Audio describers come from a variety of backgrounds and participate in extensive training and coaching.  Qualities that make a good audio describer include strong verbal skills, a pleasant voice, and the ability to process information quickly.  Ermyn King, Manager of the PA Cultural Access Project at VSA arts of Pennsylvania, says, “It’s exhilarating to do audio description.  It requires the integrated application of so many principles, and when you do it well, the difference that it makes is indispensable to the listener.”
For more information about audio description, visit the Audio Description Coalition’s website at

-Jennifer Oglesbee


  1. Great post on an accessibility feature that more folks need to embrace. We've just launched a campaign called "Listening is Learning" that includes a great deal of information about audio description and promotes its use as an educational tool for students with (and without) visual impairments. Learn more at the Listening is Learning website.

  2. Thom, thanks for sharing this great resource and for your comments. Stay tuned for Jennifer's follow up to this post where she shares her observation of AD in action!