A Place for Learning About Audio Description

You want to know about it? We want to teach it here.

Key Terms: What are the specialized terms scholars use when we discuss Audio Description?

Interdisciplinary researchers studying Audio Description have chosen a particular vocabulary to describe what they do and how they do it. Here are some of the most-common (yet most-opaque) terms in the field: 

If we are going to focus on this research topic, then we should define it well. Here are various academic definitions:

  • "a description of visual information delivered via an audio channel ... it can be said that whereas subtitles improve media accessibility by letting audiences read what they cannot hear, audio description lets audiences hear an account of what they cannot see"
    – Salway, A. (2007). A corpus-based analysis of audio description. In Cintas, J.D., Orero, P., & Remael, A. (Eds.), Media for all: Subtitling for the deaf, audio description and sign language (pp. 151–174). New York, NY: Rodolphi. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1163/9789401209564_012

  • "can refer to both product and process"
    – Szarkowska, Agnieska (2011). “Text-to-speech audio description: Towards wider availability of AD.” The Journal of Specialised Translation 15, 142-162. URL: https://www.jostrans.org/issue15/art_szarkowska.pdf

  • "a creative writing modality to make audiovisual content accessible for all"
    – Matamala, A., & Orero, P. (2013). Standardising audio description. Italian Journal of Special Education for Inclusion, 1(1), 149-155. URL: https://ojs.pensamultimedia.it/index.php/sipes/article/view/328

  • "Traditional AD is typified by five characteristics: it is exclusive; neutral; non-auteur; third-party and post hoc."
    – Fryer, L. (2018). The independent audio describer is dead: Long live audio description!. Journal of Audiovisual Translation, 1(1), 170-186. URL: http://www.jatjournal.org/index.php/jat/article/view/52

  • "It’s an artistic process that needs to be interrogated.”
    – Cavallo, A., & Fryer, L. (2018). Integrated access inquiry 2017-18 report. URL: https://iris.ucl.ac.uk/iris/publication/1582552/1

Audio Description researchers to date have spent most of their time focused on what Sabine Braun (2007) called "dynamic" description, or description related to ephemeral or moving imagery, such as what is produced for television programs, films, theatrical performances, and opera. 

The origins of American Audio Description research appeared in the 1970s, around the West Coast-focus of Gregory Frazier on television and film description. In the 1980s, inspired by Frazier's work, the East Coast-focus emerged around live events, such as theater and opera, led by Margaret Pfanstiehl and her organization The Washington Ear.

The UniDescription Project can be useful for those purposes, based on transcendent practices across all genres of Audio Description, but its focus primarily is on what we call "static" media description, or description of visual media that is fixed in a certain temporal state, such as photographs, illustrations, and maps.

Fryer (2018) identifies five core characteristics of traditional Audio Description: It is exclusive;  neutral;  non-auteur;  third-party; and post-hoc. She also notes how tradition and practice are changing and creating new research tensions that need to be addressed, such as: 

1. Exclusive: Traditional Audio Description is exclusive in that it transmits to lone audience member, usually via headphones. This practice separates individuals from groups, even if the group (or subgroup) of people all are using the same Audio Description. The philosophies of Universal Design, though, push back against that idea, demanding better design, in which Audio Description listeners are integrated into the audience experience, not treated separately as an accommodation.

2. Neutral: Traditional AD prescribes a "neutral" approach to word choice and delivery. Others call that just dull, as in uninspired and uncaring. This is an area where many researchers, especially in Europe (but also within the UniD team) hypothesize that Audio Description as a medium has untapped potential in both artistry and delivery (which was the inspiration of our 2020 National Endowment for the Arts grant). 

3. Non-Auteur: Traditional AD is done independently of the artists creating the original work, which has raised many questions in the research community as to why?

4. Third-Party: Traditional AD also typically has been done by outsiders of even the field being shown, creating questions about describer knowledge of the source material as well as description validity and accuracy. 

5. Post-Hoc: Traditional AD is created afterward, at the end of the production process or as a way to retrofit an existing piece of visual media; this approach begs questions about why not integrate this process with the original production of the source material, among the people who know it best?

Fryer, in short, flips all of those traditions around, to challenge and to interrogate them, and to propose that an integrated and more-creative approach could equate to better Audio Description. 


Fryer, L. (2018). The independent audio describer is dead: Long live audio description!. Journal of Audiovisual Translation, 1(1), 170-186.

  • "an interpretation of verbal signs by means of signs of nonverbal sign systems."
    – Jakobson, R. (1959). Linguistic aspects of translation. In R.A. Brower (Ed.), On Translation (pp. 232-239). Cambridge, MA:
    Harvard University Press. URL: https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674731615&content=toc

  • Converting one set of signs (semiotics) into another, such as "turning images into words"
    – Matamala, A., & Orero, P. (2007). Designing a course on audio description and defining the main competences of the future professional. Linguistica Antverpiensia, New Series–Themes in Translation Studies, (6), 329-344. URL: https://lans-tts.uantwerpen.be/index.php/LANS-TTS/article/view/195/126
  • "a 'translation' of visual images into verbal text ... sets AD most distinctly apart from other forms of translation"
    – Braun, S. (2008). Audiodescription research: State of the art and beyond. Translation Studies in the New Millennium, 6, 14-30. URL: http://epubs.surrey.ac.uk/303022/

"a form of vivid evocation"


Webb, R. (1999). Ekphrasis ancient and modern: the invention of a genre. Word & Image15(1), 7-18.

"Hypotyposis is the rhetorical effect by which words succeed in rendering a visual scene."


Braun, S. (2008). Audiodescription research: state of the art and beyond. Translation studies in the new millennium, 6, 14-30.

As an alternative to "translation" or "accommodation" models, remediation theorizes that "new media" invariably achieves cultural significance through a process of remediation, in which the new media pays homage to, or rivals, or refashions earlier forms of media, in an evolutionary process. For example, in purely visual media, photography remediates painting. 

Audio Description, though, is a much more complicated case. Audio Description remediates visual media (such as words remediating a photograph) while also synthesizing a variety of audio-based media forms designed for sharing information and stories, such as radio programs, audio tours, and docent lectures.

Key Statistics: About blindness and visual impairment worldwide

A collection of the most important tallies about these communities, conducted by the most-reliable sources. 

"Blindness and vision impairment affect at least 2.2 billion people around the world. Of those, 1 billion have a preventable vision impairment or one that has yet to be addressed.  Reduced or absent eyesight can have major and long-lasting effects on all aspects of life, including daily personal activities, interacting with the community, school and work opportunities and the ability to access public services.

Reduced eyesight can be caused by a number of factors, including disease like diabetes and trachoma, trauma to the eyes, age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. The majority of people with vision impairment are over the age of 50 years; however, vision loss can affect people of all ages. Blindness and vision loss are felt more acutely by people in low- and middle-income countries where accessibility and specific government services may be lacking. In those countries, the most common cause of vision impairment in children is congenital cataract."

– World Health Organization. (n.d). Blindness and Vision Impairment. https://www.who.int/health-topics/blindness-and-vision-loss#tab=tab_1

"Approximately 12 million people 40 years and over in the United States have vision impairment, including 1 million who are blind, 3 million who have vision impairment after correction, and 8 million who have vision impairment due to uncorrected refractive error."

– The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Fast Facts of Common Eye Disorders. https://www.cdc.gov/visionhealth/basics/ced/fastfacts.htm

"There are several ways to define blindness. Many people regard blindness as the inability to see at all or, at best, to discern light from darkness. The National Federation of the Blind takes a much broader view. We encourage people to consider themselves as blind if their sight is bad enough—even with corrective lenses—that they must use alternative methods to engage in any activity that people with normal vision would do using their eyes."

– National Federation of the Blind. (n.d.). Blindness Statistics. https://www.nfb.org/resources/blindness-statistics

"Statistical Snapshots is your one-stop source for statistical facts, figures, and resources about Americans with vision loss. Relying upon the most recently available data, this regularly updated site is always evolving and should answer your most frequently asked questions."

– American Foundation for the Blind. (n.d). Statistical Snapshots from the American Foundation for the Blindhttps://www.afb.org/research-and-initiatives/statistics

"With the youngest of the baby boomers hitting 65 by 2029, the number of people with visual impairment or blindness in the United States is expected to double to more than 8 million by 2050, according to projections based on the most recent census data and from studies funded by the National Eye Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health. Another 16.4 million Americans are expected to have difficulty seeing due to correctable refractive errors such as myopia (nearsightedness) or hyperopia (farsightedness) that can be fixed with glasses, contacts or surgery."

– Varma, R. et al, “Visual impairment and blindness in adults in the United States: Demographic and Geographic Variations from 2015 to 2050,” JAMA Ophthalmology, https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/visual-impairment-blindness-cases-us-expected-double-2050

"Our data and statistics are free for researchers, policymakers, and members of the media to use and distribute. See how common eye conditions affect the U.S. population by age, gender, and race/ethnicity."

– National Eye Institute. (n.d). Eye Health Data and Statistics. https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/resources-for-health-educators/eye-health-data-and-statistics

"Globally in 2020: At least 2.2 billion people have a vision impairment that may or may not be addressed. Of those, at least 1 billion people have a vision impairment that could have been prevented or has yet to be addressed."

– The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness. (n.d.). Blindness and Visual Impairment: Global Facts. https://www.iapb.org/vision-2020/who-facts/

"There are estimated to be over 30 million blind and partially sighted persons in geographical Europe."

– European Blind Union. (n.d). About Blindness and Partial Sight. http://www.euroblind.org/about-blindness-and-partial-sight/facts-and-figures

Theoretical Models of Disability: How do scholars conceptualize Audio Description?

One way to better understand Audio Description is to reflect upon how we are conceptualizing it in a relationship to a model of disability that has been theorized. These theories can be used in many ways, including to frame our perceptions. Once we choose that theoretical frame – and commit to its use – we can benefit from its powers as a device to develop deeper thoughts, including to describe positions, perspectives, and boundaries. Or, if none of these theoretical frames are working well enough for our particular purposes, we can use them as theoretical foils and create our own distinct theory, especially through contrasts to these established paradigms.

"For most of the twentieth century in ‘Western’ societies, disability has been equated with ‘flawed’ minds and bodies. It spans people who are ‘crippled’, ‘confined’ to wheelchairs, ‘victims’ of conditions such as cerebral palsy, or ‘suffering’ from deafness, blindness, ‘mental illness’ or ‘mental handicap’. The individual’s impairment or ‘abnormality’ necessitates dependence on family, friends and welfare services, with many segregated in specialized institutions. In short, disability amounts to a ‘personal tragedy’ and a social problem or ‘burden’ for the rest of society."

– Barnes, C., & Mercer, G. (2003). Disability. Polity. http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/content/bpl_images/content_store/sample_chapter/0745625088/Barnes.pdf

"In many countries of the world, disabled people and their allies have organised over the last three decades to challenge the historical oppression and exclusion of disabled people (Driedger, 1989; Campbell and Oliver, 1996; Charlton, 1998). Key to these struggles has been the challenge to over-medicalised and individualist accounts of disability. While the problems of disabled people have been explained historically in terms of divine punishment, karma or moral failing, and post-Enlightenment in terms of biological deficit, the disability movement has focused attention onto social oppression, cultural discourse and environmental barriers."

– Shakespeare, T. (2010). The social model of disability.  In L.J. Davis (Ed.), The Disability Studies Reader (2nd Ed., pp. 197-204). New York: Routledge. http://thedigitalcommons.org/docs/shakespeare_social-model-of-disability.pdf

"The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is a modern human rights treaty with innovative components. It impacts on disability studies as well as human rights law. Two innovations are scrutinized in this article: the model of disability and the equality and discrimination concepts of the CRPD. It is argued that the CRPD manifests a shift from the medical model to the human rights model of disability. Six propositions are offered why and how the human rights model differs from the social model of disability. It is further maintained that the CRPD introduces a new definition of discrimination into international public law. The underlying equality concept can be categorized as transformative equality with both individual and group-oriented components. The applied methodology of this research is legal doctrinal analysis and disability studies model analysis. The main finding is that the human rights model of disability improves the social model of disability. Three different models of disability can be attributed to different concepts of equality. The medical model corresponds with formal equality, while the social model with substantive equality and the human rights model can be linked with transformative equality."

– Degener, T. (2016). Disability in a human rights context. Laws5(3), 35. URL: https://www.mdpi.com/2075-471X/5/3/35

"The economic model of disability approaches disability from the viewpoint of economic analysis, focusing on ‘the various disabling effects of an impairment on a person’s capabilities, and in particular on labour and employment capabilities’ (Armstrong, Noble & Rosenbaum 2006:151, original emphasis). While the economic model insists on the importance of ‘respect, accommodations, and civil rights to people with disabilities’, such concerns are subservient to the economic model’s estimation of a disabled person’s ability to work and contribute to the economy (Smart 2004:37)."

– Retief, M., & Letšosa, R. (2018). Models of disability: A brief overview. HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies74(1). https://www.ajol.info/index.php/hts/article/view/177914

"This article attempts to explain why the social constructionist paradigm has failed to replace the medical model in American disability theory. The social movement led by American disability activists attempted to reframe the definition of disability using a minority group model based on the social constructionist paradigm. This paper argues that the disability movement was unable to successfully advance the social constructionist paradigm because the activists accepted the Americans With Disabilities Act (1990) despite its ideological basis in the medical model of disability, and the social constructionist theory does not adequately account for the importance of structural constraints to redefinition."

– Donoghue, C. (2003). Challenging the authority of the medical definition of disability: An analysis of the resistance to the social constructionist paradigm. Disability & Society18(2), 199-208. https://digitalcommons.montclair.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=sociology-facpubs

"What I argue in this article is that an exclusively special needs approach to disability is inevitably a short-run approach. What we need are more universal policies that recognize that the entire population is “at risk” for the concomitants of chronic illness and disability. As the following pages will show, without such a perspective we will further create and perpetuate a segregated, separate but unequal society—a society inappropriate to a larger and older “changing needs” population."

– Zola, I. K. (2005). Toward the Necessary Universalizing of a Disability Policy. The Milbank Quarterly, 83(4). https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0009.2005.00436.x

"Our understanding of disability is based on the Nordic Relational Model of Disability (NRM), which has been guiding policy and practice for disabled people in Norway for approximately 40 years. According to the NRM, disability comes into existence when there is a discrepancy between the person’s capabilities and the functional demands of the environment (Tøssebro 2004). The relational understanding of disability indicates that this is not a fixed category but rather a phenomenon constructed in space and time, thus leaving a relative interactionist perspective (Gustavsson 2004). Gustavsson refers to Morten Söder: ‘It is impossible to understand the processes producing disability, and consequently exclusion and discrimination, without studying the interaction between the individual and the context.’ (Söder, in Gustavsson 2004:63). The NRM thus gives the opportunity to a multi-level approach guided by an empirical sensitivity to what is going on (Gustavsson 2004). To our understanding, the interactional perspective of the NRM is mirrored in current international policy documents (UN 2006), and has much in common with the social-relational model of disability as well, as both include both environmental and impairment factors. However, as we interpret it, the disabling elements of the social-relational are recognised as external barriers and oppression; this is in contrast to the NRM perspective that focuses on interaction (Shakespeare 2014)."

– Langørgen, E., & Magnus, E. (2018). ‘We are just ordinary people working hard to reach our goals!’ Disabled students’ participation in Norwegian higher education. Disability & Society33(4), 598-617. URL: https://ntnuopen.ntnu.no/ntnu-xmlui/bitstream/handle/11250/2487117/Artikkel%2B1_Disability%2Band%2BSociety_jan18.pdf?sequence=1

"Over the last decade Amartya Senís Capability Approach (CA) has emerged as the leading alternative to standard economic frameworks for thinking about poverty, inequality and human development generally. In countless articles and several books that tackle a range of economic, social and ethical questions (beginning with the Tanner Lecture ëEquality of What?í delivered at Stanford University in 1979), Professor Sen has developed, refined and defended a framework that is directly concerned with human capability and freedom (e.g. Sen, 1980; 1984; 1985; 1987; 1992; 1999)."

– Clark, D.A. (2006). The Capability Approach. The Elgar Companion to Development Studies, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

"Disability is defined as a deprivation in terms of functioning and/or capability among persons with health conditions and/or impairments. The human development model highlights in relation to wellbeing the roles of resources, conversion functions, agency, and it uses capabilities and/or functionings as metric for wellbeing. It does not consider impairments/health conditions as individual characteristics; instead, they are themselves determined by resources, structural factors, and personal characteristics, and thus the model is informed by the socioeconomic determinants of health literature."

– Mitra S. (2018) Disability, Health and Human Development. Palgrave Pivot, New York. https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1057%2F978-1-137-53638-9.pdf

Research Questions: What are RQs in Audio Description we have (and haven't) addressed?

Audio Description is a relatively new field of academic inquiry. It formally was started in the 1970s in the United States (by Gregory T. Frazier of San Francisco State University). But it only has been developed widely by interdisciplinary scholars in the 2000s, mostly by Audiovisual Translation (AVT) scholars in Western Europe.

Sometimes an expression is clear and can be efficiently communicated, but often, the ambiguity in the expression leads to individual interpretation. If the expression is open for interpretation, and interpretation is a part of the meaning-making process of viewing the image, then that activity also should be extended and afforded to the Audio Description listener. Other times, though, a person "smiles" is all that needs to be said to get the point of the visual image across. 

Facial expressions are a complicated and well-studied area of human communication. We still need to know more through empirical testing about how much of this type of description is enough in Audio Description studies, along the lines of Leung's research below. At this point, our recommendation is to focus on general and commonly recognized expressions, such as saying a person is smiling to indicate happiness, or frowning to indicate sadness, rather than getting too technical with facial muscle descriptions that might not be understood without detailed explanation.

But to be more technical about it, starting with Darwin and developed by others, such as Hjortsjo, and then Ekman, Friesen, et al, the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) has been used by many researchers to isolate and identify expressions and the intent behind them. So that could be an avenue for further research.

This is a complicated question with a simple answer: It depends. The quality of the description and the importance of the information to the listener will dictate how long the connection between the two can be maintained. Listeners will have physical constraints, such as how long they are willing to stay in place to listen, and mental constraints, with complex and lengthy descriptions creating a potential for cognitive overload. 

According to Art Beyond Sight's Verbal Description guidelines (full guidelines linked), audio tour companies aim for 90 seconds to two minutes, per stop. But those are guidelines were generated from private research studies (so we can't investigate the data), and they are studying people with sight who are using audio as a supplement to visual information, rather than as the primary channel. So this dynamic, we think, could be significantly different for people who are blind or low-vision. More research is needed, in other words. 

As a heuristic, though, two minutes is a helpful flag for describers and designers. We have anecdotally found that our listeners like to be able to navigate around the content, to find the most interesting, or the most useful, and to dive into that section rather than listen to lengthy components that mix different themes. So at the two-minute mark, and especially if the descriptions are double that, or longer, we would ask ourselves as describers, is there a way that this information could be broken down into smaller segments? 

In that vein, the UniD system is designed to allow describers great flexibility in how the description is structured.

This needs more empirical research, but we have adopted and adapted Art Beyond Sight's Verbal Description guidelines (full guidelines linked), which argue for the following, in this order:

First, the basic information, including the title of the work, the artist’s name, the medium, maybe the year it was done, maybe where it can be seen.

Then, describe the artifact as an object of observation (what does it look like as an image), including its shape, dimensions, and point of view.

Then, describe the content of the image. Who is doing what to whom, when and where and why and how?

In what order should that information be presented? This is a matter of significant debate.

Marza Ibanez (2010, p. 147) suggests the content unspools in this order for dynamic AD (we are not aware of ordering studies in static AD, so we think ordering needs more research):

1. The spatio-temporal setting is recognized first, in the Where: The setting, and also the spatial relationships between characters. In other words, set the scene, and the When: When is this visual happening (during a specific event, sometime in history, during an unarticulated time in the recent past?)

2. Who: Who are the characters in the scene? What do they look like? What facial and corporeal expressions are they making? What types of clothing are they wearing? 

3. What: What action is happening here. What are these people doing, and why?

4. How: How are they carrying this out; with what sort of intentionality and attitudes.


Marzà Ibáñez, A. (2010). Evaluation criteria and film narrative. A frame to teaching relevance in audio description. Perspectives: Studies in Translatology18(3), 143-153.

Learn About Audio Description Production: How to Set Up a Brochure Project

This is the basic process for setting up a Unid project to audio describe a printed brochure.

To audio describe a brochure – like the ubiquitous Unigrid brochures at most U.S. National Park Service sites – the first step is to get a physical copy of the artifact (the brochure), to examine it carefully, and to start to deconstruct its contents as the source material for its eventual audio remediation. Make sure you have the most up-to-date version, including the digital versions of the texts (to ensure exact replication of those texts). Think about why the designer chose this particular imagery and put it in these particular places. In other words, look carefully at the brochure and think about what the designer of the brochure wanted to communicate to the site visitor and for what purposes. That's the same basic effect you want to create with the Audio Description of the brochure's components, only with a specific aim at people who are blind, visually impaired, print dyslexic, or audio-oriented learners. 

This is a design process and not a rigid transcription-only process. So there are many design choices that the audio describer will have to make, which might be made differently by a different designer. That's OK. It's not really any different procedurally than the design choices made by the designers of the original brochure. Someone had to choose what to say and how to say it. The primary difference in this context is that Audio Description is a visual-to-audible remediation of the brochure content, and the brochure content originally was filtered from a much larger set of source materials. 

As a metaphor, think of the brochure as a distillation of everything that could possibly be communicated about the site, and the Audio Description is a further filtration process, only with as little informational loss as possible. 

With Audio Description, the source material strictly is the brochure (not the vast original set of source materials that the brochure designer considered and discarded). With that brochure as the sole source material, the audio describer's role is to reimagine that brochure, as is, only as being heard not seen. The job of the audio describer is not to remake the brochure. The job is to make the existing brochure more accessible, especially to people who are blind or visually impaired.

This online training session will address some of the potential design choices that must be made. 

For this training, we will use the Lincoln Boyhood Home brochure as the model.

Here is its Side 1:

And here is its Side 2:

I have this paper brochure in my hand. And if you have yours (the one you want to describe) as well, you are ready to move to Step 2.

This step focuses on the deconstruction of the brochure into describable components. Now that you have the brochure in hand, including its digital versions, and can look carefully at how it is designed, you can begin to make design decisions necessary to turn this piece of paper into an audible experience. What we are doing in this step is deciding what parts get described together, in the same audio-file component, and what parts get described separately. 

First important point: Any decision you make now in UniD always can be changed later (and fairly easily) in our system. You might, at first glance, for example, think the descriptions of Lincoln's parents should be combined into a single component:

But then later, you think, those really should be described separately in separate components, for whatever reason. In the UniD system (per other training modules on this site, about how to use the Frontstage tools), such combinations or separations are easy to make. Your structure likely will change and evolve as you write your descriptions and get more deeply familiar with the content. Depending on what you say about Lincoln's parents in one component, for example, will affect what you describe in another. So my recommendation for the setup is to make decisions that you think are best but also be prepared to update those decisions as you go.

Second important point: A reason a physical brochure is helpful is because it helps to simulate the experience of the user. As the audio describer, you can hold the brochure, as it is folded, and flip it over, and unfold it into sections to allow those folds to also help guide your decisions. 

A few more examples:

On this cover of the Lincoln Boyhood Home, what first appears to be just one element to describe (the main photograph) actually is six distinct elements that need to be either combined or separated.

Here is what I see on the page:

1. The black bar. This is a distinctive design element of NPS brochures using the Unigrid style. They all have this black bar, and that's not just negative space. It signals to the viewer that this is a NPS-branded document. It can be described as a visual element, either alone or as a container for other parts listed below in 2-4. The designer needs to decide should it stand alone as a component or be described with 2, 3, or 4 below (and maybe even 5 and 6), or all of the above.

2. The NPS Arrowhead. One of the most well-known logos in U.S. history, this arrowhead also is part of the branding, communicating to the viewer that this document has the NPS stamp of approval on it. Look closely at the logo and its elements, which represent the scope of the NPS. 

3. and 4. This is standard branding text, in the same Helvetica typeface used in all Unigrid brochures. Our recommendation always is to transcribe all text on the brochure, so the listener can hear everything that was written on the brochure. That text then is part of the description, but a designer also could choose to go a step further, and, for example, describe the typeface in more depth.

As in, according to the NPS, Helvetica was chosen for this design because:

"it has crisp, clean details and typographic texture that make it esthetically appealing and easy to read. It has a clearly defined hierarchy of sizes and weights with known typographic results and thus is compatible with such special applications as maps and tabular material found in NPS folders. Park names, set in Helvetica display in the title bar, establish the folder's typographic scale and serve as a logotype for the series.

Helvetica is particularly suited to the offset process used for printing NPS folders because of its line strength, consistent color, a lack of idiosyncrasies, and large x-height. Helvetica's large x-height, the height of lower case letters, such as the x, strengthens the word form and therefore the text's legibility. Helvetica is one of the few typefaces with this large x-height that is also neutral in style.

This type is available in a wide range of sizes and weights in both metal and film composition. It serves large display and small caption purposes without loss of character. Helvetica, when used as specified, promises legibility, a savings in time and money in the design process, and a consistent typographic appearance for the series."

My point in including all of that description about the typeface is that even the smallest details in a brochure are important, deeply considered and articulated by the designer, and have meaning to the audience, even if that meaning is not consciously understood. At the bare minimum, though, the listener should be able to hear all of the included text on the brochure.

5. A quote. Sometimes, these quotes are connected explicitly to another component. And sometimes they are not. In this case, the quote refers to Lincoln's boyhood home, but that original home cannot be seen in the underlying image, of the Memorial Visitor Center, creating something of a visual disconnect. So the audio describer has to decide: Is this quote explicitly associated with this particular image (creating a connection that needs to be described together, in a single component), or does this quote transcend its placement on the page, to cover more than just this other element (and should therefore be described separately, in its own component, standing alone)? Again, either way is "right." But when your audio design comes together, you might decide that the quote works better alone or with this photo, and adjustments can be made. 

6. The main image. This shows the front of the Memorial Visitor Center, not the boyhood home, which is not explained until deep into the text on the front side of the brochure. So this is where the Audio Description actually will reorder the content, to some degree, as a part of the remediation, and people listening to the description of the Memorial Visitor Center would hear about it sooner than a reader would see its description in the brochure text. That's also OK. 

7. Sometimes tiny bits of text can go undetected, but those texts might, as in this case, credit the creator of the image. That is an element that was included in the visual version, so it also should be included in the audible version.

The goal is to design an equivalent experience, not an identical experience. Again, your design choices might not match someone else, but you have been given this job to describe the brochure. So you get to make the artistic choices. Your listeners trust that you will make the best choices you can for them.

Let's next deconstruct the rest of the Lincoln brochure's Side 1. Take a look at it, again, and think about what you see:

Here is how I see the rest of it:

(Numbers 1-7 are described in the previous step)

8., 9., and 10. These two quotes – apparently by Lincoln but not attributed as such – have been put together at the top of this stack of texts. Are they related enough, in your opinion, to include together, and maybe with the text block 10? That's a choice you'll have to make. The most important part is that all text on the brochure is transcribed into the UniD system (copy and paste from your original document, rather than retype). The first major part of the Audio Description process is to transcribe all of the included text. The second part, which is more fun, is to describe all of the included visual media. And then there are outliers, like the cream-colored box in the background.

11. Back to the portraits of Lincoln's parents. It makes sense to me to keep them together in a single component, labeled something like "Lincoln's parents," rather than splitting them into two separate components, such as "Thomas Lincoln portrait" and "Sarah Bush Lincoln portrait," but I also could argue for making them independent and giving them their own space and place in the descriptions. Up to you. When faced with portraits, this would be a good time to refer to our online training module related to portraits.

12. and 17. These are two more Lincoln quotes, presumably, interjected into the texts as thought breaks. Is that placement in those particular texts important? Or do you get an equivalent experience when they are broken out, into separate components? If broken out, I would add text that associates them explicitly as having been said by Lincoln.

13.  This is a distinct text box, but it doesn't have a bold-faced intro text of any sort, so it blends into the previous piece of text and the quote above. As the audio describer, you can decide whether to combine with the above or separate.

14. This text block has its own bold intro, "A New Household," which helps to distinguish it as a component, but there also is the pesky 17 in the middle of it. What to do?

15. and 16. I typically include the three elements of a photograph package as such: A. The image (which still needs to be described), B. The caption (which needs to be transcribed), and C., the credit (which needs to be transcribed). All of those are present here, so they make a nice package of information together. Whether this image package is connected to other elements, such as the 17 quote, is another matter and subjective.

17. (See 12, 15 and 16, above).

18. This text has a clearly distinguished part, "Moving On," but also a tone switch at "The park preserves ...," so the describer could decide to keep those together or break them apart into distinct components.

19. A collage. With the images overlapping and clustered together, I would consider this a collage, rather than three distinct images, and keep them together in a single component. Others may have a differing opinion. 

20. and 21. This is a classic photo-text package, like 15 and 16 above, but with a text that clearly is associated with the image. In this case, I would include it all (headline, text, photo, caption, and credit) in the same component.

Now that you're getting the hang of this, you can flip the brochure over to the second side.

It looks like this:

Here is how I see it:

22. Another black bar, with text (not just the name of the park again). So needs at least the transcription of the text.

23. A text block with a clear headline, "Living Historical Farm," which indicates it should be a component. The tricky part of this design is that any of the three photographs in this gray box (should the gray box be described?) could be associated with this text. But is the connection strong enough to put them together in the same component? That is the question.

24. This "Crop Area" text seems distinct enough, and without any other clear connections to nearby media that it is a pretty straightforward TEXT box component.

25. and 26. Per 23 above, these photos could be associated with the entry text on the page or be described separately. Or the two in 25 could be described together (they share a cutline, which could be tricky to separate) and 26 could be a separate component. I think I would put 23, 25 and 26 all together in a single component, because they tell basically the same part of the story and work well together. Whatever way the describer goes, though, these picture packages all have captions and credits to include as well.

27. and 28. A lot of NPS brochures have this catch-all part, with a bunch of short texts conveying distinct messages. In these cases, I try to find any connections that can be made with other elements to build more an audio structure around an idea. For example, the "Pioneer Cemetery" text looks like it relates to 28 and its marble headstone, although that's not exactly clear when reading the text. So I would check with park staff to make sure that headstone is in the Pioneer Cemetery. If so, those would go well together, and that is an example of a photo-text package that can be created in audio that doesn't necessarily exist in the same way visually. 

29. There is a mention of the Memorial Visitor Center under "Things to See and Do," so I would either connect this image with that text in the Audio Description, or I would keep them in separate components (but I would lean toward combining them).

30. This accessibility text is very important to people listening to Audio Description, and this is one place where we have been authorized to add new information to the brochure. If this site has anything else specifically designed for people who are blind or visually impaired, such as tactile artifacts, touchable maps, an audio-described film, etc., this would be a good place to highlight those offerings in a separate component.

31. We also recommend breaking mobilization information into a separate component that is easy to find. You don't want people to get frustrated with buried text that answers common questions, such as "What's the site's phone number?" Boilerplate, such as the "390 parks" info, also can be attached to mobilization information.

32. We have done a significant amount of research on describing maps and have an online training module set up just for this issue. In short, though, the describer first has to determine what the purpose of the map is. In this case, it's a high-level overview of the highway system around the park. It would be used for drivers, I suppose, to get to Lincoln City, and then the more detailed map at 33 would do the rest of the navigation assistance. I think the "Getting Here" text at the top of 27 would nicely pair with this map, so I probably would include that text with this map.

33. For a more complicated map, like this one, I would refer to the academic paper we wrote about maps to help set some expectations. But this one also has a reasonable amount of information on it, all of which can be described, and all of which should be included in the description. This map, more than 32, tells the story of the place, including its boundaries, trails, and highlights. So I would approach it as a visitor might: With a grand overview of the setting (its roughly rectangular shape, stretching mostly north and south, with a railway line roughly intersecting it around the middle, and its relationship to downtown Lincoln City, and such). A visitor (who is the primary audience for the brochure; the brochure was not designed for a staff member) might wonder where does this place begin? To that, I would start by describing what appears to be the landing point, the parking lot, near the rail line, and then unwind the story from there, as in, just to the north is the Cabin Site Memorial and a series of trails, which then could be described in more details. Directly to the south is the Memorial Visitor Center, and this is an example of how even a single map could be broken into multiple components, with a map overview as one component, and trails as another component, and the visitor center area, with the Pioneer Cemetery, as another component, and so on. A map tells the story of the place, and so should the audio describer of that map.

Once you have carefully looked over your source material (in this case, a brochure) and decided on a coherent description plan (what is going to be described together and what is going to be described separately, and in what order, per Steps 1-4 in this Setting Up a Brochure Project training), you are ready to Create a New Project.

To do this, from any UniD page (www.unidescription.org), you simply can open the drop-down Projects menu on the top navigation bar and select the Create New Project option:

Then, you will be asked if you want to use a predesigned Template, or not. If you choose to not use a Template (by choosing No Template), the Table of Contents on your new project will start with nothing in it, and you can build from scratch. If you chose to use a Template but then later decide not to use its parts, all of those templated decisions (such as the language used by the machine voice) can be changed within your project. 

The Project Name will be seen by the public, and it will be the top label on your descriptions however you export them. So think of this name as the label under which people will find your descriptions (this can be changed later, if you want). In this case, since we are working with a U.S. National Park Service site, we will select the NPS template and name the project the official name of that site.

When the Save Details button is pressed, this project is created (using the Template you selected), with you as the Owner of the project (that designation can be changed on the Backstage). And your interface changes to the Table of Contents view:

This is the UniD interface for creating and ordering (or reordering) components into a linear listening experience. It's like a playlist, in which the listener starts at the top and then each file is played in order (unless the user decides to skip around). To create a new Component, just type the name of it into the bottom box in the stack (which reads "Enter a new ..." and press the ADD button.

To change this order, at any time, just select the "pancakes" icon of the component you want to move (holding down the left mouse button and dragging the component to the location you want). 

When you get the order the way you want it, at the levels you want, press the SAVE button at the bottom of the Table of Contents, which saves the new order. If you do not press the SAVE button, the components will not disappear, but they will revert to the original order.


You also can use the "pancakes" icon to create a hierarchy among the components, in which some are nested underneath others, as deep as three levels. 

Say, for example, you want to have a 1st-Level Component that described the Back Side of Brochure, and then underneath that, because the back side of the brochure showed several trails, you wanted to have a label called Trails (2nd Level) and then underneath Trails, you wanted to have descriptions of all of the trails in one place (i.e., Trail 1A, Trail 1B, etc.) to keep those orderly and easy to find. 

This nesting function also allows descriptions to be categorized and kept together when moving them around (by grabbing the pancakes icon for Trails, you also are grabbing all of the components nested underneath it). Remember to press the SAVE button to save the order.  

More about the various functionalities of the UniD system, like that, can be found on this UniD Academy page.

Learn About Audio Description Genres: Portraits (Describing People)

You are describing an image of a person. What are the best ways to approach that activity?

We would like to help you better understand certain aspects of Audio Description at the same time that we learn from you about how you approach it. This online training / survey module will present various Audio Description opportunities for you – as well as examples and best practices – while your answers to these survey questions will help us better understand how you learn about the topic.

Learn About Audio Description Genres: Describing Cultural Artifacts (or Objects)

You are describing a cultural artifact (aka a non-personified object). What are the best ways to approach that activity?

We would like to help you better understand certain aspects of Audio Description at the same time that we learn from you about how you approach it. This online training / survey module will present various Audio Description opportunities for you – as well as examples and best practices – while your answers to these survey questions will help us better understand how you learn about the topic.

Learn About Audio Description Genres: Maps

You are describing a map. What are the best ways to approach that activity?

We would like to help you better understand certain aspects of Audio Description at the same time that we learn from you about how you approach it. This online training / survey module will present various Audio Description opportunities for you – as well as examples and best practices – while your answers to these survey questions will help us better understand how you learn about the topic.

Learn About Audio Description Genres: Collages (Images Combined to Make Meaning)

You are describing an amalgamation of images. What are the best ways to approach that activity?

We would like to help you better understand certain aspects of Audio Description at the same time that we learn from you about how you approach it. This online training / survey module will present various Audio Description opportunities for you – as well as examples and best practices – while your answers to these survey questions will help us better understand how you learn about the topic.

UniDescription Tools: How do I use the basic functions and features of UniD?

This section describes how the basic functions and features work.

The UniDescription Project's website (www.unidescription.org) is an open-access and open-source resource for learning about Audio Description. Audio Description is the remediation of visual media into audible media, primarily for the benefit of people who are blind or visually impaired, but this translation process also can be useful for people who are print dyslexic or audio-oriented learners. If you are familiar with Captioning for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, Audio Description is the equivalent process of ensuring accessibility for people who cannot see or see well. To listen to our descriptions, just download our free apps for Android or iOS.

This UniD site offers an array of helpful production tools, which are open-access and open-source. In other words, anyone can create a free account and just start building Audio Description with our easy-to-use interface. Besides online help in using those tools, this site also offers open-access training on Audio Description genres (such as describing portraits or maps) as well as scholarly resources about this field, and helpful project-management tools.

To learn more about the UniD project, this site has seven main informational areas, accessible through the navigation bar at the top of every page. 

Those are:

  • Research: A storehouse for our team's scholarly work on this subject, including academic papers and posters.
  • Impact: A documentation of the real-world impacts of our work, including links to descriptions by place. 
  • Academy: A place to learn more about Audio Description and also how to use this UniD site.
  • Library: A storehouse for laws, industry standards, best practices, and other guiding documents.
  • Descriptathon: An overview of our Descriptathon training process.
  • Backstory: A collection of the stories about us, where we started, and what we've done.
  • and, About: A list of benefactors, team members, and volunteers.

UniD is open-access, meaning it is free to use (supported entirely by grant funds). To create your free account, select the "Register" link in the top navigation bar, at the far right of that bar, or, via a screenreader, at the link list's end on that bar.

The Register and Sign In processes both share this page, but you will only need to register once. Therefore, Sign In is the first set of prompts on the page, and Register is the second set of prompts, just below Sign In. If you are creating your account for the first time, you will need to register through your email. 

To do that, skip over the Sign In section, and add your full name under the Register label. This is your display name when working on the UniD project, so it should be something that you and your potential collaborators easily can recognize.

After entering your display name, there is an input box for your email, followed by an input box for your password. Check your email carefully, because that email will receive automated messages from UniD about the use of your account and projects. The password strength is up to you, but we suggest following typical guidance about the length and diversity of the password characters. Once you are registered and signed in, you can use UniD freely.

Our Privacy Policy describes how we protect your data, but, in short, 

  • We take your data rights seriously.
  • It is your data, now and always. You are sharing it with us. We make no claim to it.
  • By using this site and sharing data, you are making the world a more-accessible place.
  • Making media more accessible to more people, you can do that for as long as you want here; we thank you!
  • We will never sell your data.

If you forget your password, look for the "Forgot Password" link under the "Sign In" button on the Sign In page. The link to the Sign In page is in the upper right-hand corner of this website, in the navigation bar. When you are added to a project, UniD automatically will create an account for you. It sends you an email to help you log in for the first time. So you also might want to look for that email by searching for "unidescription" in your spam folder. If you try to register or sign in, and UniD says you already have an account, you probably were added to a project by a colleague already. All you have to do to get into the project is just select the "Forgot Password" link to recover your account access.

To customize your appearance on UniD, select the "My Account" link in the upper-right corner of the site, in the navigation bar, after you have signed in. The drop-down menu will offer a "Settings" option. Choose that, and then follow the prompts.

After signing in, you can select the "Projects" drop-down menu in the upper-right corner of the screen, in the navigation bar. Then choose the "Create New Project" drop-down menu link.

Open your Project. Select the Backstage tab. Scroll down until you find the Share Project tool. Add the email of your colleague to the box and select the Share button. That will create an account for your colleague, based on the email you provide, and it also will send an email to your colleague to let that person know about the account. If that person cannot find the UniD email, then recheck that the right email was provided (and that the person is checking the right account). Also, the receiver of the email can search for "unidescription" in the spam folder, which also might be where it ended up.

If you are a part of a larger app project (such as the U.S. National Park Service's UniD app), then we will add your project directly into that app when you tell us it's ready. Even if the descriptions are shared via that project app, you also should consider adding them to your own website (via the HTML export). You also might have a patron who wants the Mp3s or Text files directly. That's also fine to share, and our tools allow you to export and share freely. Again, this is your (and your audience's) content. Give it away as liberally as possible. We want as many people to hear it as possible.

When adjusting the machine-voice sounds of your project (how the Mp3s sound, when they are machine-voiced), you have two choices to make about those altered phonetics. No. 1, you can adjust the phonetics component by component on the Frontstage component-level view (Tool Training for that). That choice will only change the way the Mp3 sounds for that single component (it will not alter the exported text, or the sounds of the word in other places in the project). Most people will want to do it that way, for granular precision. But, sometimes, you have a very unusual word in your project, like a street name or a town name, that continually is getting misread by our machine voice. Instead of having to change that word component by component, over and over, you instead can choose to alter its pronunciation in our Global Phonetic Library. WARNING: This will change the pronunciation of that word on everyone's projects in UniD, so please reserve the use of this tool for only words you feel very confident that no one else will want to sound differently.

UniDescription Tools: How do I use the Backstage on UniD?

This section describes how the Backstage works.

This screencast helps to conceptually explain the Backstage view of the UniD tool, as compared to the Frontstage index and the Frontstage component-level views.

This screencast describes how to manage your team on UniD.

If you are a part of a larger app project (such as the U.S. National Park Service's UniD app), then we will add your project directly into that app when you tell us it's ready. Even if the descriptions are shared via that project app, you also should consider adding them to your own website (via the HTML export). You also might have a patron who wants the Mp3s or Text files directly. That's also fine to share, and our tools allow you to export and share freely. Again, this is your (and your audience's) content. Give it away as liberally as possible. We want as many people to hear it as possible.

If you want to keep your key documents and files all together, you can store them with your project file on UniD.

When adjusting the machine-voice sounds of your project (how the Mp3s sound, when they are machine-voiced), you have two choices to make about those altered phonetics. No. 1, you can adjust the phonetics component by component on the Frontstage component-level view (Tool Training for that). That choice will only change the way the Mp3 sounds for that single component (it will not alter the exported text, or the sounds of the word in other places in the project). Most people will want to do it that way, for granular precision. But, sometimes, you have a very unusual word in your project, like a street name or a town name, that continually is getting misread by our machine voice. Instead of having to change that word component by component, over and over, you instead can choose to alter its pronunciation in our Global Phonetic Library. WARNING: This will change the pronunciation of that word on everyone's projects in UniD, so please reserve the use of this tool for only words you feel very confident that no one else will want to sound differently.

UniDescription Tools: How do I use the Frontstage on UniD?

This section explains how the Frontstage tools work.

This screencast helps to conceptually explain the Frontstage index and the Frontstage component-level views, as compared to the Backstage view.

This screencast explains how the Table of Contents works. 

This screencast explains how the component-level view of the Frontstage works.

This screencast explains how to add description to the UniD project and to adjust how the machine voice pronounces it.

This screencast explains how to attach and publish (or not) a photo related to the description.

This screencast explains the geolocation features of UniD, allowing descriptions to be connected to particular places via GPS.

You want to make Audio Description?

Nothing is stopping you now! This open-access site offers robust training sessions as well as the production tools you need to create and share Audio Description; just sign in and get started.

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