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Industry Standards for Audio Description

Here are industry standards that have been published.

"Audio description helps to ensure that people who are blind or have low vision enjoy equal access to cultural events by providing the essential visual information. Audio description uses the natural pauses in dialogue or narration to insert descriptions of the essential visual elements: actions, appearance of characters, body language, costumes, settings, lighting, etc.

Descriptions are delivered through a wireless earphone to permit people who are blind or have low vision to sit anywhere in the audience. The Standards for Audio Description reflect audio description’s origin as a means of making live theatre performances accessible; however, the spirit of these principles applies to almost all audio description situations. Other art forms and media call for variations from these original principles, which are discussed in separate sections later in this document.

The Code of Professional Conduct for Describers, near the end of this document, addresses the responsibilities of audio describers and trainers in terms of obligations to clients and consumers, privacy and confidentiality, behavior, business practices, and continuing development.

"This standard specifies requirements for the design of inclusive audio-based network navigation systems (IABNNS), which are technologies used to augment the physical environment by delivering sufficient audio, haptic, visual instructions or instructions in other formats as may be required. This standard helps design professionals achieve an inclusive environment through IABNNSs that augment the physical environment by the provision of aural information about environments for users. 

This standard applies to IABNNS that provide real-time wayfinding and location support. The wayfinding technologies include but are not limited to beacon-based location, software-based location, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, electromagnetic signals, Ultra-Wide Band, location-based algorithms, and a variety of smart device components. IABNNS features may include but are not limited to indoor positioning, points of interest (POI), mapping and localization, low vision maps, virtual tours, pre-journey learning, audio navigation, route directions, step-by-step navigation, distance calculation and location-based announcements."

"Recommendation ITU-T F.921 explains how audio-based network navigation systems can be designed to ensure that they are inclusive and meet the needs of persons with visual impairments. Recommendation ITU-T F.921 adopts a technology neutral approach by defining and explaining the functional characteristics of the system. The aim is to give designers of audio-based network navigation systems the information that they need at the initial stages of development to anticipate and overcome any restrictions and barriers that prevent users with visual impairments from making full and independent use of the built environment. Recommendation ITU-T F.921 explains how to accommodate users’ experience of audio-based network navigation systems and ensure the interoperability of those systems. This Recommendation recognizes that by meeting the user needs of persons with visual impairments, audio-based network navigation systems may also benefit persons with other disabilities, age-related conditions and specific needs, as well as the general public."

"We, the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board or Board), are revising and updating, in a single rulemaking, our standards for electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by Federal agencies covered by section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as well as our guidelines for telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment covered by Section 255 of the Communications Act of 1934. The revisions and updates to the section 508-based standards and section 255-based guidelines are intended to ensure that information and communication technology covered by the respective statutes is accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities."

"Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is developed through the W3C process in cooperation with individuals and organizations around the world, with a goal of providing a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments internationally.

The WCAG documents explain how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. Web “content” generally refers to the information in a web page or web application, including:

  • natural information such as text, images, and sounds
  • code or markup that defines structure, presentation, etc."

Industry Best Practices for Audio Description

Here are industry best-practices guidelines that have been published.

"AD is a service for the blind and visually impaired that renders Visual Arts and Media accessible to this target group. In brief, it offers a verbal description of the relevant (visual) components of a work of art or media product, so that blind and visually impaired patrons can fully grasp its form and content. AD is offered with different types of arts and media content, and, accordingly, has to fulfil different requirements. Descriptions of "static" visual art, such as paintings and sculptures, are used to make a museum or exhibition accessible to the blind and visually impaired.

These descriptions can be offered live, as part of a guided tour for instance, or they can be made available in recorded form, as part of an audio guide. AD of "dynamic" arts and media services has slightly different requirements. The descriptions of essential visual elements of films, TV series, opera, theatre, musical and dance performances or sports events, have to be inserted into the "natural pauses" in the original soundtrack of the production. It is only in combination with the original sounds, music and dialogues that the AD constitutes a coherent and meaningful whole, or "text". AD for dynamic products can be recorded and added to the original soundtrack (as is usually the case for film and TV), or it can be performed live (as is the case for live stage performances).

Depending on the nature of a production additional elements may be required to render it fully accessible. In the case of subtitled films, the subtitles need to be voiced and turned into what are called Audio Subtitles (AST). Some films or theatre productions require an introduction (called Audio Introductions, AI) for various reasons. In the case of museum exhibitions, descriptions may be combined with touch tours or other tactile information. In all cases, websites can be used to provide additional information about a production or exhibition, provided they are accessible, too."

"These Guidelines/Best Practices have been gathered / developed and are an ongoing work-in-progress by the ACB‘s Audio Description Project chaired by ACB‘s Vice President Kim Charlson. The word ―gathered‖ is used since the work here is not, by and large, new: it is a ―review of the literature,‖ a culling of material that exists in documents that are widely available. Generally, those documents are not the result of scientific research. But they reflect and in turn these Guidelines/Best Practices are based on many years of experience with audio description in a wide range of contexts."

"The list of recommended practices was then subjected to a consensus review process by these leading experts, resulting in a reduction from 204 to 63 critical indicators. This work was opened to an extensive public review in the spring of 2008 that invited comments and rankings of each indicator's importance. The expert panel met a final time in July 2008 to review these public comments, the rankings, and to discuss each indicator before adopting the final document presented here. (For a more detailed look at how (and why) the Key was developed, please read "Background of the Description Key.")

Since 2008 some fine tuning and revision of guidelines has taken place based on: (a) DCMP experiences in working with a large number of vendors that provide description service; (b) input from a large number of professionals and consumers who have served on the DCMP board and acted as DCMP advisors; (c) recent (2011) partnerships with the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and with the Video Description Research and Development Center (VDRDC) as a member of the VDRDC Description Leadership Network."

"Audio description is a commentary that gives a viewer who is blind or partial sighted a verbal description of what is happening on the television screen at any given moment. It is provided as an aid to the understanding and enjoyment of the programme."

"In July 2012, Accessible Media Inc. (AMI) and the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) embarked upon a process to begin to develop Described Video (Audio Description) Best Practices for the Canadian broadcasting industry with the support of the Canadian Radio-Television & Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). Producers of description along with broadcasting-industry and community-group representatives came forward to develop the Described Video Best Practices (DVBP) in an effort to standardize the delivery of description (DV) to bring context to a practice that is both a science and an art."

Museums provide robust content for people to interact with across digital platforms. As cultural organizations continue to develop more advanced experiences, it is essential that they consider all audiences during the creation of digital resources and tools. Digital accessibility ensures that people with disabilities have access to our online collections, website, and materials.

For visitors who use assistive technology, image descriptions allow for more equitable experiences in accessing digital content. Technologists, curators, communications staff, and other museum colleagues can all work to create more inclusive digital projects by using this document to author image descriptions.

Cooper Hewitt’s Guidelines for Image Description is a living document. The design tools here, like all creative resources, must continue to be tested in various environments and discussed broadly. These guidelines are created to be both comprehensive and responsive to provide guidance while maintaining fluidity to evolve. Paramount to this is the recognition that language is deeply rooted and understood through the context of the culture and society of its time. This practice must continue to be engaged with contemporary dialogues as image description inherently intersects with questions of race, gender, and identity.

If you are an alt-text or assistive technology user, accessibility advocate, or creative being who has experimented and found solutions or questions, please share with us at:

Cooper Hewitt Accessibility
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is what linguists use to describe sounds. This interactive IPA chart therefore could help describers, especially with improving machine-voice phonetics.

Industry Best Practices: Media Access Canada's "Descriptive Video Production and Presentation Best Practices"

This is an open-source document created by accessible content industry stakeholders including those organizations representing the disability community, broadcasters, manufacturers and government. Individuals with an interest in content accessibility also participate. Anyone interested in participating in future activities is invited to contact info@mediac.ca.

Prepared by: Beverley Milligan / Deborah Fels

Thanks to our Sponsors: CTV, Media Access Canada, (MAC), Ryerson University, Analysis and Research in Communications, Industry Canada, Media Access Australia.

"Millions of learners with print disabilities have trouble understanding and interpreting complex graphics and images in textbooks and journals. The WGBH National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) offers research-based guidelines and training on how to make science, technology, engineering and math images meaningful and accessible through description."

National Center on Disability and Journalism:

"The goal of the NCDJ is to provide support and guidance for journalists as they cover people with disabilities.

People with disabilities make up at least 19 percent of the U.S. population or 54.4 million people. The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities.” However, it is widely acknowledged that people with disabilities are frequently under-covered by the mainstream press or that coverage is inaccurate or incomplete.

The NCDJ does not advocate a particular point of view; it is concerned with the journalistic principles of accuracy, fairness and diversity in news coverage. Reporters who cover disability issues as a beat and those who may occasionally report on people with disabilities or disability issues may find the center a useful resource for information and the exchange of ideas.

Resources on this site include:

Disability style guide with suggestions on appropriate language and short descriptions of disability-related terms

Tip sheets with best practices on interviewing people with disabilities and brief guides to specific disability topics

Disability library with news stories about people with disabilities.

Disability resources, including disability-related organizations, experts, advocates and people with disabilities who are willing sources for journalists.

"Audio description is an additional commentary between the dialogue of a film/ television programme that tells the viewer what is happening on the screen so that he/ she is able to keep up with the action. It bridges the gap in accessibility for a blind or a partially sighted person when watching a film/ TV programme. 

In an attempt to achieve qualitative improvement in film/ television description being produced in the UK, Independent Television Commission (ITC) in 2000 rolled out a code giving guidance on how description should be written and produced (ITC guidelines). This code was updated in 2006 by Ofcom and is now available as Ofcom's Code on Television Access Services. Aside from the UK, a number of countries such as Germany, France, Spain, Sweden, Belgium and Greece also rolled out their guidelines/ standards/ codes for the production of AD in their countries. More similar than different in nature, these guidelines/ standards/codes as the authorities choose to call them, provide guidance on standards for the production and presentation of audio description This paper draws comparisons and similarities between six sets of existing AD guidelines from 6 different countries - UK, Greece, France, Germany, Spain and American Council of the Blind's ADP project's ADI standards."

VocalEyes is dedicated to developing, sustaining and promoting audio description of the arts. The Describing Diversity project, in partnership with Royal Holloway, University of London, came about because we identified the need for a process of exploration of when and how we should describe the personal characteristics of the diverse range of characters that appear on stage, and in particular, the visible, physical markers of race, gender, impairment / disability, age and body shape. We also wished to explore why such characteristics should be described, so we had a basis for developing a common understanding and rationale for any proposed changes to practice.

The research involved the whole community involved in audio description: blind and visually impaired users of the service, actors, other theatre professionals, and audio describers working around the UK and the world, through an online survey (June to August 2019), in-depth interviews (January to March 2020) and collaborative workshops (April 2020).

The Complete Trip Concept is used "to identify ways to provide more efficient, affordable, and accessible transportation options for underserved communities that often face greater challenges in accessing essential services," including a focus on people with blindness and low vision.

Organizations: Groups of blind or low-vision people furthering Audio Description

National or international associations for people who are blind, low-vision, or deafblind.

"The American Council of the Blind strives to increase the independence, security, equality of opportunity, and quality of life for all blind and visually impaired people."

"The mission of the American Foundation for the Blind is to create a world of no limits for people who are blind or visually impaired. We mobilize leaders, advance understanding, and champion impactful policies and practices using research and data."

"The Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) was formed in 1945 and was chartered by Congress in 1958. BVA helps veterans and their families meet and overcome the challenges of blindness. Services of BVA are available to all veterans who have become blind, either during or after active duty."

"Since 1942, Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) has been creating partnerships between people, dogs, and communities. With exceptional client services and a robust network of instructors, puppy raisers, donors, and volunteers, we prepare highly qualified guide dogs to serve and empower individuals who are blind or have low vision from throughout the United States and Canada.

All of the services for our clients are provided free of charge, including personalized training and extensive post-graduation support, plus financial assistance for veterinary care, if needed. Our work is made possible by the generous support of our donors and volunteers; we receive no government funding."

"Live. Live your life on your terms.

Work. Prepare for a great job, pursue your passion or devote yourself to a cause.

Thrive. Define success in your own way—and achieve it.

At HKNC, you'll find the training, resources and support to make all this possible

Our team of experts will work closely with you to develop an individualized action plan tailored to your needs and goals, and everything you learn will have practical, real-world applications. One-on-one training, cutting-edge technology, hands-on learning and the opportunity to interact with people who know firsthand the challenges you face—it's all part of the HKNC experience."

"The mission of the Lighthouse is to educate, empower, and employ people who are visually impaired and blind. We have provided residents of Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties with no cost vision rehabilitation since 1983."

"Lighthouse Guild is the leading organization dedicated to addressing and preventing vision loss. We provide coordinated care for eye health, vision rehabilitation and behavioral health as well as related services directed at prevention, early detection and intervention of vision disorders. Reducing the burdens of vision loss is the cornerstone of what we do."

"The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams."

"We’re the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), one of the UK’s leading sight loss charities and the largest community of blind and partially sighted people.

We recognise everyone’s unique experience of sight loss and offer help and support for blind and partially sighted people – this can be anything from practical and emotional support, campaigning for change, reading services and the products we offer in our online shop.

We’re a catalyst for change – inspiring people with sight loss to transform their own personal experience, their community and, ultimately, society as a whole. Our focus is on giving them the help, support and tools they need to realise their aspirations.

Every day 250 people begin to lose their sight. RNIB has a crucial role to play in creating a world where there are no barriers to people with sight loss. We want society, communities and individuals to see differently about sight loss."

Conferences and Coalitions: Major academic conferences in this field

Here is where Audio Description scholars gather.

"ARSAD has become an established forum to exchange ideas on audio description with all interested stakeholders: users, practitioners, researchers, trainers, trainees, regulators, broadcasters, policy makers, social activists, cultural managers and anyone interested in audio description."

Books about Audio Description

Here are books on this subject that we have read and recommend.

Ellis, F. (1991). A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words for Blind and Visually Impaired Person Too!: An Introduction to Audiodescription. American Foundation for the Blind. https://www.worldcat.org/title/picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words-for-blind-and-visually-impaired-persons-too-an-introduction-to-audiodescription/oclc/24280440

This one was recommended by Descriptathon Justice Jolie Mason: 

"Audio Description: What It Is, Where to Find It, and How to Use It," by Judy Dixon

Per this review, "The title of this new book by AccessWorld author Judy Dixon says it all. Dixon's new book provides not only a guide to using audio description, she also discusses history, legal issues, providers, device set-up, and much more. ... In the 'About This Book' section and seven chapters she gives a detailed overview plus very specific 'how to' directions. To conclude the work, an extensive list of resources is provided."

Maszerowska, A., Matamala, A., & Orero, P. (Eds.). (2014). Audio description: New perspectives illustrated (Vol. 112). John Benjamins Publishing Company. https://benjamins.com/catalog/btl.112

Goggin, G., Newell, G., & Newell, C. (2003). Digital disability: The social construction of disability in new media. Rowman & Littlefield. https://catalog.loc.gov/vwebv/search?searchCode=LCCN&searchArg=2002009977&searchType=1&permalink=y

Dolmage, J. (2014). Disability Rhetoric. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press. https://muse.jhu.edu/book/27790

Fryer, L. (2016). An introduction to audio description: A practical guide. London: Routledge.

Díaz-Cintas, J., Orero, P., & Remael, A. (Eds.). (2007). Media for all: subtitling for the deaf, audio description, and sign language (Vol. 30). Rodopi. https://brill.com/view/title/27746

Cintas, J. D., Neves, J., & Matamala, A. (2010). New Insights into Audiovisual Translation and Media Accessibility: Media for All 2. Rodopi. https://brill.com/view/title/27749

Matamala, A., & Orero, P. (2016). Researching audio description: New Approaches. Palgrave Macmillan.

Meloncon, L. (Ed.). (2014). Rhetorical accessability: At the intersection of technical communication and disability studies. Routledge. https://www.routledge.com/Rhetorical-Accessability-At-the-Intersection-of-Technical-Communication/Meloncon/p/book/9780895037893

Ellis, K., Goggin, G., Haller, B., & Curtis, R. (Eds.). (2019). The Routledge Companion to Disability and Media. Routledge. https://www.routledge.com/The-Routledge-Companion-to-Disability-and-Media-1st-Edition/Ellis-Goggin-Haller-Curtis/p/book/9781138884588

Jankowska, A. (2015). Translating audio description scripts: Translation as a new strategy of creating audio description. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Edition. https://www.peterlang.com/view/title/17278

Snyder, J. (2014). The visual made verbal: A comprehensive training manual and guide to the history and applications of audio description. American Council of the Blind, Inc. http://www.thevisualmadeverbal.com/

More Resources: Besides UniD, other helpful reports, documents, and websites

A collection of other important Audio Description resources.

EASIT is an EU-based research project about "making information easy to understand. You can make information easy to understand using Easy-to-Read language and Plain Language." 

"Welcome to MAP, the Media Accessibility Platform, a unified atlas charting the worldwide landscape of research, policies, training and practices in this field. MAP aims to make media accessible to all, regardless of sensorial and linguistic barriers."

The goal of this resource is to support scholarly communication librarians wanting to implement accessibility measures in their open access, open education, and open data initiatives. By Talea Anderson (Washington State University).

"Fewer than 10 percent of the 1.3 million people who are legally blind in the United States are Braille readers. Further, a mere 10 percent of blind children are learning it.

• Each year as many as 75,000 people lose all or part of their vision. As the baby-boom generation moves into retirement age and as diabetes (the nation's leading cause of blindness) approaches epidemic proportions, the NFB expects this number to increase dramatically and, if nothing is done, the Braille illiteracy rate as well."

"Most people think of blindness in the simplest terms: a person who can’t see. In actuality, blindness is more complex. In fact, there are many different types of blindness and visual impairment.

Some blind people truly see nothing, while others see light, shadows or objects that are close by. Vision loss can start at birth or gradually decline. Blindness can stem from a problem with the eye itself or be caused by a disorder in the brain."

"Extant is a national organisation that has been forging a performing arts practice made by and dedicated to visually impaired people since 1997. Extant has also developed new ways of providing integrated access to visually impaired audiences. At the same time, other companies, both disabled-led and non-disabled-led, have also been working to integrate access into their productions, not just for visually impaired people, but also for people with other access needs. Even so, there is a sense that this work is lacking research and exposure, and that those who are experimenting with these techniques are doing so in isolation, meaning that reputable resources on the topic are difficult to find. This has led us to two major questions that relate to this research: do we truly understand what visually impaired people need from access? Do the current models of integrated provision meet those needs?

To mark their 20th year, Extant commissioned Is It Working, a research inquiry into audio description and integrated access as it is being used currently throughout the UK. This research brings together feedback from visually impaired audiences with information from the creative teams charged with providing integrated access to see if it’s possible to quantify what makes effective integrated access. We extend our thanks to all who have taken part. The results of that Inquiry are presented here with a view to calling companies into action to do more, and to support said companies as they travel down this path in the future."

Created and shared by Deborah Armstrong of Foothill and De Anza College (and a member of the American Council of the Blind). This is Version 2 of the handout.

As Thomas Reid lost his sight, he started telling stories of people becoming blind or being blind as a way to connect with others.

Resources that Dr. Megan Conway of the Helen Kellen National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths presented during Descriptathons 7, 8, 9, and 10.

This is the DOC version of the Powerpoint that Dr. Megan Conway of the Helen Kellen National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths presented during Descriptathon 8.

This is the PDF version of the Powerpoint that Dr. Megan Conway of the Helen Kellen National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths presented during Descriptathon 8.

This is the PDF version of the Powerpoint that Dr. Megan Conway of the Helen Kellen National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths presented during Descriptathon 7.

This is the PDF version of the Powerpoint that Dr. Megan Conway of the Helen Kellen National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths presented during Descriptathon 7.

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