Creating Described Video for Broadcast Media

Described Video


In this section, we will look at how described video (DV) provides audiences with a narration of important visual elements such as the setting, action, costumes, and body language. Here we will become familiar with described video and how it can make video content more accessible for people who are blind and people who have low vision.

Developing An Understanding

Described video is an important feature in making video content accessible and inclusive because people who are blind and people who have low vision may lose access to important information about a program without its visual cues. Described video content is recorded with a narrator’s voice speaking during the pauses between dialogue in a program on a separate audio track. This track is added after the program has been completed and packaged during post-production. Post-production is a term for the last process in the production chain.

To get a sense of the impact of described video, watch this described video public service announcement from Accessible Media Inc. (AMI):

It’s clear in this video that without certain visual cues, the context of a video can be easily misunderstood. Described video helps to reduce that barrier by including important information on an additional audio track.

Elements that can be included as part of a described video audio track are:
  • Characters in the scene
  • Location of the scene
  • What the characters are doing
  • What the characters are wearing
  • Facial expressions, body language, and other physical features
  • Text shown on objects or as subtitles and other onscreen graphics
  • Colors and shapes of objects

— From the National Captioning Instituteopen a new window

A note on audio description:

In Canada, this kind of video description is called described video, but in other countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, China, Europe, The Netherlands, Scandinavia, India, Korea and New Zealand it is referred to as “audio description” (Descriptive Video Works, n.d.). Here in Canada, the CRTC defines audio description as “a program host or announcer to provide a voice-over by reading aloud or describing key elements of programming, such as text and graphics that appear on the screen. It is often used for information based programming, including newscasts, weather reports, sports scores, and financial data” (CRTC, 2015).

Deepening Your Understanding:

Commonly, the process of described video goes through a series of steps:

  • A finalized version of a video, preferably with all titles and graphics, is sent to a company that specializes in described video.
  • A specially-trained writer watches the video and writes a script that describes the most important visual elements. This script is designed so that the descriptions fit during pauses in between dialogue.
  • An actor or narrator is hired to read the narration for the video. This narration is recorded and synced with the video.
  • Quality control checks are conducted to make sure the described video is up to standard.

—Modified from Descriptive Video Worksopen a new window

Let’s revisit the “Yes, I Can” video from Module One, this time with described video.

Here is another example of described video: “Everybody Technology - Stephen Hawking's Dream.”

In the described video version of “Yes, I Can,” we are provided with a description of the key actions in the trailer. We also hear the names of the showcased athletes and their area of specialty. Unlike some described videos where the narrator has a neutral tone, this narrator has character that adds enthusiasm to the video. In contrast, in “Everybody Technology - Stephen Hawking's Dream,” time is taken at the beginning of the video to describe the images that are about to appear on screen. The images are described ahead of time over a black screen, since the video content itself is text-heavy, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for descriptions to be interspersed between the dialogue.