Audio description best practices for the web

  • Author: Robert Pearson
  • Date: 4 Jul 2013

Accessible Media Inc. (AMI) and the Canadian Association of Broadcasters have recently worked together to develop best practice guidelines for described video for the Canadian broadcasting industry.

The Described Video (Audio Description) Best Practices for the Canadian broadcasting industry were devised by 14 organisations, including broadcasters, private for-profit description houses and community advocacy organisations. There are currently six artistic and seven technical guidelines for described video. The purpose of these guidelines is to provide consistent description across the broadcasting industry. Designed for English post-production broadcast content, the intent is to eventually consider French guidelines as well as live and embedded description guidelines for on air as well as online.

While the development of French guidelines will follow in line with the established English guidelines, those for live and embedded description will require increased analysis. One major question for consideration is whether those guidelines for use in a variety of broadcast contexts, could also be applicable online. There are issues around media player accessibility as has been previously discussed, but would online description require different artistic techniques?  

There is the long debate of using a human voice versus one that is generated by a machine to create description, but content designed solely for an online purpose may suit an abbreviated form of description than that used for conventional broadcast.

The goal in providing description in any context is to increase the accessibility of media content for those requiring description due to disability or those who simply enjoy described content. If the widest possible audience of users can consume the media content and gain the same experience regardless of their abilities, then the content is accessible.  So then if artistic description techniques are applied to solely online content, an analysis of how that content is consumed needs to be conducted in order to define what those online artistic description techniques would be.

It may be that artistic broadcast techniques are suitable also for solely online content, but media consumption online is different than broadcast.  Content is consumed quickly and an overview is more readily what is sought rather than an in depth analysis.  Described content needs to be approached in the same manner, ensuring that while the experience is consistent, the method in which it is consumed is relevant to the context in which it appears.

This is the fourth article in a series on audio description by Robert Pearson, Director of Accessible Digital Media at Accessible Media Inc. (AMI), based in Toronto, Canada. He is also Chair of the Canadian broadcasting industry's Described Video Best Practices (DVBP) Working Group, striving towards the establishment of industry best practices in the area of audio description, known as described video in Canada.