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What is audio description?

Audio descriptions provide audible information that isn’t described or spoken in the main soundtrack of a video. This includes important actions, characters, scene changes, and on-screen text. Users who are blind or low vision benefit most from audio descriptions. Audio description also benefits users who have difficulty understanding visual information.

The following videos are examples of a scene with and without audio description. (Try turning around or closing your eyes while listening to the videos.)

Other terms you may hear for audio descriptions are “video description” or “described video.” Audio descriptions are usually separate audio tracks that users may choose to turn on like closed captions.

Standard audio descriptions

Standard Audio Descriptions are snippets of narration between the natural pauses and sounds of the original audio content. These are short and concise to ensure the extra descriptions enhance rather than distract from the video.

Extended audio descriptions

If a longer more detailed description is needed it may not fit between the natural pauses of the video. Extended audio descriptions work by pausing the video while the longer description continues to play. The video will resume with the audio once the description finishes. Proper planning should help prevent the need for these types of audio descriptions.

When is audio description required?

If the video has visual information that is not communicated through sound, then it needs an audio description. If you close your eyes while watching your video, can you still understand what is happening? If not, you need audio descriptions for the video.

An example could be a video showing students standing in line at the Old Well on UNC Chapel Hill’s campus. The only audio is a music track. The music is not giving any information about what is being shown in the video. An audio description is required to tell users without vision what is happening in the video.

Impact on users

Blind and visually impaired users

Users who have some vision impairments need audio descriptions to fully understand the content of the video if it lacks descriptive narration.


Audio descriptions can be almost like listening to an audiobook. They allow users to understand the video if they look away for extended periods of time. Imagine cooking dinner while “listening” to your favorite TV show.

Audio description best practices


  • Plan your video so that the narration fully describes the video content. A well-planned narration can remove the need for a separate audio description.
  • Allow space and timing for audio descriptions in the video. This helps prevent the need for pausing during the description.
  • Describe all meaningful visual elements between the audio description and narration.

Writing audio description

  • Keep the descriptions clear and concise
  • Use accurate and descriptive language
  • Refrain from offensive words
  • Avoid jargon and technical terms
  • Avoid opinions and interpretations
  • Ensure users know the difference between what is real versus illusions, dreams, or other visually obvious scenarios

Need help?

If you have questions or concerns, you can submit an online help request for a consultation with the Digital Accessibility Office.