Accessibility for YouTube videos has improved a lot over the last few years with the addition of captioning software, but there is still no automated method for how to create audio description for YouTube to help viewers with vision impairments. Audio description cannot be automatically generated like captions and must be done manually by people. Luckily, there is an amazing service that allows volunteers to write and create audio description for YouTube videos called YouDescribe. Today, I will be sharing how to create audio description for YouTube with the free YouDescribe website.
What is YouDescribe?
YouDescribe is a free website and iOS app that allows viewers to watch YouTube videos with audio description. The audio description tracks are written and recorded by sighted volunteers so that people with blindness and low vision can watch YouTube videos and receive visual information. YouDescribe is a project of the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco, California.
YouDescribe is available online and as a free iOS app. At this time, audio description tracks can only be created through web browsers. YouDescribe can be used with or without an account for viewing videos, but connecting to a Google account is required for requesting videos and creating descriptions.
What is audio description?
Audio description, sometimes referred to as descriptive audio or described video, is an additional narrator track that provides visual information for people who otherwise would not be able to see it. Audio description is provided during natural pauses in dialogue so it does not distract from the video. Occasionally, describers may pause the video themselves and add description if there are no natural pauses available.
For YouDescribe videos, open audio description is used, meaning that the audio description automatically plays and does not require a special device to be used.
- Fast facts about audio description
- How to watch audio described movies on your next flight
- Watching “Dear Evan Hansen” with audio description
How YouDescribe works
YouDescribe is a way for people with blindness and low vision to watch YouTube videos without missing out on important visual information. Once they are on the YouDescribe website or app, users can browse featured videos or search for videos to watch that have audio description.
The audio description tracks are added to existing YouTube videos by volunteer describers. Any video on YouTube can be described on YouDescribe, but I highly recommend checking the wish list and describing a video from the list if possible.
Who can be a YouDescribe describer?
Anyone can register to describe videos for YouDescribe. There is no cost to join YouDescribe, but I strongly suggest that users have their own microphone and headphones. The recording software is built-in to the YouDescribe website, so there are no additional downloads needed. You don’t need fancy equipment to create awesome audio description!
Some examples of people who would likely be awesome at creating audio description include:
- Teachers of the vision impaired
- Family members of people with sight loss
- Teaching candidates
- Film students
- Music/TV show fans
- People who love to make crafts
- Be My Eyes volunteers
- How to be an ally to people with disabilities
- Ten things my TVI taught me
- Tips for Be My Eyes volunteers
Choosing a video to describe
As previously mentioned, I highly recommend checking the YouDescribe wish list when choosing which video to describe. If the video is not on the wish list, run a search for the video title on the search bar and then click the “describe” button.
Watch the video and take notes as you go
After clicking the “describe” button, users are taken to the authoring screen for creating audio descriptions. From there, users can watch the video and pause it as needed.
I recommend writing notes in the notes box on the right side of the screen for easy reference. When writing notes, pay attention to the following information:
- Who or what is on the screen
- Any on-screen text
- Movement or dancing
- Scene changes
- Backgrounds and settings
- Costumes or other visual changes
Turn the notes into a script for audio description
After you write your notes, practice reading them while the video plays, and refine them as needed. Great audio descriptions have the following characteristics:
- No over-explaining. No need to describe lots of visual information, many people have mental models of how things should look
- Short descriptions. Make sure descriptions do not distract from the video and are short in length- 1 to 2 sentences is usually plenty
- Great sound quality. No background noise or static on the microphone
- No censorship. Don’t skip over scenes because you feel uncomfortable describing them, and don’t censor language either
Record yourself with the YouDescribe website
Once you have created your script, it’s time to record your description! There are two types of descriptions:
The first type of description is inline description. These play concurrently with the video audio and do not require any pauses. Inline description can be used where dialogue or music is not important, or during transition scenes.
The second type of description is extended description. The video is paused while the audio description plays, and then continues when the description is finished. I recommend using extended description for videos where dialogue or music are important, or for longer descriptions. Both types of description can be used in a video.
To add a description:
- Pull up the section of the video you want to describe.
- Click the button for your preferred description type
- Label the track with a simple description
- Click the record button and speak
- Listen to playback and reposition the audio track if needed
- Click the two arrow keys to switch from inline to extended, or vice versa
- To add more descriptions, click the play button on the video and pause when you get to another section
Watch your recording before you submit it
Before you submit your video, watch it with your eyes closed and ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you get all of the same visual information, or do you feel like you are missing out on something?
- Is the audio easy to understand and follow?
- Do the descriptions make sense?
Once all of those questions have been answered with a yes, go ahead and click publish. Viewers will watch the video and rate your description so that you can get feedback.
I’m grateful for all of the volunteer audio describers at YouDescribe. I rely a lot on audio description to be able to watch videos, because I have low vision and photosensitivity to flashing lights, which makes it hard for me to watch videos independently. Thanks to audio description, I can watch the same videos as my sighted peers and not have to keep asking questions about visual information. I highly recommend describing YouTube videos with YouDescribe if you are looking for an interesting online volunteer opportunity or want to increase accessibility of YouTube videos.