In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, many companies begin to release their creative commercials that will be airing during the big game, which is a great opportunity for creating audio description for commercials with YouDescribe. This way, people with visual impairments can enjoy the different visual gags, celebrity cameos, and other fun things that make Super Bowl commercials so much fun to watch, and they can get the descriptions for free on YouDescribe without having to know a lot about technology. Here are my tips for creating audio description for commercials using the free YouDescribe tool, featuring examples created by my brother.
If you want to skip to the examples and see how my brother created audio description for commercials, go to the related links section underneath the header “What to include in audio description for commercials.”
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 most online videos, open audio description is used, meaning that the audio description automatically plays and does not require a special device to be used.
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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.
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- YouDescribe website
- iOS app download
Do TV commercials have audio description?
As a short answer, not really. The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 requires that certain broadcasters to have a set amount of programming with audio description, though there are no requirements for commercials to be audio described. Some commercials have audio description, but I haven’t seen very many, even when watching TV shows with audio description. This is why tools like YouDescribe are so helpful, because I wouldn’t want to miss out on funny commercials or ask people to explain them to me.
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Things to consider when writing audio description for commercials
Here are a few things to consider when writing audio description for commercials that are pretty unique:
- Voiceover is commonly used to help give consumers additional information about a product, so users might not need to add a lot of audio description to ensure that a commercial is understood
- People with visual impairments frequently recognize celebrity voices, and don’t necessarily need a description of what a particular celebrity looks like. The same goes for recognizing everyday objects- no need to describe a lawnmower, I already know what one looks like
- Don’t worry about describing every small visual element. Pick 1-3 elements that make a commercial unique and focus on those. That can be a particular costume, action, background, gestures/emotions, or conversation
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Inline vs extended description
One of the questions I asked my brother when he was creating audio description for commercials was whether he would use inline description (which involves reading audio description over the video audio) or extended description (which involves pausing the video to read audio description), and what his considerations were for choosing one type over the other. Here’s what we agreed on when it comes to using inline vs extended descriptions
When to use inline:
- When there is limited voiceover/speaking or lots of music
- If the necessary descriptions are short and can be quickly read in natural pauses
- Describing movement whenever possible
When to use extended:
- If there is lots of description needed at the beginning
- When a scene changes very quickly and additional description is needed
- If there is lots of talking or voiceover content
What to include in audio description for commercials
Here are my recommendations for what to include in audio description for commercials:
- Character descriptions for people who are in the main focus of the camera
- Sight gags
- For celebrities, mentioning their names (no physical descriptions required)
- Any relevant movement or emotion that isn’t mentioned in voiceover or sound
- Descriptions of the setting, i.e a backyard or a store
- Any short text or relevant information that appears on screen without additional narration
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What not to include in audio description for commercials
Here are my recommendations for what not to include in audio description for commercials:
- Detailed descriptions of logos or mascots- just saying the company name and the word logo is fine
- Descriptions of clothing, unless it is an important part of the commercial plot
- Repeating any information that is already mentioned in voiceover or that can be inferred from sound, i.e reading a phone number or describing a honking car/music
- Saying the product or service name- chances are, it’s already mentioned in voiceover or implied during the description
I’m so glad that my brother was able to create some fun audio description for commercials that will be airing in the Super Bowl, as I was able to finally understand what made certain commercials so funny. For my readers that also love audio description or creating videos, I’d like to issue them a challenge to describe their favorite commercial on YouDescribe, so that more audiences with blindness and low vision can watch commercials and talk about/share them with their friends and family. This would be a great weekend activity that only takes about 20 minutes, and can help introduce lots of people to the world of audio description. I hope that this post on creating audio description for commercials with YouDescribe is helpful for others wanting a quick introduction to creating their own audio description, or at least giving people an excuse to watch the commercials in advance!