My friends and I love trying out new recipes, and one of our sources for inspiration is recipe videos that we find on social media that show different cooking techniques or flavor profiles we otherwise wouldn’t have thought of. However, a lot of these videos do not contain narration or have small/poor contrast text that makes it difficult for me to see measurements or ingredient names while watching the video. Luckily, there are many awesome volunteers who are creating audio description for recipe videos with YouDescribe, so I can watch the same videos as my friends and not wonder if I need to add a cup of salt or a cup of sugar to a recipe. Here are my tips for creating audio description for recipe videos with the free YouDescribe tool.
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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Why add audio description for recipe videos?
Some of the many reasons to create audio description for recipe videos include:
- A lot of cooking shows and videos have audio description “built-in” as many hosts narrate what they are doing as they are doing it, but a lot of recipe videos on social media are silent or have music playing in the background.
- The text/captions in the video can be difficult or impossible to read for many people, and not just for those with diagnosed low vision or blindness
- Viewers may have trouble seeing color changes or other visual changes as the food continues to cook
- Lots of recipe videos are fast-paced on social media so that viewers might not notice important information such as oven temperature
- Some videos can be disorienting for people to watch as they might trigger dizziness or vertigo
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Inline vs Extended audio description
One of the most common questions new describers have is when to 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 to consider choosing one type over the other. While there are some people who prefer one style over the other, here is what I prefer as someone who relies on audio description for understanding content.
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
- Whenever the narrator is describing movement, i.e whisking or mixing
When to use extended:
- If there is lots of description needed at the beginning for the layout of the scene
- When a scene changes very quickly and additional description is needed
- If there is lots of talking or voiceover content
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What to include in audio description for recipe videos
Here are my recommendations for what to include in audio description for recipe videos:
- At the beginning, share the name of the account/company that created the video and the name of the recipe
- Tools that will be needed to start the recipe, like a bowl
- List ingredients and quantities as they appear on screen, i.e 3 cups of rice or 250 milliliters of water
- Size of ingredients if relevant- are we using small potatoes? Do they need to be diced?
- Appearance changes, such as caramelizing onions
- Cooking techniques and appliances being used, such as slowly whisking or blending in a food processor for two minutes
- Temperature and cook times, i.e cooking in an oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes
- Any garnishes or serving instructions
What not to include in audio description for recipe videos
Here are my recommendations for what not to include in audio description for recipe videos:
- Describing what an ingredient looks like- I already have a mental model for what carrots look like, for example
- The appearance of appliances or other tools if it is not relevant, such as saying that a bowl is green. The exception here is if a specific appliance or tool needs to be used, such as a cast-iron pan
- Ideas for substitutions that are not mentioned in the video
- Over-describing cooking techniques, unless the video is on how to learn a specific technique
- Random commentary that does not relate to what is happening on screen, such as saying that a recipe or ingredient looks disgusting
Many volunteers are surprised that from start to finish, it only takes about twenty minutes to write and record audio description for recipe videos with YouDescribe, and it is a unique and fantastic opportunity for people to volunteer from the comfort of their computer. I am grateful for all of the YouDescribe volunteers that create awesome content for blind and visually impaired audiences, and I hope that this post on audio description for recipe videos helps others become interested in creating their own audio description as well!