Audio description - video for blind users

Captions for videos are essential for people who can't hear. Captions, however, aren't just great for people who can't hear. They protect Microsoft from fines and legal action. Because the videos are online, they fall under the federal accessibility laws and policies that make captions and audio description mandatory.

What's audio description? It's the information that someone absolutely must have in order to follow the action on the video. Often our videos already have audio description in the narration. For example, here's a video thumbnail that shows the captions line. Here the narrator tells the listener everything they need to know—what elements he's demonstrating, and what he's about to do.

How are you supposed to do this? Start by reading this article. It offers definition of what audio description is, and guidance about how to create it in your video scripts so they include audio description.

What is audio description?

"Audio description" is narration that describes key visual elements or actions in media. It makes media more accessible for people who are blind or visually impaired. You might have already used audio description without being aware of it. If you've ever listened to an audio recording at a tour or museum, you've listened to audio description.

In a commercial film, audio description is inserted in the sound track during pauses in the dialogue. For example, in The Wizard of Oz, the audio description might say, "Dorothy and Toto skip happily down the Yellow Brick Road, surrounded by a sunny field of flowers."

What do I have to do?

The goal is to make the voice-over on your video serve as both narration and audio description. That is, create one script that serves both requirements. The important idea is that audio description narrates what is essential for the listener.

Best practice Have someone read your script aloud to you. See if you can follow the action, and then add or delete words as necessary.

Rule 1: Describe essential images or diagrams

Decide what the listener absolutely has to hear in order to follow the action. Audio description should not narrate every action or describe every element on the screen. Too much detail is bad for everyone.

Example 1

This video shows how to implement claims-based authentication. The image shows the introductory screen. The narrator names the three elements that are essential, and states that they are connected to the same subnet.

Audio description/accessible narration: "We start with three computers connected to the same subnet: a domain controller, a client, and an applications computer."

Example 2

In the next example, the narrator describes how to use File Explorer in Windows to move groups of files into a SharePoint library. This is an especially good example of how you can limit the narrative to essential information—the narrator does not describe each step, but simply summarizes the action.

Audio description/accessible narration: "All I have to do is select the files and drag the files to the folder."


If your video can add more information without becoming overlong, consider adding a section that describes another way to perform the same task. For example, the previous task can also be performed by cut-and-paste. Or, you can add information about alternative methods in a wrapper article.

Rule 2: Identify key elements of the action by name

Example 1

In this example, the narrator is about to describe how to save a Microsoft Word document. Immediately before this segment of the video, the narrator told the audience that he would show them how to save a document. Notice that the narrator does not repeat that goal, but only names some key elements on the page. He does not list everything or even mention the target action (Save) separately.

Audio description/accessible narration: "When I click the File tab, the Backstage opens. You won't find commands here for working with text. The Backstage is all about opening, saving, printing, sharing, and exporting."

Example 2

In the next example, the narrator is about to show how to upload documents to a SharePoint library. Because it's important for the listener to know he can upload different kinds of files, the narration mentions several.

Audio description/accessible narration: "You can add almost any kind of file to a SharePoint library, but the most common will be Office files, like Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, and OneNote notebooks."

Doesn't adding audio description conflict with voice principles?

No. The goal of audio description is to provide only the information that the listener absolutely has to have. Voice principles also encourage you to be as concise as possible while giving the information that people need. Remember that empathy (another voice principle) encourages you to acknowledge the customer's point of view. Accessibility is a great way to do that. And remember the importance of using everyday words. You don't have to use formal words in audio descriptions. A natural, conversational tone works best.