INSIGHTS | November 27, 2020

WCAG: 1.2.3 Audio Description or Media Alternative (Prerecorded)

What does adding audio descriptions to video mean?

So there are captions, which I describe in a previous blog article. However, an audio description is more of a narrative of what’s happening in the video itself. It needs to contain descriptions such as audible pauses, and laughter, as well as elements that make the video informative and/ or entertaining.

This can be accomplished using either both audio or text descriptions., or both. In order to be Level A compliant; you need one or the other. To be Level AA compliant, you’ll need the audio description. Or to be a true gem, do both and achieve Level AAA compliance.

Let’s take the video below of a cat dressed in a shark costume, riding a Roomba that’s chasing a baby duck around (dear God, what has the Internet come to!):

So what would be a proper description for said example:

Looking at a close-up of a cat dressed in a shark costume.

(static noise of the Roomba in the background)

The cat is sitting on top of a Roomba, and appears to be enjoying the ride. The camera pans to different angles of the cat while a baby duck is also following along. A dog with a hammerhead shark costume enters, and is staring at the cat like “Seriously, what the heck is going on.” He’s obviously confused, yet intrigued. We see ‘head-on’ shots of both the dog and cat, while the baby duck continues to walk around the Roomba.

Having both a text and audio version of this is extremely important.

Most video will have dialogue, as well as actions that occur/”things” that are happening. Therefore, consider the following structure on a video involving a bad first date.

Describer: A man and a woman are sitting awkwardly at a coffee shop.

Justin: “Hey, Britney.”

Describer: Britney sits, looking at her phone, reading text messages from friends.

Britney: “Hey.”

Justin: “You’re obviously not interested in me.”

Describer: Britney looks up, rolls her eyes.

Britney: “Sorry – we shouldn’t have gone out.”

Justin: “Obviously.”

Describer: Justin leaves, while Britney sits looking at the clock.

The descriptions need to be user-centric.

Remember an experience that you’ve needed to tell so vividly to truly convey what happened. One of those “OMG – you needed to be there to know what happened” type of events. Well, that’s what this WCAG 2.0 element is all about.

It’s not about captioning speech, but telling the story of what’s happening, so that everybody can experience very important, life-altering content, such as a video with life necessities of a cat in a shark costume, sitting on a Roomba, while a baby duck bobbles around it in a circle. While this may seem like a funny/ entertaining video, it’s imperative that the web is accessible to all, regardless of how important the content actually is.

Audio descriptions in video vs. text descriptions

Actually producing your video takes the most time. The timely part of video production is the video itself. Once that’s done, adding audio descriptions to video vs. text descriptions shouldn’t be terribly time consuming. So, just do both. It helps you be the super-great person you are. For implementation, simply have a link to the audio description and text description close to the video and be sure to take the time to add captions as well.


If you’re curious about what we do here at Monday Loves You, or if you have general questions on web accessibility, feel free to reach out to us anything. We’re friendly. We don’t bite. We’d love to hear from you!  

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