When does an online video need audio description?

Thu 15 August 2019

Library of online videos by the Australian Network on Disability

A video that doesn’t include audio description isn’t accessible.

Is that true?

The need for audio description in a video can easily be avoided.

Is that right?

If you have a transcript with your video, you don’t need audio description.


When it comes to corporate videos, the benefits of captioning and transcripts is fairly well-known. But an area of less certainty for many organisations is when to include audio description.

A video with audio description will have a separate audio track that describes what’s happening on screen for those who can’t see it. Key visual elements, such as actions, scenery, expressions and on-screen text, is described by the narrator to ensure people who are blind or have low vision don’t miss out on important visual information.

Think about it in the context of a promotional video on your website, an instructional video within an online learning course, or a live interview shared on social media. Do all of these need audio descriptions to be accessible?

From an online and technical point of view, the answer lies with the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C. Through its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) – the global standard for web accessibility – the W3C specifies three levels of conformance when it comes to audio description: Level A, Level AA and Level AAA. But unless you’re fairly well-versed in the Guidelines, deciding when audio description is needed can still be tricky.

Thankfully, Vision Australia has come up with three easy-to-follow decision trees to make it simpler. Designed to support decision-making for online video content, these flowcharts will tell you when audio description is needed, when it’s not and when a transcript will suffice. It also includes important extra advice on how to avoid the need for audio description through clever planning.

View Vision Australia’s audio description decision trees.

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The Australian Network on Disability (AND) is a member-based national powerhouse of more than 250 private, public and for-purpose organisations actively committed to inclusion of people with disability in business. Our services, programs and tools make it easier for you to build confidence and capability to welcome people with disability as employees, customers and stakeholders.

As part of our network, we’ll support you to build understanding and expertise, connect with others and check your progress on access and inclusion.

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