The Best Way to Create Audio Description: Equal Entry Webinar Recap

Image Description: In a lush woods, a young teenage girl peels apart a pod of white tufted seeds and blows, sending them airborne. A superpig -- gray and the size of a small elephant with a pig-like midsection, long, floppy ears, and a snout like a hippo -- nuzzles the girl, who wears a splotchy pink, lavender, and blue jacket. Photo: Screenshot from Netflix.

On November 21, 2019, I gave a webinar for 3Play Media on behalf of Equal Entry, titled “The Best Way to Create Audio Description.” There were over 130 attendees who learned about what audio description is, what to describe when writing it, and what makes audio description good or bad. The webinar also gave attendees a chance to write some audio description of their own.

We have already received a lot of positive feedback from people who attended. Many of them have said that the use of so many tangible examples — clips from various audio-described films and television shows — made the concepts easy to understand and absorb.

One of the examples I shared was a clip from the film Okja:

I called attention to the fact that the onscreen text in this clip was announced, which is essential for audio description. We have the title — Okja — and we also have the time and place indicator: “10 years later, far from New York.” Additionally, all of the onscreen text is announced as text. That helps avoid any confusion because it distinguishes onscreen text from the narration track itself.

The second thing I pointed out was that all of the narrator’s descriptions are grounded in the most familiar terms possible. We start with a “foggy mountain range,” which is simple enough. Then we have a girl peeling apart a pod of seeds and blowing them away. Even if you’ve never done this or even seen someone do this, it is still a tangible image. And then we get to what could be a tricky part, which is providing an audio description for Okja, a creature that does not exist in reality. The narrator could have accurately described Okja in very alien terms, but that probably would not lend itself well to quick absorption and comprehension by the listener. So what the narrator says is, “a full-grown superpig approaches from the brush.” The use of the word “superpig” follows an important precept of good audio description: it matches the vocabulary to the content. Superpigs are the official name of the species in the movie. However, to the person who can’t see the screen, superpig doesn’t mean anything. So, the narrator takes us on the path of least resistance: he grounds us in a familiar image of a young girl playing in the woods, and then defines the superpig visually in the most familiar terms possible. He says it’s “gray and the size of a small elephant with a pig-like midsection, long, floppy ears, and a snout like a hippo.” These are all relatively familiar ingredients that the listener can meld into a strange new thing in the imagination, and that thing is likely to resemble what a sighted person can see on the screen. And that means that an equivalent experience has been provided, which is the objective of good audio description.

Because the content is described so simply, clearly, and concisely, the audio description for Okja is easy to comprehend. A novice audio describer might say, “Oh, I’m going to need at least seven minutes of extended audio description to explain all of that.” However, with the right word choice and the right sense of how to transition from the familiar to the unfamiliar, standard audio description works great in this clip, and provides a true equivalent experience.

If you would like more examples of good audio description, and you missed our webinar on November 21st, you can access the recording and transcript from 3Play Media’s website: The Best Way to Create Audio Description.

James Herndon
Accessibility Consultant | Atlanta, GA