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Media Accessibility Information, Guidelines and Research

Audio Description Tip Sheet

The Audio Description Tip Sheet is intended as a quick reference for describers. View the DCMP Description Key for a comprehensive and accessible reference for audio description.

Rule #1

It is always important to follow "rule #1" of audio description: "Describe what you see." It may be helpful, however, to remember some of these other tips from the DCMP Description Key.


  • Style and delivery should be distinguishable from other voices used in a production without being distracting or jarring.
  • Match the style, tone, and pace of the description to the program being described.


  • Review the program's curricular goals or expected learning outcomes.
  • Note the grade levels of the intended audience, but remember that comprehension levels vary.
  • Research the subject and related terminology to ensure accurate definitions and clear descriptions.
  • Become familiar with the program being described—perhaps by "viewing" the program with no picture.
  • Practice voicing the description before recording.

What to Describe

  • Describe the visual elements that are the most essential to the viewer's ability to follow, understand, and appreciate the program's curricular content.
  • Describe from general (global) to specific (local).
  • Describe additional details as time permits, but don't try to fill every last moment with description.
  • Describe shape, size, texture, or color as appropriate to the comprehension or appreciation of content.
  • Consistently identify people and characters by name or obvious physical attribute (if no name is provided).
  • Describe discernable attributes and expressive gestures, but don't interpret emotion or reasoning.
  • Convey scene changes and the passage of time if it aids in the comprehension of the program.
  • If time permits, describe montages of images (moving or still) that often serve a supporting role.
  • When expanded description (also called extended description) is a technical and/or contractual option, provide this more in-depth description before the content rather than after.

How to Describe

  • Use vocabulary that is meaningful to students who are blind or visually impaired.
  • Describe visual action or movement in terms of the viewer's body.
  • Describe shapes, sizes, and other essential attributes of objects by comparison to objects that are familiar to the intended audience.
  • Deliver description in present tense, active voice, and in third-person narrative style. Speak clearly and at a rate that can be understood. Use the existing program audio as a guide.
  • Avoid describing over audio that is essential to comprehension (do so only when necessary).
  • Voice descriptions in conjunction with or before (but never after) the relevant visual content is onscreen.
  • Match vocabulary to the program, avoiding jargon.
  • Wait until technical vocabulary has been introduced in the program before using it in description.
  • Voice descriptions in complete sentences if possible.
  • Describe objectively, without interpretation, censorship, or comment.
  • Describe the source of sounds that are not immediately recognizable in the program context.

Revised January 2012

Description Key

DCMP's Description Key is quick and easy to access when you have description questions.

Description Key logo. Image of yellow skeleton key.

Tags: description, manuals-and-guidelines

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