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Audio description… sorry what?


“Audio description… sorry what?” This is a phrase my mum hears a lot when being asked about her work.  But why?  Not many people know about audio description and this shouldn’t be the case; it helps countless numbers of people, old and young.  But what is audio description?  I’ve interviewed my mum who is an audio describer and she believes strongly that audio description should be known throughout the country and even worldwide.

What is it?

Audio description is a way of helping visually impaired people to access television by describing an audio account of what is going on when no one is talking.

This can be describing where the action is taking place, a facial expression or something else relevant that can’t be heard.  There are many stages until the audio description is finished and ready to be sent off.  First a programme is downloaded onto the computer and into a special editing programme, then the audio describers watch it slowly.  They then describe what they see at a particular moment and make sure they have enough time to say it in the gaps between speaking.  When the whole programme is scripted, the descriptions are voiced and recorded.  The average hour long programme is said to take four hours to script and then two hours to voice.  So a total average of six hours is needed to create the AD for a one hour programme.  Of course some programmes have more/ less speaking in them which contributes to the amount of time needed to script and voice them.

Why do you believe audio description is important?

I believe it’s important because there is a lot of great television, and there’s no reason for blind or partially sighted people to miss out.  Why should someone with sight problems miss out on important information when they’re watching Doctor Who for example?  They would want to know what the aliens look like too! 

Audio description helps autistic people as well.  People with autism can’t have too much visual stimulation, because if they do, this may trigger a seizure.  By using audio description, they wouldn’t have to focus on the visuals all the time, therefore preventing them from experiencing sometimes fatal accidents.  This means that they can enjoy the same programmes as everyone else, with the simple help of AD.

Are there any particularly difficult parts to describe – what types of programmes?

Some of the most difficult programmes to describe are documentaries about nature or science.  For example, if a documentary shows an ape swinging through the trees, and then shows it swinging through trees again and again, it can be hard to describe each bit differently.  We cannot be repetitive so we have to think of lots of different ways to say the same thing.  You do get used to reading facial expressions too.  Audio describers also find it hard when there is a lot going on in that section.  We can have lots of things happening, but not enough time to describe them all.  In those cases we choose whatever we believe to be the most important thing for the programme.

Why did you choose this branch of work/ media?

I was a trained journalist and television announcer used to reading out loud and writing factual scripts so this was something I knew I could do.  It’s also nice to know I am helping people with sight problems to enjoy television. I also do voice-overs for adverts.  It’s funny, when I was in school, all my reports used to say “Pauline should talk more”, but now, nobody can shut me up!

Why do you like your job?

One of the main reasons I love my job is because it is so varied; I never know which programmes I’ll be working on.  Some days it’ll be a serious documentary or CBeebies programmes, and other days it could be the Great British Bake Off or a top drama like Doctor Who.  There are also days when I have to work on programmes that I don’t particularly like, such as football programmes or crime dramas with murders – at least I get to learn new things about football!


The main point of this article was to make more people aware of what AD is and why it is important.  So now you know about audio description, there might be less “sorry what?” and more “oh, I know about that!”


By Holly