Descriptive Audio

Woman sitting on a couch working on an iPad while listening to TV.

I enjoy listening to TV shows while I cook and relax, often doing jigsaw puzzles on my iPad. A feature I’ve found incredibly useful is descriptive audio. Similar to closed captions for the hearing impaired, descriptive audio narrates the visual elements crucial to the storyline. This doesn’t mean it describes everything; it selectively enhances understanding of important visual details, which I might miss if I were only listening to the audio.

This approach has improved how I write image alt text for educational resources. Descriptive audio has taught me that it’s not necessary to detail every part of a visual. Instead, it’s more impactful to focus on elements that support the narrative. Often, alt text can become too literal, which may lead to cognitive overload. By concentrating on relevant details, the descriptions help learners grasp the essential aspects of an image.

I was once told that to accommodate blind learners, one needed to describe every detail to mimic the experience of sighted learners. However, this isn’t practical or helpful. For instance, if colors are irrelevant to the content’s message, mentioning them only adds unnecessary ‘noise.’ It’s more effective to tailor alt text to convey the intended learning outcomes.

Although not all TV shows offer descriptive audio, those that do provide a richer, more accessible experience. I highly recommend trying it out—it’s been a game changer for how I listen or even when I wash TV and has shown me how to efficiently and effectively describe visual content.

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