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Audio Description Voice Over

By Joe Davis. Published May 29, 2023. Last Updated: Mar 15, 2024.
Filed Under: Voiceover Genres

The following is an overview of audio description voice over by longtime fulltime voice actor Melissa Exelberth, who added Audio Description to her voiceover and narration work years ago.

For those not familiar with Audio Description, it’s the audio track for blind audiences.  A narrator, reading from a script prepared by an audio description writer, describes the scenes with information about characters, scene changes, actions, text on screen and other visual content to allow people who are blind to hear all of the information a sighted person can see. The narration fits in between the dialogue. Many network and streaming shows include this track and you can just turn it on.  

Audio Description has been mandated by the FCC for a certain number of broadcast TV shows going back a few decades, but over the past few years the streaming services have jumped onboard and they're creating description tracks for much of their programming.  It's a growing area of voiceover and narration - poised to grow more in the future.   One can liken it to the narrative part of an audiobook in a way. A narrator has to find that delicate balance of living within the emotion of the scene, without getting in the way or distracting.

I started narrating Audio Description a few years ago and since I started narrating it I watch everything with it enabled.  Yes,  AD is for sighted audiences too.

I can cook,  I can clean,  I can do all those things you can’t do while you’re “watching” TV.  And I find, done well, it’s a fuller experience.  I’ve noticed that I hear some things that the description has pointed out that I might not have noticed by watching - and that’s because of the writers, who are incredibly talented and should be celebrated.   And, like all voiceover work, good writing makes our job as narrators much easier.

Still not quite sure how it fits in with your favorite show or movie?  Here's an example.  Watch this short trailer for Frozen with your eyes closed.  Do you have any idea of what's going on?  I'll wait.

So... did you understand what was happening?  Of course not.  

Now watch the same trailer with Audio Description - again with your eyes closed.

See what I mean?  And I think it's even funnier with the AD!
End of the overview from Melissa Exelberth.

Audio Description Voice Over: Enhancing Accessibility and Engagement

The world of entertainment and media has taken giant strides in promoting inclusivity and accessibility, one of the key tools in this endeavor being Audio Description voice over. This unique area of voice over work plays an invaluable role in making visual media accessible to visually impaired audiences, and in many cases, enhancing the experience for all viewers. This page will delve into what Audio Description voice over is, how it's used, and its various applications.

What is Audio Description Voice Over?

Audio Description (AD) voice over is a narration technique used in visual media to provide additional descriptive information for individuals with visual impairments. This technique involves a voice talent describing essential visual elements - such as scenes, actions, gestures, or expressions - during natural pauses in dialogue, or between significant sound elements. This allows visually impaired individuals to fully understand and appreciate the media they are consuming.

The Power of Audio Description Voice Over

The importance of AD voice over goes beyond accessibility. It brings a number of benefits:

  • Promoting Inclusivity: AD voice over makes visual media, such as films, TV shows, and live performances, accessible to visually impaired audiences. It ensures that everyone can enjoy these forms of entertainment and information.

  • Enhancing Engagement: Even for individuals without visual impairments, AD voice over can enhance the media viewing experience by adding depth to the narrative and offering insights that might otherwise be missed.

  • Improving Comprehension: AD can aid in comprehension, especially in complex or fast-paced narratives, by providing additional explanatory information.

Types of Audio Description Voice Over

There are several types of AD voice over, catering to different forms of visual media:

  • Film and TV Audio Descriptions: This is the most common form of AD voice over. In this scenario, voice over artists describe key visual elements in a film or TV show to help visually impaired viewers follow the story. The voice artist must strike a balance between providing necessary detail and maintaining the flow of the narrative.

  • Live Performance Audio Descriptions: These are provided during live events, such as theatre performances or concerts. The voice talent describes the setting, costumes, actions, and reactions, enabling visually impaired individuals to appreciate the performance fully.

  • Museum and Art Gallery Audio Descriptions: Museums and art galleries use AD to enhance accessibility. Voice artists describe exhibits and artworks, offering visually impaired visitors a rich and engaging experience.

  • Educational Material Audio Descriptions: Educational materials, such as instructional videos or educational TV shows, often incorporate AD to ensure visually impaired students can fully understand and engage with the content.

Audio Description voice over plays a crucial role in promoting accessibility and enhancing enjoyment of visual media. It’s an area of voice over work that requires sensitivity, creativity, and a deep understanding of the narrative to bring stories alive for all audiences. When seeking an AD voice over artist, it's vital to consider their ability to convey visual elements effectively and engagingly, thus enriching the media experience for all viewers.

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