Audio description guidelines
The nine regional public broadcasters cooperating within ARD, ORF, SRF, ZDF as well as Deutsche Hörfilm gGmbH, Hörfilm e.V. and audioskript agreed on a number of audio description principles for the German-speaking world.
Audio description is the insertion of an additional narration into the soundtrack of a film in order to translate its images into acoustic information. The soundtrack constitutes the most valuable means for blind and partially sighted people to gain access to a film. It provides non-sighted viewers with a density of information that largely eludes sighted viewers. That is why it is desirable to involve skilled blind and visually impaired authors in preparing audio descriptions.
Analysing the content of a film and its formal aspects provides the basis for a good audio description. Taking this visual and acoustic analysis into account, four steps are necessary to decide on the narrative additions to the original soundtrack:
- choosing which visual information to describe
- its nature and its extent
- its placement
- its integration into the soundtrack
The aim of audio description is to make films as accessible to the blind and visually impaired as they are to sighted viewers. At the same time, though, audio description needs to respect and to preserve the unique qualities of film as a form of art.
An audio description should always be reviewed by skilled editors. The reviewers need to adhere to these minimum requirements
- The description needs to clarify who is doing what where and when for every scene relevant to the plot.
- Descriptions should interfere as little as possible with a film. They should therefore appear in-between dialogues but still in sync with the plot.
- Characters should be described as early as possible in the film:
- hair and skin colour
- facial expressions (gestures and facial expressions should be described with caution since they are prone to misinterpretation)
- The description should not cover up sounds relevant to the plot; consider the film score and do not drown out important musical accents. (Sometimes sounds and noises may be confusing or incomprehensible, in which case they should be identified by the description.)
- Colours are important to blind and visually impaired people and thus need to be part of a description.
- Audio description should not explain, judge or interpret.
- Instead of condensing actions too heavily, fit them to the genre and the mood of the film.
- Avoid the generic "we see".
- Descriptions are written in the simple present. As an exception to the rule, the present perfect may be used.
- No convoluted sentences, no complicated syntax. If the word order or certain words are constantly repeated, the description will come across as monotonous.
- Indefinite article for rooms, things etc. that are identified for the first time (unless they can be clearly assigned – e.g. his flat, his bed, his toothbrush).
- Only well-known technical terms should be used. If unknown technical terms are necessary, they need to be briefly explained.
- Cinematographic terminology should not be used. Its effect on the viewer should be verbalised instead.
- Regionally known places should only be identified if they are contextually relevant, in which case they should be described and introduced. Widely known places may be named.
- Left or right? The perspective of the viewer takes priority for directions, with the exception of body parts, i.e. someone's left foot or hand, which are described in accordance with the side of the body the respective parts belong to.
- Brands may be named if they are relevant to the plot or if they are important in defining someone’s character.
- Text overlays (e.g. inserts) and subtitles are read out.
- The actual description has to finish before the credits roll.
- AD narrators – their tone of voice and speech tempo should fit the mood of the respective film.
- The sound mix must comply with the technical standards (e.g. EBU R 128 for loudness).
- The sound mix has to support the character and the atmosphere of the original mix. The description should be easily intelligible at all times. Acoustically, the original soundtrack and the description should be equally balanced.