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Adapting Video for VI Learners

Extending existing video materials

Hints for adding supplementary audio

The brief checklist below gives you the flavour of the issues you will need to consider, but we urge you to read further before starting, especially if you are intending to supplement specialist material such as science programmes. RNIB, the AUDETEL Project and US producers all have good advice to offer on how to do audio descriptions. Even if you are only aiming for modest supplements on a very limited scale for local consumption these make worthwhile reading. Their experience has shown what makes for helpful supplementary commentary, and how to avoid awful mistakes. They also show that there are no hard and fast rules, and how cultural differences affect what is acceptable - the American experience differs from that in the UK, for instance.

Note also that much of this advice is shaped by the limited time gaps available for inserting linear supplementary material, and will need rethinking if you are creating non-linear resources. There is little experience to guide you here, so be prepared to innovate and evaluate.


  • Use a neutral voice, distinct from the main narration and dialogue.
  • Describe relevant on-screen action in the present tense.
  • Be objective: don't add your own impressions or interpretations.
  • Aim to provide continuous answers to the unspoken questions 'Who? When? Why? Where? What?'
  • Pay particular attention to the names of people.
  • Don't overdub on-screen dialogue, even if it means your own cues are reduced to critical single words.
  • Don't destroy the mood. If tension is building, don't pre-empt what is coming. Don't remove the mystery by highlighting too strongly things which a sighted viewer might only recognise later are important.
  • Remember that your descriptions should include 'sighted' language such as colours and shades, where they are important to the plot or mood. VI audiences are not wholly composed of congenitally blind people, and even when a person has never seen, such language is part of day to day experience and will help build mental imagery. Figure out when and why colours (say) are important, and highlight those. (Are they evocative? Used to help disambiguate similar objects like cars in a chase?)
  • Help identify when scene shifts and time-shifts are happening (flash-backs and flash-forwards and the subsequent returns, the passing of time).
  • Clarify or highlight ambiguous or important sound effects.
  • Don't repeat what documentary or educational narrators say: concentrate on describing the illustrative graphical or video material itself.
  • Credits and titles can be complex. Prioritise the main actors and producers in credits. Decide if it is more important to set the scene running under a title than to read out opening text.
  • Your style will need to match the situation. Look for specific guidance on how to handle different audiences (children, adults, elderly people, learners), and what is needed in different situations (soap opera, documentary, news, cartoons, adventures, educational material, nature programmes)
  • Evaluate and refine: check your material with third parties before you use it.
  • Note that most guidance comes from working with linear, broadcast programmes. Non-linear or educational material will pose new problems, and generate new guidance.