Audio description for the vision impaired

As a video producer, animator, or communicator, how do you share visual work with people who are blind, or have low vision?

Audio description

You’ve probably heard of on-screen audio captioning for the hearing impaired, however, audio description for the vision impaired is a little less common.

Audio description is an additional narration that paints an image of transitions, movements, gestures, props, settings, costumes and scenery woven between the dialogue. 

This is achieved by having an audio description on a separate audio track, where a narrator describes what is visually happening on the screen. 

If you haven’t seen an example before, take a look at this clip from the movie Frozen.

When to use audio description

A video only requires audio description if there is something that needs better visualisation.

For example, if the video simply shows someone delivering a speech, an audio description might not add any value however, if the video has graphics, or particular character actions that provide context to the scene, an audio description might be useful.


WCAG is a technical standard developed under the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Australian Government agencies, affiliated organisations and contractors, are required to be compliant with WCAG guidelines.

WCAG has three levels of conformance when it comes to audio description: A, AA and AAA.

Common among all levels of WCAG is that an audio described version of a video can be provided either by enabling it using a button on a video player, having it on the video by default, or providing a completely separate video which is audio described on the same page or a nearby hyperlink.

Why should I use audio description?

Aside from WCAG requirements, today, more than 453,000 Australians live with blindness and vision impairment. 

This greatly impacts their ability to consume visual media like television and participate in cultural events such as sport, theatre, museums and galleries. 

Without audio description, a significant portion of the population is excluded from fully engaging with these activities.

Who is currently using audio description?

Following a $2 million funding injection from the Federal Government, the ABC and SBS have introduced an audio description service for audiences who are blind or vision impaired.

Audio description is available on selected programming on ABC TV, ABC ME, ABC TV Plus and ABC Kids. On SBS Audio description is available on selected programming on SBS (SD and HD) and SBS VICELAND.

Did the podcast kill the video star?

Narrative, or storytelling remains a staple in brand strategy, and while the video and podcast naturally lend themselves to the art of storytelling – has the podcast killed the video star?

The podcast is still a young and evolving format however, both the podcast and video reflect the era in which we live; one where symbolism and imagery can constitute economic value. 

The ability to download and listen to a podcast at home, work, or even at the gym  makes a podcast incredibly versatile however, video streaming and improved bandwidth means watching video content has become increasingly fluid when mixed with other marketing media.

You may think a podcast will keep a listener’s attention for a longer period of time, but with pandemic lock-downs and increased screen time, users now prefer longer form video content in their search for information.

Podcasts can however, offer a level of intimacy not often seen with video, which lends itself well to more targeted, niche audiences. 

But today, it seems the winning formula is not determined by ‘podcast or video’ because both have endless narrative possibilities. Far from being alternatives, in opposition to one another, they should be used in synergy; juxtaposed within a single format, or coexisting on different axes of a content strategy.

Brand audio trends: how will 2021 sound?

How will next year sound? Here are four audio trends you should expect to hear in 2021.

Brand Voice

At the end of 2018, more than 1.35 million Australian households had a smart speaker in their home.

In 2021, industry experts suggest we will see a surge in the number of brands investing in voice technology to create a distinctive brand voice or voices. As such, brand voices will become increasingly sophisticated, blending real human voices with synthetic and AI resources. 

Sound UX and UI

User experience (UX) and user interface (UI), is largely dominated by visual or physical design. In 2021, audio UX will become part of this broader user experience strategy as an integral aspect of audio branding and digital commerce.

Security and speed is also becoming increasingly important, with brands like Mastercard, Visa and Amex adding sound to point-of-sale transactions to create feelings of safety and security.

360 Degree Audio

While 360 degree audio is commonplace in the movie and gaming industry, industry experts suggest 2021 will see a growing number of brands begin to create 360 audio to enhance digital brand interactions.

In fact, the foundations have already been laid with the technology in headphones, smart speakers and laptops, which create the feeling that we are being directly spoken to.

AI generated music

AI generated music isn’t new however, 2021 could see the technology head in a brand-new direction.

While AI projects such as Jukebox, have learned to produce original music in the recognisable style of famous artists, we may not see brands look to create music from the likes of Elvis Presley, but we may see AI music tailored to our preferences and potentially fit with our moods and contextual experiences.

Siri is listening in new Whitsundays tourism campaign

Queensland’s new ‘Wonders of The Whitsundays’, tourism campaign uses one of the world’s most recognisable voices – Apple’s Siri. Because, as it turns out, the voice of Siri, Karen Jacobsen, is a Queenslander, and in fact, a Whitsundays local.

How did Karen become the voice of Siri? She was living in New York, following her dream of becoming a professional singer when she auditioned for a voice acting job.

“A client was looking for an Australian voice-over artist. I read the brief, and I thought, “They’re describing me”. I got the job and I found myself in the studio recording for almost 50 hours for the text-to-speech voice recognition system.’ said Karen.

Playing on the rumour (or fact), that Siri is always listening to us, the radio ads use ‘real life’ scenarios like a conversation about a cancelled trip to Thailand and health tracking. 

Each scenario arrives at the same conclusion; that the person needs a trip to the beautiful white beaches and blue waters of the Queensland islands.

The tourism campaign aims to showcase the accessibility and affordability of the Whitsundays and to highlight the unique experiences the region offers.

The campaign will roll out first across Queensland and New South Wales, then Victoria. The campaign will also include TV advertising, digital display, out of home activity, content partnerships and social activity.

The campaign has (so far) resulted in over 13K quotes for travel and over 400 bookings to the region.

Listen to the ‘Wonders of The Whitsundays’, campaign spots here:

What’s down the road for radio advertising?

While radio advertising remains a staple for many brands in Australia, advertising avenues like in-stream, podcasting and broader digital continue to challenge the investment return of radio.

In the US, radio execs have spent years building strategic relationships with car makers to ensure their marketing channel remains relevant.

Enter ‘connected cars’; cars that can communicate with systems outside of the car, allowing the transfer of user data.

To better understand radio performance in today’s market, a pilot study was conducted by General Motors and Taco Bell.

GM’s connected cars were able to measure location data and in-car radio listening data, while Taco Bell provided radio advertising logs for analysis. 

The study used three different radio ads: a typical 30 second radio spot, an on-air personality sponsorship and promotions for news/weather/traffic reports. 

The study concluded that:

  • the 30 second radio spot was most effective in lifting drive through restaurant visits;
  • personality sponsorships and news/weather/traffic spots generated synergies when combined;
  • the combination of a 30 second ad with a voiced personality enhanced campaign frequency and 
  • mid-day recorded the highest driving activity.

Today, with Amazon, Google and Apple trying to embed their systems into ‘connected cars’ the potential to leverage user data in order to improve ad relevance and targeting might not be as far away as we think. 

Imagine approaching a McDonalds in your car as a McDonald’s radio ad starts, prompting you to drive through and buy a burger.

Our top 5 greatest movie voice overs of all time

5. The Big Lebowski (1998) – Sam Elliot

Sam Elliot plays a cowboy named the Stranger in this cult Lebowski classic.

His stylised American cowboy character has also featured in other films like Bradley Cooper’s adaption of ‘A Star is Born’ and the terrible ‘Ghost Rider’ with Nicholas Cage.

4. Trainspotting (1996) – Ewen McGregor

The music, the oddball characters and the thick Scottish accent of Ewen McGregor as the narrator in ‘Trainspotting’ – what’s not to love about this film from Danny Boyle.

Plus, the “Choose life” monologue is simply a brilliant piece of writing.

3. Clueless (1995) – Alicia Silverstone

This Rodeo Drive inspired take on Jane Austen’s Emma features the voice of 90’s superstar Alicia Silverstone.

Director Amy Heckerling is said to have chosen Alicia to play the role after having seen her in an Aerosmith video.

2. Shawshank Redemption (1995) – Morgan Freeman

While it disappointed at the box office on it’s release, Shawshank Redemption has become a classic in its own right, in part due to the performance and narration from Morgan Freeman.

Since, Freeman has earned himself a reputation as the ultimate movie narrator.

1. Casino (1995) – Martin Scorsese

While not the voice, like the actors in our top 4, you just can’t go past Martin Scorsese as the master of the film voice over. His use of voice over is unparalleled; from Taxi Driver and Goodfellas to The Irishman.

In Casino, the narration is divided among the main actors and heard almost continuously throughout the film. It even features one character being murdered in the midst of delivering his own voice over.

What makes a great voice over?

When we think about a great voice over, the likes of James Earl Jones might spring to mind, because we connect with the actor rather than the technical aspects of the read. But if you don’t have the budget for Morgan Freeman, or Joanna Lumley, what makes a great voiceover?

We think the technical aspects of a great voice-over should consist of the following elements:


Simply put, if the voice over recording is inaudible in any way i.e. too low, or ‘muddy’ or too high and distorted, it will be difficult for people to understand, so your audience will simply switch off. Always ensure your audio is recorded to the highest quality at the right levels.


Pacing refers to the speed at which the voice over is read. A fast read, can sound over excited, giving the impression that the message is urgent, while a slow read may come across as disengaged. The best voice overs have a natural and deliberate pace.

Tone and inflection

Inflection refers to the change in the pitch and rhythm of your voice, while tone refers to the quality and strength of your speech. For example, lifting your voice upward at the end of a sentence would indicate a question, while moving it down would emphasize what you said.


Enunciation is derived from the Latin word enuntiationem, meaning ‘declaration’. Enunciation is more than pronouncing words clearly, it’s expressing them. An example of people with good enunciation, might be newsreaders or public speakers. Poor enunciation is seen in those who mumble, or mash their words together.

So, regardless of who your voice over talent is, look out for these elements when trying to understand if it’s a great voice over or not.

How to choose the right voice over artist

You might not think your choice of voice-over artist matters however, your companies ‘voice’ is just as important as every other brand decision you make because a voice-over will not only reinforce your brand’s personality but influence how people perceive your brand/business.

Here are a few tips to help you choose the right voice-over artist.

Who are you?

Your voice-over artist will essentially become the ‘voice’ of your brand, so it should reflect the personality, tone and style of your business. Do you want to come across as mature and reliable, or do you see your brand as young and carefree?

Who’s your audience?

It can often help to imagine how your target customer might look and sound, and look for those qualities in your voiceover artist.

If your customer base are twenty-something single females, then having a similar aged voice-over artist will set the tone and style. However, gender is interchangeable, and using the same demographic isn’t a hard and fast rule.

What are you saying to your audience?

Consider your message. Are you selling something, trying to tell a story, or sharing an idea?

Some styles of voice-over are more suited to a ‘sales’ delivery i.e. television or radio commercials. While this is effective for short, sharp deliveries, it can be inappropriate for a sensitive brand story or corporate message. Look for a pace and tone of voice that appropriately reflects your message.

Compare a range of different voice overs

If you have a broad customer base and are still unsure what your brand should sound like, listen to a range of different styles, tones and demographics. Ask yourself if the voice feels right for the message and what your audience might expect and relate to.

Why you need an on hold telephone message

While customer-facing channels like your website or social media are at the fore, it’s important not to forget traditional communication channels like the good old telephone because customers’ will more often than not pick it up to speak with you directly.

So why do hundreds of millions of businesses worldwide still invest in professionally recorded on-hold messages?

They set the tone

A potential customer is much more likely to purchase from a business they trust, and a professional voice-over will automatically emote experience, quality and authenticity. A great on-hold message will even communicate your business values or brand style.

They reduce customers hanging up

Naturally, you don’t want a potential customer to hang up. Unlike on-hold music, a voice message that provides product or service information will keep a customer engaged. After all, they are ringing to make an inquiry or do business, so tell them how you can help.

They market your business

A person waiting on-hold is obviously a captive audience, so take advantage of the situation to upsell your products and services. Tell them about a new product or service or special offer.

They keep customers informed

In a great many instances a simple on-hold message can provide information about frequently asked questions or important business information like store opening hours or changes in the business.

Professional on-hold messages can be recorded by a voice-over artist and on your telephone system in just 24-hours – so you can update and refresh your messages as soon as you have new information to share.

So what does a professional on-hold message sound like?

Hardy Audio has a huge range of fantastic voice-over talent. Plus, we can incorporate music, sound effects and more.

Podcasting: How to get started

With a great many now working from home in an effort to self-isolate amidst the coronavirus pandemic, a podcast is a fantastic way to engage and create a sense of personal connection with your peers or customers.

To help get you started we’ve put together a few of the essentials.

Have Something to Say

Brainstorm topic ideas the same way you would a blog. What information would be helpful or useful to your audience or customers? Who in our network can you reach out to as guests?

Microphone and Headphones

There are quite a few Podcast microphones like the Blue Yeti available online; it really just depends on your budget. To monitor the audio, you can use a pair of mobile phone headphones however, something with a little more quality like music or gaming headphones will help you hear the quality of your recorded audio much better.

Editing Software

There are a ton of free and professional audio editing programs. Take a look at Audacity or even Apple’s pre-installed Garage Band.

Conferencing Software

If you plan to have more than one person speaking you might want to look at conferencing software like Zoom however, there are also a great many others to chose from.

Make it Professional

If you want to up your Podcast game, consider an affordable but professional audio service to clean up the audio. They can take out any ums and ahs and even add royalty-free music and sound effects.