Describe the most relevant visual content


It isn’t possible to describe everything that can be seen on screen, but it isn’t usually necessary either. Vision impaired viewers will only want to know about the visual things that are relevant and important in helping them to understand and enjoy the programme. These are the attributes of people, places, objects, animals, actions or events that contribute to the understanding and enjoyment of the programme and are not already identified or described in the programme audio. Given the variable amount of relevant information in a scene and the variable amount of space between dialogue where descriptions can be inserted, it is often necessary to prioritise information for inclusion within the description.

Directions and techniques

Describe what the viewer needs to know

This may include information about:

    • Who is in the scene, their appearance, age, etc.;
    • What they are doing and what else is happening;
    • When it is happening and how much time has passed;
    • Where things are happening (in the world, after scene changes and positions within the scene).

Prioritise the most essential things and move from the general to the detailed

When deciding what to include in the description, prioritise those things that are most essential for understanding and appreciating the programme.

Describe context and generalities first, then add details as required.

Do not provide any more information than is visible or already known

Do not reveal details that are not known to sighted viewers. For example, when a new character appears, do not name them unless they have already been referred to by name. Instead, use a significant physical characteristic to identify or describe them, e.g. “A tall thin man wearing a cowboy hat”. Similarly, do not use words that give away the relationships between characters unless that relationship has already been revealed.

Describe visual details and positions

Where possible, include details that bring the scene to life and provide a richer source of mental visualisation, such as size and even colour. Small details often have significance. This is well illustrated by the following quote from a visually impaired participant in a survey carried out by the Audetel project:

“It may not mean much to me, but it might mean something. A man wearing a white shirt and dark trousers indicates somebody who is quite smart. If he’s wearing a tie, that also indicates tidiness and a seriousness of purpose.”

Most visually impaired people have at some time seen colours and have either retained the visual memory of colour or can remember the significance and impact of a particular colour.

Describing positions of objects and directions of movement can help users organize the information they hear.

Do not describe too much

Do not try to describe everything. It is not possible or even helpful to describe every visual detail in a scene. A continuous running commentary can obscure other important sounds such as voices, sound effects, music and even meaningful silences. Too much description can ruin the ambience and may be tiring or annoying to listen to.