Audio Description

My last post focused on alt text, image description for web sites and social media posts. In this post, I will discuss audio description for videos and performances.

The Ultimate Guide to Audio Description explains it this way.

“Audio description is an audio track that narrates the relevant visual information in media. Audio description assumes that the viewer cannot see, and therefore depicts the key visual elements that are necessary to understanding the content as an accommodation for blind and low vision viewers.”

Audio description was developed for live theater performances in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1987, WGBH began offering audio description for television shows under the brand name Descriptive Video Services (DVS).

When media is described, narration is added during the natural pauses in the dialogue of the original content.

The YouTube video linked from this post is an excellent example of audio description. The narration in the opening sequence includes the film location and describes the action—a speeding race car that crashes.

This video, released by PBS American Masters in July 2021, is titled “Kitty O’Neil: Deaf racecar driver, daredevil and stunt legend” More than 50 percent of the production team are people with disabilities including the producer, writer/director, and show host.

Watch Kitty O’Neil: Deaf racecar driver, daredevil and stunt legend

To learn more, visit the Audio Description Project. This site hosts a searchable database of described videos. If you want to produce your own described content, you can read their guides explaining the process, or you can browse lists of companies offering description services in English and in other languages.


What is Alt Text And Why Is It Important?

On February 18, 2022, the New York Times published an article that explained how blind people learned about images on web pages and in social media posts. The solution is to add brief descriptions to images that can be read aloud by  screen readers.

For background information, read this post. How do blind people use the internet?

What Is Alt Text?

Alt text is a brief description of a picture. Here are some examples of good alt text taken from the New York Times article.

•            Cute puppy lying on sofa.

•            Neon sign reading, “open.”

•            A firefighter leans on an axe in a burning forest.

The examples listed above are clear. They briefly describe what is in the picture.

The article also gives unclear examples of alt text.

•            final_final.jpg

•            image

When I hear my screen reader say .jpg,” or another file extension like .tif or .png, I know that the alt text is the file name of the photo that was uploaded to the web page. If I hear the word “image” I know that no alt text was associated with the photo upload.

How To Add Alt Text To Images

Alt text can be added when someone associates a description with a picture that they are uploading to a web page or social media post.

Content management systems like WordPress have edit fields labeled for alt text that appear when I edit a photo in my media library. Once I add it, the alt text is included when I put the photo on the page.

Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram let users add alt text to photos that they upload. Searching the help pages should bring up the correct settings for each platform.

Another way to include alt text is to type a description into the caption of a social media post. I sometimes comment on my friends’ posts asking them to describe an image.

Finally, those who use html to code their content can add the alt text to code that associates the description with the image. Programmers can search the W3Schools Online Web Tutorials for sample html code.

Resources for Writing Alt Text

The Cooper Hewitt Guidelines for Image Description.

“This document outlines types of descriptions, the structure of a description, and recommendations to help guide writing descriptions (with examples).”

The Guidelines for Verbal Description  published by Art Beyond Sight explain how to describe art works like paintings and sculptures.

“Generally, a coherent description should provide visual information in a sequence, allowing a blind person to assemble, piece by piece, an image of a highly complex work of art.”

The Poet Training Tool “is a web-based image description resource that helps people learn when and how to describe various types of images frequently found in educational books.”

Using alt text to make science Twitter more accessible for people with visual impairments is an article published by Nature Communications in November 2020.

“Scientists increasingly post images and photos on social media to share their

research activities. However, posting images and photos could potentially

exclude people with visual impairments. Here, we outline actions that should be

taken to foster accessibility and inclusion in posting scientific images on

social media.”

Alt Text As Poetry is a collaboration between artists Bojana Coklyat and Shannon Finnegan. They write about the language used in image descriptions.

Finally, I recommend downloading and reading this academic paper about representing race and gender in image descriptions. Cynthia Bennett and her co-authors interviewed

“screen reader users who were also Black, Indigenous, People of Color, Non-binary, and/or Transgender on their current image description practices and preferences, and experiences negotiating theirs and others’ appearances non-visually.”

Call to Action

Writing alt text that describes images is a crucial step towards making web pages and social media posts accessible to everyone. The absolute best way to learn to write alt text is to do it. It is a skill that people can learn to do well with practice.

accessibility Sonification

The Sound of Tennis

During the last week of January 2022, I read several articles about a system that produced 3D sound tracking the movements of a tennis ball in motion. Action Audio transforms spatial data from the Australian Open’s real time ball monitoring technology into 3D sound.

This FAQ explains how the system works. The first item on the page is a documentary. Below that is a series of short video clips that demonstrate the individual sounds assigned to the ball as it moves across the court.

The sounds are:

•            Blips increase in frequency as the ball approaches the court perimeter.

•            A metallic bell/rattle sound indicates that the ball has been hit.

•            High pitches identify forehand serves, and lower pitches correspond to a backhand serve.

The last clip includes the 3D sound and video from a previous tennis match. It is an “18 shot rally between Marin Čilić and Roger Federer in the fourth set of the Australian Open 2018 singles men’s final”.

The clip begins with the players hitting the ball back and forth. Then one player misses a shot. The crowd noise confirms my observation.

During the 2022 Australian Open, viewers could watch a livestream that included Action Audio overlaid onto the broadcast commentary.

Action Audio is a collaboration between Tennis Australia, Monash University and AKQA. The collaborators “thank the International Blind Tennis Association, Blind Sports & Recreation Victoria and the many sports fans who contributed to the co-design of Action Audio.”

accessibility publications

2021 in review

2021 was a hybrid year.  Much of my work is still being done virtually, but I resumed in-person activities especially after I was vaccinated. The hybrid nature of my work in 2021 reminds me that virtual and in-person activities have different advantages.

Virtual conferences give people the flexibility to attend from anywhere. If the platform allows it, they can view files on demand.

In May,  I submitted a virtual poster for the American Alliance of Museums conference titled In Their Own Words: Adults Who Are Blind Describe Museums

I conduct Site assessments in-person.

In 2021, I evaluated the accessibility of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) Memorial located on the National Mall in Washington D.C. I describe my observations, and recommendations for improvements in this report Commissioned by the FDR Memorial Legacy Committee.

Publication is an important way to share results of innovative projects. I contributed to two publications in 2021.

the exhibition catalog for Redefine/ABLE: Challenging Inaccessibility

Bring Your Own (Accessible) Device: A Mobile Guide Solution for Promoting Accessibility, Social Distancing, and Autonomy in Museums

accessibility exhibits publications research

Bring Your Own Accessible Device

I am pleased to announce the publication of our work creating and testing an accessible mobile guide for the Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum. This paper describes a web-based mobile guide that visitors can access via their personal devices. “The guide features visual descriptions of artifacts, non-visual wayfinding directions to exhibitions, summaries of exhibit content in easy-to-read bullet points, open-captioned videos kept under two minutes, video transcripts, and photos with alt text.”

The Intrepid mobile guide is free and can be viewed online.

Our article citation is:

Race, Lauren, Charlotte Martin, Xinwen Xu, Cheryl Fogle-Hatch, and Amy Hurst. 2021. “Bring Your Own (Accessible) Device: A Mobile Guide Solution for Promoting Accessibility, Social Distancing, and Autonomy in Museums.” The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum 15 (2): 1-23. doi:10.18848/1835-2014/CGP/v15i02/1-23

accessibility exhibits publications

Redefine/ABLE exhibition catalog

I begin this post by quoting from an announcement for a new book that contains essays that I co-authored with my excellent colleagues and one piece that I wrote as a sole author.

“Redefine/ABLE: Challenging Inaccessibility aims to inform audiences about disability issues, to share the challenges and success stories of those with disabilities, and to identify ways we can create more accessible, inclusive spaces.”

This book includes content from the Redefine/ABLE exhibition hosted by the Peale Center for Baltimore History and Architecture as well as essays contributed by project collaborators. Instructions to get a copy are at the end of this post.

The Redefine/ABLE exhibition was a collaboration between University of Maryland graphic design students and members of the disability community in Maryland. It was scheduled to open in two physical spaces, the University of Maryland, College Park, and in downtown Baltimore, in mid-March 2020. Like so many events, the physical exhibitions were suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Redefine/ABLE was also scheduled as an online exhibition to open in March 2020, but the pandemic delayed the website launch to July 2020. Between March and July 2020, many of the contributors wrote, or re-wrote their essays in response to the pandemic.

Two essays describe the online exhibition and associated programs that were held in July and August of 2020.

•            An Exhibition Redefined by a Pandemic by Audra Buck-Coleman

•            Redefining Redefine/ABLE: From Access to Inclusion at the Peale by Nancy Proctor

Content Written Before the Pandemic

The exhibition panels designed by University of Maryland Students present what they learned about accessibility for people with disabilities in a pre-pandemic world (fall 2019 semester through March 2020). The panel titles are:

•            Discover/ABLE: What does it mean to be disabled?

•            Deny/ABLE: What isn’t accessible?

•            Access/ABLE: How are objects and spaces inclusive?

•            Confront/ABLE: What does it mean to be ableist?

•            Relate/ABLE: What do we have in common?

One essay does not mention the pandemic. It is “Listen Very Carefully” by Ruth Lozner

Content Written During the Pandemic

As we prepared for the website launch in July 2020, we wrote two essays that expanded on the exhibition themes.

“The interconnected-ness of Covid-19 to discrimination against the disabled” gives examples of pandemic responses that had negative effects on people with disabilities. Both Audra Buck-Coleman and I have undergraduate degrees in journalism. Writing this piece on current events drew on that training.

“Bearing witness to the ableism embedded within the pandemic” is a Q&A between Audra, me, and a third colleague, Robin Marquis, offering our personal reflections on this topic.

Contributors discussed how access to museum exhibits changed during the pandemic. I wrote a first draft of my essay “Please Do Touch the Art!” in February 2020. Later, I expanded the essay to incorporate my thoughts about ways museums could continue to display touch objects during the pandemic.

I also recommend the essay by Kevin Bacon and Lara Perry “Technology, Covid-19, and accessibility: Challenges and opportunities for museums”.

Finally, Audra Buck-Coleman, NALIYAH KAYA, and I described “Five Accessibility and Inclusion Insights from Producing an Exhibition During Covid-19”.

How to Get This Book

This book is available as a free download from The Peale Center’s website  A pay-for-print version via will be available soon. Check the same link for an order form.


News About The Braille on the FDR Memorial

The National Park Service (NPS) has finally acknowledged that there are issues with the size and spacing of the Braille Carved into the Walls of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. This update is posted on the accessibility page for the FDR Memorial.

Here is part of their statement.

“The artists used elements of Braille in several of the sculptures, but the size and spacing is inconsistent and was only meant to be an artistic representation.”

And “The Braille in Room 2 on the bas relief panels are the different New Deal program acronyms, but larger than life and disjointed. Those that read Braille will find them difficult to decipher.”

I documented problems with size and spacing of Braille in a report commissioned by the FDR Memorial Legacy Committee.

Here is my description of the Braille.

 “The Braille ranges from somewhat readable to completely unrecognizable. This includes the quote in the Prologue Room and the letters on the workers mural and the quotes on the columns in Room One.  My assessment is based on two facts: differences in horizontal and vertical spacing, and contrasts in raised versus indented dots.”

Although the NPS did not credit my report, I am glad that the agency recognized that the Braille is abstract and artistic.  This is a small step towards improving accessibility at the FDR Memorial.

It is important to note that the NPS published this site update on July 26, 2021, the 31st Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Also on that day, the FDR Memorial Legacy Committee held a public ceremony commemorating the ADA and honored disability leaders past and present, especially those who fought to add the wheelchair statue to the FDR Memorial. Two speakers at the event, Senator Tammy Duckworth and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton sponsored a Resolution calling on the NPS to improve accessibility at the FDR Memorial. Senator Tammy Duckworth discussed the problems with the Braille in her speech.

Kym Hall, National Capital Area Director, National Park Service also spoke at this ceremony. Director Hall did not mention the Braille, but she talked about audio described tours and other accessibility improvements.

I found the updated text about the Braille when I was on the FDR Memorial accessibility webpage looking for the audio described tour.

Dr. Fogle Hatch touches a column in the Memorial with her left hand. She holds a white cane in her right hand.
accessibility exhibits

Braille on the FDR Memorial

Dr. Cheryl Fogle-Hatch touches the Braille letter F in Franklin in the prologue room, FDR Memorial

Recently, I evaluated the accessibility of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) Memorial located on the National Mall in Washington D.C. My observations describe the experience of people who are blind or have low vision.

I describe my observations, and recommendations for improvements, in a report commissioned by the FDR Memorial Legacy Committee.

The Braille Carved into the Walls of the FDR Memorial

The Braille ranges from somewhat readable to completely unrecognizable. My assessment is based on two facts:

differences in horizontal and vertical spacing, and contrasts in raised versus indented dots.

I know that the Braille is not an accurate representation of my first and primary writing system—the pattern of dots that I learned as a child. Yet, I am impressed by the inventive and abstract nature of the artwork. The lack of interpretation about size and spacing of the Braille carvings means that sighted visitors cannot know the contradictions expressed by the abstract artwork that invites tactile experience. They think that the Braille is accurate, but it is distorted when read by touch.

Signs created in print, and Braille at the correct scale, would explain this fact.

My evaluation of the oversized and abstract Braille depicted on the FDR Memorial has been left out of previous accessibility reviews conducted by the National Park Service, the federal agency that manages memorials on the National Mall. These issues of representation are important, and I believe that aspect of the artwork deserves a place in any newly-created signs or interpretive media. I would welcome the chance to discuss such issues with park staff and consultants.

I think the inaccurate representation of Braille is comparable to the large statue of FDR where a desk chair with wheels was substituted for his actual wheelchair.

An acknowledgement of this parallel between inaccurate Braille and the desk chair with wheels enriches the experience of everyone because it shows the extent of misconceptions about crucial tools that people with disabilities use to perform so many essential daily tasks.

I wrote this post about the archives of the campaign for the wheelchair statue.

I made other recommendations in my report including:

•            Create tactile models of the oversized statues and the memorial itself

•            Add Text-based directions and wayfinding to the brochures and website

•            Build barriers around the broken fountains

My review of documentation provided by the National Park Service indicates that park staff have proposed solutions for creating tactile models, wayfinding, and mitigating safety concerns. In those cases, my recommendations are offered to strengthen future projects. Unfortunately, these documents do not include an acknowledgement of the oversized and abstract Braille carved on the walls of the FDR Memorial.

Press coverage

FDR memorial braille not easily readable – The Washington Post

A disabled president’s memorial still isn’t fully accessible to disabled visitors, a new report finds.


Theresa Vargas


May 19, 2021 at 7:07 p.m. EDT

Event recording

I presented highlights from my report in a webinar “Accessibility is NOT Optional” on May 20, 2021. Here are the recording and transcript of that event.

accessibility Sonification

Hearing the Light

My colleagues at the SPACE TELESCOPE SCIENCE INSTITUTE  in Baltimore are doing great work on sonification (representing data with sound). They developed a program that adds an audio component to graphs of data.

Watch this presentation  Hearing The Light on YouTube for more details.

Then listen to this podcast to hear their reflections working on this project during the pandemic.

I will be writing more about sonification in the future. Stay tuned.

3D-printing accessibility tactile

Making and Sharing Tactile Graphics

This post highlights websites where people can search for or request the creation of tactile graphics. These projects let people share their expertise and equipment and they offer a way for people to distribute the files or the completed tactile graphics.

See3D is a non-profit organization that manages the printing and distribution of 3D printed models. People who are blind can request a model, and anyone with a 3D printer can volunteer to print it. The site has details about making or filling a request.

BTactile is a website that allows users to perform a keyword search across the databases of several libraries worldwide. The search feature includes check boxes to filter results by kind of material (3D print, braille, tactile drawing etc.). Search results include the graphic name, repository, and most files are free to download under a Creative Commons license.

The Tactile Library contains diagrams made and donated by teachers of blind children. The database can be searched by subject and filtered by the child’s age. It is free and there is no registration or licensing required.

The American Printing House for the Blind maintains a Tactile Image Library serving teachers of blind students. An account registration is required to use this database.

In addition to the tactile libraries listed here, people can refer to my post on finding 3D models.