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A Brief Review of Image Description and Descriptive Transcript

What's the difference between the two, the benefits of having them, and how to write good ones.

6/12/2023 6:58:10 AM

ASL version

If you are DeafBlind or prefer to watch the video in a high contrast format, watch the DeafBlind friendlier ASL version instead. To adjust the video speed, use YouTube's playback speed tool.

English version

Accessibility is one of the main goals of the Commission, and we would like to share some tips on creating image descriptions and descriptive transcripts to help make your content accessible.

Let’s review the differences between the two:

Image description describes the content of images, photos, graphs, and infographics, for instance. Who’s in the picture? What is going on in the picture? These can also double as photo captions to inform viewers of the content inside the photos.

Descriptive transcripts are transcripts of not only the dialogue but also the visual descriptions. Think of it as a captioning transcript with audio description on top. While regular transcripts only convey what is said, descriptive transcript fill in with more information.

Here are some tips to assist with creating image descriptions and descriptive transcripts:

Image descriptions:

Answer the basic questions of who, where, and what. Stick to the basics and try to avoid over-describing. Just give the nutshell of what’s in the picture. To help you describe the image, answer the following questions:

  • Who is in the photo? Name individuals if possible, or give a brief description if unknown.
  • Where was the photo taken? Outside? Inside? The Capitol building? A theater?
  • What is happening in the photo? Is the person shaking hands with the governor? Is the person signing a document? A group of individuals posing for Lobby Day?

These questions will help you narrow down information needed for the image descriptions.

A word on alternate text, which is also available. Images can also have alt text embedded, which will show up to screen-readers. While they are useful, it is good to include image descriptions as well, as they provide more context information, and not every person can benefit from screen reader software. So it is good practice to provide both when possible.

Descriptive transcripts:

Describing the visual aspects of a video clip requires a few more steps but can be done! First of all, is there a caption file available? This will make the description-writing much easier and faster and save yourself some time. Download the caption file (if already made) and delete the timestamps.

Next, add the visual descriptions in between the dialogue. Not every line will need a description. Start the description with an overall summary of what is shown in the video, such as “Zoom meeting with twenty individuals with their video screens visible.” This helps set the context of the video - it is a zoom meeting. Some items to describe:

  • changes in scenery
  • changes of who is shown on the screen
  • signed communications that might not show up in the captions, 
  • text on screen (text overlay, PowerPoint slides, visual numbers and email addresses, etc).

In short, describe the focus point of the video and significant changes to the visual aspect. Avoid describing details that are not relevant to the message being shared. Think of the ‘W’ questions from image descriptions and apply them here as well.

Current best practices is to provide both alt text and image descriptions, and to provide descriptive transcripts over traditional transcripts. Not everyone is aware of the accessibility features and may overlook them for more traditional methods. For instance, Facebook has a feature where the poster can edit alternative text, which is only visible to screen readers and when images do not load up correctly. However, many folks still prefer to read the image/video description along with the photos themselves. This is especially true for those with low-vision and still benefit from seeing the pictures/videos themselves.

Benefits of image descriptions and descriptive transcripts:

Use of image description and descriptive transcripts are not limited to individuals who have vision loss. Sighted individuals also benefit from image description and descriptive transcripts. With image descriptions, they provide context information that might be lost on the viewer - aiding with identification of persons, objects, or locations in the photo. They also help with finding photos in searches, either through search engines or social media posts. With descriptive transcripts, sometimes folks do not have time to watch the whole video, they can easily read through the transcript quickly. This is also helpful when captions are not available, and sound of voices or visuals of signers is not clear enough or cut off, transcripts help fill in that gap.

We hope these tips will help you in creating image descriptions and descriptive transcripts.


The Minnesota Commission of the Deaf, DeafBlind & Hard of Hearing thanks:

Nic Zapko for ASL talent.

Daria Goede for voiceover.

Keystone Interpreting Solutions for film production.

accessible technology

communication access


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