A new approach to creating and deploying audio description for live theater

Dirk Vander Wilt, Morwaread Mary Farbood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Audio description is an accessibility service used by blind or visually impaired individuals. Often accompanying movies, television shows, and other visual art forms, the service provides spoken descriptions of visual content, allowing people with vision loss the ability to access information that sighted people obtain visually. At live theatrical events, audio description provides spoken descriptions of scenes, characters, props, and other visual elements that those with vision loss may otherwise find inaccessible. This paper explores a novel approach to automate the creation and deployment of audio description for repeatable live theatrical events, both musical and non-musical. Using readily available tools and established sound-processing techniques, we describe a framework to automate several aspects of audio description for theater. The method uses a reference audio recording and an online time warping algorithm to align audio description with live performances, including a process for handling unexpected interruptions. We also show how a reference audio recording and descriptive tracks can be generated automatically from a show’s script and used to facilitate the deployment of audio description without sufficient resources for multiple performances or a live audio describer. Finally, a software implementation that is integrated into an existing theatrical workflow is also described. This system is used in three evaluation experiments that show the method successfully aligns multiple recordings of works of musical theater and non-musical plays in order to automatically trigger pre-recorded, descriptive audio in real time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)771-781
Number of pages11
JournalPersonal and Ubiquitous Computing
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Library and Information Sciences
  • Hardware and Architecture
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Management Science and Operations Research


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