YouTube’s Multiple Audio Tracks Make Videos More Accessible

Bridging the gap between language and accessibility

Key Takeaways

  • YouTube is testing multiple audio tracks for videos, which users can switch through to find the appropriate one for language or descriptive audio.
  • While useful for producing multilingual content, multiple audio tracks also allow for more readily available descriptive audio tracks for blind or low-vision users.
  • Experts say that making descriptive audio more available to the community is a huge step forward, as users currently need to go looking for it elsewhere.
An over the shoulder view of someone watching YouTube on a tablet computer.

CardMapr / Unsplash

With more people turning to YouTube every day, creating accessible content with multiple audio tracks will make content easier to navigate for users who speak different languages or rely on descriptive audio.

YouTube steadily has been adding new accessibility features over the years, including automated captions on live content and closed caption editing on videos. Now, YouTube is testing the use of multiple audio tracks on some channels, allowing creators to upload content that contains various types of audio for their audience to switch between.

Not only does the move allow for the creation of multi-language content, but it also will enable creators to include descriptive audio for blind or low-vision users, opening a new door to how you can interact with YouTube.

"Multiple soundtracks allow more easy access to described audio for people who are blind," Sheri Byrne-Haber, an accessibility advocate, told Lifewire in an email. "Without this support, individuals would have to go looking for a described audio soundtrack, and there was no consistent place where it would be located."

Creating Consistency

YouTube has become one of the most visited websites on the planet, with roughly 2.3 billion users registered for the video-sharing website. With so many users flocking to the website every month, it makes sense for creators to release content that is accessible and easy to find for long-timers and new viewers alike.

"Multiple soundtracks allow more easy access to described audio for people who are blind."

However, when it comes to descriptive audio, there is no bar of expectation—at least not yet. In its current form, adding descriptive audio to videos requires putting together a completely separate video. You then need to clearly annotate it as being made for users who want or need descriptive audio. 

While this method has worked over the years, it can create confusion for users, which has led to many creators including the descriptive audio version as an unlisted video which they link to in the video description. This makes it more difficult for viewers to find descriptive audio content. 

This isn’t the first time that descriptive audio as a separate audio track has appeared on YouTube. In 2020, the trailer for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla included an option to change the audio track to descriptive audio. However, the feature wasn’t seen widely on any other videos at the time.

Companies like Ubisoft have continued to put out videos with the feature enabled. Still, there hasn’t been a way for creators to consistently offer descriptive audio without themselves and their audience having to jump through extra hoops.

Making Accessibility a Priority

Back in 2019, it was reported that over 500 hours of content was uploaded to YouTube every minute. This content ranges from informational videos to funny compilations of cats and dogs. No matter the type of content you’re watching, it should always be accessible to anyone who wants to watch it.

Over the shoulder view of someone watching YouTube on a laptop computer.

Charles Deluvio / Unsplash

That’s why the addition of multiple audio tracks is such a huge deal for YouTube. Not only does it open the door for users who are blind or low-vision to enjoy more content, but it also lets multilingual creators lean into making their content more accessible for users who speak different languages.

Currently, users who want to create content for both an English and non-English audience need to upload two separate videos. This puts more strain on the creator, which could cause them to focus more on one language than another, cutting off users who rely on content to be readily available in their own language. 

By giving creators access to multiple audio tracks, YouTube is leveling the playing field and making it easier for video-makers to release content designed around reaching as many people as possible, a smart move considering YouTube has become the second most used search engine in the world.

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