Accessibility for

Verbal Description

Image: Close up of a mouth with pink lipstick.


Verbal description is a way of using words to represent the visual world by helping people form mental images of what they cannot see. Some museums and art galleries have discovered that verbal description can also provide a new perspective for people with sight.

A verbal description is spoken or written language, either recorded or live, describing visual images or objects in relation to visual art, performance, and sculpture. While television and theatre use pure audio description, with visual arts, you can often take on creative approaches by combining interpretation with description. And verbal description can add to the experience by highlighting elements you might have missed. Visual creative descriptions can bring artworks to life while supporting better understanding of the history of an artwork, the artist, and medium (AGO, 2020).

Developing an Understanding

It may seem simple to describe an artwork - you just describe what you see. However, art is composition, texture, tone, shape, medium, size, expression, and more.

For example, look at this Mark Rothko painting. You could just say it’s a painting of three blues. But are the blues warm? Cold? How do they make you feel? Did Rothko have a special kind of blue he liked to use? All art deserves to be experienced in full, with as much consideration as possible for the audience.

Many museums and galleries offer audio tours that include verbal descriptions including the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in Toronto, The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) in New York City, and the Tate in London, England.

Tate Museum Logo.

Here are some examples of visual descriptions from the Tate.

Museum of Modern Art logo.

Here are some examples of visual descriptions from the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).