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Accessible PracticesBest PracticesLive and Recorded Media
Audio Description Example:
Tour of Elephant Diorama at the National Museum of Natural History

The following excerpts are from an audio described tour of the Elephant Diorama in the rotunda of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. The narrative was written by Joel Snyder, an audio description professional. This tour is available on cassette at the information desk in the rotunda of the museum and was produced to make the Elephant Diorama more accessible to visitors who are blind or have visual impairments. There is a panel at the diorama indicating that the audio described tour is available.

An audio described tour is different from an audio tour. The excerpts below are given to provide you with a clearer understanding of the differences. Some elements to pay attention to in the following excerpt are

  • Directional navigation within the gallery space
  • Descriptions of visual elements in the exhibition space
  • Directions on using multiple senses to experience the exhibition
  • Verbatim panel text

Excerpt from Transcript of Audio Described Tour

You are now facing the information desk, near the Mall entrance to the Museum. Turn around 180 degrees and walk twenty-five feet toward the center of the rotunda. You've reached the elephant diorama. Directly in front of you is the diorama's sand-colored base. On your left, the base is about five feet high. On your right, it slopes down to an 18-inch-tall sandy bank. Standing atop the diorama is the largest mounted specimen of the world's largest living land animal–an African elephant. It measures 4 m (13.2 ft) tall at the shoulder, and, in life, weighed nearly 12 tons. The tusks project over seven feet from its body.

Listen – those are the sounds of the African savanna and its inhabitants.

Now move clockwise around the diorama and feel its coarse, sandy surface on your right. About 22 feet along, you will encounter the first of two welcome panels featuring a bronze, raised or bas-relief sculpture of the elephant in profile. Reach out and trace its trunk with your hands.

The panel reads:

"Welcome to the Elephant's World

"Trunk raised…ears fanned…this elephant is on the alert. Something has caught his attention, and he's off to investigate.

"In this Museum, we also investigate the natural world, using our rich collections to unravel the mysteries of nature and culture.

"Come join this investigation. Listen. Explore this small slice of African savanna…and the many exhibits beyond."

Now, continue clockwise around the diorama about twenty feet to the next textrail. You will pass the rear of our grand elephant, his wispy gray tail suspended above his right rear leg, a limb that is almost ten feet long and two feet in circumference. The leg is raised slightly off the ground, as though in motion. This elephant looks like it is moving at a fast trot. Near his feet, leather and hide beetles feed on the remains of a white cattle egret.

The next textrail focuses on the insects in the diorama. Attached to the seven-foot rail are four bronze models of dung beetles rolling elephant dung balls. Reach out and feel them.

The text reads:

"Tiny Animals Perform a Huge Service

"Here comes the savanna's clean-up crew! The insects in this diorama break down dung and dead animals and plants into tiny bits that bacteria and fungi decompose even further. Their combined efforts hasten the return of essential nutrients to the soil."

Listen for the low buzz of dung beetles and the louder buzz of flies swarming around dung.

On the left side of the rail, a graphic illustration features a richly textured dung pile containing undigested seeds, husks, and fibers.

The next section reads:

"Dung Beetles Go For Elephant Waste

"The instant elephant dung hits the ground, dung beetles zoom in. Within hours, they can eat or cart away much of a 6.3-kg (14-lb) heap like this!

"Some species roll the dung away, other bury it beneath the pile or even steal it from other dung beetles–then lay their eggs in it.

"As they dig, dung beetles turn over and fertilize the earth, greatly enriching the savanna soil."

Links Related to Audio Description

The Audio Description Home Page
This homepage describes audio description in greater detail and provides downloadable examples. The site was constructed by Joel Snyder, a describer and narrator for live productions, films, and audio described tours nationally and internationally. He is the President of Audio Description Associates, an active trainer of describers, and the founding chair of the steering committee of Audio Description International. Snyder can be reached at 202/682-5591; 301/431-3008; or e-mail

Smithsonian Institution Accessibility Program
The Accessibility Program provides maps and complete guides describing access at all Smithsonian museums. There is also an electronic version of the Smithsonian's Guidelines for Accessible Exhibition Design available.


This web site is not intended to offer legal, architectural, engineering, or similar professional advice. Refer specific questions to an attorney or an ADA authority.

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