Expanding Accessibility with Audio Description
Audio Description is one of the key components in making audiovisual material inclusive.
For those who are not familiar with AD, it consists in describing the visual content of a form of art. With audio description, the visually impaired can get the essential details like gestures, signs, clothes, change of scenes, etc., which cannot be perceived through voices or music. It functions like closed caption for the hearing impaired.
Nowadays, audio description is available on many TV channels, but the availability of that function has to be previously checked. In the U.S., major TV channels, such as ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, USA, the Disney Channel, and The History Channel are required by law to provide 50 hours of audio description.
Video description is also used for live performances. Usually, there is a professional audio describer who narrates the important visual details with a microphone, and this description can be heard through headphones provided by the theater. AD can be previously prepared, especially for plays. In Spain, a mobile app has been developed, “Teatro Accesible”, which has the audio description of certain plays ready to be used by the audience.
Several movies have audio description, too. In this case, the description is previously recorded and synchronized. This service does not replace the soundtrack but complements the movie by placing the description in the pauses. Here, in Córdoba, there are movie theaters like the Gran Rex, which offer headphones to hear the audio description of certain movies. AD can be also found on Netflix, YouTube and Argentine web pages, where audio description can be downloaded and applied to already existing movies.
This extremely helpful service can be offered by linguists as video description and translation have a lot in common. For both tasks professional needs to do the following:
- Research into the subject matter and its context
In order to make a good audio description, the audio describer needs to be informed about the topic of the play, movie or TV program. Apart from reading the script, the audio describer needs to know about the year, place, and social context in which the material was produced so as to make an accurate description and to choose the right words. This involves carrying out a detailed research with reliable resources, which translators are used to.
- Have a deep knowledge on linguistics
Language per se is not the only means through which we convey meaning. Intonation, pronunciation, image, sounds, songs and even silences become really important for an effective audio description. It is essential that the audio describer has a thorough knowledge of the interaction of all these elements to exploit them in their favor.
As in translation, audio describers need to be faithful to the source material and be as objective as possible. Even though complete objectivity is impossible, the audio describer should aim to be neutral and let the audience make their own interpretations since they can easily become an omniscient narrator letting their subjectivity interfere in the message.
At BT, we participate in an audio description research at the National University of Cordoba, including the School of Communication Sciences and the School of Languages, to set, strengthen, and facilitate AD guidelines. With audio description, we are making materials accessible to people and we are collaborating with a more inclusive world.
By: Andrea Chetti