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Written by Rob Carr, Oklahoma ABLE Tech IT Accessibility Coordinator
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In the last Oklahoma ABLE Tech ICT Accessibility Newsletter, we wrote about some different ways to approach transcription and captioning for multimedia. This month we take a look at some lesser-known aspects of multimedia accessibility: audio description and live captioning.
Captions for video capture the words that are spoken during the video and provide them in text form. This helps to make sure that people with hearing disabilities can still receive the audible information. But what about situations where someone who is blind or has low vision needs to understand the visible action?
The draft Section 508 standards define audio description as:
"Narration added to the soundtrack to describe important visual details that cannot be understood from the main soundtrack alone. Audio description is a means to inform individuals who are blind or who have low vision about visual content essential for comprehension. Audio description of video provides information about actions, characters, scene changes, on-screen text, and other visual content. Audio description supplements the regular audio track of a program. Audio description is usually added during existing pauses in dialogue. Audio description is also called “video description” and “descriptive narration”."
Audio description can be part of the main audio in a video, or it can be a separate track entirely. When audio description is separate it lets viewers turn the description track on or off. So people can choose whether they hear the audio description or not.
A good example of a situation where audio description is important might be a training video that demonstrates the proper way to lift a heavy object. The video may have narration that says “proper lifting technique is important to avoid injuries”. Meanwhile, the action on screen shows someone bending at the knees to lift a heavy item.
The visual information is key to the learning objective of this part of the video. This is where an audio description track would make the video meaningful to someone that cannot see the screen.
In this situation, the audio description track may add an audible description of the lifting technique:
Keep in mind:
From WebMD's article on proper lifting technique. Provided as an example only.
Obviously, getting this much detailed information into an audio description track is a challenge. But it is incredibly important that a safety issue like this is addressed in as accessible of a manner as possible.
In the training video about lifting, there are several ways to address the need to provide an audible description of the action on screen.
To begin with, you may not need a separately recorded audio description track. Especially in a training video, the narration script might include a description of the action on screen as it takes place. This has a couple of huge benefits:
In the end, a training video with more detailed narration benefits a broad range of viewers.
Another quick example of a situation when audio description is included in the existing audio track is play-by-play announcing of a sporting event.
There are times, though, when a separate audio description is necessary. And creating audio descriptions can be a little bit of an art.
Say that you’re making a short promotional video about an event that your organization will host. Maybe the event is a play that will take place at a historic (and accessible) municipal center. You want to show some recorded clips from plays that you have put on in the past. And you also want to show some video with images of the building.
All of this means that there is going to be some important information in the visuals of the video. But you do not want to make everyone listen to an audible description of those images. Instead you want to create a separate audio description track that people can turn on or off as desired.
Creating the track presents some challenges:
So, the audio description producer needs to be able to identify what is key and meaningful visual information first. Then they need to find a way to describe it. But the descriptions need to come during pauses in the main soundtrack, at least as much as possible.
This is why audio description is usually done by a third party vendor and not in-house. It is a specialized skill, even more so than creating transcripts or captions.
The American Council of the Blind keeps a listing of audio description providers here http://www.acb.org/adp/services.html
Remember that the key point is to be sure that meaningful on-screen information is represented in some form of audio description. You may not need to create a separate audio description track to provide this important feature. But there are situations where you prefer or need a separate track. It may be best to rely on a third party vendor in that situation.
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