ICT Newsletter – January 2016

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Oklahoma ABLE Tech Information and Communication Technology January, 2016 Newsletter

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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.

Audio Description for Web-based Video

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 a wide base of support. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, with one foot slightly ahead of the other (karate stance).
  • Squat down, bending at the hips and knees only. If needed, put one knee to the floor and your other knee in front of you, bent at a right angle (half kneeling).
  • Keep good posture. Look straight ahead, and keep your back straight, your chest out, and your shoulders back. This helps keep your upper back straight while having a slight arch in your lower back.
  • Slowly lift by straightening your hips and knees (not your back). Keep your back straight, and don't twist as you lift.
  • Hold the load as close to your body as possible, at the level of your belly button.
  • Use your feet to change direction, taking small steps.
  • Lead with your hips as you change direction. Keep your shoulders in line with your hips as you move.
  • Set down your load carefully, squatting with the knees and hips only.

Keep in mind:

  • Do not attempt to lift by bending forward. Bend your hips and knees to squat down to your load, keep it close to your body, and straighten your legs to lift.
  • Never lift a heavy object above shoulder level.
  • Avoid turning or twisting your body while lifting or holding a heavy object.

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.

Audio Description in the Main Soundtrack

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:

  • No need for separate audio description. This saves production time and money.
  • The more detailed audible information will also go into captions, providing multiple modes for viewers to process the information. This helps to account for different learning styles and should help people to understand the information more quickly.

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.

A Separate Audio Description Track

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:

  • The audio description needs to fit into existing pauses in the primary audio track
  • The audio description needs to describe the key, meaningful visuals
  • The audio description needs to combine those two points to be effective

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.

Described and Captioned Media Program Audio Description Vendor List

American Council of the Blind Audio Description Project


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