By Gabriela Ortiz
This article is a summary of the presentation at the ATA Conference in Palm Springs and, as the title suggests, it is an introduction to audiovisual accessibility. It is arranged as a series of questions and answers to walk you through this field.
Why should we care about accessibility?
Two notions are key to understanding accessibility: universal design and the social model of disability. Universal design aims at designing products and constructing an environment in an aesthetic and usable way for everyone, regardless of age, ability or status in life.
This goes hand-in-hand with the evolution of the model of disability from the early moral and medical models to the social model, which considers that disability is caused by the way society is organized rather than by a person’s impairment or difference.
Laws and regulations are being issued to provide for these services (in the US, for example, the American with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, FCC regulations, and the 21st Century Video Accessibility Act). Most importantly, this is a matter of Human Rights.
Indeed, Article 30 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities sets forth the right of persons with disability to enjoy access to cultural materials in accessible formats, including audiovisual materials and cultural services.
The ultimate goal is to remove barriers that prevent people with disabilities from enjoying equal and independent lives. As a society, this concerns all of us.
Accessibility has long been part of translation studies in Europe. While many of these services do not involve translation from one language into another (except for Sign Language services), all of them involve intralingual translation, i.e., from one medium into another medium. Some accessibility services, such as audio description and
closed captioning, require advanced linguistic and technical skills that we translators master. Of course, special training is needed, but we are up to the job.
A simple answer to this question may be found in statistics: according to World Health Organization there are 2.2 billion people with vision impairment or blindness, and 466 million people with hearing impairment or deafness worldwide.
There are other instances in which these services are useful, i.e., for people with learning disabilities or as foreign-language learning aids (AD), or in venues where sound is not available or adequate (CC) – for example, in silent libraries or the underground CCTV service. A more accurate answer is, therefore, that all of us benefit from accessibility.
A more accurate answer is, therefore, that all of us benefit from accessibility.
What services can be offered?
Here is a list of accessibility services. Due to space constraints, I will not be able to refer to each service in full length:
- Audio or video description, defined by the RNIB as a commentary that describes body language, expressions and movements, making the program clear through sound for the blind and for people with vision impairment.
- Closed captions, SDH or surtitles, i.e., same language renderings of the screen or stage dialogues, and accounts of other aural components (like sound effects and music) in audiovisual materials or the performing arts.
- Signed performances delivered by Sign Language interpreters, which are the only interlingual accessibility mode.
- Relaxed and chilled events, i.e., adapted performances with minor modifications, like softening music and sound effects and leaving lights dim in the house, intended for people with autistic spectrum disorders, Asperger’s syndrome, and mild intellectual disabilities.
- Museum audio guides especially prepared for people with visual impairments. They may be aided with tactile and haptic materials and offered together with touch tours.
- Easy-To-Understand performances for people with mild intellectual disabilities, delivered via secondary audio.
- Live subtitling or written interpretation at meetings, conferences and events, which may involve conventional translation or not.
There are many ongoing research projects in each of these fields (e.g., on the audio description of diversity, the use of the technical attributes of sound in AD, accessible filmmaking from production, accessibility in immersive environments, and the use of easy-to-understand and plain language in AV).
As you may see, this field embraces innovation.
Translators willing to work on accessibility need to get training and there are many good programs available in Europe and in the Americas. In very broad terms, one may say that accessibility for the audiovisual media is prepared in postproduction and delivered in prerecorded formats (although there are live subtitling and live audio description services on TV as well), while accessibility for the performing arts is delivered live.
One of the best things about accessibility is collaborating with the creative crew. The accessibility team must always include at least one user of the services to validate our work.
This makes both creative and common sense, and is one of the tenets of the movement known by its motto: “Nothing About Us Without Us”.
The bottom line
I encourage you to explore this field: it is a fascinating, fairly new area of translation work – an extremely creative one – and there are many opportunities out there.
There are simple ways in which we all can contribute to a more equal society. Why not start describing the pics we post on our social media?
We could also suggest conference organizers to include written interpretation services in our next Annual Conference.
My presentation was a last-minute addition to the conference program in Palm Springs. I had only one week to prepare before my trip from Buenos Aires. If it is an indication of a fresh interest on accessibility by our Association, it was totally worth it.
UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, https://tinyurl.com/y3u69lyb.
World Health Organization Fact Sheets. Available online at: https://tinyurl.com/yasjxdvm and https://tinyurl.com/y76lpz5f, respectively. Accessed on December 2, 2019.
For more information, read “Writing interpretation: an overview on a fascinating AV discipline”, by Mara Campbell, on Deep Focus 4, https://tinyurl.com/t2arqyn.
You can learn more about this movement in this HuffPost article: https://tinyurl.com/s5vyqz9.