by Mariella Di Bua
It is often said that translation bridges gaps between different cultures. And that it helps to spread information with the peoples of the world. We also refer to translation as a tool that allows access to information through the power of words in written and oral channels. Today, acknowledgment of this power makes it possible for us to recognize translation as a means of social inclusion.
But in order to reach social inclusion through words, the texts we produce should comply with the principles of universal design. Universal design refers to an environment —and the buildings, products and services within that environment— that is designed and built in such a way that it may be accessed, understood and used by as many people as possible, in the most independent manner, in the most different situations, without the need to adapt or use any special devices. Universal design takes a two-level approach: user-awareness —design that includes as many people as possible, regardless of age, size, or physical, sensory or intellectual ability or disability— and customization —design that avoids the need for adaptation to particular users. This means that it shouldn’t pose any barriers, and can be grasped by multiple generations regardless of cognitive capacity. Believe it or not, this concept of universal design can be embedded in the translation process, whether we are working with verbal, visual and/or audiovisual channels.
So, how does this universal design approach apply to the audiovisual translation arena? When acting as a bridge between source and target texts, audiovisual translators can work towards social inclusion by employing simplified or Easy-to-Understand (E2U) language. In her article, “New Taxonomy of Easy-to-Understand Access Services” (Bernabé 2020), Rocío Bernabé Caro proposes a first definition of E2U access services: “Easy-to-understand access services use simplification methods, verbal or nonverbal, to make audiovisual content accessible for users with the widest range of cognitive characteristics and capabilities.”
Easy-to-understand language can be applied in the form of Easy-to-Read (E2R) text; for example, to translate subtitles for people with cognitive disabilities or to prepare narration for audio description for people who are blind and also have intellectual disabilities. Easy-to-read texts are texts that are carefully developed for people with reading difficulties or learning disabilities. Easy-to-read texts normally follow rules that lead to simplicity. They are composed of short sentences, simple images, explanation of complicated terms if there are any, large font size —avoid fancy fonts or italics— and minimal design elements, to name some of the main characteristics. Easy-to-read texts can be found in written material, images, typography, and can be targeted to different groups: from people with intellectual disabilities —as already mentioned—, dyslexia and learning disorders to primary or secondary school students, older people or even immigrants who are not very familiar with the language in question.
In general, when translating audiovisual content, we face some space and time constraints. If we are working with easy-to-read texts, we shall favor universal design features. Such features include choices regarding style, language, design and format. Vocabulary, grammar and structure need to be simple. In our role as translators, we can become champions of easy-to-read texts, and implement these features in our work. Translation to easy-to-read text may be different from conventional translation, but it requires the same translation competencies.
In order for translators to offer a good, accessible text, it is necessary that they be acquainted not only with the source and target languages and their usage, but also with accessibility and access services, disability, vulnerable environments, and the needs of the target audience. Speaking of which, let’s not forget that only the actual audience has the authority to state whether the final product is easy to read and understand, so validation is always a core aspect of the job. It is recommended then that when working in this field, we include a proofing step by a person who will be the target audience of our text. This is the moment of truth, since participation and assessment by the target audience will determine whether our translation fulfills its easy-to-understand purpose.
We know the audiovisual era isn’t slowing down. On the contrary, more and more, we are turning to a mélange of materials that appeal to our sight and hearing. And considering that audiovisual content is as diverse as the people who consume it, this is a great time to make audiovisual content available accessible for all. Tailoring the material in such a way that it reaches a broader range of the population will only boost a more inclusive society.
Bernabé, R. (2020). New taxonomy of easy-tounderstand access services. MonTI. Monografías De Traducción E Interpretación, (12), 345-380. https://doi.org/10.6035/MonTI.2020.12.12