Making media accessible: Delivering accessible content for all museum visitors

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

One of the goals at the CMHR is to make the Museum’s exhibits and programming accessible to all of our visitors in as many ways possible. In an earlier post, we explored the inclusive design and our digital exhibits, but there is a lot going on behind the screen to deliver accessible content. Closed captioning, descriptive audio and signing are the most common ways to allow people of all abilities to enjoy their museum experience.

Creating these accessible experiences is no easy task. As a Production Artist, along with my colleague Jessica Sigurdson, it’s our job to make these a reality for everyone.

Last year, we went to Toronto to visit Inclusive Media & Design, a company dedicated to creating accessible media. They trained us over two very long, extensive days on the Universal Captioning Guidelines, how to caption a video, and how to create descriptive audio. Descriptive audio is audio that describes what actions are taking place on the screen for those who are visually impaired.

Closed Captioning is more than just the words spoken on screen. Sound effects, music, mumbles, thuds, and thwacks, (pretty much any Batman sound you can think of) have to be represented in the subtitling. The real challenge is to caption exactly what the person said, rather than what they meant to say. Take all the “ums” and “ahs” out of someone’s speech or correcting a word can completely change the context of the situation, turning a stuttering, nervous speaker into a strong well-spoken candidate. This is a great benefit to those who are hearing impaired as well as those who are just learning English or French.

While captioning is a literal translation of sound, descriptive audio is a whole other ball game. Everybody perceives situations differently, and to describe a situation or a character can be extremely subjective. But the biggest challenge of creating descriptive audio is timing, sometimes involving a quick description of a situation in as little as half a second in between two speakers in the video. This takes a lot of practice to find the fine line between describing everything and not interrupting the flow and content of the media.

I invite everyone to watch your favorite television show with the descriptive audio option turned on (usually called Descriptive Video Service or DVS). While it can be strange at first, if you close your eyes it’s amazing how the descriptions can create a wonderful world without pictures.

Here is an example of a descriptive audio version of the visit and performance from the Canadian Tenors late last year.


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