The art of audio describing has improved considerably since it was first trialled some sixteen or so years ago. Australian produced television programs signal when a program is audio described with a distinct sound. And more movies and stage shows are offering this option. Audio describing (AD) is designed for people with vision impairment, but could sighted people benefit too?
A group of researchers looked at two questions – the quality of the AD, and the additional benefit to people who are sighted. Currently, the AD process sits outside the creative process. It’s added later in a similar way to captions and subtitles. However, lack of integration can cause misunderstandings about the plot and the characters.
The research group carried out an experiment with people with vision impairment and sighted people. A short film was shown with enhanced sound effects. For example, bed spring sounds for someone sitting on a bed. Their article explains in more detail and applies the seven principles of universal design to their method.
In conclusion, the study showed that sound design – that is, non-verbal cues – can replace verbal cues in some films. The enhanced audio description was accepted by both vision impaired and sighted audiences. One sighted participant said that because the AD was integrated into the film it didn’t feel like they were listening to AD.
It’s universal design!
The article shows the potential for everyone to have an enhanced experience at the cinema and in their lounge rooms. It indicates a strong case for considering AD in the creative process and not leaving it as an afterthought. Integration of AD into the design process is another example of universal design.
The tile of the article is, Enhancing Audio Description: Inclusive Cinematic Experiences Through Sound Design. The introductory page has both and abstract and a lay summary. Be prepared for a long but easy read.
Audio Description (AD) is a third person commentary added to film and television productions to make them accessible for visually impaired audiences. Traditionally, AD is added to productions after they have been completed, meaning that the creative and accessibility teams do not work together to produce the accessible version of the production.
This paper explores an alternative to traditional AD, called Enhanced Audio Description (EAD), whose methods are integrated to filmmaking workflows. EAD moves away from a focus on verbal descriptions and instead focuses on sound design strategies. In EAD the traditional third person commentary is replaced by the combination of three techniques.
The first is the addition of sound effects to provide information on actions, convey abstract scenes as well as indicate time, place, and the presence of characters. The second is the use of binaural audio (3D audio over headphones) to convey the position of characters and objects portrayed on the screen. Finally, first-person narration is used to portray feelings, gestures, colours as well as certain actions.
The application of EAD methods results in a form of accessibility that can cater for both visually impaired and sighted audiences, championing inclusive cinematic experiences. Focus groups with audiences of visually impaired and sighted people demonstrated the potential of the format to be widely enjoyed, and to be offered alongside traditional Audio Description (AD) in order to provide accessible experiences which cater for different aesthetic preferences.