Highlights of the Languages and the Media conference

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Tuesday, 27 November 2012 09:47am

The Languages and the Media conference was held in Berlin last week. This is the premier access conference in the world and Media Access Australia’s CEO, Alex Varley, provides his personal top 5 trends and highlights set to make a difference to the world of access.

1. Audio description is now a major topic

Audio description has reached the same level of importance as captioning and there were a number of presentations around AD issues.  A major issue in Europe is whether a country uses subtitles for foreign programs on TV (such as American shows) or dubs them using a local voiceover. For subtitling countries, there has been a growth in so called audio subtitling. This is a service where the subtitles are read out as part of the soundtrack for people who are blind or vision impaired and don’t speak the language. Linked in with this is standard audio description which describes the visual elements. There were major discussions around how to separate these elements? Do you use different voices? Do the audio subtitles include emotion and other characteristics of the speech?

2. Caption quality still remains a key problem

My presentation looked at the use of measurements in caption quality and whether an overemphasis on this creates its own problems and how the new draft Australian standard deals with this. Co-presenters looked at the situation in France, where there are many variations of identifying who is speaking and each one uses specific colours and punctuation marks. This adds significance cost to creating captions. In Italy, there is a problem of no standards and no basis for agreement of standards, so little progress is being made. 

The Fernsehturm television tower with the city of Berlin in the background at sunset.

3. Automated processes are getting better

'Machine translation', where software creates captions and audio description, is improving in quality and increasing in usage. Captioners and describers/actors are not entirely happy with these developments, but the production companies can see massive cost-saving opportunities. People seem less worried about the synthetic voices used for automatic audio description, particularly those who are used to screen readers.

4. Globalisation means standardisation is essential

Many program providers (including Discovery and Viacom) operate on a global scale, delivering the same programs across many countries. In most cases, the graphics, menus and on-screen text are provided in the local language. This means that they need a standard version of the program that they can localise. The impact on access is that unique country-specific rules (such as the French captioning example mentioned above) make this process more difficult.

5. You always need to talk to the viewers

Whether you are trying to evaluate whether blind people appreciate more complex audio description, or looking at an accessibility app for museums, such as the one presented by Australian Communication Exchange, now more than ever, it is important that you talk to the audience as you develop new techniques. This is both a communications issue and also a practical one in that more complexity is not always the best thing.

Overall, the strongest message is that discussions are no longer about whether access is a good idea or not, but more how the product can be improved and made more cost-effective.

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