Photo: Halona Blow Hole Hawaii

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A Picture is worth a Thousand Words: Audio Description for the 21st Century

Submitted by genesisl on Jun 7, 2017

In today’s multimedia world of photographs and computer images, communicating messages beyond the limitations of the accompanying text, the need for audio description is becoming increasingly important for the blind and visually impaired among us. This is especially true for navigating through a museum, art exhibit, day long conference, or a National Park. However, it must be remembered that these are social events that are shared with others and the opportunity to engage in a two way dialog can be the most important part of the equation for people accustomed to being talked to, but not usually with. Here’s where cutting edge research, turned into practice with a real life technical solution becomes a reality.

The UniD project located at the University of Hawaii at Manoa is a joint effort between the School of Communications and the Center on Disability Studies. The 3 year endeavor resulted in a backend program and app for the National Park Service that creates audio described versions of their brochures for both the Apple OS and Android formats. The development process included focus groups of blind and visually impaired end users and expert accessibility consultants who evaluated the audio description process and provided feedback. The project included training Park Service personnel in how to create audio description for their individual sites.  This resulted in a uniform product that is designed for ease of use.

So what does this mean for people with disabilities? Instead of passively receiving information about where they are going or what they are suppose to be experiencing, the mobile app provides an audio file of all of the images, photographs, maps, and text, that anyone with a Park brochure is viewing. Everyone can now literally be on the same page. No need for someone else to explain the surroundings or read the brochure; meaningful dialog is possible as social engagement should be.  

So what’s the best way to learn about print-to-speech audio description? The UniD audio description website provides thoughtful explanations and guides for learning how to audio describe and gives information on why audio description is important beyond just the 21st Century Video and Communication Act and Section 508 compliance requirements. Additional resources include the American Council of the Blind Audio Description Project, which provides a larger overview of audio description uses besides print-to-speech. For information about training or using the mobile app, contact Brett Oppegaard, Ph.D Principal Investigator, Thomas Conway, Ph.D Co-PI, or Megan Conway, Ph.D, Co-PI.

Photo: Thomas Conway

Thomas Conway is the Media Coordinator for the Center on Disability Studies (CDS) and Project Director for the EmployAble Project.