Could Audio-Described Films Benefit from Audio Introductions? an Audience Response Study

By Romero-Fresco, Pablo; Fryer, Louise | Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, July-August 2013 | Go to article overview

Could Audio-Described Films Benefit from Audio Introductions? an Audience Response Study


Romero-Fresco, Pablo, Fryer, Louise, Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness


Audio description (AD) is a spoken commentary conveying visual information for those who are unable to perceive it themselves (Whitehead, 2005). Also known as video description or descriptive video, AD has been shown to improve comprehension, add to enjoyment, and aid social inclusion (see, for example, Pettitt, Sharpe, & Cooper, 1996; Schmeidler & Kirchner, 2001). As such, it has become an accepted way of providing access to visual and audiovisual media for people with visual impairments (that is, those who are blind or have low vision) (Fels, Udo, Diamond, & Diamond, 2006; Snyder, 2007). In the United Kingdom, provision of AD for television is a legal requirement (Communications Act, 2003). Under the Equality Act (2010), AD is considered a reasonable accommodation that providers such as theaters, cinemas, and museums can offer to make their services accessible. In the United States, the Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (2010) has created a legal framework for the provision of AD for television (From the Field, 2010). Screen Australia encourages producers to include provisions for audio descriptions when budgeting for films (Media Access Australia, n.d.). Along with the proliferation of AD, there has been a proliferation of AD guidelines, some of which are contradictory (see Rai, Greening, & Petre, 2010, for a review). Gerber is concerned that so-called "best practices" in AD "have been designed without much formal input by blind consumers" (2007, p. 3). Most guidelines focus on user comprehension (the what) rather than on visual style (the how). The study presented here explores user responses to audio introductions (AIs) for film that, as complements to AD, are designed to convey the how of cinematic storytelling.

Audio description for film

For dynamic media, such as film and television, AD is threaded through the soundscape (Ofcom, 2008), which leads to major constraints. Descriptive utterances should only be inserted where they will not obscure dialogue or important sound effects, lyrics, and music, which limits the quantity of descriptive information that can be conveyed (Braun, 2008) and, by extension, affects the content of that description. Since it is impossible to describe everything the eye can see, guidelines in the United Kingdom, the United States, Spain, Germany, and Greece, for example, agree that the greatest challenge is how to choose "what not to describe" (Rai et al., 2010, p. 71). The consensus is that priority should be given to describing the action, which leaves out other important visual elements such as style. In the United Kingdom, the Independent Television Commission (ITC) Guidance (2000, p. 8), which was developed for pilot television services rather than film, justifies this on the grounds that "to many [AD users], expressions like: 'in close-up,' 'pan across,' 'mid-shot,' 'crane-shot,' etc. may not mean anything ...." In contrast, guidelines on AD for visual art such as the Audio Description Project standards in the United States (American Council of the Blind, 2009, p. 31) do encourage describers to focus on style, defined in this case as "the cumulative result of many characteristics, including brushwork, use of tone and color, choice of different motifs, and the treatment of the subject." It would seem important to include similar stylistic elements in AD for film, especially given that our understanding of the action is affected "not only by the events we watch, but to some extent also by the way those events are presented on the screen" (Izod, 1984, p. 6). Yet the abovementioned time constraints and the widespread recommendation not to use technical terms (such as camera angles or editing techniques) have severely limited the inclusion of visual style in film description.

Audio introductions

Time constraints also operate in live settings that benefit from AD, such as opera or theatrical performances. …

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