Enhancing Audio Description: Inclusive Cinematic Experiences Through Sound Design

Authors

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.47476/jat.v4i1.2021.154

Keywords:

audio description, integrated access, universal design, binaural audio, sound design

Abstract

This paper explores the creation of an alternative to traditional Audio Description for visually impaired film and television audiences. The Enhanced Audio Description (EAD) methods utilise sound design as the main vehicle for accessibility and advocate for the integration of accessibility practices to filmmaking workflows.  Moreover, this integrated strategy results in an organic form of accessibility that can cater for both visually impaired and sighted audiences, championing inclusive cinematic experiences.  The present article reflects on the discussions held during focus groups in which mixed audiences of visually impaired and sighted people watched the same film, with the same EAD soundtrack over headphones.  The discussions highlight the potential of the format as an example of universal design and accessible filmmaking, which can be enjoyed regardless of audience’s sight condition and can be offered alongside traditional Audio Description (AD) in order to cater for different aesthetic preferences.

Lay summary

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.

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Author Biographies

Mariana Lopez, University of York

Dr Mariana Lopez is a Senior Lecturer in Sound Production and Post Production at the University of York. In addition to lecturing in the field of sound, Mariana also leads the BSc in Film and Television Production. She has a background in music and sound design, having been awarded a BA degree in arts with specialisation in music and an MA degree in postproduction with specialisation in sound design. In 2013 she completed her PhD at the University of York on the importance of virtual acoustics for the study of medieval drama. Her research focuses on acoustical heritage and historical soundscapes; and on the use of sound design for accessibility. She was the Principal Investigator for the Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project 'Enhancing Audio Description.'

Gavin Kearney, University of York

Gavin Kearney graduated from Dublin Institute of Technology in 2002 with an Honors degree in Electronic Engineering and has since obtained MSc and PhD degrees in Audio Signal Processing from Trinity College Dublin. He joined the University of York as Lecturer in Sound Design in January 2011 and was appointed Associate Professor of Audio and Music Technology in 2016. He has written over 70 research articles and patents on different aspects of immersive and interactive audio. He leads a team of researchers at York AudioLab who innovate in the areas of audio for virtual and augmented reality, film and broadcast, networked music performance, and accessibility. He is currently programme leader for the MSc in Audio and Music Technology at York, as well as an active sound engineer and producer of immersive audio experiences.

Krisztian Hofstadter, Anglia Ruskin University

Krisztian Hofstädter is a creative technologist working as a researcher, lecturer, freelancer and artist. Besides working on the Enhancing Audio Description project as a research assistant, his doctoral research developed brain-computer music interfaces for meditation, in which he links neurofeedback to auditory entrainment in generative soundscapes inspired by shamanic journeying. He has also been teaching music technology-related subjects (e.g. sonic art, sensor technology and music for the moving image) as an associate lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge and the University of Bedfordshire and currently teaches a module on sensemaking and digital identities at the School of Philosophy and Arts History at the University of Essex. As a freelancer and artist, he has been producing sound design and music, websites and visual art, including photography and paintings. https://khofstadter.com/

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Published

2021-10-29

How to Cite

Lopez, M., Kearney, G., & Hofstadter, K. (2021). Enhancing Audio Description: Inclusive Cinematic Experiences Through Sound Design. Journal of Audiovisual Translation, 4(1), 157–182. https://doi.org/10.47476/jat.v4i1.2021.154

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Section

Research articles