Providing multilingual description on web-based media

  • Author: Robert Pearson
  • Date: 12 Sep 2013

AMI-tv is a Canadian national broadcast mainstream television service offering 24 hour, 7 days a week programming that is fully audio described and fully captioned and operated by Accessible Media Inc. (AMI).

In August 2013 the organisation was granted a new broadcast licence to launch AMI-tv French. This new national broadcast mainstream television service will also offer 24 hour, 7 days a week French programming that is fully audio described and captioned in French. These two broadcast channels will serve Canada's two official languages through conventional broadcasting and in time, as web-based accessible media.

AMI offers its broadcasting services with ‘open’ description and therefore the requirements for offering its television services over the web are straightforward. However in the instance where description may be ‘closed’, offering multilingual description will have its own unique requirements.

Consider that a consumer requiring accessibility may wish to view web-based media that is produced in English, but they may wish to receive the description of that content in French. The accessible media player providing that content would need to be dynamic enough to be able to draw upon a variety of audio and video resources to provide the desired output to the user.

An academic institution in Toronto recently partnered with a local multilingual film festival to guide them in delivering audio description for some of the films within the festival in an effort to ensure a more inclusive experience for all of its audience members. When offered for broadcast by the way of the web, it allows for a static multilingual, fully described experience for the viewer. Such adhoc provision of description provides insight into some of the cultural nuisances required to ensure that the intent of any description is in line with unique languages and societies.

Eventually, the accessible web media player of the future may offer a multi-channel, multilingual experience for the viewer to provide a fully inclusive experience similar to a universal translation tool for both the primary audio and the associated description and captions. While accessible media players have only slightly evolved to allow for one secondary audio channel for description, the offering of multiple channels and the synchronized output of them is likely still a great distance into the future. The provision of audio description is only in its infancy and the offerings to provide an accessible and inclusive experience to a viewer will become diverse as humanity itself as technology continues to evolve.

This is the sixth and final article in a series on audio description by Robert Pearson, Director of Accessible Digital Media at Accessible Media Inc. (AMI), based in Toronto, Canada. He is also Chair of the Canadian broadcasting industry's Described Video Best Practices (DVBP) Working Group, striving towards the establishment of industry best practices in the area of audio description, known as described video in Canada.