Culturally Appropriate Audio Descriptions and Alternative Text

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      Hello Forum Readers!
      During Module 1: Digital Accessibility & Inclusion, the question of how to create culturally appropriate audio descriptions and alt text came up. Basically, should a description or alt text caption include features such as hair, gender, race, or ethnicity be included? Below are some interesting resources (link is included) that may aid you in answering that question:

      Pictures Painted in Words: ADLAB Audio Description Guidelines edited by A. Remael, N. Reviers, and G. Vercauteren.
      Here are some quotes from this source to show you what resources are available within:
      Characters and Action
      Below are guidelines listed in this source on how to describe a “character” on the screen. A character has “a physical body, but they also have traits, such as skills, attitudes, habits or tastes. If a character has only a few traits, then they are said to be one-dimensional, if they have many traits (sometimes contradictory ones), they are three-dimensional.”
      How to describe a “character”:
      -Determine any relations or links between and among characters. Decide whether to name the links explicitly or let the audience infer them on their own, based on the dialogues or plot.
      -Determine whether a character is new or known;
      If the character is new, decide whether to name them right away or wait until they are actually named in the film. When deciding, consider the moment they are named in the film or whether the character’s identity needs to be kept secret. If you decide not to name the character right away, use a short consistent description to identify them (see below). If the character is known, decide whether their looks have changed in a way that is relevant to the story or its temporal orchestration, signifying the lapse of time. If the character is hard to recognize at first, decide whether to say explicitly who they are or describe their changed looks and let the viewers infer their identity on their own, based on the context or dialogues;
      -If the character is new, decide how to describe their looks. Determine the features that are the most unique about the character: a scar or a white beard. You can then use those features to consistently identify characters that are not named right away (see above), for example “a man with a white beard”;
      -You may also decide to describe a character gradually, adding a feature or two when the character reappears on the screen. It may be necessary due to time constraints or you may not want to overload the audience with a too lengthy and detailed description at one go, which could make their concentration lapse;
      -Determine what actions and reactions of a character move the story forward to the greatest extent. Decide what words will most succinctly and vividly convey the character’s actions (see chapter 2.3.1 on wording and style). Identify gestures and facial expressions that best reflect their reactions and decide which of them to describe and which to leave out (see examples below);
      -Determine what a character’s environment, as well as reactions of others towards them or the use of specific film techniques tell us about the character. For example, a character’s pedantic nature can be emphasized by describing how all items in their apartment are meticulously arranged. -Decide which elements to describe and how (see chapter 2.1.2 on spatio-temporal settings). As for the reactions, instead of saying that a woman is beautiful, you could describe how men respond to her with awe and admiration. And finally, with film techniques (see the Away from Her (Polley, 2006) example above), decide whether and how to render them in your description.

      Audio Description of Visual Information by Web Accessiability Initiative.
      Below are some quotes from this source:
      Tips for Describing Yourself
      Describe the visual elements that are important to understand what the video is communicating. Imagine that you are describing the video to someone who cannot see it — what do you say? You don’t need to describe every detail or things that are apparent from the audio.
      Describe objectively, without interpretation, censorship, or comment.
      Write description in present tense, active voice, and third-person narrative style.
      Generally, all text in the video should be included in the main audio (integrated description) or the separate description. For example, title text at the beginning of the video, links and e-mail addresses shown at the end, speakers’ names in text, and text in a presentation. The text does not have to be included verbatim (exactly word-for-word), yet all of the information conveyed by the text needs to be available in the main audio, in the separate description, or clearly with the video.
      Use a voice, style, and delivery that is distinguishable from other voices used in the video.
      Use a neutral voice that does not convey emotions.
      When recording a single file with timed descriptions, voice the descriptions at the same time as the visual content, or right before the visual content. Don’t put the description after the visual content.

      In addition to the written resources, there are some great videos to help:
      Describing People’s Appearance in English – Visual Vocabulary Lesson by Oxford Online English

      What Makes Videos Accessible to Blind and Visually Impaired People? by ACM SIGCHI

      From personal research, this question can be generally answered by listing features that distinguish and identify the person in question. How that person identifies themselves should be the first point of reference on what features should be expressed. Due to this individualistic approach, there are few “rules” on how to culturally identify a person as it is up to every individual’s discretion.

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