From easy-to-read texts to easy-to-understand audiovisual content: practice and training

This article is part of a Special Issue on The Social Value of European Research on Media Accessibility.

Written content is not always easy to understand. It has probably happened to you: you are requested to sign a legal document and you hardly understand its content. You are asked to fill in an administrative form and you cannot fully understand what you are requested to do. You are browsing a website and you get lost when trying to make sense of its contents. These are just three possible situations that you may have experienced. To overcome these situations, there have been strong movements towards what is called Plain Language, a way of writing that avoids complicated language in order to ensure the reader understands written texts easily.

Now imagine that, due to your personal circumstances or abilities, reading is a challenging activity by itself: enjoying a good book or understanding a standard text may prove difficult. Easy-to-Read Language has been suggested as a way to guarantee access to diverse users, by means of a clear text presentation and specific grammar and vocabulary, among other features.

Both Plain Language and Easy-to-Read Language are ways to approach a similar need: the need to create texts which are easy to read and easy to understand by diverse audiences. There are currently professionals who create or adapt such texts, often with the help of users who validate them. There are also guidelines, recommendations and even standards to indicate how these texts should be ideally created. However, in our audiovisual and digital society, there are at least two key elements that are missing.

On the one hand, current practices and recommendations seem to put the focus on written texts in printed media. What about audiovisual products? Can audiovisual contents be made easier to understand? And even more: can existing access services such as subtitles or audio description be made easier to read and easier to understand?

On the other hand, there is a need to know more about current practices and training activities in both Plain Language and Easy-to-Read Language in order to define the skills of the professionals working in this field at European level. Practice and training seems uneven across Europe and there is a lack of professional recognition.

With these needs in mind, the EASIT project was born in September 2018. EASIT stands for “Easy Access for Social Inclusion Training” and is a three year project funded by the Erasmus + Strategic Partnerships programme (2018-1-ES01-KA203-05275). The project is led by the Autonomous University of Barcelona, and it involves two user associations (National Dyslexia Association in Sweden and Zavod RISA in Slovenia), one broadcaster (RTV Slovenia), and four universities (SDI Munchen and University of Hildesheim in Germany, University of Trieste in Italy, and University of Vigo in Spain).

Overall, EASIT aims to (a) define the skills of the professionals who create easy-to-read and easy-to-understand content, and (b) to create educational materials to train them. The emphasis is put on content beyond the printed text, with a focus on hybrid audiovisual access services such as easy-to-read subtitles or easy-to-understand audio descriptions.

EASIT will last until August 2021. In order to fulfill its main aims, EASIT is taking the following steps: first of all, we want to know more about current training and practices at European level. This is why we have carried out a survey which has gathered more than 125 replies from experts in the field. Secondly, we have talked to professionals in Easy-to-Read and Plain Language and experts in audiovisual content access services in order to identify possible recommendations for audiovisual media. The next steps will be to define the skills of the professionals involved in creating this easy-to-understand content, with a focus in audiovisual media, and also to define a curriculum to train them. During all this process the project partners will explore how this professional profile could be certified at European level to gain a much deserved recognition. A central moment in the project will be the creation of multilingual educational materials that will be made freely available for everybody to use. In this regard, the project aims to work with various languages such as Catalan, English, Galician, German, Italian, Slovenian, Spanish and Swedish.

EASIT aims to have an impact on the training of professionals who will guarantee a higher social inclusion at European level by providing content which is easy to read and easy to understand.

By Anna Matamala
Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain
anna.matamala [at] uab.cat

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