The social value of trained audio describers

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

Audio description (AD) is an access service whereby the visual elements of any product are translated into words for the benefit of people with sight loss (PSL). Introduced in the 70s, AD has improved access to several cultural services, and it has increased freedom, independence and life quality to a vast portion of the audience suffering from sight loss.

Despite its invaluable role (that can be extended beyond PSL to users such as language learners, immigrants or children to mention just a few), AD is not provided consistently in all countries and for all types of products. This is partially due to the lack of recognized professionals dealing with this type of audiovisual translation. Audio describers do exist; however most of them  have not undergone systematic training activities because specialized AD courses are still few and unsystematic, at least in Europe. Furthermore, training still focuses only on some products (films and TV programmes) overlooking others (e.g. museum, theatre and opera), thus the same degree of AD quality normally cannot be assured for all the described material.

Since 2016, the project “Audio Description: A Laboratory for the Development of a New Professional Profile” (ADLAB Pro) has been devised with the aim of developing a new AD professional profile, and of defining a course curriculum for ensuring professional Europe-wide AD implementation in all cultural and media sectors through the creation of focused training materials. Given the importance and the growing social and inclusive value of AD, its quality should be in fact assured by well-trained professionals. Funded under the Erasmus Plus call (2016-1-IT02-KA203-024311), ADLAB Pro is led by the University of Trieste, and involves three more universities (the Autonomous University of Barcelona, the University of Antwerp, and the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan), the national public broadcaster of Slovenia (RTV Slovenija), a Dutch company (Soundfocus), a UK company (Utopian Voices), and a UK organisation of end users (the Royal National Institute of the Blind).

Accessing visual cultural products and services is vital to the social integration of audiences with sight loss. Audio describers act as mediators in these contexts and have acquired an ever-growing social value. Consequently, audio describers as social intermediaries need to have a deep knowledge of the specificity of individual genres or programmes and of the relationship between sound and image within each to be able to facilitate interpretation and discussion of all the described texts for PSL.

To deliver a training scenario that delivers what trainees and the market require, ADLAB PRO has created a set of open and fully customizable online course materials that shall increase the social value of current and prospective audio describers and enhance their future employability in diverse settings. The course is organized into six modules divided  into units that can be picked and combined according to the needs and existing educational or professional background of the trainees. A variety of training materials is offered (videos, PPTs, transcripts, tasks, reading lists) to cover all the learning styles. A trainer’s guide has been devised to accompany teachers all the way through their teaching pathway, and a set of introductory videos for all modules offers a short yet thorough snapshot of each.

Besides affecting directly trainees interested in AD, ADLAB PRO will have a strong long-term impact on a wide spectrum of potential beneficiaries of the ADs produced by the new AD professionals.

By Elisa Perego
University of Trieste
eperego (at)

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