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Two people watching the film with subtitlesPhoto by Maria Teneva on Unsplash

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well… unless you’re a blind person. Then it’s worth as much as the material it’s painted on. Supposedly, even more vivid communication comes from films where one can observe movement. The play of lights, shadows, changing facial expressions, colors merging into one another…

The Role of Audio Description

I really enjoy watching films. But how do you tell me about them? How do you convey all that richness in a few words that will help me understand what’s happening on the screen? Moreover… how do you fit this message within a few seconds of the film, somewhere between the dialogues?
This is usually the task of audio description, an additional sound track added to the film. It includes, among other things, descriptions of characters, explaining their behaviors, and providing important information about the scenery, landscape, and the like to the viewer.

The process of creating audio descriptions is usually quite complex. The narration itself must be delivered in short interruptions between dialogues, transitions to new scenes, or key moments of the film. Subtitles at the beginning and end are sometimes also read…

Using audio description allows blind individuals to better understand a film or series. I’m glad that international online VOD service providers like Netflix or Disney Plus offer the option of audio description in their English soundtracks. In an international context, Polish descriptions also exist, but rather sporadically. Domestic cinema is subject to the process of audio description by organizations like the Adapter Foundation, which regularly releases new films.

And What About Subtitles?

Well, you can find desktop or mobile applications that use synthetic speech to read subtitles as soon as they appear in a film. However, the condition is that the textual version of these subtitles can be downloaded. When they are simply embedded in the film, they will appear on the screen. However, they will be invisible to a screen reader used by a blind person.

The same goes for subtitles embedded in films, placed on one of the popular internet platforms, for example. Text subtitles that can be turned on or off in the player settings can be read using a screen reader.

The Problem with Subtitles Embedded in Films

When you embed subtitles in a film, those parts containing embedded text become automatically inaccessible to blind users. For example, if you are publishing a film as a non-profit organization, asking for support for people or animals in some remote place in the world, please add subtitles to the film in textual form. Not everyone can read those embedded in the film. Unfortunately, no matter how much I want to, I won’t be able to help those in need.

Advertisers sometimes create beautiful animations, presenting a new, interesting product. But what’s the point if I’ll never learn about it? If you’re selling a product aimed at consumers, entrepreneurs, retirees, or working professionals, please reconsider your message. There are people around you who will never receive information about the product or service because you haven’t ensured a message that everyone can understand. However, you can do this by providing subtitles to the film placed, for example, on the aforementioned website or similar portal.

Łukasz Stanik

Łukasz Stanik

Accessibility Specialist