Creating Described Video for Broadcast Media

Profile of Accessible Media Inc. (AMI) (Part Two)

An interview with accessible media inc.

We had the opportunity to interview Accessibility Officer, Chris O’Brien and Manager of Commissioned Content, Andrew Morris about their work at Accessible Media Inc. (AMI) and here are some of the key highlights.

AMI provides three different kinds of programming:

  • Acquired programs, which are programs that already exist, which Morris described as “everything from Magnum P.I. to Murdoch Mysteries.” AMI licenses these programs, as any other broadcaster would, and then makes them accessible to persons who are blind or partially sighted by adding described video, and broadcasting them in an open DV format (with the described video always on). When AMI first launched, this was 100% of their service.
  • Original in-house programs which capture newsworthy topics and regional diversity in local communities across the country. These programs feature a wide variety of content that may be of interest to AMI’s community, including assistive technology and accessibility focused events.
  • Commissioned original programs which are built to be inclusive so that a vast audience can enjoy them. They cover a variety of genres such as documentary, comedy, lifestyle, DIY and factual programming. All of AMI’s commissioned original programs include some sort of accessibility angle or address an accessibility issue.

In terms of described video, AMI has in-house specialists responsible for described video that are based in their office in Toronto and they also hire freelancers. The in-house specialists provide training for described video practitioners and also speak at conferences.

For live described video, AMI typically hires subject matter experts to do the narration. Here, the narrators work with the producers to provide the best possible descriptions of live events, with the producers being connected to the narrators using headsets. O’Brien described it as “the producers are basically in the ear trying to guide them, telling them ‘you’re being too descriptive, you need to pull back’ or ‘I’d like you to make note of this,’ and it’s just this kind of constant tweak during the whole production.”

A lot of preparation goes into a live event so that the narrators can describe the event quickly and effectively between the pauses in dialogue. For the Royal Wedding in 2011, AMI had three researchers feeding the narrators information through a live chat program.

Conceptualized at AMI, the concept for integrated described video came from the idea of making video content completely inclusive so that people who are blind or partially sighted could consume media with their sighted friends and family without having to access a different version of the program. While the described video narration is essential for people who are blind or partially sighted, it can be redundant or even considered obtrusive by people with full sight. Morris said, “the idea was to make one version that everybody can enjoy together.”

For their original content, AMI has designed a production process that provides content creators with an increased awareness of how to make media accessible to people who are blind or partially sighted right out of the box. The process involves an AMI “DV Consultant” being assigned to each project, who provides specialized accessibility training for everyone involved with the production, including the cast and crew. The DV consultant works with the writers, producers, directors, and editors at a capacity similar to an associate producer, and is involved throughout the entire production. Their role is to ensure Intergrated Described Video(IDV) best practices are followed, with the objective of making the final product accessible and inclusive.

AMI has found that producers respond positively to being exposed to how to make video content more accessible. Morris explained, “it’s just looked at as a new tool and we’ve been told producers find it fascinating. But more importantly, the impact on the audience makes it very much worthwhile.”

O’Brien added, “it’s very gratifying when it works because you get feedback from people that formerly were disconnected from media, and when they see that there is some stuff out there that they can really dig into, that appeals to them, that their family can watch alongside of them, and it’s in one version that everybody can watch together.”

Headshot of Andrew Morris

Andrew Morris

Image: Headshot of Andrew Morris.

Andrew Morris is a development and production executive with AMI-tv, a national English language television station serving more than five million Canadians who are blind, partially sighted, deaf, hard of hearing, mobility or print restricted. At AMI, Andrew oversees all commissioned content from concept to delivery. In 2011, using universal design principles, Andrew established a method of creating original television content that audiences who are blind, partially sighted, and fully sighted can enjoy together, without add-on accessibility features now known as integrated described video.

Headshot of Chris O’Brien

Chris O’Brien

Image: Headshot of Chris O'Brien.

Chris O’Brien is the Accessibility Officer for Accessible Media Inc (AMI), a national not-for-profit broadcaster in Canada committed to making accessible media for all Canadians. Chris is the Chair of the Described Video Best Practices committee in Canada, W3C Invited Expert for the Web and TV Interest Group, member of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Disability Advisory Committee (DAC) Video Programming subcommittee, Accessibility Strand Advisor for Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA), and member of the Mohawk College Program Advisory Committee (PAC).

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