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The rogue poster-children of universal design: closed captioning and audio description

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To abide by the tenets of universal design theory, the design of a product or service needs not only to consider the inclusion of as many potential users and uses as possible but also to do so from conception. Control over the creation and adaptation of the design should, therefore, fall under the purview of the original designer. Closed captioning (CC) has always been touted as an excellent example of a design or electronic curb cut because it is a system designed for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, yet is used by many others for access to television in noisy environments such as gyms or pubs, or to learn a second language. Audio description is poised to have a similar image. In this paper, we will demonstrate how the processes and practices associated with CC and audio description, in their current form, violate some of the main principles of universal design and are thus not such good examples of it. In addition, we will introduce an alternative process and set of practices through which directors of television, film and live events are able to take control of CC and audio description by integrating them into the production process. In doing so, we will demonstrate that CC and audio description are worthy of directorial attention and creative input rather than being tacked on at the very end of the process, and usually only to meet regulatory or legislative mandates.
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Keywords: accessible media; audio description; closed captioning; inclusive design; universal design

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: ITM/Centre for Learning Technologies, Ryerson University, Toronto, ON, Canada

Publication date: 01 April 2010

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