A world of access at Media for All

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Tuesday, 18 August 2015 12:00pm

Access to media is a growing feature at international conferences. A problem for Australian audiences is that these conferences are usually located in Europe or North America and tend to feature experts and case studies only from those regions of the world.

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The Media for All conference will be at the University of Western Sydney in mid-September. Over a third of the conference sessions are devoted to media access issues and feature experts from all parts of the globe, but especially the Asia-Pacific region. Media Access Australia CEO Alex Varley, who is chairing a panel on access to media in the New World, previews the conference and picks his personal highlights.

The conference starts with a keynote from Dr Brij Kothari who is talking about PlanetRead. This is a long-running program using captions in India to increase basic literacy. The scale of the operation is amazing with hundreds of millions benefitting and the results have direct impact on a significant problem that affects much of the third world.

Staying with developments in the New World, there are three presentations looking at accessibility for television, cinema and online video in Brazil. I shall be interested in whether they have managed to repurpose captioning files for each of those media and how well developed any captioning and audio description software is for the Portuguese language.

Audio description has long been an under-developed area of access, but this conference devotes two major sessions to the topic, with six different presentations. They range from the practical approaches taken in New Zealand to provide audio description on television to describing a traditional Chinese performance, the lion dance.

In many countries, access services started with live events and a session devoted to this medium covers haptic (touch) and sound technology solutions for the arts, live sign language for Indian cinema and captioning in Catalan theatres. 

Media Access Australia runs a special annual promotion devoted to captioning for school-aged children. CAP THAT! simply encourages teachers to always use captions in an education setting. The importance of access from a young age is also a session theme at the conference. Two presenters from Spain look at different aspects of captioning for children: building linguistic skills and how humour and comedy work. A separate presentation from Poland will advise on what to say and how to say it in audio description for children.

As somebody who is grounded in practical technology for delivering access, my final pick is a session with three Australian presenters looking at live captioning developments, using access as a social media marketing tool and the relatively new approach of crowdsourcing access production.

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