Craig Butcher

Improving accessibility within photography multimedia

I wrote all this back in May 2010 when I decided to speak out what I really thought about all this and where it is going, how to improve it in many ways. It is amazing how much in a year that accessibility within multimedia has gone strength to strength. The realisation and the power of the iPad has gave this a much needed kick to improve the standard.

Read on, indulge and have a good look at your offering for today's audience. Please do contact me if you have something to contribute towards this or have something profound to say.

First of all...

I have to mention that I am an advocate in web accessibility and am not impressed by the current offering that audio slide shows that exists today. They are broken, literally broken, that it does not deliver the work in full quality.

This may sound like a harsh statement and I want you to think positively on how we can improve it. Today's devices such as the iPhone, iPad and Android phones (including up and coming Android tablets if they materialise), they are fast becoming the product of accessing and viewing your work anywhere in the world.

What is wrong with existing audio slide shows?

You have an edited collection of photographs and audio from your documentary shoot then you compile it altogether in a Flash audio slide show player, display it online to the world on your website, you dive through your contacts to spread the word and you sit back to admire your work. What is wrong with this picture? You forget who your audience are.

Your audience are the main staple diet, the driving force to propel you, the photographer, upwards to recognition. Let me tell you this, if you are reading English as your first language, congratulations, you are one of the many people who are 3rd in the world of the languages. The world's number one language is Mandarin followed by Spanish as second. The list is huge and you have to remember that everyone does not use English as their first language. That is fine as long the fundamental basic of the English language is there.

And when it comes to web technology, Flash is immediately your top choice to promote your work because it is easier to put it all together and upload it up online. This is presuming you think the world audience are using Flash on their computer. What about people who do not have Flash installed on their computer or using mobile devices? How are you going to show your work from that point?

Why am I telling you this?

It would not have bothered me too much, but I have a lifetime hearing impairment that when it comes to multimedia like TV, online streaming (YouTube, BBC iPlayer) and cinemas, subtitles are available to complete the whole picture of what is there. For a better understanding of this, watch a foreign film without subtitles or put on any film and turn the sound off (don't cheat, put on a film you have never seen before). The chances are that you will be struggling to watch it all without a clear understanding within less than a minute.

I am a strong believer that subtitles is for everyone and for the international audience too. For a long time, it was widely misunderstood that it was for the deaf people and for world cinema. People forget the misconception that not all of us can understand the language spoken in their videos.

What can we do to improve the situation?

To understand this problem, I will introduce you to a varieties of audio slide show currently available online.

To bring back one example from my previous post is Media Storm. Each work is immensely thought provoking with stunning photography work with a transcript for you to read alongside the video. The screenshot below is an example how I am following the video.

Media Storm

The left window contains the video and the right contains the transcript. This can cause a few headaches since you would be tracking the transcript in a separate window while trying to watch the video. I naturally adapted to cope with this quite easily, although, this technique is not particularly useful in the long term. There are other ways that this can be much easier to ‘read’.

Update: March 2011

Good on Media Storm! They went and updated their player. Although, it is still in flash and it is a great start.

Media Storm Update

The second example is DuckRabbit. They are the only journalism/production company in the UK and their training to work with photography and audio are stunning. I have seen some videos that is jaw-dropping rich, especially with videos from other countries with foreign voices with the translation on the screen. This is what I am talking about how to offer translation/subtitles like the screenshot below:

Duck Rabbit

Now to be constructively fair about this, I have seen other examples that has English voices being talking while using the 'captions' option to display what was being said in the audio. This means there is a delay per photograph, perhaps in order to allow people to 'read' what was being audibly said. I must stress that using 'captions' are to display what the photo is about in description rather than subtitling.

Whilst exploring other audio slide shows on the website, I came across one slide show that demonstrate confusion in between displaying caption descriptions of each image and spoken voice, your brain will be trying to interpret two ongoing information.

The BBC audio slide show player also demonstrates this.

BBC Audio Slideshow

Those beautifully crafted work can reach its full potential once subtitles are offered there and then. I believe that it should be compulsory for multimedia work by photographers to insert subtitles in their work. And for that reason alone, I will explain why.

Why should it be compulsory?

In terms of web accessibility, it is a breeze for an abled person to view a website, read text, listen to news article, moving the mouse to click on links, etc. When it comes to myself, a person who is Deaf, that world is suddenly different. You have my visual attention to the screen, my eyes are scanning for texts for bits that means something to me and then, I get to click on a news video article or an audio slideshows with pictures. When I click play, I hear a 'foreign language' and quickly click on the subtitles button to bring up text to recognise the foreign language and I'm set to understand everything.

I am only one of the many examples of disability out there, there is a wide range of people with disability such as blindness, short sighted, motor control issues, etc to view anything goes online. We are solely focusing on the issues of subtitles on this matter.

Having mentioned these points, it is fair to raise the issue of legal implication based in the UK according to the Disabled Discrimination Act:

5.26 (p68): “For people with hearing disabilities, the range of auxiliary aids or services which it might be reasonable to provide to ensure that services are accessible might include ... accessible websites.” (note: this applies to visual impairments as well)

What does this mean in simple layman terms? In a way, it means that your website is accessible on terms of layout, fonts, colours and your video(s)/audio slide show does not contain subtitles. This means your website does not pass the[link] web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG) as explained:

"Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 covers a wide range of recommendations for making Web content more accessible. Following these guidelines will make content accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity and combinations of these. Following these guidelines will also often make your Web content more usable to users in general." - WCAG20

Note: This varies per country for example, in the US, it is Section 508. In Australia, it is Australia Disability Discrimination Act.

Designing for now and the future.

The future of the web is constantly changing as new modern web browsers are demonstrating the latest technology of HTML5/CSS3. And for some time, YouTube, Vimeo and many other websites has HTML5 video ready in order to show content to the user without the need of Adobe Flash. To add weight to this argument, Apple's mobile devices has the capabilities to display HTML5/CSS3 goodness and their recent unveiling was the iPad.

We know for a fact that Flash has no place on mobile devices and the solution to replace this is to use HTML5 <video> tag. The technology is new and it is available for us now to use.

After a few hours of research online exploring the idea of the HTML5 video tag, I have found the HTML5 video subtitles experiment by Ilias Ismanalijev which uses javascript to display the subtitles timing sync in the video. Each web browser (Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Opera) has their own video UI that does not help the user visually wise.

I have tested and observed various UI skins that is compiled using CSS to overlay the current player that web browsers are using such as OIPlayer and various others.

The result is all very clear to see and the work flow goes like this:

  1. Produce your multimedia via your choice of video/audio software (Aperture 3, Final Cut, iMovie are great examples). You can produce Quicktime and OGV movies easily.
  2. Produce a subtitles file. It is very simple to do and require basic knowledge to learn how to produce excellent timing of displaying the subtitles to the voices.
  3. Produce the web page with basic HTML/CSS coding.
  4. Put the content online and do essential PR work.

What skills would you gain from this?

To conclude, essential key aspects to take note

  1. It should be compulsory for multimedia work by photographers to install subtitles into their audio slide show work. This, I strongly believe should be taught during any photography courses especially in modules that focus on promoting their work using websites.
  2. It is best to try and avoid using Flash where the web is moving forward onto new technological grounds. Imagine demonstrating a beautifully structured HTML5 audio slide show player with subtitles options available on the Apple iPad which will give you an advantage lead in the provision of information.
  3. Your audience is the world and that includes those who are reliant on subtitles.

I hope I made an impact into changing the way you view multimedia online and remember, technology is constantly improving and changing to new standards. Embrace this and you will find yourself ahead of the competition.

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