Anna Matamala: EASIT – toward hybrid access services in the audiovisual world

The writer of the blog: Anna Matamala

Audiovisual content is everywhere. We watch the daily news on television or on the internet while our sons and daughters are watching Tik Tok videos. We enjoy a theatre play or an opera performance while they play a videogame. Sound and images, with linguistic and non-linguistic elements, are all around us. However, these sound and images may not be accessible to all. Access services such as subtitling or audio description are needed to provide access to those who cannot see or hear the audiovisual content, regardless of the reason. These audiovisual access services, among others, have been the focus of our research at TransMedia Catalonia (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) since 2005.

Easy-to-understand language was not originally on our research agenda, as it was mainly used in written texts. However, an interesting question arose: could we apply the concept of easy-to-understand language in the audiovisual world? Could we merge easy-to-understand language with audiovisual access services such as audio description and subtitling? This is how the EASIT project was born.

We thought such a project should be carried out at European level not only because we needed the expertise from partners across Europe but also because we wanted to have an impact across languages and cultures. With this in mind, we created a consortium of complementary partners, we sent a proposal to the European Commission under the Erasmus + strategic partnership funding scheme, and we got funding for 3 years (2018–2021) to develop an educational project.

It is important to highlight that Erasmus + projects do not fund research activities, but put the emphasis on developing educational outputs. This is why the aim of the EASIT project has been to define new professional profiles in the field of easy-to-understand language and audiovisual media and to create open access educational content to train them.

Before continuing, I would like to make a clarification: after much discussion, in the EASIT project we use “easy-to-understand language” as an umbrella term for any language variety that makes comprehension easier, from easy-to-read to plain language.

The steps we have taken in the project are the following. First of all, we did a survey across Europe to better understand the situation of easy-to-understand practice and training. 128 participants replied to the survey and the result is available in open access on our website. Elisa Perego has also written a book about it: Accessible Communication: A cross-country Journey, published by Frank & Timme.

The second step was to talk to experts working in the field of easy-to-understand language, of audiovisual journalism and of audiovisual access services. We organised focus groups and interviews in different countries to discuss if easy-to-understand language could be used in audiovisual news and in existing audiovisual access services such as audio description and subtitling. We found answers, but also many questions such as: does it make sense to create an easy audio description if the film dialogues are difficult to understand and cannot be changed? How can we deal with the needs of users who want verbatim subtitles and with the needs of users who want simplified subtitles? You can learn more about our discussions and results by reading this report.

The third step was to define three professional profiles together with the skills and competences they should acquire. We decided to focus on: a) the expert in easy-to-understand audio descriptions, b) the expert in easy-to-understand subtitles, and c) the expert on audiovisual journalism. The choice of these profiles was very much related to the expertise of the consortium and, for each of them, we design a skills card, available online.

The next step in the project was to design one curriculum proposal but we actually designed two: a proposal for a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) and a proposal for a postgraduate course lasting one semester. Both designs are available in open access and anyone is free to use them.

We are now in our final year: we are creating open access educational materials such as videos, reading lists and tasks, and we are discussing the topic of certification. By August all training materials will be available for free in our website, but if you are interested in seeing a good number of them, you can join our free online EASIT event on 27 January 2021.

A key to the success of the project is the complementarity of the partners. There are universities from Italy, Germany and Spain: Università degli Studi di Trieste, Stiftung Universität Hildesheim, SDI München, Universidade de Vigo and Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. There are two user associations, National Association of Dyslexia in Sweden (Dyslexiförbundet) and Zavod RISA in Slovenia. There is one broadcaster, RTV Slovenia. And, of course, our Advisory Board and a number of stakeholders interested in our project provide us with good advice and follow us on our multiple events. If you are interested in joining our stakeholders’ mailing list, just contact us at anna.matamala@uab.cat.

We hope EASIT contributes to raise awareness on easy-to-understand language within the context of universal design. We also hope that our curricula proposals are put into practice by formal and non-formal learning institutions. And we hope our open-access materials are used in a wide array of learning situations with a final aim: having excellent trained professionals who can produce easy-to-understand content not only in written contexts but also in multimodal and audiovisual environments.

If you are interested in knowing more about the project, visit us at pagines.uab.cat/easit

About the writer:
Dr. Anna Matamala is an associate professor at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, where she leads TransMedia Catalonia research group.
Her research interests are audiovisual translation and accessibility. Since 2018 she is leading the EASIT project and is researching on easy-to-understand language.

Acknowledgment and disclaimer
TransMedia Catalonia is funded by the Catalan government (2017SGR113). EASIT is a funded by the EC (2018-1-ES01-KA203-05275). The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents, which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

6 vastausta artikkeliin “Anna Matamala: EASIT – toward hybrid access services in the audiovisual world”

  1. EASIT is indeed a very nice project with very interesting insights. Until now, in the realm of accessibility, especially when researching and implementing easy-to-understand language, the focus has predominantly been on comprehensibility. Nevertheless, comprehensibility is only one aspect of accessible aspects. Just as the Research Centre for Easy Language in Hildesheim (Germany) has been proposing, retrievability and perceptibility have to be given before talking about comprehensibility. Considering the medial preferences of the target groups, audiovisual formats rank often higher than written formats. For that reason, hybrid services in which easy-to-understand language is used in audiovisual formats can contribute to more accessibility. This formats would be more retrievable and could address a wider spectrum of the target groups.

    1. Everyone, regardless of ability, should be able to enjoy audiovisual content. By collecting and disseminating knowledge on how to make audiovisual media available to more people, the EASIT project brings us closer to that goal.

      I am sure that both the producers of content and, in the end, the target groups will benefit from the important results of the project.

  2. The project is indeed a very welcome addition to accessibility research and education, taking an innovative approach to developing access services and providing openly accessible educational materials. The questions about the adaptability of easy-to-read/listen language into audio description and subtitling will continue to evoke interest, so we are looking forward to reading the results and experimenting with the material the project has produced. A huge thanks!

  3. Thank you, Sergio and Maija. It is indeed interesting and challenging. There are many questions to consider: can we written an easy-to-understand audio description to a dynamic content which includes difficult dialogues? Should we take a different approach and provide an audio commentary? Would that be audio description? Food for thought… Thanks for your comments!

    Anna

  4. We can already see some wonderful examples of news items in an easy-to-understand language in Europe – with Finnish YLE already doing that on regular basis. Austrian ORF started to produce daily news bulletins in plain language (”Nachrichten in einfacher Sprache”) when the epidemic started in early 2020. There is some research done at the German broadcasters and Slovenian public broadcaster RTV Slovenija is already doing initial experiments with the news items in Easy Slovenian. I believe that news production in an easy-to-understand language is slowly gaining momentum. I am eager to see how the European media landscape will look in 10 years in this regard.

    1. And I forgot to mention at least Swedish ”Nyheter på lätt svenska” from SVT. All of the aforementioned are doing a wonderful job in this regard.

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