1. Communication comes in many forms

    A close up of a lady holding someones hands

    Over the years we have worked on a number of films for Sense, the charity who help people who are deafblind or have complex disabilities to communicate and experience the world. As the saying goes, “every day is a learning day” and it’s fair to say that we have learnt a lot. To mark World Hearing Day we thought we’d share some of them.

    Many types of signing

    One of the biggest surprises for us was just how many ways there are to communicate. When you think of deafness you think about sign language but we have seen people using many other methods. Dan, who comes in about 25 seconds into the film below, uses something called Deafblind manual which is a form of tactile signing. We’ve also seen people using Block alphabet and picture systems.

    Build in extra time on shoot days

    Everything on a shoot day will take a little bit longer so factor that in when planning your day. Even if you have learnt the basics of saying hello and thank you (something I wish we had thought about doing in advance in the way we do when working in another spoken language), you will likely still need to work through interpreters. Every stage, from explaining what will happen, undertaking the interview and explaining what B Roll is needed will need an extra step.

    Positioning of the characters

    Usually in case study films your storyteller will be speaking directly to the camera or looking slightly off camera to the interviewer who is not in shot. In cases where someone is using British Sign Language (or another sign language) then you can maintain this set up. However, where someone uses a tactile communication the interpreter will also need to be in shot and you are going to need to think about camera angles so you are clearly capturing the hands as well as faces.

    Captioning not subtitling

    We are so used to subtitling everything for the increasing number of people who watch with sound down that it’s easy to forget that subtitles and captions are not the same thing. Subtitles provide the dialogue of a film whereas captions describe the whole film experience for someone who does not have the option to put the sound on. For example, using captions to describe the mood of the music or to tell the viewer when there are key non-verbal things happening, such as the sound of busy roads or people laughing, help a deaf person experience the whole impact of a film.

    Accessibility of captions

    Make sure your captions are accessible for people who may also have visual impairments. Pick simple fonts and don’t make the size too small and use a good colour contrast – yellow out of black works well. If your caption is going to go over two lines then make the start of the second line justify left so that that it starts in the same place on the screen as the top line. The inverted pyramid of a caption that’s centre justified does not offer the same ease of readability.

    Produce transcripts

    Produce transcripts of your films. Transcripts can be read (by people or by screen readers) but they are also valuable for those people for whom the colours and movement of a film may create a sensory overload. And transcripts are not just for films. We were interested to read this piece in Forbes over the weekend about transcripts for podcasts. If you read our blog a couple of weeks back about the growth of podcasts and are considering dipping your toe in the water then don’t forget to make them accessible too.

    Audio description

    Blind or partially-sighted people will need an audio described version of your film so they can appreciate what is being shown in the film as well as what is being said. So much of what we take from a film is based on what we see as well as what we hear; describing what is happening on screen will help all your audiences fully engage with the emotion and messages of your film. You can also watch the audio described version of our Sense Thank You film here. Learning the nuances of scripting audio described films has been one of the most interesting things about working with Sense.

    Pacing of an edit

    Much of the above will affect the pace and length of your edit. The original brief for the Sense Thank You film, (watch it below) was one minute but we very quickly realised that getting everything they wanted to hear and show into the film, while also allowing for accessibility was going to be impossible. We live in an era of 30 second and one minute films but for accessibility this doesn’t always work. Audio described films need more time to describe the visuals and captioned films need time to describe the sounds. Fast moving soundbites and B Roll that are a hallmark of many short films these days simply do not work when you factor in detailed captions and audio descriptions.

    Test them

    Build in time in your edit to test the films with a group of people who have different accessibility requirements. This is the only way to know whether you have made your film really accessible. We did test our films as part of the feedback process but when the audio described version was published we had some feedback that the sound levels of the music interfered slightly with the audio description. This hadn’t come back from those we tested it with. The learning there is to test with as wide a group of possible.

    Here’s the thank you film we made with Sense.

    While writing this we found this interesting piece from RNIB on web accessibility, which has lots of useful links to other resources and Tweeters. VocalEyes brings theatre, museums, galleries and heritage sites to life for blind and partially sighted people and has some interesting resources and guidelines.

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