A while ago we were approached by SIHO, Steunpunt Inclusief Hoger Onderwijs or Support Centre for Inclusive Higher Education. SIHO had had a documentary made in which four young people with a disability were followed while attending various higher education institutions and they asked us whether we could make an English version of this Flemish documentary, one that would be fully accessible to the blind and visually impaired.
Providing an audio description in a foreign language involves a lot more than you may first imagine. The describer does not necessarily understand the dialogues in the foreign language and this can lead to incorrect interpretations of the video. Fortunately that was not the case here as our English native speakers, like many of the people we work with, are also subtitlers and Flemish, the Dutch language as spoken in Flanders, is one of the foreign languages they specialize in. In addition, all Flemish dialogues had already been provided with on-screen translation subtitles.
The second challenge was that those translation subtitles also had to be made accessible. After all, the blind and visually impaired are unable to read subtitles and you cannot expect them to know enough Flemish to be able to understand the dialogues. But we were able to solve this too. We have considerable experience in making “audio subtitles”, as they are called. In fact, in 2012 our audio subtitles were the focus of a presentation at the Languages and The Media congress in Berlin and at the beginning of 2013 Meta, a journal for translators, included an article on this (see http://www.erudit.org/revue/meta/2012/v57/n2/1013952ar.html?vue=resume&mode=restriction).
In consultation with the customer the decision was made to make the translation subtitles audible by means of voice-overs. This meant that for each person we sought a different voice actor who then recorded that person’s texts again. We did not take the mouth movements of the people on screen into account (which is what happens in the case of dubbing) but we did ensure that the English voices reproduced the correct intonation and, where necessary, any hesitations that could be heard in the original version.
Finally, we had also noticed that there were some mistakes here and there in the English translation subtitles (which had not been done by us). When writing the scripts for the voice-overs we corrected various minor errors so that we ultimately ended up with a good, smooth translation that did not deviate too far from the on-screen subtitles, which would be irritating for those who can read these subtitles.
Intrigued about the result? The video with English audio description and audio subtitles can be viewed here: http://www.siho.be/nieuws/tzalwel-met-engelstalige-audiodescriptie-68/.