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Products for grant PR-276851-21

Improving Audio Description, Improving Access to the Humanities
Brett Oppegaard, University of Hawaii at Manoa

Grant details:

Audio description as auteur placemaking: Addressing accessibility issues in public places through locative sound-art experiments (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Audio description as auteur placemaking: Addressing accessibility issues in public places through locative sound-art experiments
Author: Brett Oppegaard
Abstract: Creating “oneness” through communication structures and research means creating inclusive and accessible communication research. Mobile technologies in recent years have been at the forefront of making more-accessible communication and media, with dozens of mobile-first accessibility features emerging. These technologies also have inspired many profound reconsiderations of space and place that increase accessibility. Therefore, the Mobile Communication Interest Group is uniquely positioned at ICA to support more media-accessibility studies but also, in particular, to support novel research approaches to accessible place-based media. Such studies radically could transform otherwise inhospitable terrain for people with disabilities, such as blindness, into comfortable and coherent common ground. In that regard, people who are blind advocate for more and better Audio Description – the remediation of visual media into audible media – like people who are deaf advocate for high-quality Captioning and Sign Language Interpretation. While Audio Description is primarily created for the benefit of people who are blind or people who have low-vision, it also can be helpful for people who are print dyslexic or even people who just want to learn more through their ears. In other words, more inclusive media is simply better media for more people. This study originated in a hackathon-like workshop, called a Descriptathon, in which more than 100 people from across North America (the U.S. and Canada) were brought together, gathered into teams, and trained over three days how to create Audio Description with the end goal of the intensive workshop to leave with an audio-described version of their place’s print brochure. Each team had at least one person on it who was blind or who had low-vision.
Date: 05/26/0222
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: ICA Conference main website
Conference Name: International Communication Association

Networked sight: Improving social inclusion by improving audio description research (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Networked sight: Improving social inclusion by improving audio description research
Author: Brett Oppegaard
Author: Michael Rabby
Abstract: This paper is aimed at identifying core values of Audio Description that affected feelings of Social Inclusion. To identify these values, the authors hosted a hackathon-like “Descriptathon” that brought together more than 100 people from throughout the United States and Canada in a three-day intensive workshop designed to audio describe print brochures of communally important public places (16 national parks), with those descriptions being evaluated by blind or low-vision people using validated scales measuring aspects of Social Inclusion (Jason et al., 2015; McColl et al., 2001; Peterson et al., 2008). Within that judging feedback, the authors also conducted a content analysis of the 122 qualitative responses received. An independent coder and one of the co-authors established a sufficient inter-rater reliability (78.6%, Cohen’s Kappa= 0.71) over three passes through the data, which began with a list of 17 identifiable social-inclusion values that eventually were parsed to 5 broader labels, plus an “other” value for outliers. Those social-inclusion values in the description feedback were ultimately labeled as “Detailed,” with description answering all of the questions of the listener, “Organized,” when description seemed created with a clear structure, “Objective,” when description was delivered from a neutral perspective, “Concise,” when description avoided extraneous details, and “High Quality,” when description was created with a polish and flair that the judges appreciated. By identifying and operationalizing those core values in this study – as compositional techniques for potentially increasing feelings of social inclusion and improving public health through more-inclusive public discourse – we then were able to test those values in practice in a second Descriptathon, offered in October 2021, which also included participants in the United Kingdom. This presentation will cover both parts of the study, and the development of the Social Inclusion values.
Date: 5/26/2022
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Main conference website.
Conference Name: International Communication Association

What I look like on Zoom: Real-time research into creating great portrait audio description (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: What I look like on Zoom: Real-time research into creating great portrait audio description
Author: Brett Oppegaard
Author: Thomas Conway
Abstract: With a Grounded Theory approach, we have been analyzing texts to try to determine ways in which this type of description can be effective, to develop best practices for the field. In very quick summary of that process, we first read each description to determine its distinct thought units (which can be a word or a phrase). Then we categorize those units into themes, such as Age, Race/Ethnicity, Gender, etc. And then we go back into those higher-order categories, such as Gender, and really dig into them. Gender identity is constructed through 4 primary approaches in portrait Audio Description: • Use of a gendered name, such as John or Jennifer • Use of a gendered noun, such as man, woman, daughter, etc. • Use of a gendered pronoun, such as he, she, his, hers • And, use of descriptive words (adjectives, like bearded, female, etc.) or descriptive phrases (like wearing a dress, or carrying a purse) And by determining those gender-construction methods, we can evaluate a description by how it uses such conventions, or not. Gender is a good example of an area of contemporary discourse under negotiation, where some people are choosing gender-neutral pronouns, such as they, as a rhetorical act of protest against gender designations. Where this all will go, I have no idea. It’s really beyond the scope of our project to try to shape or determine evolving discourse strategies. What we want to do instead is to study them and make these conversations accessible to everyone, through Audio Description.
Date: 02/26/2022
Primary URL:
Conference Name: 37th Annual Pacific Rim International Conference on Disability & Diversity

Audio description in the out of doors (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Audio description in the out of doors
Author: Brett Oppegaard
Author: Holly Griesemer
Author: Michele Hartley
Author: Clark Rachfal
Abstract: Audio Description in the Outdoors: National Park Service, the UniDescription Project, and the UniD App: This session featured the National Park Service’s work to bring audio description and increased access into park settings and highlighted the NPS’s collaboration with the University of Hawaii’s UniDescription Project to use its UniD app in U.S. and Canadian parks.
Date: 07/21/2021
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Link to the panel presentation.
Conference Name: American Council of the Blind Convention

What does he/she/they look like? Gender-defining audio description in self portraits (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: What does he/she/they look like? Gender-defining audio description in self portraits
Author: Brett Oppegaard
Abstract: Audio Description typically involves a sighted intermediary, who translates visual media into acoustic media, as neither the creator of the source material nor its intended recipient. This person audibilizes what can be seen in the source material, but the quality of that audibilization depends greatly on the skills, training, style, motivation, and engagement of the describer. This remediation process usually is conducted for the explicit benefit of people who are blind or low-vision. The image and the audible description often then are divorced, to create segregated experiences, involuntarily splitting people apart by how well they can see. In this process, one group of people typically learns about the source content from sight and the other from sound. Yet those acoustic representations – in terms of overall fidelity – are rarely equivalent in merit to the source material, so scholars and practitioners, especially in the past decade, actively have been refining industry best practices and academic insights in order to improve Audio Description qualities. A primary area of such scholarly focus is the quality of Audio Description products as artifacts of discourse.To address that topic, this study’s author gathered more than 100 self-descriptions during two separate Audio Description-oriented workshops, about six months apart. That effort brought together people regardless of vision level, including people who were blind or low-vision, who also were offered the opportunity to describe themselves. The study’s intent was to find ways to better understand, on a foundational level, how gender identity emerges through Audio Description.
Date: 07/11/2021
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Link to the conference presentation.
Conference Name: International Association for Media and Communication Research

As Seen through Smartphones: An Evolution of Historic Information Embedment (Book Section)
Title: As Seen through Smartphones: An Evolution of Historic Information Embedment
Author: Brett Oppegaard
Editor: Serge Noiret
Editor: Mark Tebeau
Editor: Gerben Zaagsma
Abstract: People who want to learn about history also want to learn about it in the ways and through the media that they prefer. Sometimes it happens by reading a book, with the learner at home in a comfy chair in front of a fire. But sometimes - especially now, in the smartphone era - meaningful history-learning moments can occur just about anywhere. So, historians need to adapt. This chapter outlines how history-seeking audiences have always followed advances in communication technologies and how mobile technologies today simply offer opportunities for the next period of field expansion. The desirable affordances of smartphones can be traced conceptually back to the earliest people who read about historical events on papyrus scrolls (much more mobile than stone monuments), through volumes of bound papers cranked out on the printing press (prompting the need for mass literacy), and in complicated multimedia contexts (like with text and graphics overlaying video on television screens). As a confluence of the media that have come before it but also as a bridge to emerging forms of new media, mobile media are only now starting to be understood as viable media for history. This piece puts the intellectual foundations in place for such an exploration and also presents some reflections on work like this from a pioneer in the field, who has been designing locative historical experiences for more than a decade.
Year: 2022
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Link directly to the chapter in the book.
Access Model: Not open access
Publisher: De Gruyter Oldenbourg
Book Title: Handbook of Digital Public History
ISBN: 9783110430295

UniDescription's uReview tool (Computer Program)
Title: UniDescription's uReview tool
Author: Brett Oppegaard
Abstract: This is a new tool on The UniDescription Project's website that allows straightforward and accessible reviews of Audio Description to take place seamlessly, at
Year: 2022
Primary URL:
Access Model: Open Access
Programming Language/Platform: Javascript, HTML
Source Available?: Yes

Is it Art? Or is it Audio Description? Experiments on the boundaries of media accessibility (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Is it Art? Or is it Audio Description? Experiments on the boundaries of media accessibility
Author: Brett Oppegaard
Abstract: Through an experimental design-based research project—funded by the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)—this study explored intersections of sound art, mobile technologies, and the accessibility of national parks through the creation of a novel form of audio description. We decided to make this piece of locative sound art— designed primarily for people who are Deafblind, blind, or who have low-vision—at the site of Andy Goldsworthy’s four outdoor public art installations within the Presidio in San Francisco. During our design process, we encountered many complexities demanding design attention and forcing difficult artistic choices, including about approaches to the vocal performance, the dualistic proximity of listeners to the artwork (they were either on site or off), and to the quirks of the physical environment, including about how to handle an alleged arson of one of the artworks that happened mid-development and closed the area to visitors. As these complications were revealed, we rejected reductionism and the impulse to solely focus on the content, the medium, or the mobilities. We stuck to the philosophy that all were co-equally important and approached the design development accordingly. We then gathered feedback about this audio description from representative audience members, which included on-site tests with five individuals, facilitated by a research team member. We used a think-aloud protocol, during which participants talked about their responses to the audio files in the moment. We also conducted semi-structured interviews with the individuals after each visit. In addition, we built an online review system as a part of the support software that allowed other representative audience members to listen to the prototype and answer either open-ended or Likert-like questions remotely. We had 20 volunteers who reviewed both the sound-art and the utilitarian versions via that system. We also hosted a focus group for a mix of the on-site and off-site
Date: 04/19/2023
Primary URL: http://
Conference Name: Advanced Research Seminar on Audio Description (ARSAD)

The UniDescription Project: Audio Describing the World, One Brochure at a Time (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: The UniDescription Project: Audio Describing the World, One Brochure at a Time
Author: Brett Oppegaard
Author: Michele Hartley
Author: Pat Sheehan
Abstract: For years, the National Park Service and University of Hawaii have partnered to audio describe print brochures. The results: A website rich with resources, open source editing tools, hundreds of trained staff, and over 160 brochures available on an app. All results are informed by research, and collaborators who are blind or low vision. This presentation will provide background, demo the audio description tools you can use, and hear a collaborator’s perspective. More info:
Date: 10/11/2022
Primary URL:
Conference Name: Interagency Accessibility Forum (IAAF)

Gamifying good deeds: User experience, agency, and values in play during a Descriptathon and beyond (Article)
Title: Gamifying good deeds: User experience, agency, and values in play during a Descriptathon and beyond
Author: Brett Oppegaard
Author: Michael Rabby
Abstract: Purpose: This study compares individual values of intervention designers and those of participants in a hackathon-like event to contribute to research about relationships between values and gamification techniques. Our approach identifies and analyzes expressions of values found within the organizational discourse of a large-scale intervention at national parks oriented toward the social inclusion of people who are blind or have low-vision. Researchers and organizations can use this model to create commonground opportunities within values-sensitive gamified designs. Method: We collected qualitative and quantitative data via multiple methods and from different perspectives in an effort to strengthen validity as well as to better determine what all types of stakeholders really wanted out of the gamified experience. From a pre-survey to a list of intervention activities to a post-survey, we deconstructed discourse and coded for values, then compared across sets to evaluate the presence of values and their alignment/misalignment among participants and the intervention designers. Results: Without a clear and focused attention to values, gaps can exist and grow between participants and organizers. Conclusion: Of the many ways to conceptualize and act out a social-justice intervention, this research illustrates the potential of explicitly identifying values on the front end of that process and actively designing those values into the organizational aspects of the intervention, to serve as a subtextual glue to keep people working together, undergirded by these value systems, as they collaborate to contribute to a cause.
Year: 2022
Primary URL:
Access Model: Subscription only
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Technical Communication
Publisher: Technical Communication

Audio description of gender: Self-description as an evocation of identity (Article)
Title: Audio description of gender: Self-description as an evocation of identity
Author: Brett Oppegaard
Author: Andreas Miguel
Abstract: Gender gets socially constructed in many visual ways, but people who are blind or who have low-vision want to know the gender of those around them, too, as well as other salient positionality details. Like with age, race, fashion, etc., a person’s appearance can provide a lot of information about them and their character. Audio description, as a form of audiovisual translation, is a way to make that appearance accessible to those who cannot see it. Yet empirical research about audio description of gender – a complicated and highly contested arena of public discourse – is underdeveloped. This study addresses that issue through a Grounded Theory approach, constructivist in nature, that both generated self-descriptions of portrait images and piloted a model way to analyze them. This process prompted 179 new self-descriptions written during three hackathon-like events over multiple years, illuminating compositional gender-construction strategies as well as fertile paths for audio description research.
Year: 2022
Primary URL:
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Perspectives
Publisher: Perspectives

The light bulb went on: A historiography-based approach to disentangling audio description’s influential U.S. roots from its common practices. (Article)
Title: The light bulb went on: A historiography-based approach to disentangling audio description’s influential U.S. roots from its common practices.
Author: Brett Oppegaard
Author: Sajja Koirala
Abstract: Introduction: American media-accessibility pioneers in the 1970s and 1980s not only sparked interest in the academic study of audio description, they also originated many practical techniques, protocols, theoretical perspectives, guidelines, and standards that persist in the fabric of this type of work decades later. In this study, we located and analyzed source documents for two oft-mentioned innovators—Gregory Frazier and Margaret Pfanstiehl—to shine light on their individual perspectives through a historiography of their foundational writings and associated media. Method: This analysis was conducted on publicly available source documents, such as Frazier’s landmark thesis and also included a trove of Pfanstiehl’s personal correspondence, as a way to establish particular points of theoretical and historical interest. Results: We found that despite the prominent place of Frazier and Pfanstiehl in audio description lore, neither actually published much writing about what they did and why they did it. Some of what they wrote has been selectively repeated, but other parts have been forgotten. In that respect, this research method could be used to more precisely trace and identify where particular practices emerged, under which theoretical perspectives, and complications. It also can help to show how these ideas were documented and tested during their emergence and domestication, as a way to gauge procedural rigor as well as validity of related findings. Discussion: Audio description scholarship needs theoretical anchors, but it also needs systematic testing of assumptions inherent in those theoretics, which this study helps to identify. Implications for Practitioners: Audio describers invariably will encounter the moment when an assertion of “this is the way we do it” collides with the curiosity of “why?” To promote best practices, the field has to understand where practices came from, how they developed, and as Frazier recommended, put those ideas to “objective” test
Year: 2022
Primary URL:
Periodical Title: Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness
Publisher: Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness