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Robert Pearson

  Accessible Media


Digital Authoring for Accessibility of Media Formats

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Digital data such as music, books, files, and videos can be made accessible for users of all abilities if the content producer leads the way in ensuring format accessibility, says Robert Pearson.

I had the opportunity to attend an outdoor concert over the holiday season last year in a warmer climate. The show was put on by a popular artist and there were about 15,000 people in the crowd. When the artist came on stage, they began to play one of their more popular songs, and as they did, all you could see throughout the crowd was the glow from people raising their phones and portable devices high into the air and hitting record, or taking a picture, or uploading a shot, or tagging themselves and their friend.  

It occurred to me that these lights in the sky were the equivalent of a digital-era salute to the artist, akin to the way in which once upon a time it would have been more common for the crowd to raise their ‘cigarette’ lighters high into the sky in a similar fashion. So it was for those three or four minutes as the song played and its digital equivalent was uploaded to any number of locations across the Internet, social media and storage devices. These thousands of digital authors were producing a significant amount of media content, but how many of them, if any, considered how accessible that content might be?

Image: audience at a music concert with mobile phones in hand

Image: Audience at a music concert with mobile phones in hand

It is likely that a number of factors would require consideration when making that determination. Would the data remain on the device, being retrieved at some later point for upload or download, or once the device ceased to function? Would the user have their own site on the Internet, where they would post the content, keeping in mind accessibility so that anyone who chose to access it could do so? Would they rebroadcast it in some other format, possibly adding captions or a description? Most of those scenarios are rather unlikely.  

Being in that environment, the destination of the media would likely be a social media site or network, with a few quick taps on an iPhone or Blackberry to send the data into the cloud along with a tag to ensure that friends and followers could see that you were there. This rapid consumption and archiving of media on a social media site into one's Facebook Timeline or otherwise poses accessibility challenges. Understandably, the desire or interest to consider accessibility of media files is not earnest, because data enter and exit our lives just as quickly. Unfortunately though, it limits the accessible media content that becomes available to the consumers who may require it, especially since most of this content is online and the Web is where most of us are, working, studying, engaging in entertainment and leisure, and connecting.

What’s the solution then? How can it be possible to ensure equal access for all users and for all media content irrespective of the lifespan of digital data? Realistically the answer is that we do the best we can and all good intentions must start somewhere. Anyone can be a digital author and they should work to ensure accessibility for the content that they create, reproduce or distribute, if they know that members of their audience require it. The rest will follow suit when they see their rock star, or favorite musician, or writer / director being conscientious about accessibility. 


Related Resource

Blog: Digital Empathy for Customers of All Abilities by Robert Pearson | Read the article.

Publication: Making Television Accessible - G3ict and ITU report | Download free PDF.

Event: Webinar, 'Web Accessibility - the Benefits for Business,' co-hosted by G3ict, ILO, UN Global Compact | February 12, 2013, 9:30 - 10:30 AM EST - find out more about the event.