In Audio Description (AD), visual details are narrated by voiceover artists to create an immersive, accessible experience for the blind and low vision communities. While the traditional audience for audio description has been those who are blind and low vision, many people benefit from this service. A fascinating example of the Curb-Cut Effect within the AD space has been its usage by neurodivergent audiences, including people on the autism spectrum.
What Does AD Do for Autistic Audiences?
For audience members on the autism spectrum, processing the visuals of a media program can present challenges in comprehension of emotions and facial expressions. A 2011 study by UK-based researcher Judith Garman found that audio description can help autistic audiences by clearly identifying emotions and providing an additional input track for the information. The description of human facial expressions and gestures contextualizes people’s emotions, which greatly benefits not only people on the autism spectrum, but may also support other neurodivergent audiences such as children with ADHD (Vercauteren 2016).
Tailoring AD to Meet Different Needs
The development of tailored description for neurodivergent audiences is still one that is very much in the early stages of evolution, but is something that the Captionmax AD team keeps in mind when scripting. Over the last few years, we have worked with a production company on the creation of audio description for a children’s TV series. The production’s intention was to create AD that supported young children on the autistic spectrum and young English language learners. Our Description team partnered with production, creating scripts that included features such as simpler word choice and less aggressive sounding verbs, using terms like “picks up” as opposed to “grabs” or “calms down” instead of “relaxes,” which better supported the audience this series was aiming to reach.
Other Media Accessibility Features that Support Neurodivergent Audiences
Audio description is one of the more prominent examples of access services that supports neurodivergent audiences, but there is additional value to closed captions, subtitles, and image descriptions,
Captions & Subtitles
Captions and subtitles provide a wider depth of comprehension and context by providing an additional stream of information for neurodivergent audiences. (Garman 2011) Additionally, a 2012 study found that ADHD learners were able to retain more information from presentations that included subtitles (Lewis and Brown 2012).
Many people on the autism and ADHD spectrum experience auditory processing issues, which can present as the inability to distinguish between overlapping sounds or difficulty comprehending speech over background noise. Captions and subtitles provide an additional layer of understanding and help round out the context of a scene’s dialogue and information. Our partners at 3Play Media have written more on the benefits of subtitles and captions for neurodivergent audiences.
According to Access Living, image descriptions can help provide the context of an image to autistic individuals. Image descriptions are easy to manually add to your website, blog, and social media posts. They consist of a detailed sentence describing the visuals of an image or graphic, including appearances of any people or graphics, the layout of the image, colors, and other relevant visual details.
“So what does this tell us about access? Probably that there is a much bigger community that can benefit from audio description and captions than just Blind and D/deaf people.” – Judith Garman
As we celebrate Autism Acceptance Month, we’re excited to highlight accessibility services that have broadened our ideas of inclusion and gone beyond the historical uses of audio description and captioning for blind, low-vision, D/deaf, and hard of hearing audiences. Consider adding these services to all media you create to not only serve the latter groups, but also the wide spectrum of neurodivergent audiences and those with invisible disabilities.