Audio Description: A Multimodal Practice in Expansion

in Multimodality


The European ADLAB project, coordinated by the University of Trieste, sought to promote the practice of audio description (AD), a method designed to provide access to blind and sight-impaired persons, particularly in the field of cinema and television, by creating a set of pan-European ‘strategic’ guidelines for the profession. A new European project (ADLAB PRO) is now in progress, again coordinated in Trieste, aimed firstly at creating the profile of the professional audio describer, but also including an extension of audio description research into museums, art galleries, churches, important landmarks, and so on. This new development weds AD to the early multimodal work of O’Toole, Kress and van Leeuwen, Baldry and Thibault, etc. As regards the descriptions of museum exhibits, the most effective approach to satisfying the needs of the blind and sight-impaired public needs to be found. Empirical analyses of the linguistic components of descriptions for sighted and non-sighted visitors, as they are presented in audioguides for example, need to be compared, in order to explore the variations in textuality required for audio descriptions. Cognitive linguistics, systemic-functional linguistics, discourse analysis, and other sources will be activated in the search for the most user-friendly yet informative format. But over and above these considerations, there is an ever clearer need to go beyond the image/word symbiosis and bring in other senses in the multimodal approach to AD. One of the project’s aims is to study this approach in depth and extend it to various areas of audio description research for museums. This intersensorial approach will then be expanded further to embrace the use of music, sounds, smell, and taste wherever they can enhance the multimodal experience.

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