Accessible Media Lecture Notes for Sociology of Media course, Macquarie University

Accessible Media Lecture Notes for Sociology of Media course, SOC279, Macquarie University

Prepared by Tim Noonan
Consultant Speaker Coach

May 2016

I am available to consult or to deliver tailored presentations and workshops in the areas of accessibility, voice and interpersonal communication.

Background to These Notes

My degree and formal studies mainly centred around psychology and education, in particular cognitive psychology and Special Education and Educational technology.

I’ll be bringing my studies, direct experience of disability, over 30 years experience working in the area of disability & accessibility together for the group.

I’ll use a variety of audio examples and perhaps some video to flesh out the session, as well as posing questions and ideas for the group to explore.

These are not comprehensive lecture notes, rather, they are the notes I prepared to remind me of some of the themes, concepts and examples I plan to cover in the lecture.

Accessibility | Disability | Inclusive Design

What Is a Disability?

One in Ten Australians report having some kind of disability – ABS

open with some explanations of the diversity of people with disabilities, and explain that my presentation will have a scue towards sensory disabilities which are particularly significant for media accessibility.

I’ll draw the distinction between medical models of disability and the Social Model, explaining how in the social models disability is socially constructed and is the result of having impairments (characteristics or limitations) that the world isn’t designed around.

Tweet: @dugboticus: Disability: a mismatch in interaction between the features of a person’s body and the features of the environment in which they live

Youtube: The social model of disability: disability is caused by barriers, rather than by a person’s impairment or difference

I’ll touch on some other disability perspectives such as Normalisation Theory which argues that passing and ‘fitting in’ is the path to greater inclusion.

Disability role models

It is hard to achieve if you don’t have belief

Belief comes from seeing positive examples of others like you, achieving.

Explore how inaccessible media excludes people from the conversation

standing out feeling left out through unawareness of social trends that are portrayed through media

Newspapers and social media items can bring people together with common topics of conversation around issues. If you aren’t exposed to the issues, you can’t fully participate in the conversation

Contemplating sexuality in place of disability as a comparison – – minorities and social acceptance

People with Disabilities and their representation (or minimal representation) in media

  • often disabled characters are played by people who are not themselves disabled;

  • Nothing about us, without us!”

  • Portrayal of PWD in media often does not accurately reflect the community being represented

  • Kmart in Australia recently acknowledged for using some people with disabilities in their clothing ads.

` * Some examples of disability-generated media such as podcasting, OUCH (BBC) and Grit Media TV(Victoria)


Media definition for talk

I’ll begin by drawing the distinction and progression from physical ( classical media) to digital media and explain how developments in digital media have largely increased or created accessibility and also how digital media has also inhibited accessibility due to DRM copyright restrictions and the inaccessibility of software and hardware media access devices.

Ask group for examples of media

Media here covers audio, video, interactivity, print and on-screen text as well as social media. Also examines the need for accessible media transport devices e.g. DVD players and technology to select and operate the media to be consumed.

For most of us, technology and digital formats are a choice, – in addition to classical physical media -but for people with disabilities, digital media are often a necessity and the only available option.

It is estimated by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind that only 3-5 per cent ofprinted information is available to people who are blind through braille transcription or audio recording.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines WCAG 2.0

Overview of WCAG 2.0 Design principles

The overall goal is to create Web content that is perceivable, operable and understandable by the broadest possible range of users and compatible with their wide range of assistive technologies, now and in the future.

The basic principles include:

  1. Content must be perceivable .

  2. Interface elements in the content must be operable .

  3. Content and controls must be understandable .

  4. Content must be robust enough to work with current and future technologies.

Accessible Web content benefits a variety of people, not just people with disabilities. In the physical world, ramps are used by bicycles, people pushing strollers, and people in wheelchairs. Similarly, accessible Web content is beneficial to a variety of people with and without disabilities. For example, people who are temporarily operating under constrained conditions like operating in a noisy environment where they can not hear well or at all, or driving their car where their eyes are busy would benefit from an accessible site. Likewise, a search engine can find a famous quote in a movie if the movie is captioned.

Some Case studies including:

Newspapers by Phone Audio demonstration of ‘Today’s News Now’ Phone Newspaper service

accessible election ballot papers and completion by phone and online:

Online media assist people with physical and mobility limitations as travel is not required obtain the media and physical books and media don’t need to be handled.

Stand-alone and software-based Reading devices that support print with spoken word that assist people with dyslexia and reading disabilities – see VoiceDream Reader app for iOS

This technical presentation Implementing Born Accessible Publishing presented by @TzviyaSiegman discusses strategies for making digital books and publications accessible.

Use Plain language to enhance comprehension

examine Audio Description

Text Captions for deaf and hard of hearing

Tweet: 3playmedia: Check out @seanzdenek’s recommendations for producing good captions of non-speech sounds: #CC #captioning #tips

Tweet: DeafblindUK: Broadway awakens the senses for people in the audience who are #deafblind #Broadway

Automated captioning technologies, such as found in Youtube, which recognise the speech spoken in videos and translate it into a text stream.

Automated Youtube Captioning

Alternative Text

Alt text topics: Descriptions of images – on websites and recent developments in image interpretation on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Experimental FacebookAI Image Analysis

Alt Text is the term used to describe images that appear in online content. Sometimes the alt text (alternative text description) explains how something looks, other times it describes content within an image.

Facebook now (iOS only) gives a general description of an image, such as: “possibly contains two people and nature”

I have included extensive alt text descriptions for the Gemwater bottles I sell from my website, so blind visitors can appreciate the visual aspects of the bottles, which are very visually attractive and which markedly vary in colour combinations.

VitaJuwel ViA GemWater Bottles

For example, the primary image on the page is described as “A glass bottle with removable base and lid. Inside the bottle a dome shaped blass pod protrudes from the base, containing a blend of gemstone crystals.” Hovering your mouse over images should display the alternative text.

pointers and some themes from my paper:

Netporn, Sexuality and the Politics of Disability:
A Catalyst for Access, Inclusion and Acceptance?

Netporn Sexuality and the Politics of Disability

There are very few treatments of netporn that recognize the specific characteristics, issues, and cultures of Internet users with disabilities. Nevertheless, there is a significant impact that netporn is having on people with disability, including issues of access, inclusion, consumption and changing social attitudes towards both disability and sexuality.”

Hear Porn as I “see” it in this computer-read short story Computerised voice “reading” the text of an erotic story

Audio Description

Demonstrations of and challenges of audio description of shows and films including:

  • Audio Described trailer for “Frozen”: Frozen Trailer Audio Described

  • human judgment of what to describe and how to describe it

  • intricacies of timing of spoken descriptions so they don’t overlap with dialogue or sounds of action or events

  • matching the narrator with the program – e.g. the film “Holding the Man” was audio described by a woman even though the film is about two men in love and contains several intimacy and sex scenes between men.

  • Audio description is often delivered from the values and priorities of people with vision, leading to particulars that don’t resonate with people who are blind. There is a paradox here, for people who were born blind arguably have different description preferences than people who lost their sight later in life, and who are re-imagining what is being seen by others.

  • DVDs with Audio Description aren’t always much use unless they are sufficiently accessible for a blind person to activate the audio description. Here is an audio review of a fully accessible audio described DVD. Review of Dr Who Accessible DVDs

[List of iTune Audio Described content in Australia and New Zealand](

Netflix and Audio Description

Netflix and their efforts towards audio describing all their self-produced content.

  • House of Cards with AD

  • The Netflix AD tracks is sometimes so well scripted and narrated that it feels as though they are part of the program as a hole.

  • Netflix’s first described program was for Marvell’s dairdevel – featuring a blind character. ahead of its release The blind community was bemoaning the irony of yet another program featuring a blind character but left un-described.

Captioning and Audio Description Principles

  • Captioning and Audio Description should be included in media production courses – and efforts made to make them part of the overall art of the creation. This moves these from second class to first class elements of media creation.

  • ABC TV and their Audio Description trial – Access is particularly challenging for blind viewers of Foreign films with sub-titling and they are usually completely inaccessible.

Audio versions of books – read by their authors or matched to a good narrator

It is important that the voice chosen to narrate audio versions of printed material is a good match and is enjoyable or clear to listen to.

Casting is just as important for audio books as it is for films.

  • This is one poor example of a self-narrated book: PowerVs Force

  • Here is an example of a meditation course where the voice could detract from the desired outcome

  • and here is a self-narrated book by Neil Gaiman that is well matched and well narrated: The Graveyard Book

Other Aspects of Accessible Media

Radio and Broadcasting – participation and barriers due to inaccessible studio equipment and software

Podcasting and other voice-based social media

Digital Radio – often with completely inaccessible radio sets, meaning a blind person cannot choose stations and is unable to benefit from additional information such as song title.

Radio Reading Services such as the Radio for the Print Handicapped services around Australia who read from daily newspapers and magazines

Apple TV and iPhone as leading accessible media platforms

accessible TV set top boxes in Australia

Ebooks, PDFs, digital signatures,

Copyright law often works to restrict access to content by people with disabilities as explained in this Open Letter to the W3C on eBook standards and DRM technologies. An Open Letter to Members of the W3C Advisory Committee


To date, digital media has had a significant impact on people with disability and particularly people who are blind or vision impaired. That impact has been on the one hand unplanned and largely unthought-of inclusion and on the other often unnecessary and even careless exclusion from participation. We can’t change the past but we do have an opportunity to architect a more inclusive and participatory online future for everyone.

It is up to each and everyone of us to question accessibility of media and technology, to make people think about who they are including or excluding through their creative and design decisions.


Tim Noonan is a voice, sound and usability consultant and inspirational conference speaker.

For more than 30 years Tim has been involved in the design and implementation of accessible information systems and technologies as well as writing and speaking on the importance of accessible media and inclusive design.

Tim’s work and passion centres around spoken human communication. In particular, how we can employ our voices to build more authentic, open and trust-based relationships, in business and in life.

Tim’s formal studies include a degree in Psychology and Education, a Diploma of Remedial Massage Therapy, a Certificate in Relaxation Hypnosis and extensive studies in energetic & sound healing.

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