The UniDescription Project

The UniD project has a large, reachable goal- to create more accessible places. Our web-based project – with direct connections to the National Park Service, is a federally funded project that is free and open source. Working with the needs of the National Park Service, the UniD website allows anyone to create mobile apps specifically for audio descriptions.

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The Challenge

If you aren’t in the know- Audio description (often called verbal description) can be thought of as a medium equivalent to open and closed captioning, only for audiences that prefer information in acoustic rather than visual forms. In some cases, that involves the simple verbalization of a transcript (as in text-to-voice translation), but what we mostly are concerned with here is the more complex audiovisual translation of visual into audible material. For example, how would you describe an Ansel Adams photograph of a scene within Yellowstone National Park to a person who cannot see, or has low vision, or has difficulty interpreting print materials, or simply prefers information in audible forms? Those varied audiences (including people who are blind, with low-vision, print dyslexic, and audio-oriented) deserve full access to public discourse, and this project has been created to serve them, under the core principles of Universal Design.

In deep collaboration with the National Park Service, we sought out how parks of varying sizes and features with a wide array of visitors, would want to use a tool to help convert their existing site brochures into a mobile app specifically designed for the audio described format. With that information, we were able to create a custom workflow that works for a very diverse set of needs.

Utilizing Laravel, PhoneGap Build, automatic deployment with GitHub, usability testing with real park rangers, and a whole lot of planning, we worked out the strategy to get there.

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