Boston-IA Celebrates Its First Anniversary (Part 3)

June, 2004

At the Boston-IA first anniversary event on June 23, 2004, Larry Goldberg of WGBH talked about making multimedia projects more accessible. (Part 3 of 3.)

  • Part 1: Introduction
  • Part 2: Mike Paciello: Making Software Accessible
  • Part 3: Larry Goldberg: Making Multimedia Accessible

Part 3: Making Multimedia Accessible

Larry Goldberg, Director of the Media Access Group at WGBH and the National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM), complemented Mike Paciello's presentation at the Boston-IA first anniversary meeting by demonstrating multimedia products and accessible software being developed at WGBH.

Larry focused on the use of captioning and video description to make multimedia projects more accessible for people with hearing and vision impairments.


Captioning provides a text-equivalent to audio content for people who are Deaf or have hearing impairments. NCAM was the pioneer in implementing captioning for television and has continued to lead in this area.

Larry described how captioning can now be applied to Web presentations. Visit the following WGBH sites for more information:

Video Description

Video description provides an audio equivalent to visual content for people who are blind or have visual impairments. NCAM developed video description in the mid-1980's.

To illustrate, Larry showed an action scene from the movie "The Matrix" with the accompanying video description turned on. A voice described the action of a hand-to-hand combat scene, as would a sports announcer. These aural messages take place along with the action, in the spaces between dialog. When necessary, the movie can also be interrupted to fit in the descriptions. In many instances, "pre-captions" are used to set the context of a scene before it happens.

WGBH employs a cast of "describers" who read scripts, ad lib, or write for computers that do the talking. Larry said they rarely have to train new describers, because describers really enjoy their jobs and never leave. Describers usually have backgrounds in theater as well as usability.

Descriptions can be inserted in rich text media using NCAM's software product, MAGpie, and the XML Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL).

To learn more about these two technologies, visit:

To view a show coded with descriptions, you can use:

  • Quick Time, with Life Stage Pro
  • Real Player (which has implemented more of SMIL)
  • Shockwave (which can be made accessible)

Microsoft software may soon include similar capabilities.

The added text in either captioning or description has the added advantage of being searchable, so it also serves as an index to the movie or rich-text multimedia.

Talking Menus

The Media Access Group has also made talking menus available on a growing list of DVDs:

Some of these menus provide translations into multiple languages, offering access to an even wider audience, including people who want to hear descriptions in languages besides English.


Boston-IA certainly enjoyed having Larry Goldberg join us at our first anniversary event, and share with us the exciting work that WGBH does with multimedia. We hope to collaborate with WGBH again in the future, so Boston-IA members can learn more about making multimedia accessible.

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