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The eleventh issue of Trans, a journal published since 1997 by the Department of Translation and Interpreting at the University of Málaga (Spain), features five sections: “Dossier” (Dossier), “Artículos” (Articles), “Notas” (Notes), “Artículos bibliográficos” (Bibliographic Articles), and “Reseñas” (Reviews). The first section, on which this review is focused, is titled “La accesibilidad en los medios: una aproximación multidisciplinar” (Media Accessibility: A Multidisciplinary Approach) and has been edited by Pilar Orero (Autonomous University of Barcelona).
One of the latest buzzwords in translation scholarship, “accessibility” is generally associated with the services provided for handicapped communities. However, in line with the new directions of translation as a cluster concept defended by scholars such as Maria Tymoczko (2007), the ten contributions collected in this section problematize the classification of audiovisual accessibility with the mere suppression of hearing and visual barriers, and instead enlarge the definition of translation by incorporating further barriers to mobility, communication, manipulation, and knowledge.
In “Visión histórica de la accesibilidad en los medios en España” (Historic Review of Accessibility in the Spanish Media), Pilar Orero, Ana María Pereira and Francisco Utray trace the history of audio description (AD) and subtitling in Spain. Although a pioneering country in the implementation of AD ever since the end of the Civil War in 1939, it was not until 1993 that the Spanish National Organization for the Blind (ONCE) began to develop a system of AD for the blind community (Audesc). In the case of subtitling, the pervasiveness of dubbing practices in Spain has affected hearing accessibility in more than one way: even after the demands of the deaf community started to be taken into consideration around 1990, the minority status of subtitling—produced mainly for language learners who wished to have access to the original soundtrack—and the expensive cost of filmmaking have left subtitle users with a single track for all audiences.
In Portugal, the situation turns out to be even more problematic. Although traditionally a subtitling country, the needs of the deaf community were not met until 1999, when on-demand access to television subtitles was put into operation through a system of closed captioning (Teletext). Yet, as Josélia Neves and Lourdes Lorenzo argue in “La subtitulación para s/ Sordos, panorama global y prenormativo en el marco ibérico” (Subtitling for the Deaf and the Hard-of-Hearing: Global and Prenormative View within the Iberian Framework), despite initial efforts to introduce them, subtitles have failed to hold sway in Portuguese national television because of the lack of commitment to the preferences of the deaf audience on the part of programmers and the low quality of the service.
Is media accessibility, then, merely a question of improving the quality of audiovisual services? Two of the most thought-provoking articles provide insights in this respect. In “Construcción jurídica del derecho a una televisión accesible” (Legal Grounds for the Right to an Accessible Television), José Gabriel Storch de Gracia y Asensio appeals to the general and/ or universal scope of fundamental rights, particularly those that are exerted through language, to remind readers that the right of free speech also comprises the right to receive information, which is flouted whenever the corresponding instruments are not made accessible. Instead of measures of social inclusion (with its implicit rhetoric of “normal” and “handicapped” populations), the author approaches the information rights granted by the Spanish Constitution as means of social, cultural and educational policy seeking to eliminate the barriers that block and, furthermore, limit communication.
Storch de Gracia y Asensio’s argument applies to what Fernando Alonso terms “the legal-normative reasons” (22, 23) to address the scope of accessibility as universal. In addition, in “Algo más que suprimir barreras: conceptos y argumentos para una accesibilidad universal” (More than Overcoming Barriers: Concepts and Arguments for a Universal Accessibility), Alonso provides three more reasons: (1) in terms of the ethical-political considerations, the author shifts attention from the physical condition of the body to the social environment that surrounds it, hence undermining prevailing conceptualizations of disability as a physical anomaly; (2) in terms of demographics, not only does the author enlarge the spectrum of communities affected by barriers but, in so doing, introduces social conditions into the equation: regardless of the physical conditions, circumstances persistently affect the functional capacity of human beings; and (3) in terms of economics, the author reformulates the cost- to-quality component by departing from the conception of accessibility as a supplement and approaching it as a social good whose effects result in an improved quality of life.
As far as the teaching and professionalization of media translation is concerned, several authors tackle the implications of redefining accessibility. In “Por una preparación de calidad en accesibilidad audiovisual” (Towards a High-Quality Training in Audiovisual Accessibility), Jorge Díaz-Cintas coins the term “accesibilitador” (accessibilizer) to discuss the competences that future professionals of media accessibility must possess, namely linguistic (proficiency in the mother tongue), thematic (general knowledge of accessibility as it intersects with the theory and practice of audiovisual translation, visual semiotics, and the legislation on sensorial and physical disabilities), technological and applied (expertise on the software and hardware used in audiovisual translation), and personal and general (organization, planning and management skills).
Toni Badia and Anna Matamala provide a compendium of universities, professional training centers and business companies in Spain that offer undergraduate and graduate courses on media accessibility in “La docencia en accesibilidad en los medios” (Teaching Media Accessibility), whereas Aline Remael and Gert Vercauteren turn their attention to narrative theory to underscore the importance of visual clues for the development of an effective methodology for AD, as illustrated by their analysis of the opening of the 1996 film Ransom.
Keeping with the spirit of the section, the last three contributions examine the role of new technologies in the achievement of universal accessibility. In “Accesibilidad Web” (Web Accessibility), José Luis Fuertes-Castro and Loïc Martínez Normand provide a study of accessibility assessment tool HERA 1.0 (2003) and 2.0 (2005) to illustrate the need for accessibility standards as inherent components of web design, and locate the goal of new technologies in the production of diverse interfaces that meet individual user needs.
In this respect, Álvaro Pérez-Ugena and Rafael Linares include examples from cinema, television and cellular telephony to discuss new models, services and tools for the fulfillment of such needs. In “Nuevos retos de la accesibilidad en los medios” (New Challenges in Media Accessibility), the authors enlarge the spectrum of audiovisual accessibility by tackling the different dimensions that playing videogames involves (visual, cognitive, auditory and motor) as an educational and socializing activity; whereas María Luz Guenaga, Ander Barbier and Andoni Eguíluz’s “La accesibilidad y las tecnologías en la información y la comunicación” (Accessibility and Technologies in Information and Communication) concentrate on common but seldom discussed cognitive handicaps that affect our interaction with technology, such as dyslexia or concentration problems, in order to link accessibility with usability.
As these articles demonstrate, the relationship of the politics of accessibility with audiovisual translation has not been a felicitous one. Contrary to the belief of policymakers, the authors argue that accessibility is not simply a question of providing access, and they reveal the assumptions that have surrounded the design of standards for media accessibility. Certainly, beyond the models of equal opportunity that supranational institutions are beginning to adopt, the main contribution of this volume lies in the discussion of environmental, not functional, barriers as the central obstruction to social participation, the exploration of accessibility not only as a universal but also as a malleable concept, and the examination of the repercussions derived from the implementation of audiovisual accessibility standards.
However, while aiming at enhancing the frequently imprecise guidelines for the normalization and normativization of accessibility in the media, this scholarship runs the risk of taking a strongly prescriptive stance on what accessibilizers, to borrow Díaz-Cintas’s neologism, should ideally do and of overlooking the complexity of the translation process. In this respect, a more descriptive-oriented analysis of aspects such as the socially-constructed foundations of disability, the role of usability in the design and development of accessible products, and the attachment of accessibility to questions of ethical commitment, diversity and multiculturalism should prove fruitful for future research. Given the connection that legislation and the practice of media accessibility share in this field, further questions may include how the failure to comply with the right to accessible media is going to be penalized and, in the case of the European Union, how the training of media translators is being, and will be, affected by the Bologna Process and the Common European Framework of Reference.