SGML for access

[Mirrored from:]

SGML for captioning, audio description, subtitling, and dubbing: Who needs it? And who cares?

by Joe Clark

I've identified what I consider a grave need for Standard Generalized Markup Language document-type definitions (SGML DTDs) to handle four types of accessible media-- captioning, audio description, subtitling, and dubbing.

I assume here that you know what SGML is but are not up to speed on what those four media are. (One useful link for SGML information is Also try SoftQuad and the newsgroup comp.text.sgml.)

First, definitions:

Rendering dialogue and other sounds in written words. Sign language has nothing to do with captioning.

Captions transmitted in the form of a code. You need a decoder (or, more likely, just a decoder chip) to turn the captions into visible words. Nearly all North American TVs carry decoder chips as standard equipment now.

Captions that are an indelible part of the picture and are always visible. (Open-captioning effectively does not exist. It is assumed, on the basis of no scientific studies whatsoever, that hearing people simply will not tolerate open-captioning.)

Note: Captioning and subtitling have as little in common as bicycles and motorcycles. Three big differences are:

Subtitles are a translation, ignore sound effects, and are always located in the same spot on-screen.

Audio description
Rendering visual details in a spoken narrative. In audio description, a special narrator succinctly describes action, settings, facial expressions, onscreen graphics, clothing, and other visual details. The narrator speaks out loud; A.D. is an auditory medium, not a visual one. Narrators typically speak during pauses in dialogue or at other appropriate moments, but sometimes they narrate over dialogue, over music, and so on.
How does this relate to information technology and SGML? Some facts to consider:

Where research is needed:

So: I am interested in setting up a working group to create DTDs for only the four access technologies I mentioned. SoftQuad isn't interested. Is anyone else? Let me know. With sufficient interest, I may set up a mailing list to work on these topics; in the interim, consider subscribing to the Media Access mailing list, where we discuss all manner of topics related to captioning, audio description, and other means of making media of information accessible.

Back to the Joe Clark main page (or directly to the section on media access).