Subtitling for the Deaf and the Hard-of-Hearing: Some parameters and their evaluation
Year of publication
The series of publications included in the present PhD thesis provide a progressive perspective of the research conducted by the author throughout these years in the field of Subtitling for the Deaf and the Hard-of-Hearing (SDH) and Audiovisual Accessibility. SDH has traditionally been conditioned by a user-oriented approach, providing uneven data in different national and international contexts. This fact, together with a notable lack of stylistic rigor in the professional practice, stimulated the desire for further study of this modality. Given the need to confront practice to scientifically contrasted data, it seemed necessary to conduct a broader study of SDH. This study would help provide a research framework to SDH at the time it would focus on some of the most representative elements –parameters– of this subtitling discipline. Considering the taxonomy defined by Bartoll (2008) for the study of subtitling, and bearing in mind all the elements specific to SDH, an updated model was proposed for the analysis of this subtitling technique. To the parameters described by the original taxonomy for the study of subtitling –text, pragmatic and technical parameters– the new model incorporates new categories: extralinguistic, aesthetic and aesthetic-technical parameters. From the new categories incorporated, only extralinguistic parameters are specific to SDH. This new addition describes the different sources of sound information present in audiovisual materials that need to be transcribed to provide full access to Deaf audiences: character identification, paralinguistic information, sound effects and music. Once the updated taxonomy outlined, and considering how different SDH practices were across Europe –and even within the same country– research focused on SDH practices in Spain, and on the opinion of Spanish Deaf users. The project ‘Digital Television for All (DTV4All)’ provided the ideal context for the other two articles included in the main body of this work, conducting SDH user centric research at an international level, and comparing Spanish data with other countries’ which were part of the DTV4ALL project. Deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing people took part in the two phases of this part of the study. First, participants filled in opinion questionnaires that aimed at identifying viewing patterns, opinion on SDH practices and differences among groups of users with hearing impairments. Questions on stylistic features –different options adopted for character identification, subtitling speeds, subtitle placement, etc.– showed how viewers are strongly influenced by the practices they are exposed to, being reluctant to innovations. However, results also revealed how responses are not stable, and users can provide different answers to a same question at different moments. This lack of uniformity proves this research method to be non-sufficient for the aim of this research. At this stage, and considering that the hypothesis of the study was that improving readability and legibility would ease users’ reading efforts, new research tools needed to be adopted. Thus, for the second part of the study, both users’ perception and comprehension were tested adopting eyetracking technologies combined with comprehension questionnaires. Results derived from the first phase of the DTV4All project on users’ opinions showed how different SDH practices were in Europe, and how opinions varied from one country to another. The new results discovered, first of all, poor comprehension results were among hearing impaired audiences, and how different information –text, visuals and content– were processed differently by the three groups of users. On the other hand, analyzing how the eyes moved during the viewing process, perception results revealed how different viewing patterns can be identified among deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing users. This implies that a same SDH style does not match the needs of all users, and how the standard currently in use in the Spanish audiovisual scenario –UNE-153010– does not meet the needs of the final audience, either Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing. Therefore, considering the many parameters that condition SDH, the lack of consistency of responses based on users’ opinions and the differences identified among groups, both in terms of comprehension and perception, further research is still necessary. In the meantime, SDH should be considered ‘a temporary tool’, as research has proven that current SDH practices do not meet the needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing users in similar terms.