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37th Annual CSUN Assistive Technology Conference Has Concluded

Auditorial: Immersive and Inclusive Storytelling

Date & Time
Friday, March 18, 2022 - 4:20 PM PST  
Orange County  
Audio storytelling is an avenue into other worlds. Google, The Guardian and RNIB collaborated on an experimental project which was designed to make journalism more accessible and more immersive for blind and partially sighted people. Audio has always been about making stories more accessible and this was an opportunity to push that even further, while at the same time demonstrating some completely new approaches to storytelling. The result is a storytelling website called Auditorial. This resource was created to showcase the possibilities of accessible stories for blind and low vision audiences. The featured story written by the Guardian is paired with Google technology and the invaluable accessibility user testing and expert advice provided by the Royal National Institute of Blind people. It is an example of what can be done when inclusive design and thinking or at the forefront from the start. The website, which was created over a seven month period, was born out of an episode of the Guardian Science weekly podcast from 2018. And the story similar to the original podcast, it’s based on Bernie Krause, one of the founders of a field known as soundscape ecology. Over 15 or so minutes this powerful story is used to explore the devastating effects of the climate crisis and other human induced environmental destruction on the sounds of the natural world, from coral reefs to Costa Rican rainforest. The Auditorial platform uses an assortment of accessibility features and tools to tell the story, including Multimodal films with video and audio speed control, high contrast, text only mode, and scale and focus controls. Users can press play to start the story and adjust the audio, visual and written settings as they are taken through the story. The final product offers a uniquely immersive and engaging storytelling experience. There have been many lessons learned along the way, and the idea of what we would end up with changed as the project progressed. We were trying to do something that had never been done before. The hope is that we can go onto apply some of its key assets to more of our collaborative work – and encourage others to do the same. Mini-blind and low-vision users currently access journalism online through screen reading software, which converts text into audio. This is often done in a sympathetic voice and doesn’t always discriminate between essential text and other aspects, meaning the experience can be jarring. But, as with podcasts, when a story is presented in audio, the result is a Mourik immersive experience, for Sound Design can add emphasis and emotion, and the characters are able to tell their story in their own words. While this won’t be possible for all online journalism just yet, it’s something that should be considered when thinking about things such as how we label images using something called alt tags. For those using screen reading software, alt tags are essential for letting users know what an image shows. And well most websites including the Guardian's do provide these, they are often written as succinct labels. This can lead to quite a disjointed narrative experience. So a big lesson for the teams was how to make all tags more descriptive and more in line with the narrative. They should feel part of the reader experience and, if done correctly, should play a role in telling the story to a person using assistive technologies. An important part of the project was providing visuals to enhance the story for users with low-vision such as light or color sensitivities. This was addressed by giving users the opportunity to choose between black and white, yellow and black and blue and white, which are popular combinations. But Google was also able to introduce light and dark modes, a real game changer for people who struggle with bright screens. So many positive lessons have come from this project.  
  • Higher Education
  • Information & Communications Technology
  • Disability Specific
  • Entertainment & Recreation
  • Marketing
Audience Level
Session Summary (Abstract)
What does truly inclusive storytelling look, sound and feel like? The session will summarize the Auditorial project, a unique and innovative collaboration between the Guardian, RNIB and Google.  
Session Type
General Track  
  • Blind/Low Vision
  • Captions & Transcription
  • Deaf and Hard of Hearing
  • Digital Accessibility
  • Independent Living


  • Robin Mackenzie Spinks
  • David Clarke

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