Voice-over is a critical part of document accessibility services, on everything from notifications to health care program guidebooks. As accessibility requirements increase for non-English speakers in the US, this service is also becoming more multilingual. So what do producers and multimedia localization professionals need to do to record this audio successfully?
This post lists the 4 tips you must know to produce document accessibility voice-over recordings.
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What is document accessibility voice-over exactly?
There are various ways to make documents accessible for the blind and sight-impaired, as mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. That includes large-print versioning, as well as into Grade II Braille. And of course, “voicing” the text, which can be done with a human reader, both in-person or on the phone – or with audio files recorded in a professional studio.
What kinds of documentation require these services? Just about any governmental, public or services-related documentation is covered by the ADA, meaning that accessible options have to be provided, in particular if requested by a user. This includes web sites, public company reports, explanations of benefits and agency communications.
As you might imagine, these documents pose challenges to the voice-over recording process. Here’s what you need to know.
1. Documents must be converted into a voice-over script.
While the types of documentation that require accessibility voice recordings can be quite different, most of them have one feature in common: they’re not created to be read aloud. Many of them include tables or lists of data that must be re-worked for the studio, often quite drastically. In the following example, the table on the left has been written into the text on the right so that it can be read out loud:
Many of these documents also include a table of contents or index, which won’t really make sense within the context of an audio recording. Some of them also have graphics with call-outs that may require expert description and transcription. In short, the script conversion process can be quite extensive, and may require input and sign-off from your end-client, so be sure to include it in your quote and timeline.
For more information on studio script format, see our previous post, Why Script Format Is Critical to Voice-Over & Dubbing Project Success.
2. Texts to record can be very long.
Some documents can be over 100,000 words long – and we’ve seen some that are significantly longer. When you have this much content, it’s critical to hire professional voice-over talents who have the stamina to record consistent-sounding audio from one hour to the next. Make sure that you engage a studio that can identify which talents are a good fit for these projects. JBI Studios, for example, maintains this kind of information on all our multilingual talents.
You may also want to consider casting two or three voice-over talents per language to reduce overall timelines. This will require a single project manager and rigorous pronunciation guidelines – both provided by JBI Studios – to ensure consistency. And it'll mean a more involved production workflow. But doing so will help get your document audio to users much more quickly.
3. Content can present pronunciation challenges.
Most of these documents include names of people and street addresses. The best example is a program booklet from a health care provider that lists every doctor, specialist and pharmacy available within its network. Often these lists will have hundreds – and even thousands – of distinct names and addresses. Recording them is difficult for English voice-over talents as it is. For foreign-language talents, it can can mean serious challenges.
For example, think of a Japanese voice-over talent recording this kind of a list. If they’re not familiar with English, they’ll have trouble with every name. In fact, depending on their English-language fluency, the Latin alphabet itself may be unfamiliar to them. During quoting and pre-production, make sure to assess your document’s content, in particular the challenges it will present to non-English native talents, and lock in a plan to address them during production and QA.
4. Integration requirements affect post-production workflows.
There are several ways to provide accessibility audio to users. It can be burned to CD or CD-ROM discs that get shipped to clients. Or, it can be provided as a download alongside the written document. Sometimes the audio is integrated into the document itself, since PDFs and web sites support embedding audio files to discrete text elements.
How you deliver these files will affect your post-production workflow, from audio cleaning to looping. In fact, it’ll even affect script editing, since you’ll want to segment the text to match the audio file output. Before production, make sure to lock in your audio delivery method to avoid re-work and delays.
Customize your voice-over project to your document’s needs
Finally, while some standard procedures for accessibility audio exist, it’s important to remember that each document has unique requirements. Some will include graphics or pictures that need to be described. Or, some may embed document screenshots that require transcription. And of course, your final delivery requirements will affect your full translation and voice-over workflows. Make sure to get a customized quote based on your document and your project’s language scope. This will avoid issues like having to format your localized scripts after translation, or re-segmenting audio files for delivery. This is best practice in multimedia localization in general, but particularly critical on projects like document accessibility – ones with substantial scopes, extensive script formatting and potential pronunciation challenges.