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April 18, 2024

How VRT makes programmes accessible to all

At VRT, several departments work with voices, and more broadly, audio - day in and day out. One of these teams works on programme editing and audio description to strengthen the accessibility of VRT content. Read more about the process here.

“Programme editing and audio description are two different disciplines. But in terms of approach and workflow, there are important similarities,’ explains team leader Jan-Willem Van Hoof. “Audio description is making programmes accessible to the blind and visually impaired by adding a narrative voice that tells what is happening on screen. In turn, programme editing can be described as subtitling content purchased by VRT. Again, to make that content as accessible as possible to all Flemish people.”

What the two have in common, is that in each case they work with a voice recording for the voice-over of a TV programme or, say, a documentary.

“For programme editing, it goes as follows. After programmes are purchased, it is up to our team whether we add a recorded voice or not. In some cases, we don’t do it. For example, when the original voice is a very well-known one. Just think of David Attenborough. Or when the programme is brought by a real presenter who also appears on screen. In other cases, we do choose to add a narrative voice and put our VRT ‘stamp’ on it. That's when the whole process starts.”

Down to the details

So how exactly does that process work? ‘First of all, we send the documentary to our translator. They translate the commentary, which are all the bits of text that need to be read by our voice. That commentary translation is then checked. Does the text come across smoothly? Does everything sound well? They also do the content checks. Finally, that text passes through final editing and then we can dive into the studio with the director and voice.”

For each documentary or series, our programme editing team chooses a specific voice. “That choice usually lies with the voice director. He has a good ear to determine which voice can fit well with a programme. Take for instance the VRT CANVAS documentary Elon Musk's Twitter takeover. For this, we called on Tim Verheyden because of his association with technology. So content-wise, that fits with the content of the programme.”

In the studio, the voice, director and the sonoriser or engineer, who does the recording and mixes the audio, all interact with each other. “The person whose voice is recorded knows how and where to put the right accents, and the director is there to oversee this and give feedback. Basically, anyone with a good voice can become a professional introducer. It is important that the entirety of voice, music and atmosphere is right down to the detail.”

Making a difference

As far as audio description is concerned, VRT now has quite a few years of experience on the counter. “We started doing it in 2012. Now, VRT provides audio description for all its own fiction series on VRT 1 and VRT CANVAS except Thuis. Our job as a public broadcaster is to make sure everyone is included. Also people with a visual impairment.’

But audio description goes beyond that. “People today have a different viewing behaviour. These days, for instance, they also turn on audio description while they are cooking or cannot keep their full attention on the screen. Our service regularly organises networking moments with the community of blind and visually impaired people to ask for feedback, and it turns out that our users are often wildly enthusiastic and positive about our audio description. At such moments, you realise that you really do make a difference in their lives. For instance, we also provided Het verhaal van Vlaanderen (The story of Flanders) with audio description. That was a very conscious choice by VRT 1. This was a programme with a lot of impact on our society. Here, it is important that everyone can have a say in it. As an accessibility service, we take care of that. The aim of our work is to give everyone a pleasant viewing experience.”