The UniD (“UniDescription”) Project officially began in the fall of 2014, when principal investigator Dr. Brett Oppegaard moved from Washington State University to University of Hawai‘i. During this transition, he was working with Michele Hartley at Harpers Ferry Center on accessibility issues related to printed National Park Service products, such as the “Unigrid” brochures, and started envisioning the potential of mobile technologies to remediate and translate those static texts into acoustic forms. Once in Manoa, he began collaborating with two scholars who have spent their careers focused upon issues of accessibility, Dr. Megan Conway and Tom Conway, both serving in the UH Center on Disability Studies. For a behind-the-scenes look at the process of developing this project, please see the blog.
For a bit of additional background, in the late 1970s, designer Massimo Vignelli worked with Harpers Ferry Center staff to create the "Unigrid System," upon which all National Park Service brochures since have been based. The self-described "information architect," who also designed the innovative New York subway map, favored a modular system with a subtextual grid that facilitated order and consistency.
Our web-based project – with direct connections to Harpers Ferry, the National Park Service, those brochures, and those basic beliefs – has been called UniD, in tribute. That name should be pronounced like "unity," serving as both an abbreviation of the more wonky original label of "unidescription" and as an inspiration for our mission:
To bring unity to the world of audio description.
Audio description (often called verbal description) can be thought of as a medium equivalent to open and closed captioning, only for audiences that prefer information in acoustic rather than visual forms. In some cases, that involves the simple verbalization of a transcript (as in text-to-voice translation), but what we mostly are concerned with here is the more complex audiovisual translation of visual into audible material. For example, how would you describe an Ansel Adams photograph of a scene within Yellowstone National Park to a person who cannot see, or has low vision, or has difficulty interpreting print materials, or simply prefers information in audible forms? Those varied audiences (including people who are blind, with low-vision, print dyslexic, and audio-oriented) deserve full access to public discourse, and this project has been created to serve them, under the core principles of Universal Design.
In turn, this UniD project has been developed to help people create more audio description and to be a robust resource for those interested in this topic, including "best practices" guidelines, updated scholarly research, and a forum for related thoughts and discussions. Our hope is that like the impact Vignelli's system had on NPS brochures, the UniD Project will bring higher clarity and quality to this acoustic communication form, especially in public spaces.
The principal investigator on this project is: Dr. Brett Oppegaard in the School of Communications in the College of Social Sciences at the University of Hawai‘i.
Additional contributions by: Sean Zdenek (Texas Tech University) and Marsha Matta (graphic designer)