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Adapting Video for VI Learners

Design issues and approaches

Video-rich multimedia

New opportunities and new problems

Producing broadcast TV, Film, and video means concentrating on continuity and audience engagement: every moment of the programme must flow into the next, with interesting action always present. Many of the problems faced by VI viewers are rooted in this need for a continuous stream of fast-moving screen activity, which leaves little time or space for supplementary information. The primary design suggestions which we have offered for video are to a great extent simply ways of reducing information rates to manageable levels, and improving the clarity of presentation so that speedy action is less of a burden. Similarly, many of the coping strategies for adding supplementary information are to do with how to break into the inexorable entertainment stream to give space for more leisurely study or descriptions.

With multimedia and Web based designs, all this changes. Both are interactive systems, with the viewer controlling not only what is shown, but when. Programmes don't have to be paused to gain assimilation time: 'paused' is the natural condition until the viewer chooses to see something. Adding supplementary information for specific sub-groups of an audience is not an imposition on the main programme - it just means providing another link, or arranging that the material is displayed in certain user-specific circumstances, and not in others.

Both multimedia and Web programmes construct their educational or entertainment experience by glueing together a large number of small information elements, of which video is only one. Video clips produced for these systems are therefore unlike video produced for continuous programmes: they are used only when you need to show moving action, and so tend to be very targetted on the essence of an idea.

However, the range of interactive components now includes new varieties of visual images, bringing new problems for viewers with special needs. Simulations of three dimensional objects and scenes can be navigated at will by the viewer - doors can be entered, rooms explored, artifacts brought up close and rotated. Instead of having easily identifed hot links in the form of coloured underlined words or distinct buttons, designers are integrating controls seamlessly into the image or simulations.

What is multimedia?

Multimedia is an amalgam of several technologies bringing together hyperlinked, complex media with specialised program extensions, displaying them under a recognisable metaphor.

Many forms of media asset can be used together: text, diagrams, speech and music, video, 3-D simulations, and animation.

These resources are made understandable and coherent for both producer and audience by integrating them under particular metaphors, chosen to match the programme content and the audiences real world experiences. So, for example, some multimedia systems emulate theatre, with 'sets', 'actors', and 'action'. Some provide a backdrop reminding the user of a stack of information cards or pages of a book (albeit with much more active content on each computer based card than the text and pictures which could be stored on paper). The metaphor may be of a 3-D world which is explored to find information. Or material may take the form of a computer-based-learning or interactive presentation, stressing question and answer formats. Interactive controls (the 'user interface') are designed by the vendors of such systems to match the style of the dominant metaphor.

The third distinguishing feature of multimedia is that information is hyperlinked. Information elements have active components which lead to other elements. With these cross-connections, designers can create many structures: linear progressions, information trees of many layers, and webs. Navigation can become difficult, so the structure needs careful design if it is to complement the overall metaphor. However, these links are what make multimedia non-linear, and are especially important for those designing in supplementary information for special needs.

Finally, multimedia packages are often extendible, allowing small computer programs to be added to links and media assets. These can let designers add new features such as novel user interfaces, specialised services like searching, and topic based interactive simulations. For example, a designer might add an extension which spoke the titles of all assets (text, pictures, sounds and so on) and the names of all links on a page for navigation by a blind user.

Multimedia differs from DVD in the richness of the extra media types it allows, and its flexibility in devising new metaphors and user interfaces. And for all multimedia's apparent complexity, creating multimedia materials is still much more feasible than in-house development of DVD.

Developing VI-friendly multimedia

Here is a much abridged description of how to set about it:

  • Select an appropriate multimedia development package. The issues you will need to take into account are
    • whether the dominant metaphor is right for you (and if not, how much flexibility you have to modify it);
    • the packages flexibility for user interface enhancements;
    • the learning curve and your experience;
    • whether or not the package produces cross platform products
  • Design your materials to fit the (possibly tweaked) metaphor
  • Collect all the assets (including the supplementary ones). The video clips will be different in form to those shot for a continuous programme - terser and more focussed.
  • Convert the video clips & other assets to digital form. This will involve using a second computer package to upload, edit and compress the video;
  • Design backgrounds and build links;
  • Test and modify;
  • (probably) move the master to CD-ROM, or Recordable CD

For educational producers with mixed audiences, accessible primary design is still vital, and many of the principles we have discussed for other educational media still apply to the individual multimedia components which make up a package.

Providing supplementary support is easier in some ways and harder in others. Given the will to create appropriate alternative and extended forms of critical information chunks, there is usually no difficulty in making space for them. The ability to pause a video clip in mid flow and link through hotspots to other material means that time constraints for descriptions vanish. Extra explanations can be as long as necessary. The challenge is how to reveal them: how to incorporate accessible links into the user interface.