The Imperative of Accessibility in Multimedia Localization

In our interconnected world, where the resonance of multimedia and entertainment knows no bounds, the transformative impact of localization stands as a testament to the magic that happens when borders dissolve and cultures converge. Yet, within this expansive world without frontiers, lack of accessibility remains an unacceptable barrier. Why is it that, in an industry breaking barriers for people with diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, the same cannot be said for those with different abilities?

Consider the groundbreaking movie A Quiet Place. It is commendable for authentically representing a deaf character by casting a deaf actress, as well as for its 95-percent silence with subtitles. It is undeniable that this movie was a box-office success worldwide. Despite sporadic examples like Baby Driver and The Shape of Water incorporating American Sign Language (ASL) and hearing-impaired characters, the truth is that movies are still rarely accessible to deaf/hard-of-hearing and blind/visually impaired people in theaters. This discrepancy is not just an oversight — it’s a glaring gap that needs urgent attention.

At this time, it’s important for localization professionals not just to unravel the significance of their work, but to confront the stark reality of the industry’s reluctance to embrace accessibility. Beyond language adaptation, it’s time to shine a spotlight on the imperative of making content universally accessible in the ever-evolving landscape of globalized entertainment.

Localization, within the context of multimedia, should be more than a nuanced process. It should be a revolutionary force that demands inclusivity at its core. From subtitles and dubbing to video games, the goal has always been to create an immersive experience that resonates universally, breaking down the barriers. So why the resistance to do so for those with different abilities? Localization needs to be more than just a tool; it should be a champion for inclusivity. The economic benefits of investing in accessibility are undeniable; market penetration, increased revenue streams, and enhanced brand loyalty are just the tip of the iceberg.

The landscape of localization is evolving, driven by technological advancements. We now have the big players in the industry looking for more companies and translators able to meet this demand, especially when it comes to Subtitles for Deaf and Hard of Hearing (SDH) and Audio Description. We have devices in theaters that allow deaf and hard-of-hearing patrons to read the SDH or watch the content translated into sign language, as well as other devices that allow blind and visually impaired patrons to hear the audio description while the screening is happening. Although the biggest part of the effort lies in the streaming world, we now have the possibility — and the eagerness of these patrons — to meet their needs in theaters, as well.

No journey is without its hurdles. From maintaining cultural sensitivity to overcoming technical barriers, there are more challenges in the localization process of accessibility than we would like to have. Solutions are often being proposed, offering insights into how the industry can navigate these obstacles, but they need to be considered while staying true to the goals of inclusivity and global reach. True progress can only be achieved when the final consumers of these products are actively invited to the decision-making table. We cannot offer solutions without consulting and testing with those who stand to benefit the most.

As we stand at the crossroads of technology and cultural exchange, the potential for breaking down barriers, fostering understanding, and creating a truly globalized entertainment landscape has never been more promising. In a world where stories know no borders, the power of localization not only transcends linguistic and cultural differences, but also propels us toward a future in which everyone can share in the magic of multimedia, irrespective of their background or abilities. The industry’s reluctance to address accessibility issues is not just a missed opportunity — it’s an injustice that needs urgent rectification.

Natasha Marques
Natasha Marques is Screening Coordinator at Netflix and Mentorship Lead - Global Community for Women in Localization.

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