Auditorial is an experiment in storytelling that’s redesigning the internet for those with visual disabilities. Here’s everything you need to know.
For readers with visual disabilities, navigating the web can be a challenge. That’s because 97% of websites do not meet necessary accessibility standards, even when 300 million people have visual impairment of some kind.
Though many assistive technologies exist to make online storytelling smoother, all screen magnifiers or braille readers fundamentally change the way in which we explore the internet or interact with it.
As for websites that are not designed with assistive technologies, browsing the web can be a frustrating experience, at best. With this issue in mind, Google’s Auditorial is an experiment to improve online storytelling for low-vision and blind readers.
What is Auditorial?
is an accessible storytelling website, designed by Google, The Guardian, and RNIB, to adapt to a reader’s preferences. Simply put, it enables low-vision users to tailor websites according to their sensory needs.
Designed to help enhance user experiences online without compromising on accessibility, Auditorial is becoming a model for accessibility best practices. In fact, its inclusive design guide helps us understand the struggles of low-vision users while recommending useful practices to implement inclusivity in design.
Designers often useand other visual impairments. But the availability of Auditorial’s inclusive practices and UI elements will change the way in which websites are designed, and experienced.
How Does Auditorial Work?
Auditorial uses accessibility tools and features such as multimodal films, text-only modes, focus controls, video, and audio speed controls to tell a story. With customizable visual designs and audio features, Auditorial gives low-vision readers a chance to experience online stories, articles, and news in a way that they have never done before.
For example, if someone has photophobia, they canand enjoy all the animations in a seamlessly darker format without disrupting their experience.
How to Use Auditorial
Auditorial’s customizable interface lets you choose how you want to experience a story. The Auditorial platform was launched with one story called The Silent Spring, written by The Guardian.
To play a story, you can go to Auditorial and click on Get Started. At any point in the story, you can tweak its settings to suit you better.
Here are all the 3 ways in which you can experience the Silent Spring story:
1. Read a Story
When you click on Start Story, you can choose to read this story as an Article with closed captions. However, how is this experience any different from reading an article on the internet?
The difference lies in the many accessibility features that have been incorporated within the narrative to make it an immersive reading experience for readers who rely on sight and readers who do not.
Alt tags are more descriptive and in line with the narrative. Moreover, 6 alternative color schemes have been provided so that users with color sensitivities and low vision face no problem in navigating through the visual effects of a story. The visual settings further allow a reader to Enhance Image, adjust Zoom Level, choose Color Palette or turn on Reduced Motion.
2. Listen to a Story
Auditorial’s storytelling experience has emotion and emphasis—elements that are strictly missing in screen reading software. They convert text into audio in a synthetic voice, often not differentiating between essential text and its other aspects.
With sound design and intonation, Auditorial has allowed characters to tell their story in a way that is emotive, expressive, and makes for a brilliant storytelling experience.
Individuals with sensitive hearing can remove background noise so that they can focus on the story without any disruptions. Other settings allow you to adjust Playback Speed, turn on Ambient Sound or adjust the Volume and Button Sounds to suit your needs.
3. Watch a Story
Auditorial believes in providing a rich and engaging storytelling experience. That’s why you can watch a story unfold with visual effects, sound narration, and textual captions. You have the option to pause the story, fast-forward it, or rewind it by 15 seconds each time.
You can further customize your experience by using Visual Settings and Audio Settings. Visual Settings like Reduced Motion or Enhance Image are especially useful in times of watching a story. Readers with visual disabilities can go at a slower pace, or change the color palette, or zoom in to see things better.
What Practices Was Auditorial Built From?
While Auditorial is reimagining the design world to add inclusivity into its practices, its writing practices are also setting the stage for incorporating inclusivity into writing.
Here’s a look at their inclusive writing practices that can serve as useful recommendations for future storytellers:
1. It Has an Audio Version of the Story
With, blind and low-vision readers often feel discontent with the synthetic voice, mispronounced words, and lack of emotion.
Auditorial lets the main characters tell the story. The use of human narrators to record an audio version of the story can make a big difference in delivering a seamless storytelling experience, as Auditorial shows us.
2. It Steers Clear of Ableist Language
It is often unconsciously that we end up using ableist language that asks low-vision readers to “picture something” or “look at something”. Auditorial avoids such use of language by being mindful of the readers that do not have a visual base.
Auditorial Is Redesigning the Web for the Future
Retrofitting websites to work with assistive technologies is undoubtedly good. But it’s not the same as providing an inclusive and enjoyable storytelling experience, as Auditorial does.
Hence, Google’s Auditorial is teaching us how a one-size-fits-all approach will never be effective in making the web an all-inclusive space. It is by offering different modes of interaction that we can make the web an inclusive space for one and all.