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June 12 2008

From the mail bag: the accessibility of Buffy season 8. A visually impaired Buffy fan wrote to Whedonesque about his frustration of not being able to follow the series in its new format. He's tried to find audio and electronic formats of the comic book but to no avail. Can anyone help?

This site doesn't usually do things like this but I thought I'd make an exception in this particular case.

Here's the email in full:

Hello, my name is Jeremy. I am 28 and visually impaired. I am a huge fan of Buffy and Angel. I have followed the series for many years. I was very disappointed when Buffy went off the air. I heard about the Buffy season 8 comics and I was very excited. The problem is I canít read print because of my eye disorder. So, I canít follow the series in its new format. This makes me very frustrated and disappointed. I just wanted to bring this to some ones attention. I have visually impaired friends who feel the same way I do. Iíve tried to find audio and electronic formats of the comics and have had no luck. Thank you for taking the time to read this. Please do not think I am mad or blaming any one, I am just frustrated.

I wonder what the issues would be (copyright etc.) if say, some of the actors from Buffy Between the Lines got together to put an audio version of the comics out there for folks like Jeremy. I love the idea, but I'm not sure if that's possible.
I'm wondering how one would handle narration. Like, what elements within any given panel really require description and which stuff could be ignored? (And there's no question that what TheSpark suggests would be a copyright violation. Whether or not it's one Dark Horse and/or FOX would attack is the real question.)

[ edited by theonetruebix on 2008-06-12 18:36 ]
Good point theonetruebix. It would be a fair bit of work to work all that stuff out, but also kind of fun :) There could be a narrator who briefly describes the action panels maybe. I dunno. The BBtL thing was the first thing I thought of when I read this.

ETA, yes the copyright bit would probably be the biggest roadblock. Which is a darn shame, but how would one go about finding out if they'd (Dark Horse/FOX) be problematic about it?

[ edited by TheSpark on 2008-06-12 18:41 ]
I've been writing transcripts of all the comics as they come out, for ease of reference, for people who have to wait a week or two for their issue in the mail, and to entice new readers into the series (which has worked pretty well, btw). Since there are transcripts of every television episode, I assume that if it's a copyright issue, it's not one that troubles anybody, so I ran with it.

Is there software that converts text to braille? If so, and if the reader was made aware that the transcripts are not official and reflect only one reader's attempt to translate the visual into the literary, maybe that would be a way to go. Or if they don't read braille, but have a friend who'd read it to them, or record them for them, something like that?

[ edited by KingofCretins on 2008-06-12 18:48 ]
I guess I'd better not provide a link for copyright reasons, but on YouTube you can find the comics recorded as a video with the text being read out. Sadly the person doing this seems to have stopped after the first arc.

Can I get away with saying that if you searched for "Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 8 The Long Way Home part 1" it would be the first result?
I think your first sentence tells people enough :), but if you don't link it there probably isn't a problem.
Is there software that converts text to braille?

There are "braille displays" that function as an output device for a computer by raising or lowering movable pins (if you've seen the movie 'Sneakers', the blind character Whistler uses one). Dunno how widely used they are by visually impaired folk though.

There are services where sighted people create audio recordings of newspapers etc., is there a similar thing for comics ? As mentioned upthread, it'd almost be more like a play than a straight recording because the reader would have to interpret the panels and decide what to describe and how to do so but I guess it'd be better than not being able to experience it at all.

[ edited by Saje on 2008-06-12 19:16 ]
We've been asked similar things by fans (at Buffy Between the Lines) and really copyright is the hardest thing for us. Doing an original fan work is a bit different than taking someone else's words.

But there's a lot of fans who can't read because of disabilities. And we've had fans ask us for scripts of BBtL because of their hearing disabilities.
Ok, just wanted to try and avoid confusion because there are also versions of the comic on YouTube done using the game "The Movies", but those have the script as subtitles.
I would think the original scripts would be the best solution. That would be something Dark Horse and the writers would have to work out. Comic book script books aren't unheard of.
I wish Mrs. Haunt would ever actually join in these discussions as she's an intellectual properties attorney with an interest in the comics medium. She'd be able to tell us what sort of legal hurdles might be necessary to get some kind of audio performance format worked out. *shrug*
I don't know... actual scripts seem a bit too vague, depending on who is writing them. The segment of Joss' script for 8.03 Dark Horse gave us in a preview read mostly as dialogue plus very broad notes for Georges Jeanty on what the images needed to be. Lynch's script for "Angel: After the Fall" Chapter 1 is a lot more precise, but even then, comic scripts don't seem as reader-friendly as screenplays do. They are much more like working documents, IMO.

But, if someone, maybe one of the voice actors doing the Buffy radio play, wanted to record my transcripts, I would gladly offer them up for use. Like I said, the point was to draw in new readers -- what is this, if not that?
Well, it also depends on the level of visual impairedness. If it's a size problem, then it could possibly be as easy as asking a friend to scan the comics, convert them to something like CDisplay, and then he can set the size at something like 500%. If it's just a text problem, then it might boil down to asking a friend to make a recording of the text to go with the pages.

And I think that if he were to own the comics, or if the friend who did the scanning (or recording) owned them, it wouldn't be too much of a problem if no one important got wind of it.

I agree that the scripts are most likely too vague; KoC's transcripts might be a closer reflection of the action as well as the dialogue.

[ edited by BandofBuggered on 2008-06-12 19:58 ]
I wish someone would act them out for those of us who remain completely unable to follow a comics format. :-(
KingofCretins, I think that is because the teleplays have to be thoroughly scrutinised and approved by a few dozen people who are not necessarily familiar with the writer or the series at all (and nor do they necessarily care to be), whereas the comic book script only goes through a few pairs of hands, and any confusion is usually settled through a quick phone call.
Exactly, daylight, which is why I don't think they are well-suited to solve the situation for a visually impaired reader. Plus, inconsistency. There's such a hard industry standard for teleplays, or at least company standards, that they are consistent, but Whedon's scripts are probably different from Vaughan's scripts are probably different from Goddard's scripts are probably different from Lynch's scripts.
I wish someone would act them out for those of us who remain completely unable to follow a comics format.

What does this mean?
Maybe, like me, OzLady just can't get into the comics.
As loyal reader of KOC's transcripts I should say they're great.
I'm not sure but I believe there is some softwares that are able to convert written words in spoken sound, but I'm not sure.
Maybe, like me, OzLady just can't get into the comics.

Unable to follow the format doesn't sound merely like not having gotten into them.
I think there are attempts on Youtube where people try and act out the comics using Sims-style PC games. Some are more successful in recreating the comics than others, but if he can read the pictures in the comic too then surely it will make some sense.
act out the comics using Sims-style PC games


What us 1337-types call machinima. See also machinima.com. As far as converting text to speech: search text to speech in your favorite search engine.
Is it sad that it took me about 7 seconds to realize that that was "leet" and not some sort of processor or something? I guess I'm not as qualified a geek as others. :)

I, too, found comics difficult to follow/get into at first, but since I had to read them for homework (really!), I just kept reading them and I've realized that it gets easier the more you read. Just keep at it; it's worth it!
Unable to follow the format doesn't sound merely like not having gotten into them.

*shrugs* That's what I took her comment to mean when I first read it. I'm just guessing though.
That's okay, you're still in the band ;)
I just sent off an email to the folks at the Washington Talking Book and Braille Library to see what insight they might lend on this issue - a copy of my letter follows.

Greetings:

I am a member of a posting board that involves all things Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other TV shows and comics/graphic novels. (www.whedonesque.com)

There was a letter posted today as follows:

Hello, my name is Jeremy. I am 28 and visually impaired. I am a huge fan of Buffy and Angel. I have followed the series for many years. I was very disappointed when Buffy went off the air. I heard about the Buffy season 8 comics and I was very excited. The problem is I canít read print because of my eye disorder. So, I canít follow the series in its new format. This makes me very frustrated and disappointed. I just wanted to bring this to some ones attention. I have visually impaired friends who feel the same way I do. Iíve tried to find audio and electronic formats of the comics and have had no luck. Thank you for taking the time to read this. Please do not think I am mad or blaming any one, I am just frustrated.

There is a discussion ongoing about how to help the writer. I realize that this is a multifaceted issue, involving types of impairment, types of technological availability and of course, copyright issues. If you wish, you can follow the discussion at this link:

http://whedonesque.com/comments/16590#more

I'm wondering if you can shed any light on how one might go about helping this writer, whether there are works in the genre that have been modified and etc. Any comments or advice would be greatly appreciated.

The folks on the Whedonesque have been known to accomplish pretty amazing things when they get going

Thank you for reading this, and I hope to hear from you.

My Name
MLIS '06


I'll let you know if I hear anything. Also, isn't Scott Allie supposed to be at the Portland CSTS screening? Perhaps someone could gently bring this up.
Something along those lines would be a very worthwhile question to ask. Another poster mentioned "closed captioning" for internet shorts (I think in that context it was about the River Tam 'Sessions' but it occurs to me that it'd also be relevant to Dr Horrible, might be worth asking about that too if anyone gets a chance to bend Joss's ear).

I guess I'm not as qualified a geek as others. :)

n3v3r 533N h4x0R 5p34k 808 ? ;-)

Reading comics arguably takes a little practice but it's not all that hard surely ? Top to bottom and left to right is the rough rule except where words cross panels or panels cross pages then follow the word balloon or panel wherever it goes.

It's interesting to see folks struggle with something that seems relatively natural if you're used to the medium though. Makes me wonder how/if early moviegoers handled instant cuts from scene to scene or flashbacks i.e. what must it have been like to learn the vocabulary of film for the first time ?

(and anyone checking out machinima would have mentalism if they didn't take a look at Red vs Blue. Given how much Alan and Nathan are into Halo it's long been a fantasy team-up of mine that they do a mini-series or even a guest spot. Wouldn't hate that ;)

ETA: And anyone with Windows XP and up has (basic) text to speech BTW. You can pay for software that has more naturalistic voices though (i'd think most visually impaired computer users would already know about that though - it's more getting the comic in a format the package will understand, a role King of Cretin's transcripts seems to fill very nicely).

[ edited by Saje on 2008-06-12 21:24 ]
It's interesting to see folks struggle with something that seems relatively natural if you're used to the medium though.

There is some skill involved. I just re-read the earlier parts of Astonishing, and I noticed that I was reading it a bit differently. And not in the way that I do when I've read it before. I'm extremely bad about reading text too fast and missing subtle cues (ok, sometimes dead obvious cues) in the art. Lately I think I have been doing that less as I've gotten more used to reading comics. For someone used to just text, I think you have to retrain your eyes a bit.
zeitgeist,
The band's still going?! Or is this a reunion tour?
Have comic books in the past been adapted for the visually impaired?

And I would appreciate if the OT chat can be cut down for this thread, cheers. I really want to see if something can be done about this.
The reunion tour is next year :) Interesting comments all around re: reading comics. Its definitely not an instantaneous adjustment to most people. I think that I've been reading them long enough that I forget that it wasn't as natural as I find it now.
Re: the comics - for me it's not a question of "how" to read them. I get that ;) I just don't get "into" them. They've just never been a favourite medium of mine. Admittedly, I've only gotten the Buffy comics because, well, it's Buffy and it's canon and it's my duty as a fan to support it even if I don't get "into" it :) I'm not dissing the comics or anyone who enjoys the medium. If you dig it, then I'm happy for you and it means mo' fans, more storylines to discuss and Buffydom keeps chugging along and I'm all for that. But comics just aren't my thang.

Having said that, I would happily read and describe them to a fellow fan with any kind of vision or hearing impairment if it meant they could continue to enjoy the fandom with the rest of us.

(And shutting up now on the OT discussion. Sorry Simon.)

[ edited by TheSpark on 2008-06-12 21:37 ]
This link suggested by Zeitgeist worked very well to me with KOC's transcripts in English and even with some text in Portuguese (little problems with English names but its ok).
From what I remember Dark Horse sent the first issue in pdf format to reviewers. It would be interesting to find out if software used by the visually impaired could read at least the dialogue contained in the issue.
Many TTS readers can pick things out of PDFs, yes. Would be a cool opportunity if Dark Horse offered .pdf subscriptions, even on a limited basis. Think of the savings in distribution and printing!
You would need some textual description of the art as well though. I don't think there's a straightforward technical solution to this-- because the art is communicating a lot, I think you'd need a way to incorporate it into whatever solution was found for the dialogue.

It seems there are some groups working to make art more accessible to people with no or limited vision. They might know of someone doing something with comics. A quick search returned Art Beyond Sight, which has discussion boards.

[ edited by Sunfire on 2008-06-12 22:09 ]
There is an analog to this on TV - Descriptive Video Service - which is actually from the folks at WGBH the PBS station. Not quite the same, but the idea is to describe the visual scene.

It looks like they are partnered with the "Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family National Center for Accessible Media". http://ncam.wgbh.org/index.html

A cursory look didn't find anything particluar to graphic novels, but I need to do some more poking around, but since I'm at work right now, no time. If anyone else wants to have a look - please do.
A very nice lurker sent us the following

Doing a bit of research I found this site http://www.rfbd.org/ . It's an organization called Recording For the Blind and Dyslexic. There are membership fees of course but included in this are a player for their format, access to their catalog and the ability to request the recording of material not already in their library. Thought it might be worth a shot to contact them and see if they can or have knowledge of anyone who can provide the comic book services.


And on a general note, I noticed that DC has done audio books for Kingdom Come, Infinite Crisis and 52. But I don't know how good they are.
Hello,
This is the visually impaired complainer you guys have been discussing. I want to thank everyone for all of your tips so far.
Tuckersbrother, I'm not going to link directly to it, because I figure I'm not supposed to, but if you Google "Buffy Season 8 transcripts", the ones I did are on the first result. I hope you can make those work or find a better long term solution. Really glad to know that you are interested in embracing Season 8, though, since it's already top half of the series, IMO.
CRAP!! I had a big post about this - hit the button and POOF! I've got somr good info - but now it'll have to wait until I get home from work. I'll never learn...
Tuckersbrother, I think the easiest solution would be to have a friend read the comics to you, including dialogue and artwork descriptions.
Simon, have we forwarded this to Scott Allie or to any of the Dark Horse people? Maybe some official support or at least some kind of OK from the publisher at some capacity, might help us.

On related note, starting to save teabags for the reunion tour. What do you guys think about Oolong tea? Too eastern?
I e-mailed Dark Horse Comics a few days ago, but I havenít heard anything yet.

I will check out the transcripts on Google. Thanks
tuckersbrother, who at Dark Horse did you email?
The only medium missing from comics to TV surely is that the words are spoken. For a visually impaired or blind person, there is often an audio description option, so for comics all that needs to be altered is the text to be spoken as well as an audio description of each panel.

I guess the easiest would be to get a friend to do this, but on a wider scale, I wonder about the feasibility for a third party (like BBtL) to compile some kind of radio commentary with narration (like an audio book, but with voice acting). I mean could they forward it to Dark Horse to distribute; would that still be a breach of copyright?

I think that would actually be really cool as a little fan made addition for everyone, and not just visually impaired people. I know I would certainly pay to subscribe to it on itunes (depending on the cost). If a song is £0.99 could it possibly be made by fans, distributed by Dark Horse and then sold in some kind of itunes format?

Maybe I just have no idea what I am talking about, I suppose it raises a lot of questions about where the money would go. Also interest might be an issue, I really don't know.
The only medium missing from comics to TV surely is that the words are spoken


Vortigun, I respectfully disagree. Not to be off-topic, but for some of us just putting the pictures with words isn't anything like TV. Visual impairment can take many different forms (in my case, it's not a visual impairment but a spatial disability, so nowhere near as big a deal), so tuckersbrother make sure if you speak to TPTB at DarkHorse (or to whomever you speak)that you're very specific as to what you need to make the comics work for you! And good luck! :-D
Yes sorry, that was not my best comment ever, music sound effects, the fact that the pictures don't move (muggles...).

I meant to transfer the comic book format to more like an audio book, all that needs to be added is narration and the reading out of the text. I suppose some audio books have a little music also.
tuckersbrother, is it a problem with the text size--one that would be fixed if the entire thing were to be magnified quite a bit?

Because if that is the case, I really think that CDisplay software and someone to scan the comics for you might work out. The software is free, btw, and I can't see any issues with scanning something you own.

If the pages are magnified enough, maybe you could read the text, and you could refer to the actual comics to see the art and to understand the page flow. That's the best advice I have to enable you to experience the comics yourself, as opposed to listening to a recording or even reading someone else's transcript.

Thanks, zeitgeist, for not kicking me off the band--especially as I seem to recall that my guitar is one of the few actual "instruments." :)
And Saje, I have seen 1337 before; it's just been a while and it took my brain a second (7, actually) to adjust. Then again, I'm sleepy and on vicodin, which is not conducive to great feats of the brain.
OK - let's try this again.

I received a reply from the folks at WTBBL. I won't post it all, but it would seem that many access projects are taken up by individual institutions, so of course they have to weigh carefully what they choose to do. Let's face it, money is the big issue.

Tuckersbrother, if you haven't already done so, you might try contacting your local public library. Many of them have equipment that might help with visual access, or they should know who you can contact.

However, there was one really good suggestion in the email.

If someone in your group has access to a good computer scanner, my only suggestion, at this point, is to scan the comics into Bookshare.org - That should at least provide access to magnification of the text, and dependent on the font and presentation used in the comic, and the quality of the OCRC software, perhaps even screen-reader audio.


Bookshare is a reader community based organization that allows anyone to scan documents to a database. Not perfect though, as there is a $50 a year membership fee, and many of the materials can only be accessed by US residents, who must provide proof of disability.

However, anything, with certain exceptions, can be added because as a non-profit allowing access to those with disabilities, they have a copyright exemption. They have been working with publishers and others regarding this. In fact, one of the organizations they work with is the one pointed out by Simon's lurker, RFBD. The excepted materials are as follows:

materials that are proprietary, or were obtained in breach of any contract or illegally. This includes materials already in digital form as issued by the original publisher such as commercially available e-books or accessible digital book files received by schools directly from publishers.


But, on the upside, they allow anyone to submit - yep that means you and me, and have the instructions on "how to". They also have a section for authors and publishers. Wouldn't doing this be a major PR coup to a publisher....hmmm.

I'm going to ALA Annual in Anaheim at the end of the month. I think I'll see what else I can find out

[ edited by Znachki on 2008-06-13 01:54 ]
Theonetruebix, I went to the contact us link and sent an e-mail. Iím not sure specifically who received it.
BandofBuggered, My eye disorder is severe enough that I canít read print effectively. I am a Braille user and use a screen reader with my computer.
KingofCretins, I checked out your transcripts. Unknowingly, you have created exactly what I was looking for. I read the first issue and was able to follow the narration and descriptions with no problem. Thanks!!! The transcripts are very accessible. Well, Iím going to get back to reading Buffy season 8.
Three cheers for KingofCretins! May all lesser cretins bow before him. Huzzah!(X3)
And I must say, your transcripts are quite impressive and accessible.

tuckersbrother, I'm so happy that you are now able to enjoy season 8. Have fun--it's quite the ride!
Seriously... that is the most gratified I've felt on the subject. I've gotten a lot of positive feedback and thanks for them, but if they're the difference between even one fan getting to read Season 8 or not, that justifies all the typing :) Thanks, tuckersbrother. Might as well mention, if you browse through that forum, I've also been doing transcripts for "Angel: After the Fall".

[ edited by KingofCretins on 2008-06-13 03:15 ]
The accessibility issue for books, magazines, and comics is a fairly simple solution with cooperation from the publishers. The blind and visually impaired community has been dealing with this issue for a while. Most of us prefer electronic formats for reading. I have to fight with the publishers for my school books every year. Hopefully this will make people aware how easy it is to accommodate accessibility for printed material.

Thanks to everyone
Saje Said:
Something along those lines would be a very worthwhile question to ask. Another poster mentioned "closed captioning" for internet shorts (I think in that context it was about the River Tam 'Sessions' but it occurs to me that it'd also be relevant to Dr Horrible, might be worth asking about that too if anyone gets a chance to bend Joss's ear).


Maxsummers is doing subtitles, in Portuguese for The Guild, so she changed emails with FelŪcia Day and had mentioned intention to do the same with Dr Horrible. Then FelŪcia Said that was a good Idea and that she will talk to Joss already did it in the release. So, I believe, IF this works well in Portuguese, probably English language will not be forget
Well, I'm a bit late to the party, but I work in educational support, mostly with visually impaired students at the moment, and deal with similar stuff quite a bit, so I thought I should chip in a little at the end here! Except I don't really have anything constructive to add, other than to be very pleased for tuckersbrother and tell KingofCretins how awesome he is!

And just generally to be in awe of this place. That took what, less than twelve hours between posting and finding a solution? That's just amazing. I guess the internet's not just for porn, after all! (That's an Avenue Q reference, in case anyone thinks I'm just being unnecessarily lewd!)

But seriously, even in the case of things like academic textbooks and newspapers the visually impaired community really relies on dedicated, hardworking volunteers (not me - I get paid) who make a huge contribution to the quality of life of many people. So I hope you're feeling extremely pleased with yourself, KingofCretins!

I don't know if there's something similar in America or other countries, but the RNIB have a 'Right to Read' campaign - as 96% of books are unavailable to visually impaired readers - to try and address the problem. If any Brits are interested, there's a Declaration you can sign to show support and some interesting information about the campaign on their website.
Brazilian Chaos Man said: Maxsummers is doing subtitles, in Portuguese for The Guild, so she changed emails with FelŪcia Day and had mentioned intention to do the same with Dr Horrible. Then FelŪcia Said that was a good Idea and that she will talk to Joss already did it in the release. So, I believe, IF this works well in Portuguese, probably English language will not be forget


My friends will be happy that someone is already working on this, as I'm naturally lazy for this kind of stuff. It's funny because the last few days, they've been hunting for subtitles for a recent movie with Amber Benson, and after some unsuccessful search, they've started to work on the subtitles themselves, and I believe they'll be posting them in the usual foruns soon.

tuckersbrother said: The accessibility issue for books, magazines, and comics is a fairly simple solution with cooperation from the publishers. The blind and visually impaired community has been dealing with this issue for a while. Most of us prefer electronic formats for reading. I have to fight with the publishers for my school books every year. Hopefully this will make people aware how easy it is to accommodate accessibility for printed material.


Wonder how the new digital solutions been working to change this, for example, does that Amazon Kindle device some resource for the visually impaired?
I'm glad the BtVS comics thing has had a successful outcome, and I have nothing to add to that except for yays for the folks who asked and yays for the folks who helped.

It's just that I ran across this site where volunteers have recordered books in the public domain and they are available as mp3s or ogg files: it's called LibriVox and you can check it out at http://librivox.org/. (I didn't do a linky-thing in case someone potentially interested is hearing this post instead of reading it - dunno how it says or reads embedded links.)

This may be old news to folks who need to hear their reading materials, but I thought it was pretty neat... and I'm think of volunteering to read a book or two myself. It's a great combo of reading and helping, so I thought folks here might be interested in both sides of this project.

"It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me were the very things that connected me with all..." - James Baldwin
Simon, those DC audio books are presumably based on the novelisations of each comic series (which I know for certain exist for Infinite Crisis and 52), rather than the comics themselves.
I think itís wonderful that you are thinking about volunteering. This cause needs all the help and support it can get. Thanks!

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