Accessibility as a component in inclusive and fit-for-market specialised translator training

By Barbara Heinisch (University of Vienna, Austria)


Diversity and audiovisual translation are major areas of interest within the field of translation studies and translator training. However, much less is known about accessibility and inclusion as components in translator training. People with disabilities or special needs also want to access products, services and information. Therefore, translation (in its broadest sense) is required. Adapting texts to a target audience and a specific function is a crucial competence of translators, including the adaptation of texts to different target audiences and their needs. Hence, translation in the context of accessibility does not only mean to provide access to communication and culture, but also access to information, products and services beyond linguistic barriers and beyond modalities.

The purpose of this article is to review recent research and two projects that address the consideration of accessibility components in translator training. The study assesses the significance of accessibility competence as part of the training of professional (specialised) translators. Based on two case studies, i.e. the ACT project (Accessible Culture and Training) and the eTransFair project (How to Achieve Inclusive and Fit-for-Market Specialised Translator Training? – A Transferable Model for Training Institutions), the article discusses the various options of how accessibility and inclusion can be considered in translator education.

Keywords: accessibility, translator training, audiovisual translation, inclusive education, accessibility competence

©inTRAlinea & Barbara Heinisch (2019).
"Accessibility as a component in inclusive and fit-for-market specialised translator training"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: New Insights into Translator Training
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Translation and accessibility are two areas that seem to converge. Translation, in a broad sense, means providing access to products, services, information, communication and culture in another language. Thus, translation is a way to enable participation in everyday life. Similarly, participation and access to products, services, information and communication also play a crucial role in accessibility. Both translation and accessibility enable people to participate in everyday life. Therefore, the areas of translation and accessibility have some aspects in common.

Before proceeding to examine the relationship between translation and accessibility, it is necessary to define the key terms translation, accessibility, diversity, inclusion and disability which are used in this paper. The second part combines and juxtaposes translation and accessibility by analysing two research projects that address accessibility, inclusion and translation. On the one hand, inclusive translation programmes and making accessibility a reality in translator education are discussed. On the other hand, accessibility taught in translation programmes as well as accessibility competence are addressed. The methods used in this research are a literature review and two case studies.

(Audiovisual) Translation

Widely varying definitions of translation have emerged. This means that the term translation is used ambiguously. This may be caused by different expectations about translation resulting in different designations in various professional fields: language mediation, language-service provision, language management, language consultancy, proofreading, copywriting, documentation management, co-authoring, technical writing, multilingual text creation and design, adaptation, summary translation, revision, localisation and many more (Gambier and Gottlieb 2001: ix–x; EMT 2009: 2). What all these designations have in common is that translation is a complex process that includes, but is not limited to, the transfer of meaning from one language to another (Gambier and Gottlieb 2001: x) according to the author’s intention (Newmark 1988: 5) in a specific situation (Reiss and Vermeer 1984: 58). Translation has to fulfil a purpose (that is specified in the translation brief) for the intended target audience (and their expectations) in a certain communicative context (Reiss and Vermeer 1984: 101). This is where accessibility that provides access to information, services and products comes in.

Translation provides access to material that readers would otherwise not comprehend and that would be inaccessible to people who do not have access to this language (Bassnett 2014: 169). Audiovisual translation (AVT) is a field which focuses not only on language but also on other modalities and, thus, broadens the scope of translation.

As mentioned before, a translation should fulfil a specific purpose in a certain situation to reach a specific target audience. This also holds true for localisation and transcreation. Localisation (of websites, software or videogames) requires adaptation of a product to a locale and its linguistic, cultural, legal, technical, etc. requirements. Transcreation, especially in advertising, adapts and re-conceptualises the original material to convey the key message and to prompt the same response. Here, the audience may change (e.g. adults instead of children) or the purpose (e.g. information instead of an advertisement) or the form (e.g. full text instead of gisting) (Melby et al. 2014: 397). All these developments and the interdisciplinary approaches adopted in translation studies allow for a broader definition of translation.

Jakobson’s (1971) tripartite model of intralingual, interlingual and intersemiotic translation, which is frequently cited in the field of audiovisual translation, demonstrates that audiovisual translation opens up the field to other disciplines, modalities and thus to accessibility.

Text is not only a sequence of sentences, and verbal signs are not the only means of carrying meaning. Non-verbal signs add to the understanding of the verbal utterances or may even carry the main meaning. These non-verbal signs are images, graphics, sounds, music, colours, graphic design, etc. that can be either used as embellishment or a constitutive part of the meaning. The understanding and interaction of information, e.g. the structure on a website is influenced by the users’ expectations and knowledge as well as by the combination of semiotic systems rather than by linguistic features alone (Gambier and Gottlieb 2001: ix–xviii). Audiovisual texts consist of a combination and interaction of verbal elements, non-verbal elements, audio and visual elements (Zabalbeascoa 2008: 24-25). Thus, multimodal texts combine several semiotic modes, e.g. language, visual images, sound and gesture, whose interaction bears a text-specific meaning. Examples are films, websites or television programmes (Taylor 2016: 223). Multimodal content is omnipresent, but not fully accessible for people with sensory, hearing or visual impairments. To make it accessible, content has to be adapted to the needs of the audience, i.e. another medium and another modality including audio description for visually impaired people, or sign language intepreting or subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing (Domínguez 2015: 246–247).

Therefore, audiovisual translation is also sometimes called multimodal translation (Melby et al. 2014: 396) or (multi)media translation (Gambier and Gottlieb 2001: xi). (Multi)media translation stresses the importance of a translation’s function as well as its communicative and cultural aspects and acceptability, meaning and usability. Furthermore, it places emphasis on the combination of verbal systems and other semiotic systems, the medium and distribution channels and the interpretation of the source material (Gambier and Gottlieb 2001: xix) by the translators or the target audience. There are many levels that interact, e.g. dialogue, music and sound. These levels are used by the audience to create meaning (Remael et al. 2016b: 255). Audiovisual translation requires the consideration of text mode (written vs. oral, audiovisual/multimodal, etc.), the text medium (cinema vs. television, internet, reader or listener, etc.), ownership and storage (DVD, internet, etc.) or audience profile and impact (nationwide audience vs. special-interest groups, etc.) (Zabalbeascoa 2008: 35).

Audiovisual translation (AVT) makes content accessible to people who do not have command of the original language, thus overcoming language barriers and being an example of intersemiotic translation. Media accessibility, on the other hand, transcends sensorial barriers by transferring one code system to another code system, such as subtitling for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, which translates information or meaning from the verbal to the written code. Another example is audio description for the blind, which transfers information from the visual to the verbal system (Díaz Cintas et al. 2010: 14). Media accessibility means to make available audiovisual products, such as advertisements, films or television programmes and audiovisual phenomena including art galleries, city tours or live events, to as wide a range of people as possible, especially to people with hearing or visual impairments (Maszerowska et al. 2014: 1). Since the boundaries of media accessibility and AVT are sometimes blurred (Chaume 2013: 121; Remael and Di Giovanni 2016), media accessibility will be used as an umbrella term for AVT in this paper. AVT overcomes not only language barriers, e.g. through interlingual subtitling, but also sensory barriers, e.g. through intralingual subtitling for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Both media accessibility and AVT rely on the plethora of channels, technologies, environments and media used in today’s communication and translation (Díaz Cintas et al. 2007: 11-20). Thus, AVT is characterised by its polysemiotic, multimodal, multifunctional and multi-layered nature, a technological component and a complex context and reception situation (Díaz Cintas et al. 2010: 13; Remael 2012: 15). In general, this is also applicable to media accessibility and localisation. Traditionally, localisation is not regarded as a type of AVT. Localisers are rather embedded in the localisation or computer industry (Gambier and Gottlieb 2001: xviii). Therefore, localisation and locale management are often excluded as modes of AVT although localisation, as a (linguistic and cultural) adaptation of a product to a locale (including its norms, conventions, legal and technical requirements, etc.) also deals with multimodal texts. Thus, localisation is inevitably linked to media accessibility.

Audiovisual translation has evolved as a sub-discipline of translation studies. Its clear focus is on the intersemiotic translation of multimodal texts that should provoke a reaction of the target audience that is similar to the reaction of the original audience. Thus, the translator is a mediator that already interprets these multimodal texts and re-interprets the look and feel of a production. For example, when subtitling for the deaf and hard-of-hearing (SDH) re-interpretation is inherent because information or meaning is transferred from one code system to another. In the case of SDH, it transfers meaning from the auditory to the visual system. The final product of this re-interpretation of a production’s look and feel should get similar attention (Udo and Fels 2009: 218). AVT has to consider that the verbal dimension is complemented or supplemented by other semiotic layers, e.g. gestures, images, facial expression, music or noise (Taylor 2016: 223-225).


The most common definition of accessibility is given by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which refers to accessibility as full participation in everyday life, including equal access to information and communications as well as related technologies, the physical environment and public facilities and services. Accessibility means the removal of barriers in all these areas (UN 2006: 9). This definition demonstrates that accessibility encompasses physical space, media and technology. This definition has been broadened to include people of different ages, different levels of ability or experience (Mangiron 2012: 45) regardless of a declared disability.

Technological progress is also accompanied by increasing accessibility demands. Improvement of accessibility, compensation of functional abilities and the removal of barriers can be two-fold: inclusive design, i.e. accessibility features or settings that are built into products on the one hand or (the use of) special assistive technology products (for existing products), on the other (Mangiron 2012: 45). Examples of assistive devices (for people with disabilities or the elderly) are hearing aids, screen readers, tactile keyboards, wheelchairs or memory aids. Assistive technology is an instrument to improve the quality of life, well-being and social participation of the elderly and people with disabilities (AAATE 2007: v).

Design for All is a concept that is related to accessibility. The terms Design for All, universal design, inclusive design or barrier-free design are often used interchangeably. Universal design as defined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is the design of environments, products, services, information and programmes that can be used by all people without specialised design or adaptation (UN 2006: Article 2). The same definition is used in the European Disability Strategy for the term accessibility and not for the term universal design (European Commission 2010: 6). Design for All is a design philosophy that aims at including as many people as possible and considering persons that might be excluded from the use of a product (Molenbroek et al. 2011: 7). Universal design highlights the statement “Good design enables, bad design disables” (EIDD 2004: 1). It takes into account diverse (sensory) abilities, (physical differences), individual preferences and results in a useful design that is easy to understand, customisable and adaptable to the needs and pace of the users irrespective of physical effort, experience, language proficiency, knowledge or current concentration level (Udo and Fels 2009: 210-216). The impact of universal design reaches far beyond the proper use of products and services, because it also means improving the quality of life and promoting equality, human diversity and social inclusion (EIDD 2004: 1). Recommendations from universal game design studies can also be applied to universal design in general. These recommendations include a focus on usability, the application of universal design principles, adaptability, enabling the use of assistive technology and customisation options. Design for All education for professions that shape and design our environment should aim at including as many users (and their abilities) and potential uses as possible when designing a product (Molenbroek et al. 2011: 16-50). The seven principles of universal design are equitable use, flexibility in use, simple and intuitive use, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort, and size and space for approach as well as use (Connell et al. 1997).

This shows that Design for All and accessibility have a strong connection because both aim at enabling a wide range of people to access and use a product or service. However, accessibility is rather a result or characteristic whereas Design for All is the way to achieve this result. There are two basic approaches currently being adopted in universal design. One is the explicit Design for All approach and the other is the implicit Design for All approach. Explicit Design for All means that special features for a specific user population are included in the product to solve a problem. This is the intentional application of universal design. Some products that were originally designed for a group of people with a certain disability might prove to be useful for others too. Examples are the drinking straw that was marketed for children and hospitals, audio description for the blind, and subtitling for the deaf and hard-of-hearing that can be used in noisy environments or to learn a foreign language. The opposite approach, i.e. implicit Design for All, aims at enhancing the overall usability of a product (Molenbroek et al. 2011: 10; Udo and Fels 2009: 207).

Since the inclusive design practice analyses human needs and involves end-users in the design process (EIDD 2004: 2), it is intertwined with human-centred design and usability. Usability, i.e. the “extent to which a system, product or service can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use” (ISO 9241-11:2018) affects translators too. On the one hand, applications used by translators should be characterised by usability. For example, computer-assisted translation tools, machine translation systems or other translation-related systems, e.g. project management or terminology management software (as shown by Heinisch-Obermoser 2016:44-53) should be easy to use. On the other hand, translators or localisers translate or adapt technical products, e.g. websites, software, apps or games to a target locale. These products should also be as usable as possible. Part of a localiser’s job may be to test the localised product. This testing may include accessibility testing as well.

Organisations usually see accessibility only as a legal requirement and not as a benefit. Nevertheless, promoting accessibility and avoiding the exclusion of people on the basis of disabilities can be beneficial for many stakeholders. It also may have social, educational, economic, therapeutic and moral benefits. Users of accessible products may have a feeling of social inclusion or enjoy entertainment. For example, games can have an educational value and support learning. They also help developing problem solving skills, enhancing reading skills and motor skills. They can be used for therapy, e.g. tackling mobility or intellectual challenges. Customisable products suit different needs and abilities. Accessibility is also a moral obligation derived from human rights fostering equality and prohibiting discrimination. Economic benefits can be related to market growth. Especially, the elderly is a big market segment (Mangiron 2012: 43-55).

Media accessibility is a growing concern in translation. It overlaps with translation in many ways, e.g. web accessibility in website localisation, subtitling for the deaf and hard-of-hearing and, in general, any adaptation of the text that meets the needs of the target audience. Therefore, accessibility also gains a foothold in the translation sector and translator education.

Diversity, inclusion and disability

The term diversity embodies a multitude of concepts which are based on differences and similarities. On the one hand, diversity needs a reference to a specific mixture or aggregation, e.g. a group of people such as employees, and a certain dimension of this group’s diversity, on the other (Thomas 2010: 2). This means that diversity is a relational term and no absolute term because there is some sort of reference framework and not an absolute norm from which persons diverge. We can differentiate surface-level and deep-level diversity. The first refers to observable characteristics such as gender or age, whereas deep-level diversity includes less transparent aspects, such as values, attitudes and personality (Graen 2003: 30-31).

The diversity model of Gardenswartz and Rowe (2003: 31-33) is used to explain layers of diversity. They identify four layers of diversity. The first layer is our personality which is at the centre and makes us unique. The second layer are internal dimensions which we cannot control, e.g. gender or age. The third layer are external influences from society or previous experience, e.g. parenthood or place of residence. The outer layer are organisational dimensions that refer to the working environment, e.g. work location or hierarchical status within an organisation.

Diversity thus means that people are treated individually and not equally within a group (Winter 2010: 5-6) and every member is diverse in their own way, including gender, personal and corporate background, personality, lifestyle, geographic origin, education, etc. (Thomas 2010: 111).

As far as inclusion in translator education is concerned, it plays a role in the form of inclusive (higher) education that pays attention to special or individual needs (Cigman 2010: 163). In a schooling context, inclusive education is often implemented by integrating all children in the ordinary educational system regardless of their intellectual, physical, linguistic, social, emotional or other conditions (UNESCO 1999: 5). This shows that educational systems should respond to the growing diversity of their students. However, inclusive education is also an area of conflict and tension, e.g. alternative modes of assessment, partial exemption from grades or special classes which might be considered as unfair (Michailakis and Reich 2009: 24).

Accessibility is often associated with accessibility for disabled people. About 16 per cent of people living in the European Union have a disability. These 80 million people face barriers when fully participating in everyday life. These barriers may be caused by the environment or people’s attitudes (European Commission 2010: 4). Worldwide, about one billion people are likely to have a disability (Wentz et al. 2015: 2). These numbers are expected to rise, mainly because of an ageing population (AAATE 2007: v). People with disabilities are the largest minority population in many societies and the only population that is regarded as a minority group in all societies. Nevertheless, their needs are often forgotten or ignored (Wentz et al. 2015: 2).

According to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the European Disability Strategy, people with disabilities “include persons who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others” (European Commission 2015: 21).

Taken together, these definitions show that diversity and inclusion relate to (media) accessibility and audiovisual translation. Here, audiovisual information or messages are transferred intralingually or interlingually, whereas the focus is on the auditive and visual communication channels that both convey meaning (Chaume 2013: 107). Considering diversity thus may also mean to convey their combined meaning in only one channel.

Accessibility in translation (programmes)

Worldwide, audiovisual translation services as well as accessibility services, such as subtitling for the deaf and hard-of-hearing or audio description for the blind, are in strong demand. Especially legislation that requires equal access to products and services boosts the demand for these services (Romero-Fresco 2013).

While some research has been carried out on translation and accessibility, only a few conferences have attempted to explicitly address both translation and accessibility as well as its combination, namely the Media for All, Languages & The Media (International Conference on Language Transfer in Audiovisual Media) conference series and the TransAccess (Translation and accessibility) conference in 2017. The first focuses on media accessibility and AVT and the latter recognises that language service providers who work with audiovisual content have to consider the needs of disabled people who participate in global communication and information exchange.

Accessibility in translation programmes can mean two things: First, inclusive translator education, i.e. making translator training accessible to as wide a range of people as possible and offering disabled people equal access to translator education. Second, accessibility as a subject taught in translation programmes (at university level) that help students acquire accessibility competence.

Based on two case studies, the aspect of accessibility in translation programmes is addressed. These two case studies should provide a deeper insight into practical examples of combining translator education and accessibility training. For this purpose, two research projects adopting different approaches to accessibility and inclusion in translation were selected. Since these projects have a different focus but are both implemented in cooperation with the University of Vienna and within the same funding scheme, this allowed for a juxtaposition of two approaches to accessibility in translator education. On the one hand, the eTransFair project aims at making translation programmes more inclusive. On the other hand, the ACT project provides training in accessibility and introduces the job profile of the accessibility manager or coordinator.

Case 1: ACT project: Accessible Culture and Training

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, participation in cultural life and the arts is a human right (United Nations 1948: Article 27, para. 1). The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that disabled people are entitled to “participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport” (UN 2006: Article 30). The Accessible Culture and Training (ACT) project puts this statement into action and aims at making cultural events, especially live events in the scenic arts, e.g. opera, theatre, music festivals, fully accessible. Therefore, it established a new professional profile: the accessibility coordinator or accessibility manager for the scenic arts. To train these accessibility experts, the project proposed a curriculum at university level. They also provide training through a massive open online course (MOOC) including a certificate for Accessibility Management for the Scenic Arts. ACT places emphasis on management competence as well as practical and interpersonal competences to assess the level of accessibility of a venue where a cultural event takes place. Moreover, it is important to assume responsibility for accessible communication and performance-related issues before, during and after a live event. In addition, this project sees accessibility as an integral part of the production process. Moreover, guidelines for the implementation of policies in the field of accessibility for the scenic arts and a quality label for accessible events were developed (ACT 2017a; ACT 2017b: 1; Matamala and Orero 2016: 3-8).

The training for future accessibility managers and accessibility coordinators is categorised into understanding accessibility, venue accessibility, accessibility services, accessibility management for live events and promoting accessibility. First, understanding accessibility means that participants are familiar with the definition of accessibility and accessible events, including types and degrees of disability, concepts and forms of accessibility and national and international legislation. Second, venue accessibility is grouped into accessibility aspects related to public transport and parking, toilets, stage and seating, rain/wind/sun shelters, signs, maps, information, service animals, architectural risks, lighting, furniture, space and the evaluation of accessibility conditions of a venue. Third, the key aspects of accessibility services can be listed as follows: audio description, subtitling for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, sign language interpreting, surtitling, audio subtitling, audio introduction, interlingual translation, vibrating chairs, Braille, touch tours, hearing (induction) loops, accessible materials, web accessibility and assistants or companions. Moreover, accessibility managers and coordinators should be able to maximise the effect of these accessibility services. Fourth, accessibility management for live events can be treated under three headings: pre-event planning (including devices, technology and software, target audiences, accessibility services), coordination during events (encompassing accessibility service providers, potential accidents and unexpected situations) and post-event management (including returning equipment, payment, analysing feedback for improvement and staff training). Management skills consist of team communication and motivation, working in heterogeneous teams, collaboration, conflict resolution, challenges of venues and assessing know-how of local teams. Fifth, accessibility can be promoted via various means and channels of communication (including traditional media, online media and social media). Accessibility promotion addresses accessibility needs and benefits, the importance of accessibility, accessibility policies and costs of accessibility solutions. For this purpose, stakeholders need to be identified and involved. Since collaboration with cultural event venues is necessary, accessibility experts need to emphasise the importance of collaboration. In addition, accessibility experts are also able to promote an accessible event (ACT 2017b).

To sum up, it is important to identify the necessary competences of accessibility experts and the major challenges of an event’s accessibility that need to be tackled.

Case 2: eTransFair project: How to Achieve Inclusive and Fit-for-Market Specialised Translator Training? – A Transferable Model for Training Institutions

Translation programmes at university level should prepare graduates for professional life. The project eTransFair (How to Achieve Inclusive and Fit-for-Market Specialised Translator Training? – A Transferable Model for Training Institutions) thus aims at the modernisation of specialised translator training to meet the market needs in the language industry. One way of improving the employability of specialised translation graduates is by broadening students’ transferable skills. To prepare translation graduates for jobs in the language sector, eTransFair sets up a virtual skills laboratory simulating work in a real-life translation agency and provides training not only for students but also for teachers. In addition, the project develops a new competence model adapted to specialised translation and offers teaching material and assessment techniques in the form of open educational resources to teachers. It attaches considerable importance to disadvantaged groups and inclusiveness of translator training (eTransFair 2017b).

The key terms in the project title are “inclusive”, “fit-for-market”, “transferable” and “specialised translator training”. To make specialised translator training inclusive, eTransFair proposes to combine on-site and online training enabling people living in remote areas to join (blocked) on-site training sessions. Furthermore, open educational resources (OER) defined as digital learning, teaching and research material that permits free re-use and adaptation, e.g. via an open licence (Orr et al. 2015: 17; van Damme et al. 2012) for educational purposes serve multiple purposes in translator education. First, they should increase the accessibility of translator education. Second, other higher education institutions can freely use, adapt and re-distribute these resources. Thus, OER can be used for the training of specialised translators and are transferable to other training institutions. This is also illustrated by the so-called transferable training scheme. This scheme allows other higher education institutions to use the training material, training methods, assessment techniques and manuals and adapt them to their needs. Third, OER are digital and online and thus accessible for a wide range of people, including those that do not have the (financial) means to attend sessions at the university. Fourth, OER include a broad spectrum of educational material, e.g. full courses, modules, exam questions or software. This material is often available in different forms, e.g. text, images, videos, portals or games. Fifth, the eTransFair OER are accessible via the so-called European Centre of Specialised Translators (e-COST) to allow for exchange on the topic of specialised translator training on a European level.

The eTransFair competence card for specialised translators is a competence model that comprises eight core competences, i.e. translation competence, language competence, intercultural and transcultural competence, revision and review competence, domain-specific competence, technological competence, information mining and terminological competence and professional competence which includes entrepreneurship (eTransFair 2017a). Although the term “inclusive specialised translator training” is mentioned in the title of the project, the competence model does not contain any reference neither to inclusion nor to accessibility. This rather suggests that the authors do not regard inclusion and accessibility as part of the competence profile of specialised translators, although especially (website) localisation which is offered as an entire eTransFair e-learning module, requires knowledge and implementation of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (W3C 2008). eTransFair rather concentrates on the accessibility of the training programme itself and not on accessibility as part of a translator’s competence profile. However, a general strategy to make translation education more inclusive still needs to be formulated and implemented in the project, including measures to involve groups with a disadvantaged background, and the definition of flexible learning modes.

To sum up, the eTransFair translator training programme should be characterised by flexibility, employability (market orientation) and inclusiveness. All three aspects are also relevant in accessibility. The project puts an emphasis on transferable skills and competences of specialised translators as well as on inclusive education. Inclusive education for specialised translators can be achieved with a combination of on-site and online training, training for teachers, new didactics, including self-assessment and peer assessment guidelines, flexible learning modes, the creation and use of open educational resources, the involvement of stakeholders (teachers, students, employers) and the identification of training and learning needs to meet quality requirements (eTransFair 2017b). Compared to ACT, inclusion and accessibility is not considered in the eTransFair competence profile of specialised translators. However, the training programme itself should be as inclusive as possible to allow disadvantaged people to participate in the specialised translation programme.

This case emphasises that higher education in the field of specialised translation should consider market needs, prepare students for the language industry, be inclusive and improve transferable skills, especially digital skills.

Integration of accessibility into translation curricula

The purpose of this article is to review recent research and projects that address the consideration of accessibility components in translator training. A comparison of the two projects mentioned above reveals that there are two possibilities for including accessibility in translation programmes: accessible or inclusive translation programmes vs. accessibility taught in translation programmes.

Inclusive translator education and training

Inclusive translator training means that disabled or disadvantaged people can exercise their rights as translation students by overcoming the obstacles in their education. Making translation programmes and translator training accessible and inclusive can range from accessible buildings where translation education or training takes place to accessible information about the degree programme on the website, accessible training material and teaching methods including alternative modes of assessment. It is beyond the scope of this paper to address all the issues related to inclusive translator education, but some recommendations arose from both case studies.

On a meta-level, inclusion (and exclusion) encompass three levels, i.e. the societal, the organisational and the interactional level (Michailakis and Reich 2009: 25). Society provides the (legal) framework for inclusion. Higher education institutions that implement these legal provisions, may prepare their own inclusion or accessibility policies and provide the basis for inclusive education. However, this also requires awareness-raising in the field of diversity, accessibility and inclusion in general.

On an institutional level, higher education institutions have a responsibility to provide access to their education, research, products, services and space. In many countries, public universities are considered public buildings. From an architectural point of view, buildings and facilities should be constructed or modified in an accessible way. This means that lifts, toilets, lecture halls, etc. should be accessible for wheelchair users, students with hearing impairments may use hearing loops in lecture halls or blind students may use Braille. Teachers, staff and students should be made aware of this responsibility and receive diversity training. Special needs associated with sensory, physical or intellectual impairments should be considered and translator education should respond to issues individually. However, also the implications for other students, e.g. conflicts or tension due to special treatment of individual students, should be taken into account. Information on degree programmes and study-related information, e.g. on the university’s website, should be accessible, including the use of assistive technology. For example, blind people may use a screen reader and people with reduced mobility may only be able to use the keyboard. Therefore, websites should adhere to the web accessibility guidelines. Universities may offer distance learning or (blocked) courses to allow as many students as possible, e.g. people living in remote areas to participate in a course. Open educational resources are another option of accessible translator education. However, this online training material, e.g. slides, e-books, exam questions, should be accessible too. It is therefore a good idea to provide material, communication and orientation in different modes and via more than one sensory channel. For example, if videos are part of the training material, subtitles or audio description should be provided so that they are also useful for deaf and blind people. Graphics and pictures that are not only embellishment should contain alternative text (Heinisch 2017). Specialised translation increasingly relies on information and communications technology, in general, and translation technology, in particular. When working with computer-aided translation tools, teachers may choose a software that complies with universal design principles or a software that allows for the use of assistive technology for their translation courses. In some cases, alternative modes of assessment might be applied. They may be an option if a student cannot read exam questions on a paper, for example. In this case, online exams that allow for the use of a screen reader or oral exams instead of written ones may be alternative modes of assessment. However, these recommendations are just a small selection of aspects that could (and should) be considered in inclusive translator education. Inclusive translator education is a complex issue with many political, ethical, financial and social implications. As mentioned before, accessibility that was originally introduced for one target group might prove useful for many others too. For example, subtitles provided for learning videos are also beneficial for students who might have a low level of proficiency in the language used in the video.

Student diversity is growing, e.g. age (senior citizens), educational background, languages and cultures, students with children and people with intellectual, physical or sensory impairments. This means that any improvement addressing their needs helps because some information, learning material, etc. would otherwise remain inaccessible for them. In the long-term, new practices, policies and procedures might be introduced to meet the aim of inclusive translator education.

Accessibility as a subject in translation programmes

In recent years, there has been an increasing amount of literature on localisation, audiovisual translation and media accessibility. Topics taught in translation programmes include different types of audiovisual translation. Currently, the two main types of audiovisual translation are subtitling and dubbing (Remael 2012: 12). However, translation curricula may also cover voice-over, audio description, audiointroduction (AI), surtitling (supertitling), speech-to-text interpreting (STT) and sign language interpreting (SLI), to name a few. In addition, each of these modes of AVT might require different translation strategies depending on the target audience. For example, different translation strategies are applied if the target audience are children or adults. As demonstrated by the ACT project, which proposes the new job profile of the accessibility expert for the scenic arts, there is the emerging role of accessibility experts who know how to make information and products accessible to a wide range of people.

What follows is a brief description of the topics taught in translation programmes: subtitling, dubbing, voiceover, audio description, audiointroductions, surtitles, speech-to-text interpreting and sign language interpreting. First, subtitling as a cheap and fast mode of AVT “consists in rendering in writing the translation into a TL [target language] of the original dialogue exchanges uttered by the different speakers, as well as of all other verbal information that is transmitted visually (letters, banners, inserts) or aurally (lyrics, voices off)” (Díaz Cintas 2012: 344). Different forms of subtitles are pre-prepared subtitles (ahead of programme release) or live subtitles produced during broadcast, e.g. live subtitles for news. The latter can be supported by speech recognition (live subtitling with speech recognition), translation memories or machine translation. Furthermore, we differentiate between interlingual and intralingual subtitles. A sub-type of the latter are subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing (SDH) that contain not only the spoken dialogue but also additional information on music or sounds in the programme. This sub-type might address different audiences, such as SDH for children. Subtitles can be closed (closed captioning, i.e. they can be turned off) or open, i.e. they are embedded in the image (Díaz Cintas 2012: 347).

Second, “[d]ubbing consists of translating and lip-syncing the script of an audiovisual text, which is then performed by actors directed by a dubbing director and, where available, with advice from a linguistic consultant or dubbing assistant” (Chaume 2013: 109). It can occur in TV series, film translation or commercials. Third, voiceover “consists in presenting orally a translation in a TL [target language], which can be heard simultaneously over the SL [source language] voice” (Díaz Cintas and Orero 2012: 441) and is associated with documentaries, interviews or bonus tracks on DVDs.

Fourth, audio description (AD) “is a second audio track produced in conjunction with the original audio track, to provide descriptions of important visual elements of a film or television show for access by people who are blind or have low vision” (Udo and Fels 2009: 207). AD means to translate the moving images into words to support the storyline (Remael et al. 2016a). This includes AD at theatres or museums to provide access to visual information (Núñez 2015: 210). Fifth, audiointroductions, compared to AD, are not provided simultaneously to the film or production but beforehand. Audiointroductions help contextualise a film because they provide information on the style of a film, descriptions of characters, settings or cast (Maszerowska et al. 2014: 7).

Sixth, surtitles are captions “displayed above the stage during a live performance, giving a written translation of the audible words – though not all of them – which are being sung at any given moment” (Low 2002: 97), e.g. in opera houses.

Seventh, speech-to-text interpreting is intralingual interpreting of “spoken into written text for late-deafened or hard-of-hearing persons who have a spoken language as their first language” (Norberg et al. 2015: 36) supported by a keyboard that is connected to a screen (Norberg et al. 2015: 36-37). Eight, sign language interpreting typically “means interpreting to and from a signed language from […] a spoken language” (Leeson and Vermeerbergen 2012: 324) and occurs, for example, at conferences or public service settings.

Adapting texts to a target audience and a specific function is a crucial competence of translators, including the adaptation of texts to different target audiences and their specific needs. Hence, translation in the context of accessibility does not only mean to provide access to communication and culture, but also access to information, products and services beyond linguistic barriers and beyond modalities.

A considerable amount of literature (EMT 2009; EMT 2017; Eser 2015; PACTE 2003; Pym 2003) has been published on the competences of (professional) translators and the integral elements of these competences. For example, the European Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning differentiates between knowledge, skills and competence. Knowledge is the assimilation of facts, theories, practices and principles in a certain field, whereas skills refer to the use of this knowledge regarding problem solving and task completion. Competence is the ability to use not only knowledge but also skills and other abilities, such as social, personal or methodological abilities in all areas of life, including work, study and personal development (EQF 2008: 11).

In the language industry, the ISO 17100 standard specifies requirements for translation services and identifies six professional competences of translators: translation competence, linguistic and textual competence, research, information acquisition and processing, cultural competence, technical competence and domain competence (ISO 17100: 6). The European Master’s in Translation (EMT) reference framework for the competences applied to language professions or to translation also specifies six competences. The translation service provision competence in the centre is surrounded by language competence, intercultural competence, info mining competence, technological competence and thematic competence (EMT 2009: 4). The current EMT areas of competence encompass language and culture (transcultural and sociolinguistic awareness and communicative skills), translation (strategic, methodological and thematic competence), technology (tools and applications), personal and interpersonal as well as service provision competence (EMT 2017: 4). A study comparing the competence cards proposed by EMT, ISO, CIUTI and TransCert shows that these models cover comparable competences (Arevalillo et al. 2017 (in prep.)).

These lists of competences are crucial for competence-oriented translation curricula, especially for those programmes in which translator education should meet the expectations of the translation sector.

Moving on now to consider the competences of accessibility experts. Accessibility competence is the ability to use one’s knowledge, skills and other abilities to make a product or service accessible to as wide a range of people as possible. For example, in the audio description literature, authors mention that further competences in addition to translator’s competences are needed. These competences include “source text problem identification, transfer of cultural references, explicitation of what is implicit and vice versa, and task prioritisation” (Rodríguez Posadas 2010: 196). Transfer of cultural references and source text problem identification are part of a translator’s work in any case. However, the context and reception of the translation might be far more important in AVT compared to intramodal translation. Translators need to consider their working situation, tools, the functions of the language in the media depending on the genre and the recipients, e.g. their recipients’ age, reading habits or level of education. AVT and multimedia translation are characterised by multimodality, teamwork, work with intermediate texts as well as the dominance of three quality criteria, i.e. comprehensibility, accessibility and usability (Gambier and Gottlieb 2001: xi-xvi). Another challenge is audiovisual constraints. In dubbing, constraints are the need for synchrony between image, sound and text. In subtitling the constraint is the need to paraphrase, reduce the information and adapt speech to a form of writing (Remael 2012: 15). Translator training should cover these aspects to prepare students for professional life. Therefore, accessibility competence should be part of the education of professional (specialised) translators to make students fit for the market. Some translation programmes already develop their students’ accessibility competence and offer some sort of accessibility training through AVT and localisation. AVT, localisation and accessibility are intertwined because they all make information and entertainment available to as many people as possible. They eliminate barriers to content accessibility (Díaz Cintas et al. 2010: 14).

Transferable skills, also described as employability skills, play a crucial role in this respect. Transferable means that “having been learnt/practiced in one situation, they are flexible and can be applied to another task in another situation, albeit with some modification” (Denicolo and Reeves 2013: 6). These skills are transferable from studies to different work environments and include personal effectiveness such as time management. They also comprise, among others, communication skills and project organisation, teamwork, managing people and resources, using software or the ability to work independently and think outside the box (Denicolo and Reeves 2013: 1-14). Currently, translation curricula have to cater for different aspects of potential future job profiles. However, the general impression is that only a small number of translation graduates actually stay in the translation and language service industry (Heinisch 2017). Therefore, proposing a training model that helps broaden the students’ transferable skills would be desirable to prepare students for a variety of job profiles. Moreover, opening up to other disciplines would increase the employability and flexibility of translation graduates since they can offer additional services as professionals, e.g. accessibility assessment.

A model of accessibility competence is already provided by ACT above. These suggestions are consistent with an earlier study (European Commission 2014). Although this study’s model covers accessible tourism services only, it addresses similar topics such as knowledge of and definition of disabilities, types of disability, access requirements, barriers to accessibility and Design for All, strategic development of accessibility in business, principles of effective customer service, proper etiquette for dealing with persons with disabilities, recognising and responding appropriately to people using personal supports and service animals and assistive technology (European Commission 2014: 24). More ideas for accessibility competence are formulated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the European proposal for accessibility requirements for products and services (European Commission 2015) and the European Disability Strategy.

To sum up, accessibility is, at the same time, very broad but also very personal and stresses the individuality of people (European Commission 2014: 44). Accessibility competence is useful in many areas, ranging from media such as TV or film as well as product development such as website or software design, to events such as sports events, theatre and opera performances and public transport, e.g. information in train stations, to name just a few.

Further research may focus on other projects and initiatives addressing accessibility in translation programmes.


The article discussed the options of how accessibility and inclusion can be considered in translator education. An initial objective of the study was to identify accessibility as a component in translator education and training. Based on two case studies – the ACT project (Accessible Culture and Training) and the eTransFair project (How to Achieve Inclusive and Fit-for-Market Specialised Translator Training? – A Transferable Model for Training Institutions) – the paper discussed various options of how accessibility and inclusion can be considered in translator education. The principal findings of this study are that integration of accessibility into translation programmes can be grouped into two broad categories: inclusive translator education on the one hand, and training in accessibility and accessibility-related topics for translators, on the other. However, very little was found in the literature on the question of making translation programmes more accessible and inclusive or on integrating accessibility training in translation programmes.

This paper has argued that there are two approaches to accessibility as a component in specialised translator training. The first approach is to make translator programmes accessible. Inclusive translator education responds to the growing diversity of its student body. It may include information, learning material, teaching methods and modes of assessment that comply with accessibility requirements. In addition, it may encompass communication via more than one sensory channel to meet different student needs. Apart from universal design, assistive technology may play a pivotal role to make higher education accessible. In the long-term, new practices, policies and procedures may provide equal access to translator training. The second approach refers to accessibility as a subject taught in translation programmes. Here, accessibility is already (an indirect) part of translation programmes. Subjects such as audiovisual translation, localisation or (translation and translation-related) technology inherently cover accessibility topics, e.g. web accessibility guidelines, speech-to-text interpreting, subtitling for the deaf and hard-of-hearing or universal design. Generally, translators usually consider the target audience (and its needs) and remove linguistic (and, in audiovisual translation, also sensorial) barriers. In addition, the emerging role of accessibility experts who know how to make information and products accessible to a wide range of people stresses the importance of accessibility competence.

Accessibility competence is crucial for making translation students fit for the market. Accessibility requires us to question current translators’ competences, practices, training content and training methods. The current study found that there is no general strategy to make translation education and training more inclusive. To develop a full picture of accessibility and accessibility competence for and in translation (education), additional studies will be needed.


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About the author(s)

Barbara Heinisch is a teaching and research assistant at the Centre for Translation Studies and project manager for the English service at the Corporate Communications unit of the University of Vienna, Austria. She graduated in technical translation and conference interpreting from the same university. Her research interests include usability, accessibility, localisation, technical documentation, terminology and citizen science. Her doctoral thesis addresses the usability of UniVieTerm, the University of Vienna’s terminological database for higher education and university-specific terminology. Barbara participated in various European and Austrian research projects, including LISE (Legal Language Interoperability Services), a European project addressing terminology management workflows and MOA (My Own Agency) focusing on translation platforms serving as hubs for translators and clients. Recently, she is working on two Erasmus+ projects, including eTransFair (How to achieve innovative, inclusive and fit-for-market specialised translator training? – A transferable model for training institutions) aimed at the modernisation of specialised translator training and ACT (Accessible Culture and Training) which focuses on the accessibility of cultural events. Moreover, Barbara is involved in the European Language Resource Coordination network that aims at the identification, collection and processing of language resources for the further deployment of the European Commission’s machine translation system eTranslation. In addition, she participates in a Connecting Europe Facility project aimed at the adaptation of CEF eTranslation for the Austrian EU Council Presidency in the second half of 2018. On a national level, Barbara works on the special research programme “German in Austria. Variation – Contact – Perception” addressing the use, change and perception of German language in Austria. In this project, she is member of the project part which develops a research platform. Barbara also received a grant for the citizen science project “On everyone’s mind and lips – German in Austria”.

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©inTRAlinea & Barbara Heinisch (2019).
"Accessibility as a component in inclusive and fit-for-market specialised translator training"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: New Insights into Translator Training
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