Belfast Telegraph

Records from Troubles made accessible to blind people

A new initiative has begun to make historical records from the Troubles conflict accessible to people who are blind.

The Prison Memory Archive, which holds material and records video interviews with ex-prisoners and staff from the Long Kesh/ Maze Prison site and Armagh Women's Prison, has recently begun the process of making its material accessible to people who are blind or partially sighted.

It has developed video tours of the Maze prison, voiced by actors describing what the cells, hospitals and security gates look like, to give non-sighted people a taste of the architecture and environment there.

The test videos were played to workshops of both blind and sighted people at a special event in the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) on Tuesday.

Sarah McDonagh, a PHD researcher in audio visual translation at Queen's University Belfast, developed the descriptions for the videos.

She explained: "It's an important step to making records from the Troubles more accessible and broaden it out. Because it's a sensitive matter, for certain people they just don't want to talk about it. So it's a question of always having balance."

She said that particular challenges of avoiding bias come up with audio visual description in Northern Ireland, as different accents and pronunciations can be considered as belonging to different communities.

For instance, the pronunciation of the letter 'h' in the 'H block' can vary depending on background: "It's very interesting, in the recordings we used two different people and one person pronounced it 'haitch' but the other pronounced it 'aitch'," she said.

"Like a lot of things in Northern Ireland, it is still contested and it is bound by identity."

Another challenge was whether to use the voices of actors who would have been old enough to have experienced or remember events of the conflict first hand, or younger actors who would not.

Ms McDonagh explained: "I thought a lot about who should voice these. In the end, we had youthful voices and I liked how it works. It's something we'll still need to consider more."

Once played to the workshops of both blind and sighted people, many participants raised the issue of age, suggesting it may not be appropriate to include younger generations who were detached from the conflict.

However, others said it gave an extra layer of impartiality to the recordings.

Participants also highlighted the potential bias of pronouncing different letters or words, as well as using local accents instead of those from outside Northern Ireland.

It was also debated whether the actors' voices should only or mainly be men's voices due to them being more likely to be imprisoned than women were.

The audio visual descriptions developed as part of the project will now be subject to further consultation with the aim of publishing them online for the public to use in the near future.

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