University of Hawaii at Manoa | The UniDescription Project

Brett Oppegaard

Associate Professor, University of Hawai‘i

University of Hawaii at Manoa

University of Hawai'i at Manoa School of Communications 2550 Campus Road, Crawford Hall 310 Honolulu, HI 96822-2217 United States

MUSE Research Innovation Award 2020



The UniDescription Project, an Open-Access, Open-Source Effort to Audio Describe the World!



The UniDescription Project really began in the fall of 2014, when a suitcase-sized box full of U.S. National Park Service brochures arrived at my office at the University of Hawaii.

I had worked with the NPS on various digital-media experiments before, and I had talked thoroughly about the project with NPS staff, before it was awarded seed funding. But I don’t think I fully understood the enormity of the associated issues and challenges around Audio Description until I saw that box and its contents.

Testing Audio Description- University of Hawaii, Honolulu, HI (2019), by Brett Oppegaard


For each of the roughly 400 NPS sites around the country, there is a paper brochure about the site and its national importance, filled with visual imagery, including texts, photographs, illustrations, collages, and maps. That brochure is the primary way people orient themselves to the place, and it is completely inaccessible to anyone who is blind or visually impaired.

In short, our project by necessity had to create an open-source and open-access toolkit for Audio Description production. We had to identify the best practices available around the world but also then experiment with those to determine empirical validity. We had to develop engaging and inclusive training systems, as collaborations between sighted and blind people.


Testing Audio Description- Muir Woods National Monument, California (2018), by Dr. Thomas Conway, University of Hawaii


As of 2021, we have worked with more than 100 NPS sites around the country, to bring more accessible media to patrons through Audio Description. But we – and the rest of the world’s public media creators – still have a lot of work to do to provide better and more-equivalent access to all.




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