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SMIL (Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language) solves accessibility requirements in the area of captioning video and synchronizing audio alternatives for multimedia productions. It is a simple scripting markup language based on the XML standard. It is similar to HTML and can be written and edited by hand in a text editor or by a SMIL authoring program such as MAGpie or GRiNS. Currently, Real and QuickTime support this technology. RealNetworks developed SMIL for the Web, and has created proprietary formats for use within a SMIL script. These are RealText (.rt), RealPix (.rp), RealVideo, RealAudio (.rm), and RealFlash. Each one of these files can be synchronized together in the main SMIL file.

Solutions

Making a SMIL presentation accessible is a matter either of learning the basics of the SMIL language together with an authoring tool such as GRiNS (intermediate developers) or learning to code SMIL by hand. For experienced web designers, learning SMIL is not exceptionally difficult because of its structural similarities to HTML. In fact, because it supports such a broad range of media types, SMIL offers its own solutions to many of the problems facing developers working toward accessibility. We recommend that anyone heavily involved in accessibility become familiar with SMIL and its uses. Below are some common types of SMIL presentations together with options for making them accessible:

A presentation synching audio narration with pictures or PowerPoint-type slides

NOTE: RealPresenter is an application created in the late 1990's by RealNetworks specifically for this task. Its most common use has been converting PowerPoint presentations for use on the Web. A basic accessibility need for such presentations is a text transcription of the audio. As of May 2002, RealPresenter is no longer supported by RealNetworks and is now called PresenterOne by Accordent. Its new, significantly higher, price is approximately $400.00.

Option 1

MAGpie offers the simplest option in most cases for generating text transcriptions for audio and video. See our material on video for information about how to use MAGpie to create these captions together with information on Required Hardware, Software, and/or Other Tools, Costs, Required Skills, Required Time Needed for Development, Degree Compliance Can Be Part of Initial Production, Special Problems & Issues, and Examples.

Option 2

The more challenging option is to code the text captions by hand. MAGpie works by creating a RealText (.rt) file that contains time code references to specific captions, allowing RealPlayer to display them at the appropriate times while the audio or video is playing. Creating this file by hand is simply a matter of determining the time when each caption should appear, and then inserting the caption together with its time code into the .rt file. The overall SMIL file can be written by hand or created with an editor such as GRiNS (recommended) or Fluition (not recommended). See below for more information about GRiNS and Fluition.

Required Hardware, Software, and/or Other Tools:

Any text editor will do, but a SMIL editor, such as SMILGen (free) is recommended if extensive authoring of SMIL will be required.

Costs:

Cost of authoring program if text editor not sufficient.

Current Authoring Programs:


Required Skills:

A familiarity with HTML or other markup language is needed. A basic knowledge of XML document syntax is helpful.

Required Time Needed for Development:

Hand coding for beginners will take approximately one minute per line of caption on the screen once the main SMIL file and the proper RealText file template are written.

Degree Compliance Can Be Part of Initial Production:

Not much time is saved if SMIL is created initially or afterwards. Time is saved when using a SMIL template that the creator understands and is comfortable with.

Special Problems & Issues:

Older versions of QuickTime do not support SMIL.

Examples:

RealVideo Example

A RealSlideShow-style presentation (images with written and/or spoken captions)

This type of presentation is similar to Solution 1 above, but makes the images the main focus instead of the audio narration. RealSlideShow, also by RealNetworks, is an application specifically designed for this purpose, offering the ability to synchronize pictures with text captions and audio commentary. For low vision users, a detailed audio description of each picture is necessary. (Note: As of May 2002, RealSlideShow is considered a legacy application, which means it is no longer supported by RealNetworks other than through documentation archived on their site.)

Option 1

The descriptions could be included as an audio file (RealSlideshow makes creating and attaching audio to slides very easy), or as text captions that will be read by a screen reader. Normally, captions in RealSlideShow presentations offer short identifiers such as the title of a photograph or where it was taken, so developers will need to re-think how the captions are written. The captions should offer as close an alternative to the visuals as possible, perhaps the greatest challenge involved in this process. In RealSlideshow the caption window can be re-sized to accommodate the space required for the longer descriptions.

Required Hardware, Software, and/or Other Tools:

RealSlideShow (no longer available from RealNetworks—users would need to already own a copy)

Costs:

N/A (this application was offered in a fully-functional free version)

Required Skills:

An understanding of RealSlideshow (no knowledge of SMIL is required)

Required Time Needed for Development:

New users can become familiar with this program within a matter of a few hours, as it operates according to an intuitive timeline-based interface. Some of the controls, such as how to adjust the overall dimensions of the presentation, are hard to find at first, but for the most part RealSlideshow is easy to learn.

Degree Compliance Can Be Part of Initial Production:

If the audio descriptions are included during initial production, a great amount of time can be saved. Also, since adding the descriptions usually entails resizing the overall presentation, users can save time by conceptualizing the presentation to meet accessibility requirements from the beginning.

Special Problems & Issues:

Lack of availability of RealSlideshow.

Option 2

Users can purchase the SMIL authoring application GRiNS (available from RealNetworks at http://www.realnetworks.com/products/editorpro/index.html ).

Required Hardware, Software, and/or Other Tools:

GRiNS

Costs:

approximately $400.00 (no educational discount is currently available, but inquire before purchasing in case the policy has changed)

Required Skills:

Basic knowledge of SMIL together with knowledge of how to use GRiNS.

Required Time Needed for Development:

Depends on the developer's skills and the length of the presentation. A developer who knows basic SMIL can become familiar with GRiNS in a couple of hours or less.

Degree Compliance Can Be Part of Initial Production:

Initial development of a template used to create a series of similar presentations would save substantial amounts of time.

Special Problems & Issues:

High cost of GRiNS.

Option 3

More advanced users can code the text descriptions by hand. See discussion of hand-coding SMIL above for information on Required Hardware, Software, and/or Other Tools, Costs, Required Skills, Required Time Needed for Development, Degree Compliance Can Be Part of Initial Production, Special Problems & Issues.

A presentation synching video with slides

This type of presentation will need to incorporate captions for video for hearing-impaired users, and audio descriptions for visually-impaired users. See the discussions of captioning with MagPie (in our documentation covering video) and of creating audio descriptions for more information on Required Hardware, Software, and/or Other Tools, Costs, Required Skills, Required Time Needed for Development, Degree Compliance Can Be Part of Initial Production, Special Problems & Issues

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