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Technoleads: Making digital culture more accessible

Entrepreneur’s corner | May 27, 2021

Through its elokutio™ system, Technoleads plans to extend the use of audio description to a wide range of sectors – from entertainment to culture to information – both here and abroad. The objective is to open the virtual world up to those who live with visual impairments.

For most of us, watching a movie on Netflix or watching a video on a digital platform is something we take for granted. By contrast, for those living with visual impairment, this is a nearly impossible mission because of the scarcity of audio description.

Audio description entails making visual content accessible by use of an off-screen voice, usually placed between elements of dialogue or other important audio elements of a movie, show, etc.

It may seem like this technique, which has been around for some fifty years, would be simple to apply, but that is not the case, as explained by Stéphane Éric Brisebois, President of Technoleads.

First and foremost, the description has to be inserted at the right moment, without interrupting the flow of the scene or competing with the dialogue, and it has to be done in a way that respects the tone of the work.

Faster and delivered more effectively

Traditionally, artists working in this field functioned by trial and error, moving forward and backward through scenes as required, which often took a very long time. In addition, the narrators had to go to a studio, and there had to be large enough gaps in conversation among the characters to insert their interventions. On top of that, it all had to be combined with the audio from the original version. The result: Neither producers nor broadcasters were really interested in adding this type of value to their works.

However, building on a concept developed by the Computer Research Institute of Montréal (CRIM), Technoleads created elokutio™, a tool that automates the whole process and integrates the input into the content in a natural and fluid manner.

Working in close collaboration with a number of universities, the CRIM devoted more than seven years of research and development to developing its concept. According to Stéphane Éric Brisebois: “The main benefit is that it reduces the production cycle, which is a considerable advantage from both a financial perspective and in terms of facilitating and accelerating access to the works.”

With elokutio™, the author produces the narration and listens to the result in real time. This makes it possible to immediately verify whether it has been properly inserted. “By making their task easier, we focus more on the writing talent of our authors, who we choose because of their writing skills and creativity.” Being able to use a synthetic voice rather than a human voice is another advantage in terms of speed.

In 20 minutes, we can create what it would otherwise take many hours to do in studio.

Daunting challenge accepted

At the beginning of the pandemic, the Mnistère de l’Éducation du Québec mandated a public broadcaster to produce 150 educational programs between April and June for students at the elementary and secondary levels who would be learning from home. Only Technoleads had the ability to maintain this rate of production. In addition to meeting the challenge, Technoleads identified the tone and the words required for distance learning. “Sometimes, we would receive the final version of the program at 8:00 p.m., and we had to deliver the final product by 7:00 a.m. the next morning.”

Technoleads has carried out hundreds of projects since its solution was launched in 2018, primarily for large broadcasters. Stéphane Éric Brisebois continues: “We had the advantage of being in a local market that is conducive to audio description. Through the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which imposes a quota on major networks during peak viewing hours, Canada has been subject to inclusive policies in this sector for two years. In the meantime, the European Community has gone even further, adopting a generalized policy respecting universal access, which goes beyond the television sector.”

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Time slots on all types of screens

The Parc Extension-based business is extremely interested in what is going on overseas, and its business model is international in scope. By way of example, the President looks to the entertainment sector, where online distribution platforms like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+ and others are in full expansion mode. “They offer extensive catalogues, and the English version of their in-house productions integrates audio description on a near-systematic basis. However, the non-English-speaking visually impaired community is left to fend for itself.” The team behind elokutio™ is well positioned to meet this need, because it uses synthetic voices that are available in many languages.

For this business with a dozen or so employees, audio description is not exclusively seen as a simple entry point for a visually-impaired target audience.

Brisebois points out that the population is aging, and more and more, we hear older individuals say that they actually listen to the television more than actually watching it. Consider also those with attention deficit disorders, or even immigrants who are just learning a new language.

From a business perspective, the entertainment sector is a preferred target for Technoleads, but for these authors and creators, the work doesn’t stop there. Stéphane Éric Brisebois explains, illustrating his point with a current example: “The Internet offers a cornucopia of attractions for us. We have access to more and more online content, especially since the pandemic started. However, for those who live with impaired vision, the opposite is true. The educational and cultural spheres are among the other sectors where we can have a much more significant impact and contribute to their inclusion.”

How PME MTL made a difference for Technoleads

“We have been working with PME MTL for a long time in connection with finances, and also whenever we are presented with business-related issues. For example, when the time came to expand our team, we relied on their advisors to assist with identifying subsidy programs, posting jobs and even participating in the selection process. We also called on their help for quantifying our target markets and finalizing our business plan. In addition, PME MTL put us in contact with key resources in the first market that we targeted. We have found that PME MTL gives us access to experts in every stage of growth.”

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Technoleads is supported by PME MTL Centre-Est.

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