Audio-describing the Maze and Long Kesh prison
: A practice-based approach

  • Sarah McDonagh

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The video tours of the Maze and Long Kesh Prison serve as powerful visible reminders of Northern Ireland’s divided past. And yet, these video tours are not accessible to blind and partially sighted people in their original format. Taking this as its starting point, this thesis adopts a practice-based approach, which involves the experimentation and development of a series of descriptive guides of the video tours of the Maze and Long Kesh Prison for primarily blind and partially sighted audiences in Northern Ireland as part of the oral history project The Prisons Memory Archive.

As one of the main sites of imprisonment in Northern Ireland during the thirty-year conflict, known as “the Troubles”, the Maze and Long Kesh Prison remains a divisive symbol of Northern Ireland’s recent past. Creating access to the PMA video tours of the Maze and Long Kesh Prison therefore necessitates a context-driven approach to accessibility that takes on board conflicting interpretations of the past through the integration of PMA participant recordings alongside the descriptive guides. This, in turn, forces a reassessment of some of the norms and conventions governing audio description research and practice, which recognises the important role the audio describer plays in shaping audiovisual media’s translation and reception through their spoken delivery, detailed descriptions, and word choice.

Through an exploratory study and main reception study with both blind and partially sighted as well as non-blind audiences across Northern Ireland, this research details the practicalities of a context-driven approach to the description of the PMA video tours of the Maze and Long Kesh Prison. To achieve this aim, a predominantly qualitative approach is adopted, which makes use of both questionnaires and audience feedback via focus group discussions and semi-structured interviews to assess and determine where and how the descriptive guides can best meet the needs of their potential end users. The results from both studies demonstrate the possibilities of alternative ways of practice in audio description.

More broadly, the results of this research project widen the field of media accessibility studies and provide an additional lens through which to examine audio description norms and conventions. Moreover, the results of this research suggest the potential of alternative ways of practice in audio description that have regard for the sensitivities at play in the presentation of audiovisual material.

Date of AwardDec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsAHRC Northern Bridge DTP
SupervisorDavid Johnston (Supervisor) & Neil Sadler (Supervisor)


  • Audio description
  • Maze and Long Kesh prison
  • media accessibility
  • contested heritage
  • The Troubles
  • translation studies
  • audiovisual translation
  • Northern Ireland
  • reception studies
  • oral history

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