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>> AMBER HINDS: A few announcements before we get started with our presentation. If you have not been to Meetup before, we do have a Facebook group that you can connect between meetups. If you just go and you search WordPress Accessibility, or if you go to facebook.com/groups/wordpress.accessibility, you can find the meetup group. It’s a great way to connect with other people, ask questions, share things you’re working on, get feedback. Also, if you are wanting to know about upcoming events, you can find those on Meetup, as we mentioned, but also on our website at equalizedigital.com/meetup.
A frequently asked question that we get asked pretty much at every meetup is whether or not these are recorded. Yes, they are recorded. The recordings will be posted on our website. You can find all the past recordings there on that meetup page, and it takes us about two weeks to get corrected captions and a full transcript and then they go up. That’s about the delay you should expect. If you wanted to get notified when the recordings are available or about other upcoming events, please join our email list.
We’re starting to get better about sending reminders before events, but otherwise, we definitely send two emails a month with some links to upcoming events, the links to the recordings, and some other news from around the web. You can join that at equalizedigital.com/focus-state. We are seeking additional sponsors for the meetup this evening. [inaudible] does not have a sponsor currently, so I’m your sponsor for today. If anyone is interested in helping us cover the cost of live captions, please reach out. Unfortunately, the WordPress Foundation does not have the funds to cover live captions for meetup groups.
It’s something where they’ve told us we have to go out and find our own sponsors. If you are interested, you can reach out to us at email@example.com. There’s also more information on the meetup web page on our website. Also, you can use that email address if you have any other feedback. If you’re interested in speaking, we are booking speakers for April on right now, so we would love to talk to you and hear ideas about what you want to share. You don’t have to be a “expert.” We love anybody coming, sharing information that they have related to accessibility.
Who am I? If you haven’t been before and you’re just meeting me, I’m Amber Hinds. I’m the CEO of a company called Equalize Digital. We are the organizers of the WordPress Accessibility Meetup. We’re a Certified B Corporation, a WordPress VIP agency, and a corporate member of the International Association of Accessibility Professionals. We also have a WordPress plugin called Accessibility Checker that scans for accessibility problems and provides reports on your WordPress dashboard so you can try and fix those problems the right way. It’s not one of those overlay tools, but it’s something that can help you as you’re doing manual audits to speed up the auditing process.
We do have a sponsor who I want to thank today, Empire Caption Solutions. They have very generously donated their services for creating our post-event transcripts and the caption file so that we can have accurate captions and a full transcript for the event when we post the video after the fact. Empire Caption Solutions. In addition to that, they do some audio description services. They do sign language interpretation services for live events and they have just been great to work with. We highly recommend them. You can learn more about them at empirecaptions.com and if you feel like tweeting them, thank you.
We always like to encourage people to thank our sponsors so that they want to keep doing it. You can find them on Twitter at EmpireCaption. We have a couple of events that I want to talk about. Just put a note on your calendar. Our next WordPress Accessibility Meetup will be on Thursday, February 2nd, at 10:00 AM central time, and that will be on the anatomy of an accessible navigation menu: Steve Jones. Actually, our CTO, my business partner, is going to be talking about what an accessible navigation menu looks like. He’ll probably be sharing some code, so it may be more of a developer-friendly meetup, but you don’t have to be a developer to attend.
Then we’re trying something new in February. We’ve had a lot of people tell us that they don’t know how to use different screen readers to test. We are partnering with Carroll Center for the Blind. We will not be listed on the meetup page. They are not part of the meetup. Carroll Center is charging us and we will have live captions for them, but we’re not having sponsors. We are going to charge for these webinars. We’re going to see how that goes so that we can pay the Carroll Center, but there will be two different webinars that are two hours long. The first one is accessibility testing with the NVDA, which is a Windows screen reader. If you are a Windows user, this would be the webinar for you.
That’s going to be on Thursday, February 16th, from 10:00 AM to noon central time. Then the following week on Thursday, February 23rd, there will be accessibility testing with voiceover. If you are a Mac user, that would be the webinar for you. If you want to learn how to use the specific screen reader, what keyboard shortcuts to use. Then Nick Corbett, our instructor, will be doing some demo testing and showing how you can do testing with the screen reader. If this is something that you’re interested in learning, either adding a service or getting better at doing, we highly recommend attending one of these or sharing them.
Join our email list. I was hoping to have the registration pages up today, but I don’t have them quite up. They should be up very early this week or mid this week. I guess we’re early this week right now. Please, do consider attending these and we’ll send out more information. As I mentioned, they’re not part of the meetup program because of some of the restrictions around charging and being able to pay speakers. You can’t pay speakers in the meetup. If you have questions, you can reach out to me directly and I can link you to it once it’s available or it’ll go out on our email list.
Then the next meetup in this time slot, Thursday, March 2nd, I’m going to share a talk that I did at the recurring revenue [inaudible] that I got a lot of good feedback from, and I thought people outside of that conference would be interested. It’s going to be growing revenue with accessibility monitoring and remediation plans. Today’s speaker is Joel Snyder. I’m super excited to introduce him. I’m popping up a spotlight so you can see him now as well. Dr. Snyder is known internationally as one of the world’s first audio describers.
He’s a pioneer in the field of audio description and really translating visual images to vivid language for the benefit of people who are blind or have a vision impairment. I had the opportunity to hear him speak on a podcast, and I was really impressed with everything he had to share. It was incredibly fascinating for me as an accessibility professional who is aware of guidelines in web context accessibility guidelines about audio description but hasn’t had a lot of direct experience with them. I thought everything was for exciting to hear him share that, and I think he’s going to be a great presentation for us today. Welcome, Joel, and thank you.
>> JOEL SNYDER: Oh my goodness. Thank you so much, Amber and Paula.
>> AMBER: I’m going to stop sharing so you can take over.
>> JOEL: All right, and I will share. Yes, it’s always nice to share.
>> AMBER: For everyone just real quick before you jump in, there is a Q&A widget, so if you are able to put questions in Q&A, I can pass those on to Joel at the end. It is a little bit easier for me to keep track of them if you put them in the Q&A section. I do try to watch the chat, but things can get buried in the chat. Thank you so much, Joel, and I’ll let you take over.
>> JOEL: Thank you, Amber. Thank you, Paula. Thank you to everybody involved with the WordPress Accessibility Meetup. This is fun. I’ve got a slide up right now on the screen that is mostly text. How does one make text accessible to folks who are blind or have low vision? How do you audio describe text? You read it aloud, so I’m going to practice what I preach. That’s what I’m going to do.
Audio Description Associates, LLC, and the American Council of the Blind’s Audio Description Project present Audio Description: If Your Eyes Could Speak with Joel Snyder, PhD, president, Audio Description Associates, LLC, and founder of and senior consultant to the Audio Description Project for the American Council of the Blind. WordPress Accessibility Meetup. Monday, January 15th, 2023, 7:00 to 8:00 PM CST. At the bottom, four words, American Audio Description Symbol, and there is an image there, the audio description logo, a white square within which are two letters in bold, black type, an A and a D. The left side of that A is tilted just a bit to the right, and to the right of the curve in the D, three curved lines.
Why do I say that? Sometimes describers will go on a bit and say something like, “Oh, they represent sound waves. Don’t you know?” Oh, that’s true enough, but there’s nothing on the screen that says that for sighted people. Why would you say that for an audience of people who are blind or have low vision as though they might not know what curved lines could represent? Even a person who’s congenitally blind, blind from birth could very well know what curved lines represent. They live in the world. They grow up in the world. [laughs] They talk. They learn along with everybody just as we all do. At best, it’s unnecessary. At worst, it could even seem patronizing or condescending perhaps.
We describe, we don’t explain. We show, we don’t tell. That’s already there. A little bit about our audience for audio description and a little bit about the fundamentals best practices for audio description. What better way to begin a session on audio description than with some description of two visual images, comics, cartoons, which actually play a part in the history of audio description? It’s that time to get into that so much right now, but here’s the first one. Oh goodness. Look at that. Now, the image is way too small. Who put this together? Oh, can you read that caption even? I’m leaning in. I can’t even– oh, I am so sorry. Well, there’s method to my madness.
I’m making the point that audio description is good for sighted people when the presenter forgot to enlarge the screen, or the presenter just doesn’t describe images that are being shown in a PowerPoint. Or maybe you’re 200 feet away from the screen, you can’t really see it clearly. Audio description is for lots of folks. Let’s begin. “The Fan” by John McPherson. On a stage, at left, a woman in a flowing gown, her hands clasped in front of her, stands before a kneeling man in a doublet and feathered cap. He croons, “Why dost thy heart turn away from mine?”
At right, a man at a microphone speaks, “Basically, the guy with the goofy hat is ticked because this babe has been runnin’ around with the dude in the black tights.” That caption reads, “Many opera companies now provide interpreters for the culturally impaired.” A little bit of description humor for you there. You know what? When I first saw this thing, I looked at that guy kneeling on the stage. I wasn’t sure what that is in his– It looks like there’s an axe in his head, doesn’t it? Maybe she’s upset with him. Oh, no. Had I been listening to the audio description? Ah, it’s just a feathered cap. That’s a good thing. Oh, and that’s a doublet he’s wearing. All right.
See, I’m an old-sighted guy and listening to the audio description, I would get a little something out of that. One more. “Red and Rover” by Brian Basset. In the first panel, Red, a red-haired eight-year-old boy is lying on the ground outside against the tree. He’s facing away from us, and his right arm is around Rover, a short-haired dog, a lab-beagle mix. A leaf falls. Red announces, “Brown.” In the next panel, as Rover’s tail taps, “Orange, red, yellow.” Next panel, “Red, orange, yellow, yellow.” Finally, Red turns toward us eyes wide and tells us, “Dogs only see in black and white.”
The final panel depicts a more full view of the tree, leaves scattered about the pair as Red continues. “Yellow, orange, brown, red, orange.” There you have it, ladies and gentlemen, audio description for dogs, eh, see everybody or animals even. I think that’s right. Dogs have limited color vision. I don’t think they’re colorblind exactly or only see in black and white. The color vision is limited though. I’ll tell you, someone saw this once and said, “Joel, that’s cute, but what’s the point? People who are blind don’t know from color. Why are you emphasizing color? It doesn’t make–” and I had to stop them.
First of all, our audience for audio description is not simply people who are totally blind or congenitally blind, blind from birth with no light perception. No, no, no, that’s a small part of our audience, actually. There is a wide spectrum of vision loss and all of those folks enjoy audio description. Most vision loss is age-related. Folks who are losing their vision later in life, that kind of thing. All of those folks, well, they knew color as a hue, as a frequency of light. You know what? Even somebody who is totally blind, no light perception, again, they grow up in the world and they know color in maybe a different way, not as a hue or a frequency of light. No, they know it because colors have meaning in the world.
In this country, green means money, or envy. Red is love or blonde. Yellow is cowardice, et cetera, et cetera. Color can be useful. It’s not to overdo it, not to overdo anything really, but it’s not to ignore it either. Another point about our audience for audio description, that’s always a good place to start. As a formal, ongoing service for people who are blind or have low vision, audio description, AD, was first developed here in the United States, in the Washington, DC area, which is where I’m from in 1981 by the Washington Ear, a radio reading service in conjunction with Arena Stage, a professional theater company here in Washington. It began with performing arts, live theater.
I was already a volunteer reader at the Ear throughout the ’70s. A professional voice talent, an actor, and an English teacher. I quite naturally became one of the first audio describers in this program, the Ear’s program, the world’s first ongoing audio description service. It has been over 40 years now that I’ve been working with description and been quite fortunate to help performing arts groups, media producers, museums, schools, libraries, websites, all kinds of venues around the world develop audio description programs and learn about audio description. Wrote the book on audio description, which is in six languages now, as well as braille.
I have my own company where I focus on description in multiple formats, media, including web-based media, museums to a great extent, and training worldwide. Indeed, I have described over four decades, thousands of arts events. You know what? I’ve also provided audio description at weddings, at parades, at rodeos, circuses, sporting events. I’ve even described funerals. Wherever the visual image is important to an understanding and appreciation of what’s going on. Let’s start here with a definition that I’ve pulled together. Audio description is a verbal version of the visual. The visual is made verbal, and aural, A-U-R-A-L, he points to his ear, and oral, O-R-A-L, he points to his mouth.
Using words, as few words as possible, in my humble opinion, words that are succinct, vivid, imaginative, and objective audio description conveys the visual image that is not fully accessible, particularly for people who are blind or have low vision. Yes, I think of audio description. It really is all about the words spoken aloud. It’s a kind of literary art form. A type of poetry, I think. Maybe even a haiku. Again, as few words as possible. For this audience, primarily folks who are blind, some of you may not know, the American Foundation for the Blind puts that number at over 31 million Americans who are either blind or have trouble seeing even with correction. That’s 8% of the population. That’s a lot of folks.
Add to that their family, their friends, all kinds of people. Oh, golly. People on the autism spectrum, people with attention deficit disorder, people learning a new language. Really anybody who wants to have a more vivid, full perspective on the visual. You know what? It’s for the rest of us. Sighted folks where the visual image is not fully realized. Sighted folks who see but may not observe. It’s useful for anyone who wants to really notice and fully appreciate that perspective on a visual event. You know what? I’m going to stop talking for a second, and I’m going to help you see what description is all about by having you figuratively close your eyes. You don’t have to actually close your eyes. It’s a good way to help you see.
I’ll explain that. What I’m going to share with you now is an excerpt of a major motion picture, one of my favorites, The Color of Paradise, about 25 years old. I want you to experience it as a blind person would have experienced it back then in a movie theater before there was audio description for movies. It’s fairly ubiquitous now, which is great, but back then, there wasn’t any audio description. I’m just going to share this little excerpt. It’s a professional film. It’s got a professional soundtrack. I want you to experience it as a totally blind person would have experienced it. Should be no problem. You’ll listen and you’ll get what you can. Shouldn’t be a problem. Let’s give it a try. Let’s listen.
[bird sounds and soft grunting throughout]
>> JOEL: Wasn’t that great? It’s my favorite film. Oh boy, that was long. Oh my goodness. What was going on? Anybody? Can you imagine you’re a blind person in the movie theater sitting there, and this part comes on? The birds. What’s going on? What’s going on? After about 30 seconds, I’m out of there, or I’m with my elbow to my friend next to me, “What’s going on? What’s going on? What’s going on? What’s going on?” He tries to tell me, and that disturbs other people in the movie theater. It’s a mess. Oh boy. What to do?
>> JOEL: There it goes again. Look at that. More. Stop this. What to do with all of that? I’ll tell you what, I’m going to play it again. We’re going to be here till next Thursday. Is that okay, Amber? I’m going to play it again, but this time I’m going to add audio description, and this is audio description that I wrote and voiced for the film when it was broadcast on national television. I think it was ABC 20 years ago, something like that, when description was just bubbling up on television and video. I’m going to add the audio description track, but I don’t know, that was pretty tough. Will it really help? Who knows? All right. You’re still blind. You can’t see anything. I’m not going to show you any images, just the original soundtrack with audio description. Let’s try to see by listening.
>> VOICE-OVER: Mohammed kneels and taps his hands through the thick ground cover of brown, curled leaves.
>> VOICE-OVER: A scrawny nestling struggles on the ground near Mohammed’s hand. His palm hovers above the baby bird. He lays his hand lightly over the tiny creature. Smiling, Mohammed curls his fingers around the chick and scoops it into his hands. He stands and strokes its nearly featherless head with a fingertip. Mohammed starts as the bird nips his finger. He taps his finger on the chick’s gaping beak. He tilts his head back, then drops it forward. Mohammed tips the chick into his front shirt pocket. Wrapping his legs and arms around a tree trunk, Mohammed climbs.
>> VOICE-OVER: He latches onto a tangle of thin upper branches, his legs flail for a foothold. Mohammed stretches an arm between a fork in the trunk of the tree and wedges in his head and shoulder. His shoes slip on the rough bark. He wraps his legs around the lower trunk, then uses his arms to pull himself higher. He rises into thicker foliage and holds onto tangles of smaller branches. Gaining his footing, Mohammed stands upright and cocks his head to one side. An adult bird flies from a nearby branch. Mohammed extends his open hand. He touches a branch and runs his fingers over wide, green leaves.
He pats his hand down the length of the branch. His fingers trace the smooth bark of the upper branches, search the network of connecting tree limbs, and discover their joints. Above his head, Mohammed’s fingers find a dense mass of woven twigs, a bird’s nest. Smiling, he removes the chick from his shirt pocket and drops it gently into the nest beside another fledgling. He rubs the top of the chick’s head with his index finger. Mohammed wiggles his finger like a worm and taps a chick’s open beak. Smiling, he slowly lowers his hand.
>> JOEL: Oh, that’s nice. That’s nice. Did that feel shorter somehow? What is that about? I don’t know. Wow. Audio description. The power of words to create images in the mind’s eye. That’s what it’s all about. You know what? I’m going to make you sit through this again. I’m sorry, Amber, but this is just what I’m going to do, but here’s the nice part. I like this part. I get to restore sight to everybody on the call. If you had sight to begin with when we started. I’m going to restore sight to you. I’m going to show you the image because I want you to see what it was that we described and think about the words used. Would you have chosen other words?
Would you have described everything that’s there or that we described or would you describe other things? Description is often about what not to describe. We have to leave out a great deal. Let’s try it and you know what? In about 15 seconds, I think some of you’re going to be surprised. You didn’t hear any description of Mohammed himself because that had happened earlier in the film. This is an excerpt from the middle of the film, but just from listening to the description, how he interacted with this tree, maybe you had a little hint about what he’s like and people will say, “He’s agile. He can climb a tree. He’s empathetic. He likes animals.”
All of that’s true, but what people don’t oftentimes think of, maybe they weren’t listening to the description so closely. You’re going to be surprised at about 15 seconds, I think, when you have a chance to see the images with the audio description and the original soundtrack. Let’s give it a try. He said. This happened before. Come on now. Here it is.
>> VOICE-OVER: Mohammed kneels and taps his hands through the thick ground cover of brown, curled leaves.
[chirping and rustling]
>> VOICE-OVER: A scrawny nestling struggles on the ground near Mohammed’s hand. His palm hovers above the baby bird. He lays his hand lightly over the tiny creature. Smiling, Mohammed curls his fingers around the chick and scoops it into his hands. He stands and strokes its nearly featherless head with a fingertip.
>> JOEL: Mohammed’s blind.
>> VOICE-OVER: Mohammed starts as the bird nips his finger. He taps his finger on the chick’s gaping beak. He tilts his head back, then drops it forward. Mohammed tips the chick into his front shirt pocket. Wrapping his legs and arms around a tree trunk, Mohammed climbs.
>> VOICE-OVER: He latches onto a tangle of thin upper branches, his legs flail for a foothold. Mohammed stretches an arm between a fork in the trunk of the tree and wedges in his head and shoulder. His shoes slip on the rough bark.
>> VOICE-OVER: He wraps his legs around the lower trunk, then uses his arms to pull himself higher. He rises into thicker foliage and holds onto tangles of smaller branches. Gaining his footing, Mohammed stands upright and cocks his head to one side.
[chirping and flutter]
>> VOICE-OVER: An adult bird flies from a nearby branch. Mohammed extends his open hand. He touches a branch and runs his fingers over wide, green leaves.
>> VOICE-OVER: He pats his hand down the length of the branch. His fingers trace the smooth bark of the upper branches, search the network of connecting tree limbs, and discover their joints.
>> VOICE-OVER: Above his head, Mohammed’s fingers find a dense mass of woven twigs, a bird’s nest.
>> VOICE-OVER: Smiling, he removes the chick from his shirt pocket and drops it gently into the nest beside another fledgling. He rubs the top of the chick’s head with his index finger. Mohammed wiggles his finger like a worm and taps a chick’s open beak. Smiling, he slowly lowers his hand.
>> JOEL: You know what? I have the audio description script here for you and I wanted to just point out a few things. It’s annotated. To bring out a couple of things. He kneels and taps his hands through the thick ground cover of brown curled leaves. What are we showing you? We don’t tell you it’s autumn. We show you it’s autumn and let listeners figure that out in their brains. Blind people have brains that are better than mine half of the time, whatever. Color. Again, color’s been shown to be important to people with low vision, even people who are congenitally blind. A little bit later, there’s just two seconds of gasping and chirping, and then right at that point, I want to come in with the next description.
Timing is critical in the crafting of description because we weave descriptive language around a film’s sound elements. He curls his fingers around the chick and scoops it into his hands. Words. He doesn’t grab it. He doesn’t pick it up. He scoops it. Vivid verbs help conjure images in the mind’s eye. Then a bit later, he starts as the bird nips his finger. He taps his finger on the chick’s gaping beak. He tilts his head back then drops it forward. Mohammed tips the chick into his front shirt pocket. Taps, tilts, tips. Poetry, huh? Description like much poetry is written to be heard. Alliteration adds variety, helps to maintain interest. An adult bird flies from a nearby branch. Here’s this important point.
What to include. Lots of things going on, far more than you could possibly include. Describe with words in the time available. This image is important because the adult bird returns in the next scene. Ah, maybe a bit of foreshadowing on the part of the film director. We have to clue into that. We have to understand a little bit about– develop some filmic literacy, or visual literacy, or performing arts literacy, or whatever. We got to understand what the director, what the artist is showing us, and how. Then at the end, finally, he rubs the top of the chick’s head with his index finger. Not his pinky, not his thumb, no. His index finger. Be specific. Precision creates images.
At the very end, he wiggles his finger like a worm, like a worm. A simile. Similes paint pictures. Interestingly enough, there’s no worm there. We’re all about saying what we see. There’s no worm there, but sometimes if you use your imagination and conjure the image of something that’s not even there, you help people see what is there and what’s going on. The wiggling of the finger. I want to take another couple of minutes and speak to blind kids, in particular, and blindness. It wasn’t too long ago I did a workshop with daycare workers, reading teachers at a class of toddlers, a number of whom who were blind. We developed what I think represents a new application for audio description literacy.
We experimented with more descriptive language to use when working with children and picture books. Now, think about that. These books rely on pictures to tell the story, but now, a teacher trained in audio description techniques would never simply hold up a picture of a red ball and read the text that’s printed, “See the ball” and turn the page. No, no, no, no, especially not a class where you have some blind kids and low-vision kids. No. I think the teacher might add, “That ball is red just like a fire engine. I think that ball’s as large as one of you are. It’s as round as the sun, a bright red circle or sphere.” Now, what has the teacher done? Introduced new vocabulary, invited comparisons. Used a simile with toddlers.
By using audio description, obviously, you make the book accessible to kids who have low vision or are blind, and you help develop more sophisticated language skills in all kids and anybody listening. We say a picture is worth a thousand words. Maybe, but the audio describer probably would say, “No. A few well-chosen words conjure vivid and lasting images.” Speaking of kids who are blind, for six years, I ran a program, and part of our work was to provide audio description for the first time ever for Sesame Street. We all know Sesame Street. While that was happening, I got a letter from a 35-year-old woman watching Sesame Street. I thought, “That’s odd.” No, not so odd.
Is a blind woman. Totally blind from birth. She remembered Sesame Street as a child without audio description. She loved the sounds and the music, and the funny words and such, but now with audio description, she could follow along with her sighted child and appreciate all the antics of Bert and Ernie and Elmo, all the other denizens of Sesame Street. We also did it in Spanish for Plaza Sésamo. Did their DVDs. I can’t tell you about all of that without sharing with you a little bit of Elmo’s World with audio description.
>> ELMO: That’s Elmo’s world.
>> VOICE-OVER: Elmo stands beside Dorothy’s fishbowl.
>> ELMO: Hi, this is Elmo’s World. Oh, Elmo’s so very happy to see you. Oh, and so is Dorothy. Say hello, Dorothy.
>> VOICE-OVER: An orange goldfish.
>> ELMO: [laughs] Oh, guess what Elmo’s thinking about today? Yea-tuh-ta-da.
>> VOICE-OVER: Elmo glances around himself.
>> ELMO: Hear that? Yes.
>> VOICE-OVER: Elmo dances to a purple door and opens it. Outside people and puppets sit on steps on Sesame Street.
>> ELMO: Oh, look.
>> SPEAKER 1: Look, it’s Elmo.
>> ELMO: Door, can you please help Elmo see all of his Sesame Street friends?
>> VOICE-OVER: The doorway stretches wide.
>> ELMO: Oh, thank you.
>> VOICE-OVER: The people and puppets wave at Elmo. Elmo turns around.
>> ELMO: Oh, Sesame Street.
>> VOICE-OVER: Oscar pops up.
>> OSCAR: Hey, get lost.
>> ELMO: Oscar. You know, Sesame Street.
>> VOICE-OVER: Elmo and the others dance. Now a bird puppet flies over Sesame Street. Allan dances with a broom. A man in ballet tights jumps up and down with letters. People and puppets bounce. Four cartoon baby dragons appear. A man dressed in a big letter M dances on a beach. A bat puppet follows the count. Maria kisses Luis on the cheek. A blonde woman plays piano. A cartoon orange wears sunglasses. Grover, the waiter drops dishes. Big Bird plays with children. Rosita dances with sheep puppets. A boy wears a red mask and yellow cape. Alphaboy. Bird struts. Cartoon men dance. A bearded man dances with a cane. A woman plays guitar. Ernie holds a banana in his ear. Telly does an Egyptian dance.
A woman claps while puppets sway. Zoey dances with a boy and girl. A man sits at a piano and squeezes a rubber ducky. A man plays an electric guitar. Gordon waves from a window. Cookie Monster hugs a doll. Now Dorothy swims by a small green lamppost in her bowl. A sign: Sesame Street.
>> ELMO: Look, Dorothy’s been thinking about Sesame Street too.
>> JOEL: Another little something with regard to children– Oh, stop that. I’m losing control here. Another little something about kids’ programming on television and audio description. There’s a reason why Fred Rogers – remember Fred Rogers – would always tell the audience of Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood when he was feeding his fish. He received a letter from a blind viewer named Katie, who asked him to. Katie’s letter reads, “Dear Mr. Rogers, please say when you are feeding your fish because I worry about them. I can’t see if you’re feeding them. So please say when you’re feeding them out loud. Katie, age five.” Her father added, “Katie is blind and she does cry if you don’t say that you feed the fish.”
I subtitled this little presentation if your eyes could speak, and I will confess that I stole that line from another one of my favorite movies. Maybe you know it, The Book Thief. About 10 years old. I want to play just a minute here. This also speaks to children in a way and the use of description and words and imagination. The film features a young man who’s being hidden in the basement of a home for his own good. The windows had been blacked out so no one could see in, but of course, he can’t see out. In the house is a young girl about 11 years old. She knows the guy is a poet, actually, and she’s very interested in words. She wants to learn other languages and such.
There’s a chalkboard down there, and she’ll come down there and chat with him and write words and talk about language and meaning, and this is what happens. No, that’s Elmo still. This is what happens.
>> MAX VANDENBURG: Tell me, where do you get these words?
>> LIESEL MEMINGER: It’s a secret.
>> MAX: Who would I tell? Can you do me a favor? Can you describe the day for me? What’s it like outside?
>> LIESEL: It’s cloudy.
>> MAX: No. No, no, no. Make the words yours. If your eyes could speak, what would they say?
>> LIESEL: It’s a pale day.
>> MAX: Pale. Good. Go on.
>> LIESEL: Everything’s stuck behind a cloud. Und, the sun doesn’t look like the sun.
>> MAX: What does it look like?
>> LIESEL: Like a silver oyster.
>> MAX: Thank you. I saw that.
>> VOICE-OVER: He leans back, closes his eyes, grins, and taps his head. I saw that. 11-year-old child. A silver oyster, the sun behind clouds. That’s what audio description is about. Using your imagination, seeing things that aren’t there sometimes to help people see what is there. Now, we’ve been talking about art films and such. Some of you probably deal with videos that are just more pedantic or educational. I wanted to include just a little bit of a video I did some years ago for the CDC, Centers for Disease Control. This is about kids and parents and different scenarios doing it as one should as a good parent, or maybe not so good, that kind of thing. Let me just play a little bit of this.
At the very beginning when they created this video, it’s a little strange because there’s text, but nobody was voicing it, so they needed audio description just to voice the text, and then during the scenes. Here it is.
>> VOICE-OVER: Dating Matters. Strategies to promote healthy teen relationships. CDC. Parent and child interactions. Less desired. A mother and daughter in a home kitchen. The daughter [inaudible] over a textbook.
>> DAUGHTER: I can’t do this, mom. I don’t understand it at all. This is like, way too hard.
>> VOICE-OVER: On hip, the mother turns.
>> MOTHER: I wasn’t the one sitting in your class. You’re supposed to be paying attention. If you were paying attention and talking less to your friend, then maybe you’d be able to understand this. So pay attention in class.
>> VOICE-OVER: The daughter frowns and shakes her head. Desired. The same setting.
>> DAUGHTER: I can’t do this, mom. I don’t understand it at all. This is like, way too hard.
>> MOTHER: I know. I know this is really hard. Let me see if I can help.
>> DAUGHTER: It’s right there.
>> MOTHER: Which problem is it?
>> DAUGHTER: It’s that one.
>> MOTHER: Do you want some help?
>> DAUGHTER: Yes.
>> MOTHER: All right. I don’t really understand this either, but let’s see if we can figure this out together. If we can’t, maybe you can stay after tomorrow after school or something and do that tutoring program that they have after school?
>> DAUGHTER: Maybe, yes.
>> MOTHER: Yes. All right. I I can’t figure it out with you, then maybe you can go there?
>> DAUGHTER: Okay.
>> MOTHER: All right, but let’s try this. All right. First–
>> JOEL: There you go. I’m not going to play the rest of it because there’s another scene there with a Papa yelling at his kid versus working with his kid. That kind of– Now you all know how to be a good parent, right? As a side benefit of this little presentation. I want to mention something that I think will be a great resource for you, and that is the American Council of the Blind’s audio description project. I started this 12 years ago as an initiative with the American Council of the Blind, and we have many different projects. Oh goodness, we have every other year a major conference on audio description. People from all over the world share stories and their work with audio description.
We have two training institutes every year where we train audio describers. Help build describers. We’ve done 20 of them so far. Lately, they’ve all been virtual. We give awards each year in audio description. We have a wonderful program for blind kids, where we ask blind kids to write reviews of short videos or films and we give prizes for the best reviews and they’re teachers actually as well. We’ve done many other description projects, we did nationally the description for the solar eclipse we had in 2017, we did the audio-described tour of the White House– had never been done before. Anyway, and then finally our most visible initiative is our website https://adp.acb.org. It really is the go-to site for information about audio description. Everything you want to know about audio description but we’re afraid to ask as they say, check it out. I think you’ll learn a great deal about description including what’s on television right now with audio description.
What films have audio description, what’s streaming, what theaters in your state have description, what museums have description, et cetera. Lots of it, lots of good information there. In closing, I want to share a true story with you. A blind fellow was once visiting a museum with some friends. A sighted woman had the temerity to approach him and say, “Excuse me, but what are you doing in a museum? You’re blind, you can’t see any of the exhibits. Why are you here?” He was a little taken aback by that, but his response, “I’m here for the same reason anyone goes to a museum. I want to learn. I want to know. I want to be a part of our culture.”
His inability to see shouldn’t deny him access to culture, or the web, or any WordPress document. I think it’s the responsibility of all arts institutions, any public institution, to be as inclusive as possible. It’s all about access to culture, and that’s everyone’s right. There is no good reason why a person with a physical disability must also be culturally disadvantaged. No. Indeed I think the person that confronted the gentleman in the museum I think she has something of a disability. Her attitude, she’s attitude impaired. She’s suffering from attitudinal sclerosis, a hardening of the attitudes with respect to people who are blind or have disabilities.
Someone who’s blind– the situation is really less about the loss of vision, and more about perceiving the world in new ways, ways that are not dependent on sight. As a society, we need to understand that. I believe in the social model of disability that people with disabilities are more hampered by how society lacks accommodation for them than they are by the disability itself. If there’s no ramp at a building, somebody in a wheelchair is disabled. If there’s a ramp, the disability goes away because they can get in that building like anybody else.
If it’s a movie theater if there’s description, and captions, you can be blind or you can be deaf, but the disability goes away because you can fully experience what’s in the building programmatically. One final point, in the United States the principal constituency for audio description, people who are blind, has an unemployment rate of 70%, seven zero. That’s unacceptable. I think that with more meaningful access to culture– people who are blind with more meaningful access to culture its resources, people become more informed. They become more engaged with society, maybe more engaging individuals, perhaps that means more enjoyable.
I always want to close on a high note, a fun note. Let me share with you a PSA of audio description. We’ve got a couple in the United States. There’s some excellent ones in Canada. This one I want to share with you is just fun. It’s in the Netherlands, and it’s in Dutch. You’ll enjoy all you Dutch speakers out there– it’s got English subtitles. Thank goodness. I think you’ll enjoy this. They’re having fun. We need to do so much more at getting the word out about audio description, educating the general public. This is a fun way to do it.
>> SPEAKER 1: Earcatch, tells you what you can’t see. Download Earcatch now in the App Store or Google Play.
>> JOEL: How did you describe my buttocks? What the hell? What was that? Anyway here’s my contact information. We’ve got some time I’ll take questions certainly and any comments you may have. My own website is audiodescribe.com. You can welcome any comments or questions via email if we don’t get to them tonight, firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com. There’s the audio description project website, again, adp.acb.org. Our next audio description institute is coming up, it will be virtual again this time, February 20th through the 24th 2023. What that means basically folks if you did not enjoy the last hour with me, you will definitely not enjoy five days with me. I guarantee it. Anyway, with that, Amber, let’s open up the floor, or open up to the Q&A or the chat, and see what people got.
>> AMBER: Yes, this was fabulous. Thank you so much.
>> JOEL: Oh, thank you.
>> AMBER: It was very entertaining. I know I asked questions and I saw Greg put one in, so I’ll read that out in just a second.
>> JOEL: Oh, good.
>> AMBER: A quick reminder feel free to put questions in the Q&A box and we’ll read them out. Greg was asking, what are some of the key differences between writing descriptions for video versus static images?
>> JOEL: Ah, interesting, intresting. Yes, I do a lot of audio-described tours for museums and that’s mostly static images, of course. I think the fundamentals are the same. With static images, some of those fundamentals come into play perhaps to a greater degree, going from the general to the specific, describing in a logical order, top to bottom, clockwise, counterclockwise. A lot of our folks can see if you tell them where to look, that’s something to remember. In video, in theater, but certainly with static images and visual art. I think also you have to do double duty in a way.
You have to describe but oftentimes there are placards of text there by the exhibit. That’s visual information, you have to voice it, or at least part of it. You don’t have the same time constraints as you do in theater or media. It’s not like, “Oh my God, I’ve got three seconds between this sound and that line. What can I say?” No, one might think, “You’ve just got a visual image. You can just go on at the mouth.” No, no, you can’t really because think about it a tour is going to be an hour long. You got 10 exhibits, that’s 6 minutes per. You got opening material, you got concluding material, you got text, you end up with just a couple of minutes, a few minutes of actual description. You still need to be succinct.
Typically we do the description and the text– just a part of the text but keep in mind with museums there are skimmers, swimmers, and divers. What does that mean? Most people, I think, go to a museum and they’re skimmers 5 seconds, 15 seconds, 20 seconds here, “Okay, where’s the gift shop?” Hour and a half. The swimmers, a minute here, a minute there. “Where’s the gift shop?” There are people who are divers, they want to read every scrap and title of text. They want to look at every image, and we provide all of that information.
We will record all the text that’s there on layers. It’s a matter of, it’s a digital player or it’s on the web. If you want more information, hit one, two, three, and you get more of the text. The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library and Museum the man had four terms. Lots of information there. It would take you 12 hours to listen to everything we recorded, but the base tour is an hour. I’m just going on with a number of things. Greg, hope that helps.
>> AMBER: Yes, I think so. I think it’s interesting talking about being layers and providing different steps. Thinking too for us, a lot of us being web professionals this goes with one of the questions I had where I wonder, is it helpful to have audio description that on videos that are may be shorter, and then providing a longer written description. If someone wants to read or be able to jump through that with their screen reader?
>> JOEL: That’s right. We call that extended, or enhanced description. In a video, you’re going to be limited by time available. Sure, on a separate web page, you can go on at length and you do that with theater, and theater sometimes you do it as pre-show notes, or intermission notes, that kind of thing. With movies, sometimes there’s a separate page on a website where you can access more description. I think that’s valuable, and I think that’s good to do.
It lets you on a web page, for instance, elaborate on alt tags. Alt tags are usually really pretty much labels, names, not so much full descriptions. That’s probably okay given the nature of alt tags. Yes, you could have another page where people could go at their length and at their leisure and get more information. It does mean that parody is not quite precise there. A sighted person gets it all right there. A blind person has to spend an extra couple of minutes or half hour or whatever, and read other stuff. At least it’s there and it’s available if you wish to access it.
>> AMBER: Steve was wondering for the web, you don’t have much of a radio voice. [inaudible] is that off-putting for audiences, doesn’t matter what someone’s voice is like if there-
>> INTERVIEWEE: Oh, my. Yes, I’ll tell you that vocal skills are one of the four fundamentals that I teach in audio description, but having a radio voice is not really critical. In fact, people oftentimes say, oh, yes I know an actor. He’d be a good audio describer because he’s got such a beautiful voice. You know what, with audio description the point is not the voice of the describer. It’s not even the description. Nobody goes to a website or a movie, or a theater piece, to hear the audio description. The audio description is a means to an end. It is you need to be of the piece not in the piece. Actors want to have the spotlight.
I’m an equity actor I know. No, the description is not to be in the spotlight. We are there to simply give, provide accommodation, provide access. Beautiful voice, no not necessarily. There was one company at one point that had former president George H. W. Bush voice the description for It’s A Wonderful Life. I wouldn’t do that. Then you’re noticing the description and this is President Bush voicing for me. Whoa, whoa, I don’t want to notice the describer. The best compliment could be the describer you disappeared but I got everything. I wouldn’t worry about radio voice. Now you will find it’s already happening. Some companies are using text-to-speech for the voicing of audio description. Listen-
>> AMBER: It’s like an AI-generated?
>> JOEL: AI text-to-speech has its place for textbooks, for information perhaps. In my humble opinion, not for drama. No, not for comedies because yes, vocal skills are critical. We make meaning with our voice and a trained audio description voice talent knows how to do that and make use of the subtleties, the nuances in vocalizing the audio description. Keep in mind audio description writing is one thing.
For media, it’s usually someone else who voices it. My background is both areas so I’ve been able to do both. Of course, but the text-to-speech for a drama I’m just not in favor I haven’t heard a text-to-speech engine that can do it. We make meeting with our voices and humans know how to do that. It will take the line– you’ll appreciate this Amber and all the women here will appreciate this. You’re ready, woman without her man is a savage. If you had-
>> AMBER: [inaudible]
>> JOEL: Yes. If you had a machine read that, woman without her man is a savage, what the hell? No, woman without her man is a savage. Sure, you can indicate pronunciation with punctuation, but I just think there’s a skill to voicing description that is really important.
>> AMBER: Yes, no, I definitely make sense. I can imagine that if I were hearing an AI-generated voice I would find that very distracting.
>> JOEL: A lot of blind people do.
>> AMBER: l think some words are just going to be pronounced wrong.
>> JOEL: The American Council of the Blind passed a resolution saying, no, please do not subject us to that for films, for media, for television dramas, or comedies, or such.
>> AMBER: Daniel asked, how often do you interact with the source script referenced as a tool when you’re writing audio descriptions?
>> JOEL: Oh. Rarely as far as a written script we are provided it on rare occasions. We have the full video or the full film or whatever, and it really is critical to know the whole film. That point about an adult bird flys by, that’s important because it shows up in the next scene. It returns to the nest that kind of thing. Foreshadowing, you’re not going to pick up on that unless you know the whole film that you’ve really experienced and understand what the filmmaker is doing over the course of the whole film.
Having the actual script, not so much. To some degree film scripts and play scripts they don’t typically have a lot of stage direction necessarily. Now, George Bernard Shaw was a big exception. He wanted to be a stage director. He told you exactly what he wanted, bum, bum, bum. Yes, the stage directions it might be helpful, but maybe not. You’re describing a visual event, and a director may direct a completely different way and so you’ve got to go with what you see.
>> AMBER: That makes sense. Someone is wondering, do you have any insights on whether it’s a good practice to caption spoken audio description on the video or live theater for deaf or hard of hearing people? Should that be captioned?
>> JOEL: Yes. [laughs] You can go both ways on this. Clients oftentimes will say, “We want to be totally accessible,” and we’re going to capture everything if it’s something that’s being heard. Typically, it’s being heard only by the people who want it because they’re accessing a separate audio track. In my humble opinion, I think it could actually be distracting and take people away from the experience of the film if they’re looking at words that are not being voiced for the general public. They’re only being voiced for people who are blind.
Now, the one exception is, of course, in a certain way is an audience of people who are deaf-blind. Now there in live event, for instance, the sign interpreter is using manual interpretation in someone’s hands. I can’t count the number of sign interpreters I’ve trained in description because they will not only interpret what’s being said, but in the pauses then describe into the hand what’s happening, the action. In that sense.
In a video, I would tend not to caption the audio description because typically it’s not being heard by everybody anyway– it can be. I’m in favor of open description always on as much as possible. We barely at the point now where some people will enjoy or not be bothered by open captions on television or film, because they’re used to it in a bar or in the gym. It will be a lot longer before people accept open description. It has to be done sparingly– it’s great for sighted people, like I said. If you’re in the- the kitchen making a sandwich and the TV is on in the living room you don’t miss a beat because you hear everything you can’t see.
Not because you’re blind, you’re just in the wrong room. It’s great and it helps people see things when they’re right there. We’re looking at the screen we don’t observe. We see we don’t observe, but people aren’t used to it and it’s going to be a while before generally it can be accepted. Now, one thing I would love to see more of is audio films. The filmmakers taking the soundtrack of their film, combining it with the audio description sound, and then marketing it as an audio film that-
>> AMBER: Oh, without any visual at.
>> JOEL: Of course, because Amber, you’re driving your car across the country, you want to listen to that wonderful movie you experienced last week. You want to experience it again. Hopefully, you don’t have a screen in front of you while you’re driving your car, or you’re at the gym or something. That would be– how do we get off then– anyway, that would be everything. They’re legal issues about it and we have to get past that.
>> AMBER: I listened to this sort of style, but I listen to a lot of eBooks.
>> JOEL: Sure, Audiobooks.
>> AMBER: I listened to one for the very first time where different chapters had different characters, and it wasn’t all read by the same. They had different men reading different men, and different females reading different females. The first time– that’s what that makes me think of, I would totally listen to a movie because it would be just like an eBook only you would have silence.
>> JOEL: Most movies are very visual, so you would need the description to– you get to that sequence-
>> AMBER: You know what’s happening.
>> JOEL: -with the birds and you go, I don’t quite remember what that was– is birds? What?
>> AMBER: On that note too on writing out and you were saying, we see what we don’t always observe. Are there ever risks of spoilers when you’re doing audio decription? Sometimes you have to watch a movie two or three times and then you realize, oh, if I was paying really close attention I would’ve noticed this thing. How do you as an audio describer not be like, “This is a really important thing everyone should know and just say.” There’re some people might not realize it until later.
>> JOEL: No, if it’s there and can be seen and can be noticed, it’s fair game. You’re not going to give away who done it or something. No, of course not. In fact, traditionally we don’t even name characters when they’re on the screen until they’re named in the film. We’re starting on a clean slate theoretically. Even though we are omniscient we are pretending to not know the name of the person because you don’t know the name of the person until it’s voiced. Why would we be giving in a heads-up like that to the blind person when the cited person doesn’t know the name? I want to honor what the filmmaker is doing. We’re in service to the artist as well as to the people listening. It’s not really doing spoiling alerts or something.
>> AMBER: I follow a woman, Merrill. She spoke at our meetup before and she’s deaf and she talks a lot about captions. She’s saying, “Sometimes when the captions get off she’ll actually know what’s going to happen before it shows on [inaudible].”
>> JOEL: Oh, goodness. That’s interesting. Captions typically are one-to-one. What is being heard is what’s on the screen with the caption. With description you can’t always do that. It’s nice to do that, but sometimes you’re describing something that’s going to happen in about two seconds like a sight gag. You’re coming up to the thing it builds up, and you say what happens and then boom it happens. Everybody heard it in the description, so they can laugh along with everybody else. If you wait till it’s on the screen nobody’s going to hear you because everybody else is laughing. Nobody’s going to hear the description. You have to use judgment for those kinds of things. In that way, there’s a little bit of a heads-up.
>> AMBER: I’ll go back to everybody. I know I’m asking a few of my questions too.
>> JOEL: That’s all right. You’re prerogative.
>> AMBER: I saw a video– it was an Apple commercial and it might have been about audio description. One of the things I noticed– it was on a web, it wasn’t playing live on TV or in a movie where you can’t pause things. One of the things I noticed was that they would do some sound and they would literally pause the video and do an audio description and then they would play. I’m curious about your thoughts on [inaudible] whether that’s good or bad.
>> AMBER: I’m not big on it. It’s called using freeze frames. In the same way as putting the description– the extended description on a website or something it requires the person to take more time to access it. That’s okay. If you’re putting in a freeze frame, listen, if it’s a film that Amber Hinds made and you’re in charge of it, and you want to do that to make it accessible. Then by all means, you wouldn’t even need to freeze a frame.
You would just have a pause or whatever that’s there. I am not going to do damage to the artwork. The filmmaker makes a film and it has pauses. It doesn’t have pauses, it’s got a pace, it’s got a rhythm, and I’m going to be sensitive to that. If I start putting in freeze frames I’m destroying the film. I’m making it as something else. I would think filmmakers would not be very happy with that. Listen, I remember when I was at the National Captioning Institute and doing lots of films for television in particular.
We got notified by Woody Allen no less a film director. He was ready to do a cease and desist he goes, “Wait a second wait a second, I wrote that film and you’re going to write more words and voice it during my film? No, you’re not. I wrote the film.” “No, Mr. Allen, it’s audio description. It’s heard only by the secondary audio program feature only by people who are deaf who want to hear it. It’s not in the film, it’s of the film.” He was, “Oh, oh, okay, yes. All right, fine. Thanks. Bye.”
>> AMBER: You should have asked him to write the audio description.
>> JOEL: Listen, wouldn’t that be nice if the audio description was studied in film school? It’s not because it’s considered post-production. It’s after the film is made, captions, subtitles, dubbing, postproduction, and it’s forgotten about. Listen though, go online and put into the Google, Stevie Wonder, So What The Fuss. I could even call it up here and play a bit. It’s about seven minutes long. Anyway, So What The Fuss, it’s a music video that Stevie Wonder made.
First, it was a song, then it was a music video with action and such. Stevie Wonder realized, whoa, whoa, a blind person can’t experience the music video images. He had the description written for his music video in a style that he wanted. He even had it voiced. He had it voiced by a rapper, Buster Rhymes because he wanted it voiced in the style of the video and it’s tremendous. The description becomes just one with the piece. That’s another way to do audio description.
In theater sometimes there’s a group called Theater Breaking Through Barriers in New York. It used to be Theater by the Blind. They don’t have an audio describer laying description on through a headset at every performance. First of all, description usually is only two performances out of a whole run. No, they build the description into the script, or they have a narrator who’s describing as it goes. Everybody hears it, it’s part of the play, it’s just all of a piece, and that’s true inclusive design.
>> AMBER: That’s really neat. I think this is maybe a good segue to Laura’s question which is, do you find there’s better funding for audio descriptions for films and art museums today than there were a few years ago? Do art institutions take on their obligation to provide this generally?
>> INTERVIEWEE: I’ll be very honest. A better description, I don’t know if it’s better. There’s more of it for sure. I have sat in theaters and watched people listening to audio descriptions for some movie and pulled the earbud out of their ears because it’s distracting. I’ll get along without it, sorry. This is ruining the experience for me– sometimes museums I think still in this country there’s not enough awareness of the social model of disability of the need for it as being part of design so that when you have it it’s largely because it’s required.
They don’t want to get sued under the ADA. Now, one exception is the streaming services now. Now that films have descriptions– that was out of an ADA challenge to the film industry. Now just about every film has an audio description track. Streaming services they were not challenged under the ADA. Maybe they wanted to avoid that. It did take some negotiation with Netflix. They were the first to do it. They were reluctant, and now they’re just doing description in 12, 15 languages.
It has become something that has benefited them. Disney Plus, Amazon, they’re all doing a description now to some extent. With performing arts where it all began it’s not done imaginatively, it’s not done, wow, this is an aesthetic innovation. Let’s get into this. No, it’s, oh, oh damn. Oh, yes. I guess we have to offer a couple performances where there’s description or else we’re going to get sued type thing, unfortunately.
They want to do it on the cheap. It’s started as a volunteer service and it still volunteers for many live performing arts theaters. Volunteers are fine, but volunteers are not necessarily going to do everything that they can to develop a whole script, to really work it out, to be at every performance maybe. There’s still room for growth and room for higher quality.
>> AMBER: Do you know if there’s grants or anything like that available for nonprofits that want to get better at audiovisual description?
>> JOEL: Yes. I don’t know so much about grants that are dedicated for access. I worked at the National Endowment for the Arts for 20 years and ran a program there. I actually started one initiative for a few years that was specifically you get this money if you’re going to do description, or some sort of accessibility something or other. They’re required to do it. If you’re going to get a grant from the government you sign a thing saying, I will be in compliance with Title 504 of the Education Act, whatever it is. They don’t necessarily really do it or take it very seriously, and the NEA doesn’t enforce it so much.
As far as money, you could build it into a grant, to a corporation or a foundation. It means you’re not going to be able to use the money for something else. Theater companies are going like, jeez, we have to have the lights on. We have to heat and cool the theater. I don’t want to take money from that to do accessibility. In my humble opinion, accessibility is like turning on the lights. It’s just you just got to do it, and you find a way to raise the money to do it, and then cut back in other places, maybe.
>> AMBER: Yes. Oh, I totally agree. It’s fundamental.
>> JOEL: It really is.
>> AMBER: If people can’t listen to a performance and experience the performance then obviously you’re failing in your objective.
>> JOEL: Exactly. If a theater company said, “Hey, we’re open to the public you all come– oh, oh, no blind people, please, no deaf people, that’s our policy.” No blind people, no deaf people. How long do you think they’d be around? How long do you think it’d be before they got sued out of existence? If you don’t do audio descriptions, you don’t do captions. You’re pretty much saying, “We’ll help a little maybe, but no, we are not really happy about it.” Instead of building it in, approaching it as an aesthetic innovation, look up Stevie Wonders, So What The Fuss.
>> AMBER: I’ll definitely look it up.
>> JOEL: It’s really great. You’ll love it. It’s fun.
>> AMBER: Let’s see. Danielle asked, how do you anticipate representation for audio description artists evolving in the upcoming years. Do you think there will be or should be representation from unions like SAG-AFTRA, and the Writer’s Guild of America, or similar?
>> JOEL: Yes, we’re working on that. American Council of Blind is working with others right now on a certification process for description writers, I should say, and people who are blind, who are consultants on description scripts. By the way, people who are blind are some of the best voice talents for description. They’re some of the best audio editors for description. That’s important to keep in mind. Yes, certification is on the horizon.
The voicing of description is not covered really outside of a couple locals under union rules, under SAG-AFTRA Rules. I’m a member of SAG-AFTRA for 45 years. I would love to see more involvement there. I’d love to see involvement of the Writers Guild as having audio describers as members because it’s a writing thing. It’s a written art form. It’s not prevalent right now. I think it will be sooner or later, but probably later is my sense. I would welcome that because it’s all part of the professionalism of the service. Listen, nobody asks a sign interpreter to sign interpret a play for free. No, it’s a professional service, same with description.
>> AMBER: Constantino was wondering, do you think written content creation, that is to say, the words and syntax used is just as important for audio description and the associated notes for a transcript? In other words, do you think about the transcript when you’re doing audio description?
>> JOEL: Well, the transcript of the description itself or the transcript of the-
>> AMBER: I’m guessing that’s what he’s asking.
>> JOEL: It’s interesting. I don’t think that too many other people in description have had the experience of preparing description in writing. It’s called audio description for a reason. 99% of the time it’s heard, H-E-A-R-D. I have done description for a film whereby– it was brailed. The script for the film was brailed along with the audio description by special requests.
The person seeing a film in a museum in Chicago, I think it was, they wanted to basically to be able to read the film as it went along like Opera Aficionado will have a libretto with them in the theater sometimes, and they’re reading the English translation of the song in Italian. Sure, the description could be there too. That’s rare though having the transcription of the description if that’s what’s being referenced. That’s rare.
>> AMBER: That was it from the audience. I have one last question to wrap up since we’re about at time. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts– this is purely selfish.
>> JOEL: Oh, Good.
>> AMBER: We have software and we’re getting ready to make some more videos that more clearly explain how to use the software. Of course, we want people who are blind. Do you have any thoughts on audio description we are describing software or more technical things that are happening?
>> JOEL: I think the fundamentals are the same. If you’re talking about graphs and charts there are some techniques that have been explored by something called the Diagram Center in Boston that have commented on that. You can look that up on the web. Otherwise, it’s really a matter of you as a presenter remembering that part of your audience is not going to be able to see or see well what you’re presenting. If you’re presenting something you don’t need to get it described professionally.
You need to do self-description. I don’t mean, “Hi I’m Amber Hinds, and I’m a brunette, and I’m wearing a red t-shirt.” I don’t mean that, I mean you describe any image you are presenting. If more professors in colleges did that you’d have less problems with students who have disabilities– students who are blind. They need to have access as does everybody else. Are you going to have an audio describer with every professor to provide professional description for slides that are being presented? No. The professor needs to self-describe
>> AMBER: That’d be things you wouldn’t say on the right side of the screen. You find things like-
>> JOEL: You might. People that are totally blind, but you would say it would be the viewer’s left, or the viewer’s right. You know what I mean?
>> AMBER: Yes.
>> JOEL: It would not be stage left or stage right to get into theater jargon because it’s the perspective of the person who’s experiencing it. It’s the audience left, the audience right on the left side of the screen– the right side. You could at the top, at the bottom, that kind of thing. You want to think about is that appropriate to the kind of piece you’re describing. If it’s a very literal, linear top, bottom, clockwise thing, fine. If it’s Jackson Pollock’s Convergence, or anything by Jackson Pollock the famous drip painter. You’re not going to say, “Okay, at the top left you got a blue swish, and next to that is a red blob. To its right is a green circle.” You have killed-
>> AMBER: They are all dead.
>> JOEL: -the experience of the film because that’s not what he was about. He was about motion, and levels, and swirl, and colors, and such as opposed to, da, da, da, linear.
>> AMBER: Annalise said in the time, which I think is a really great point. Instead of them saying, “Now you click this.” You need to say something like, “Click the button labeled X, Y, Z in the A, B, C section,” right?
>> JOEL: You vary language that way. Actually, my company does a lot of description for Microsoft videos. They produce more video than Hollywood, let me tell you. Which is a good thing, it keeps me in business. We have to vary the language and click here, and to the right, and to the left. You got to keep it interesting. Anyway.
>> AMBER: Thank you so much. This has been phenomenal-
>> JOEL: Thanks, Amber.
>> AMBER: [inaudible] for me, and I’m sure for a bunch of our attendees, so we very much appreciate it.
>> JOEL: Oh, you bet. Please people feel free to write to me. If you have other questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you.
>> AMBER: Great. We’re going to sign off. I won’t officially end the webinar until I see that the transcript has fully finished out. I’m just going to smile and wave for a second here.
>> JOEL: All right.
>> AMBER: Thank you everyone for attending.
>> JOEL: Thanks. Bye-bye.
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