1 Audio description Thevisualmadeverbal JoelSnyder AudioDescriptionAssociates,TakomaPark,Maryland,USA 1. Introduction version begin on audio description with a verbal discussion of a visual this us Let image.Considerthedescriptionthatfollows: at left, a woman in a flowing gown, On hands clasped in front of her, a stage: her before man in a doublet and a kneeling cap. He croons: “Why stands feathered thy heart turn away from mine?” dost right, a man at a microphone speaks: At “Basically, guy with the goofy hat is ticked because this babe has been runnin’ the - with dude in the black tights”. around caption reads: “Many opera com The the paniesnowprovideinterpretersfortheculturallyimpaired”. Does a vivid image in your mind’s it conjure You can visit the actual image eye? being described on this volume’s accompanying DVD. Go to DVD > Snyder > Cartoon. 2. A brief history of audio description: Its beginnings in the USA States. description developed in the United was It was the subject of Audio (AD) Thesis in San Francisco, California in the 1970’s a Masters Frazier, who became by the to develop the concepts behind the act first the art of AD. Earlier still, in and 1964, Chet Avery, a blind employee working in the Department of Education, of knew program there for the captioning a grants films for deaf people. He of - blind that provided on films for be people and encour suggested descriptions aged blind consumer organisations to apply for financial support to provide AD that on However, the organisations were at films. time more focused on securing employmentforblindpeoplethaninpromotingaccessibilitytothemedia.
2 192 JoelSnyder 1980, In House Manager at Arena Stage in Washington, DC, Wayne White, of assembled advise the theatre on accessibility issues. Avery people a group to - about and spoke with Wayne White of description possibili the part was group a part of the group was Margaret ties. a blind woman who led Also Pfanstiehl, Metropolitan Ear, a radio reading service catering for the blind. The Washington - of its studios to broadcast readings Ear newspapers and maga regularly The used - access individuals blind or otherwise had little were to print. Al to zines who equipped with recording facilities and a crew of volunteer ‘voice talents’, ready and her developed the world’s first ongoing audio description Pfanstiehl husband programmefortheperformingarts. The art of audio description 3. extent, audio description can be To akind of literary art form in agreat considered a type of poetry. It provides a verbal version of the visual whereby the visual itself, verbal, is made and oral. This is normally done using words that are succinct, aural, - and in order to convey the visual vivid, that is not fully acces image imaginative and to asegment population (i.e. the blind of the the partially sighted) and sible may not be fully realised by the rest of us, who can see but may not observe. Using relatively technology, AD can enhance arts experiences unsophisticated - all exhibits in museums, theatregoers, and folks watching tele people for visiting help at at the movies. It can also or improve children’s literacy skills. vision home can be useful for anyone who wants to truly AD and appreciate a more full notice perspective any visual event but it is especially helpful as an access tool for on it can people blind or have low vision, and are be found these days not only who at arts events but also at weddings, parades, rodeos, circuses, sports events, and evenfunerals. It might easiest to see what audio description is all about by listening to an be (Majid The Color of Paradise Majidi 1999), film from excerpt Iranian feature the description as screened first movie theatres with no it was but as someone with in novisionmightexperienceit. The Color of Paradise Exercise1 To listen to the soundtrack of this scene without any visuals go to: DVD > Snyder > The Color of Paradise >Audioonly. In a second stage, listen to the same excerpt but this time as described by the going National Institute’s Described Media division by Captioning to: DVD > Snyder > The Color of Paradise >AD.
3 Audiodescription 193 annotated script the description for this excerpt, including timecodes, is An of as a pdf on the accompanying DVD (DVD > Snyder > The also document included but should be consulted only after experiencing script), Color of Paradise > Annotated first without AD and then with AD. The notes will afford some insight the excerpts reasoning as to why the precise language has been used; the words have been into the selectedtobringcertainimagestoyourmind’seye. has time with A final original soundtrack, the images and the AD, this clip, the The Color of Paradise to allow in order > AD) included > > Snyder (DVD also been people to compare the sighted description to the visual images in the film. Do the actual descriptions reflect what can be seen on screen? Are the descriptions objec - accurately does Do vivid images in the viewer who create not have access to the video? tive? they in mind that the excerpt being used for this exercise comes from the middle Bear the of and the character of Mohammed, his physical person, would have already film described. AD after listening to the been but before the actual video is However, can it is to ask people if they interesting glean any particular characteristics played, about Mohammed simply from the description of his interaction with his environ - ment,thetree,andhissurroundings. Exercise2 The Color of Paradise idea additional preparing AD, it can be a good in to have students As exercise an video clip without any description (DVD watch > The Color of Paradise > the > Snyder They be asked to view the excerpt can times and develop their own Original). several of an audio description script, taking care to write concisely, objectively, and version or, It is also avoid voicing description whenever dialogue to in this important vividly. case,criticalsoundelementsoccurintheoriginalsoundtrack(Section5). 4. Venues for audio description the United States, wherever a television station is equipped to participate, AD In see. all television viewers hear what they cannot blind It is accessible via a lets - audio channel available on stereo televisions. Viewers select the SAP (Sec special - ondary channel in order to hear the original soundtrack accom Audio Program) the by descriptions, precisely timed in panied out to occur only during the and silent between dialogue exchanges. Although lapses is mainly television for this blind and low vision people, sighted viewers can also appreciate the descriptions dishes when, they are in the kitchen washing instance, while the show is on. As for - by a landmark survey carried out by Packer and Kirchner (1997: on confirmed the line) the American Foundation for for Blind: “individuals who are familiar withvideodescriptionobtainnumerousbenefitsfromit”.
4 194 JoelSnyder degree To 200 movie theatres nationwide – au - – in a limited approximately for found film screenings. AD can also be is available on dio description first-run http://main.wgbh.org/wgbh/pages/mag/ VHS ( videotape several hundred titles the format does not l) although resources/dvs-home-video-catalogue.htm VHS the description to be turned allow DVDs are a far more suitable format for off. they for an audio menu and the ability to select description if desired. since allow Unfortunatelyonlyabout80titlescurrentlyofferdescriptionintheUSA. are federal There regarding AD – in particular Section 508 now provisions - with government-produced media. A Federal Communica description requiring - (FCC) rule, established in 2002, created a mandate for com tions Commission description pulsory television. It was set aside in a court challenge on broadcast whether ordering government agency exceeded its authority in on the focused the to efforts pending in the USA Congress But direct the FCC to re- mandate. are the mandate just as captioning for the deaf and the hard-of-hearing has establish beenrequiredformosttelevisionbroadcastsintheUSforoveradecade. - arts settings, AD is offered free, performing at designated per In live usually People desiring this service may receive headphones attached to small formances. - about the size of a cigarette pack. Prior to the show, a live or taped ver receivers, sion of programme notes is transmitted through the headphones after which, the trained describer the performance from another part of the theatre the narrates descriptions a radio transmitter using concise, objective infra-red all slipped via or inbetweenportionsofdialogueorsongs. museums, using AD techniques for the description of static images and In - exhibitions enhances accessibility, but it also helps develop more expres not only - vivid, imaginative museum tours. This sive, docents to make the mu and enables seum more meaningful for experience which is greatly appreciated by everyone, all visitors. Recorded AD tours, specifically geared to people with low vision, are increasingly common. with directional information, these recorded Combined enable player who are blind to use a simple hand-held audio tours to tour visitors with at of the museum independently and a portion new access to the visual least elements of exhibitions. Other curators are interested in having certain videos withinanexhibitoraparticularfilmdescribed. 5. The skills of the professional audio describer it might trained for many years, Having describers be of interest to learn I think what it takes to offer AD in ways that will be most useful. In developing AD for or television, or DVD, the theatre, a video a museum, I emphasise four elements, thefirstofwhichisallabouttheskillthatSherlockHolmeshoned:
5 Audiodescription 195 Observation : Baseball and erstwhile philosopher, Yogi Berra, said it 1. catcher Effective describers stating a lot just by looking. that can see best when one level active awareness and become their ‘see-ers’, develop must increase of visual as (1995) calls it, notice the literacy’ world with a ‘visual their Schaefer of acuity, and share those images. Keller (1993: online) puts heightened sense “Those who have never suffered impairment of sight or hearing it like it is: eyes the of these blessed faculties. Their use and ears take make fullest seldom - and sounds hazily, without concentration and in little apprecia all sights with tion”. : Describers must edit or cull from Editing they see, selecting what is what 2. most what is most important, what is most critical to an understanding valid, and of a visual image. In addition, choices are made based on an appreciation of blindness low vision – going from the general to the understanding and of so inclusion of directional information, and use on. For specific, colour, the you in a classroom and look toward as front of the space: what instance, sit you focus on in a description of a snapshot would that image? If you had of only words to use, in priority order, what would you list? The chalkboard? five TV open A clear desk? An A door? In considering a scene from a monitor? the you often be guided by can director or cinematographer who has film, provided clues: he or she has framed the image to direct the viewer toward certainelements,lettingyouknowwhatismostimportant. Language must be transferred : Images words: objective, vivid, specific, to 3. - drawn and metaphors. Is the Washington Mon phrases, terms, imaginatively feet tall or is it as high as fifty elephants stacked one on top of the ument 555 to many words can be used different describe someone moving How other? - Why say ‘walk’ when you along more vividly describe the ac a sidewalk? can tion ‘sashay’, ‘stroll’, ‘skip’, ‘stumble’ or ‘saunter’? But good describers also with for on and succinctness since strive many occasions ‘less is more’. simplicity online) writing a friend, Blaise Pascal (1657: In once noted: “I have only to made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter”. While a describer use language which helps people see vividly, and even must - important readily apparent, it is also is to maintain a cer beyond see what degree of objectivity. In this sense, tain must sum it up with the describers acronym i.e. ‘What You See Is ‘WYSIWYS’, You Say’. The best audio What describer is sometimes referred to as a ‘verbal camera lens’, able to objectively - or of an exhibition aspects audiovisual programme. Qualita recount visual tive judgments get in the way of a good AD, since they constitute a subjective and interpretation the part of the describer and are therefore unnecessary on the unwanted. must be given Listeners opportunity of conjuring their own
6 196 JoelSnyder based on that is as objective as possible. Ex - interpretations a commentary be ‘he or ‘she is upset’ ought to furious’ avoided at all costs like is pressions by descriptions such as ‘he’s and his fist’ or ‘she is crying’. replaced clenching idea to let the blind audience is their own judgments – perhaps The make eyes do not work so well, but their brains their their interpretative skills and areintact. Vocal skills : Finally, addition to building a verbal capability, the describer in 4. - speech through work with develops and oral interpreta the instrument vocal fundamentals. Besides punctuation, we can also tion meaning with our make voices. quick exercise I use involves the phrase ‘woman without her man One punctuation a savage’. said aloud with a different If and intonation, it can is meanliterallytheopposite:‘Woman:withouther,manisasavage’. Effective describers must learn to ‘re-see’ the world around them, to truly notice what is with the eyes, and then express the pertinent aspects of those perceived techniques with imaginative language and vocal and that render images precise thevisualverbal. the United States can legitimately be considered the birthplace of audio While - the of Europe can just as credibly lay claim to being the princi nations description, pal developers of the technique, particularly within academia. Throughout Europe, AD is considered aform of audiovisual translation –away to translate information that is perceptible sense (visual) to aform that is comparably accessible with in one to ten (aural). over the last five another years, academic offerings in Accordingly, AD have become apart of translation programs in the UK and Europe, whilst none includes: exist States to date. Asampling of these courses United in the CityUniversity,London,UK www.city.ac.uk/languages/courses/Audio_Description.html HogerInstituutvoorVertalersenTolken,Antwerp,Belgium www.hivt.be/home.htm RoehamptonUniversity,London,UK www.roehampton.ac.uk/pg/avt UniversityAutònomadeBarcelona,Spain www.fti.uab.es/pg.audiovisual UniversityAutònomadeBarcelona–online,Spain www.fti.uab.es/onptav/angles/index_ang.htm UniversityofGranada,Spain www.ugr.es/%7Edpto_ti/tablon_files/EXPERTO/Experto_subtitulacion_ audiodescripcion.htm
7 Audiodescription 197 UniversityJaumeI,Castelló,Spain www.uji.es UniversityofSurrey,UK www.surrey.ac.uk/translation/pgprog/mainmonsubauddescription.htm 6. Audio description and literacy I conducted a workshop with day care ago and reading too long Not workers I think represents a new application for AD. We experimented teachers what on more descriptive language when working with with and picture books. using kids of books are deficient with respect to the language skills they involve Some these the they on the pictures to tell mostly story. However, the teacher trained since rely AD techniques in never simply hold up a picture of a red ball and read the would text: the ball’. He or she might add: ‘The ball is red, just like a fire engine. I ‘See that the is as large as one of you! It’s as round as think sun, a bright red circle ball orsphere’. The has introduced new vocabulary, invited comparisons, and used teacher I think or with toddlers. By using AD, metaphor that these books will be simile made accessible to kids who have low vision or are blind, and help develop more - sophisticated for all children. A picture is worth 1000 words? May language skills But the describer might say that a few well-chosen words can conjure be. audio vividandlastingimages. Concluding remarks: Access for all 7. International Disability Awareness The Festival, Breaking Down Bar - Second Film , held in Moscow on 11–14 November 2004, riers a portion of its limited invested resources be certain that its presentations were accessible to attendees who are to exists blind low vision. The same spirit have in Sofia, Bulgaria, where audio or description training has enabled performing arts activities to become accessible. Inbothcountries,itwouldseem,audiodescription–accesstothearts–isabout democracy. the States, a prosperous, democratic nation, accessibility is often In United viewed as a right, as a reflection of the principles not which the nation was upon founded. in Sofia, St. Petersburg, People Moscow are wrestling with economic and problems attendant to any new democracy, yet to them democracy means ‘access there to We have an immense and varied culture in the USA and everyone’. is no disability reason a person with a visual why must also be culturally disadvantaged.
8 198 JoelSnyder people be to be full participants in their nation’s cultural life. It must All need temporarily that ‘able bodied’ are only the so: there is only a thin remembered line between ability and disability. With a focus on people’s abilities, we will come - In greater inclusion and total access. to addition, with the develop much closer ment of more well-trained practitioners on the art of audio description, we will comeclosertomaking‘accessibilityforall’areality.
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