How Audio Description Gives Blind "Viewers" Access to Movies, Live Dance and Museum Exhibitions
How do the 25 million Americans who are blind or have low vision “see” a live dance performance, or experience a museum exhibition, or a movie?
According to Joel Snyder, in his recent Webinar, Audio Description, or AD, makes the arts accessible to audience members who are blind or have low vision. Snyder described AD as "a literary art form, a type of poetry--a haiku. Using as few words as possible, describers offer a verbal version of the visual--the visual is made verbal, and aural, and oral."
For television or movies, an audio describer views and writes descriptions of the action and visuals, timed to be heard by the blind viewer between the lines of dialog and sound effects. The written descriptions are then recorded by voice over talent on an auxiliary sound track.
“For live performances, audience members who are blind or have limited vision use headset receivers to listen to a live describer reading program notes and describing sets and costumes before the show, then relaying the action (during pauses between dialogue) throughout the performance,” Snyder wrote in his article, AD-Listening to Movement, Joel Snyder, The International Journal of the Arts in Society.
Snyder began working with Audio Description 30 years ago, providing AD for performing arts groups, schools, museums, libraries.
"I often work with arts access for people with various difficulties,” Snyder stated, further explaining that his principal area of expertise is Audio Description. “Over 30 states and about 30 countries now have Audio Description,” according to Snyder, who calls for more audio options on DVDs for movies.
In his webinar presentation, Snyder spoke of how the motto of an Audio Describer is: “what you see is what you say”. In that the importance of vivid descriptions for allows listeners to form mental images and create their own meaning from the specific words used. AD should avoid interpretation. Rather than just telling what someone is doing in a movie, for instance, the AD track should describe how they are doing it. For instance, in many movies a film character may walk, yet the word walk does not convey the same information as the image of the person walking. So the describer must analyze expressive qualities, attitudes and movements of the character walking in the film.
For AD narration of a live dance piece, much is “unsaid in order to focus on communicating mood, theme and choreographic structure, while leaving aural space for the impact of the musical score,” Snyder wrote.