Hello everyone and welcome to the March ADA Audio Conference series, the ADA Audio Conference series is a project of the ADA National Network. The ADA National Network is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, HHS and the ADA National Network is comprised of ten regional ADA centers throughout the country. I want to welcome all of you to the March session today. We have a great topic and we have a fabulous speaker joining us today. He has some valuable information that he is going to share with us, and at the end, there is going to be an opportunity for you to ask questions about, ask questions of our presenter, Joel. Joel Snyder is our presenter today. He is the president of the Audio Description Associates, and he is also the director of the Audio Description Project, for the American Council of the Blind. If you wish to see Joel's full bio, you can find that on the ADA Audio Web Page, ada-audio.org. So, with that, Joel, I'm going to go ahead and turn it over to you for today's session. Welcome, Joel.
Great, thanks, Peter. Thanks, it's a pleasure to be here. Thank you to Robin Jones as well and her great staff at the ADA center. It's a pleasure to be here indeed. And share a bit about something I care deeply about, Audio Description, access to visual images, primarily for people who are blind or have low vision. I'm presenting a slide right now, and you might, my understanding is that folks who are on the webinar who use screen readers can read the text that is there. But they may not be able -- but they may not be able to pick up on that little image that I have at the bottom of the slide. There is a white square box, and within it two letters in black, bold, AD. The top of the A is tilted over to the right that left side of the A is leaning to the right. And to the right of the curve in the D, three curved lines.
So I wanted to do that, simply to indicate that audio description is not just for video, for film, for theater, for museums. It can be for presentations like this, when images are being presented, and you may not really know who in the audience can, perhaps is blind, perhaps has low vision, perhaps is just too far away from the screen. Audio description for images and presentations I think is a great idea. Just something to keep in mind, I think, as we proceed. Let us proceed. What better way to begin our work together, on description, than with description of two visual images.
Here is the first. The fan, by John McPherson. On the stage, at left, a woman in a flowing gown, her hands clasped in front of her, stands before a kneeling man, in a doublet enfettered cap. He croons, why dos thy heart turn away from mine? At right, a man at a microphone speaks, basically the guy with the goofy hat is piqued because this babe has been running around with the dude in the black tights. The caption reads, many opera companies now provide interpreters for the culturally impaired. Once again, folks who may be in, I've done this presentation, I've shown this particular slide, oh, golly, probably 1,000 times around the world. And folks that are sitting a little farther away from the screen, they can't make out that bottom caption. So there you go, Audio Description is for people who are blind or low vision and for folks who are too far away from the screen, for television, it's for folks who are in the kitchen making a sandwich, the TV is on in the next room, they don't miss a beat. They are not blind. But they just don't have access to the visual image. I dare say as well that sighted people could look at this cartoon and wonder, what is that on the top of that fellow's head, kneeling at the center of the stage? Well, doublet and feathered cap. There you go. The description provides some information for sighted folks because we know sighted folks, they see, but they don't observe. That is an important point too. Audio Description, I'm a big booster for description in a wide range of settings and for a wide range of folks in our audiences. One more cartoon for you. Actually I have two more. But anyway, here you go, Red and Rover by Brian Bassett in first panel, Red, red haired 8-year-old boy, is outdoors, lying on the ground, against the tree, facing away from us, and his right arm is around Rover, a white shorthaired dog, a lab beagle mix, a leaf falls, red announces, brown, in the next panel, as Rover's tail taps, Red notes, orange, red, yellow. In the following panel, Red, orange, yellow, yellow. Next 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. Sighted dogs, nonetheless. But there you go. It comes up in all kinds of settings, and with all kinds of audiences, as I said. Another cartoon here that --
Sorry, this is Peter. Can you give us the slide numbers to help keep folks oriented on where you are?
I've turned to slide 14. Brewster Rockit, I like doing this slide because the issue of color and description always comes up, Brewster Rockit, space guy by Tim Ricard in the first panel, Brewster is wondering to himself, he has his hand at his chin. He says, I've heard that we can see red and be purple with rage. In the next panel, cowards can be yellow. We can be in the black, or in a gray area. Be green with envy, in the pink, and have the blues. But what does being orange mean? And one of Brewster's colleague walks by, the front of his chest is smeared with orange, he holds a bag of orange Cheetos and says that I really, really like Cheetos. That is what being orange means. Brewster says I doubt that saying will ever catch on. Yeah, color, color is important to include with description. Keep in mind, folks when they hear about description and they hear that it's a service, and assistive technology for folks who are blind, they hear the word blind and they think, oh, blind, see nothing. Have never seen anything. Congenitally blind. That is a small portion of the audience for Audio Description. Most people using description can see, they have low vision, they can see particularly if you tell them where to look, that sort of thing, but even more than that, people who are congenitally blind, they know what color is. They know that we can see red as Brewster says or be purple with rage. They grow up in the world and they hear people use words that signify more than just a frequency of light or a hue. They mean emotions, they mean all kinds of things. So congenitally blind people by and large can appreciate the use of color in description. You don't want to overdo it necessarily. But it is something that certainly can be used and is helpful in description.
A little bit about the history of Audio Description. I'm very fond of saying that it all began in prehistoric times. I wasn't there, I'm not quite that old. But I've heard that there were two sighted cave men in a cave, they were munching on some leftover sabre tooth tiger as I recall, and suddenly one of them says to the other, look out, there is a mass take done coming from the west, there you have it, the origins of Audio Description. Aag is not even the blind guy, he is just facing the wrong way. That is some lighthearted perhaps example of Audio Description, making the point of course that Audio Description is used by so many people, all day, every day, they don't know they are using it. And until the '70s there was no formal study of Audio Description. Nowadays people in Europe can get their Master's degree, I have a PhD from the University of Barcelona, focusing in audio description. There really are fundamentals. There are ways to teach Audio Description. There are do's and don'ts. There are best practices. But continuing on, I'm not going to bring you to the '70s just yet.
I have an image I want to share with you that speaks to some early Audio Description, slide 15, you have a black and white image of a man wearing round glasses, somewhat a round man, if you will, shock of dark hair falling across his ample forehead. He is seated at a desk, he wears a double-breasted suit jacket. He's got some pages in his hands. He is looking at those pages, he's got a pen in his right hand. His left hand is near a microphone, it says WNYC. That is all the clues I'm going to give you. Do any of you know who this fellow is? If you do, you are probably as old as I am or something. But anyway, you are looking at the image of LaGuardia, how does he figure into the history of Audio Description? He was the mayor of New York City in the 1940s. You may have flown to New York City and arrived at LaGuardia airport. He was a much beloved mayor. And very savvy, very politically, very astute. There was a newspaper strike during his tenure. He didn't take the side of the newspaper publishers. He didn't take the side of the workers. He took the side of the people. His constituents. He said to himself, I gotta do something to help folks during this strike. What can I do? What is the first thing that folks turn to in their newspaper when they have it available? At least on Sundays, right? The funny papers, right? The comics. Of course, well, mayor LaGuardia went on the radio every Sunday and he read the comics to the citizens of New York City, and of course realized quickly, whoa, you don't read comics by just voicing the text. You have to describe the images. That is exactly what he did. He was one of the first audio describers. Ronald Reagan did a little bit of that as well, when he did his baseball analysis, and baseball announcing, when he wasn't even at the stadium. He was just reading data off a ticker tape. But speaking of cartoons, that speaks to really where I started with all of this, in 1972 as a reader for the Washington Ear, a radio reading service here in the Washington, D.C. area.
I read the Washington Post on Sundays to listeners. I got to the comics, I got to any illustration, and I realized, I have to convey this image to the folks who are listening. Well, little bit later, about 1981, the Washington Ear and its founder, Margaret Fanshield were involved in a group set up by Arena stage in Washington, D.C., this was in 1981. I will interrupt myself and stress that in the late '70s, a man named Gregory Frazier did a master’s thesis at San Francisco state, on the idea of Audio Description. It was really born with Gregory. He left us, oh golly, about 15, 20 years ago. But a great man and a seminal figure in history of Audio Description. But switching to the other side of the continent again in Washington, at Arena stage Margaret was on a panel that was to help arena with accessibility issues. They had just installed an assisted listening device. Wow, isn't that cool, people who are hard-of-hearing can now turn the volume up, by way of a receiver they have, and an ear bud, that all that is connected to a microphone on the stage. The sound is piped through the microphone through an infrared system. It comes to the receiver, you can turn the volume up yourself. Wonderful thing.
Margaret and another blind fellow who figures prominently in the development of description, Chet Avery, they were thrilled to hear about this, but they said, what have you got for us? Couldn't you use that same system and have someone speak into a microphone in the pauses between bits and pieces of dialogue or between critical sound elements, describe the action on stage. Describe the pertinent visual images. From that idea, Wayne White at arena stage, the house manager at Arena picked up on it. Margaret went back to the Ear, pulled together four or five of us who had backgrounds in theater, radio, English, and from that grew the world's first Audio Description service, at the Ear, started at Arena stage and of course from then, it's some 35 or so years hence, from then description developed for television in about 1985, we did the first descriptions for WGBH and PBS. They are the ones who piloted description for television. Now it's part of the law, these United States. It's not up to a level where I think it should be, but right now in the top 60 markets, about four hours per week, it comes out to four hours per week must be described by each of the top nine broadcasters. Television, it then picked up in film, museums are coming to Audio Description now. Coming a little late but they are there.
And training of describers picking up all around the world, my company does description training. We have been in 45 countries now, and help to promote what description is, and what it can provide for folks who are blind or have low vision.
And what is this Audio Description we speak of? I think of it as a literary art form. It is about words. I'm holding my hands way out to the sides, I'm going to narrow that down a little. I'm going to bring my hands in toward each other. It is a type of poetry. I'm bringing my hands in close to each other now. It's a hikeU, why do I say that, because description at its best provides 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 as few words as possible, words that are succinct, vivid, and imaginative. We convey that visual information that is not fully accessible to a segment of the population, and you know American Foundation for the Blind some years back, not that long ago, put together a statistic from a United States Department of Labor statistics, they came up with a number that there are over 21 million Americans who are either blind or have trouble seeing, even with correction. That is our audience. 21 million. That is 8 percent of our population. Add to that their friends, their family and people who can perhaps have cognitive disabilities, people that can learn by hearing as well as seeing, description can benefit all of those folks, and of course, as I mentioned, visual images aren't really, aren't fully realized by the rest of us, the rest of us, you know, those sighted folks, who see, but really just don't observe. They don't notice.
It's really useful for anyone who wants to truly notice and appreciate that more full perspective on any visual event, but of course is especially helpful as an access tool for people who are blind or have low vision. We have done description, oh, all those arts events of course, at conferences, in schools, weddings, parades, rodeos, circuses, sports events. I've even described ... (voice fades away).
Let me help you- I am going to stop talking for a second. I'm going to help you see what description is all about, by asking you, figuratively, to close your eyes. You don't actually have to close your eyes. I'm going to play a short excerpt, a little bit from a feature film that you may have seen, wonderful film, the Color of Paradise, Iranian film, one of my favorites actually. I'm going to play an excerpt from it. But you are not going to see the image. You are going to hear what the soundtrack was, the actual soundtrack, I'm not taking anything away. That shouldn't be a big problem but for all intents and purposes, everybody on this call now is blind, and cannot see what is going on in this film. Just listen to this for a little bit. (Overlapping speakers).
Thanks, Joel. Before we go ahead and push the video out, for those of you in the webinar room, you do not need to do anything. The video is being pushed out to your computer. It is going to play on your default video player on your computer. You do not need to do anything. Once the video ends, your focus will return back into the webinar room. For those of you that are using assistive technology, any screen reader users, within the webinar room, again you don't need to do anything to get the video to play. But once the video has ended, you may need to return your focus back in to the webinar room. You may need to do an Alt tab to return your cursers' focus back into the webinar room. One last thing, the video speed is going to be dependent on your individual Internet connection. We will go ahead and play the video.
There you go. Do not adjust your television set as they used to say. There is nothing wrong with your transmission. Actually the first two clips are just audio. You won't have to worry about seeing anything. Again, you are blind. Go ahead and play that first clip, color number one. Did that play in there, folks? Peter?
It is playing…they are hearing it in the webinar room.
In the interest of time, I'm going to stop it there. At this function, I ask folks, wasn't that great? Gee, what is going on there? Get all kinds of responses from folks. Well, there are some birds. Birds, there you go, nothing gets over that person's head. Yeah, they are birds. They are birds, uh-huh. What else is going on? Let's see. There is some water going, I think maybe there was sea gulls. There was a young woman perhaps, someone struggling, oh and we get into all kinds of things. It is a murder. It's, someone is traipsing through a forest, all kinds of things that you imagine, based on hearing the soundtrack only of a major feature film.
You know the best films they don't do a lot with dialogue. They are visual. We as audio describers have to do our best to convey those visual images. So yeah. Without the audio description, not much is going on there. It is really, after a few minutes on this particular excerpt, time to go home. Forget it. I'm not getting anything out of this. Let's try it one more time. Another time, with audio description. Does it help? Does it focus you at all? Let's give it a try. Play that color number 2.
Mohammed kneels and taps his hands through the thick brown cover of brown curled leaves. A scrawny nestling struggles on the ground near his hand. His palm hovers above the baby bird. He lays his hand over the creature. He curls his fingers around the chick and scoops it into his hands. He stands and strokes its 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. He latches on to 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.
Let's stop right there. Just for the interest of time. Did that come through, Peter?
Participants in the webinar room were able to hear that. Apologize for folks that are participating on the telephone we are not able to provide the sound. But we will be able to access the archive and hear what Joel has been speaking about.
Good. I suspect that is a lot more clear to folks. But usually at this juncture, I ask folks to describe the main character to me, Mohammed. This is an excerpt from a film, the character of Mohammed would have been described earlier. His visage, what he looks like but based on what they hear in the description, can you tell me something about Mohammed? He is a kind boy, he is helping this little chick. He is agile. He can climb a tree. All of that. But if you listen carefully, you hear that the describer has picked up on what the director, the cinematographer is showing us, showing us Mohammed in the tree that he climbs, using his hands to tap down a long branch, reaching up to let his fingers feel a small nest, etcetera. Sure, Mohammed is blind. He is doing all of this as a blind boy, quite a fearless young boy, and let's, if you can stand it one more time, play just a little bit of again now, of it again, but this time with the images, with the video, and what I would ask here is, think about the description that you hear, at least those of you that are in the web room, and think about the images, are they being described accurately, succinctly? Would you describe other things that haven't been described, are your descriptions about what not to describe? There is no way we can describe everything. We have to make choices. Go ahead and play this video for a little bit.
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 fingers, he taps his finger on the chick's gaping beak, tilts his head back and drops it forward. He tips the chick into his front shirt pocket. Wrapping his legs and arms around a tree trunk, Mohammed climbs. He latches on the 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 on to tangles of smaller branches, gaining his footing, he 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 the chick's beak. Smiling he lowers his hand slowly.
Aw, isn't that nice, that is the reaction, aw. Yeah. Speaking of children, speaking of children who are blind, I want to emphasize, another application for Audio Description that I think is quite important and this came up some years back when I was in New Haven doing an audio described tour for the Connecticut children's museum, and speaking to the teachers there, they had reading teachers, teachers that would work with kids who are blind, and we developed, talked about developing more descriptive language to use when working with kids and picture books, think about that, those books rely on pictures, duh, to tell the story. But a teacher trained in Audio Description techniques would never simply hold up a picture of a red ball and read the text. Here it is. I'm going to skip ahead, past these, I'm skipping past the script to color of paradise, to save a little bit on time. But there you have that picture of the red ball, with a text, "see the ball." well, the teacher might add, that ball is red. Just like a fire engine. I think that ball is as large as one of you. It's as round as the sun, a bright red circle, or sphere. What has the teacher done with two lines of description? Introduced new vocabulary, invited comparisons, used metaphor, or similar simile, with toddlers, again, using description, sure, you make the books accessible to children who have low vision or are blind, and I think you develop more sophisticated language skills for all kids. A picture is worth 1,000 words, you have heard that of course. Well, maybe. But the audio describer might say that a few well-chosen words can conjure vivid and lasting images. While we are on the subject of kids and kids who are blind and have low vision, the audio description, I have to tell you, I was very proud to present, rather produce the Audio Description for six years for Sesame Street, on PBS. We got a wonderful letter, I have to tell you about, from a blind parent, of sighted children. She was 40 years old, she remembers Sesame Street from her youth, listening to the sounds and the music and was delighted by it, but now for the first time, she could follow along with her own sighted kids, the antics of Elmo and Bert and Ernie and all the other Dennis ins of Sesame Street. Here is a clip of Elmo's world for you
Is the video freezing up, Peter?
No, it's playing.
Great. Maybe give me a heads up, Peter, when it ends, Peter, because it’s freezing up here.
…if you could orient folks where you are in the presentation on the slide number.
Sorry, we are at slide 24 now. That was the Elmo clip for you. Sure, using description to make television shows, Sesame Street, accessible to young kids, or to blind parents who want to follow along with their kids.
I do want to emphasize one point. Description is, I think, far more important than simply making entertainment accessible. That is important, sure. But there is really no reason, no good reason why a person with a visual disability must also be culturally disadvantaged. And that is what description can do. It brings a nation's culture to folks. In the United States, I'm sure you have heard this data before, the principal constituency for Audio Description has an unemployment rate of about 70, 7-0 percent. I think that with more meaningful access to our culture, television, film, museums, and all of its resources, people become more informed, more engaged with society, and thus more engaging individuals. I think that means that they are more employable.
I'm going to spend the next, the remaining bit of my time here, while we have some time for questions of course, to simply share with you what I have found about, what I've learned that, about what it takes to offer description in ways that are most useful.
I always start with a mention of sir Arthur cone an Doyle's brilliant detective, Sherlock Holmes and while brilliant yeah and incredibly observant, in developing description, I emphasize four elements the first of which is all about that skill, that Sherlock Holmes honed, slide 25 here. There is observation. I quote Yogi Berra, the famous, the great American philosopher, Yogi Berra, he said it best, “You can see a lot, just by looking.” An effective describer has to increase that level of awareness, become an active see-er, if you will, develop a sense of visual literacy. Notice the visual world with a heightened sense of acuity, and share those images, in the words of John Ruskin, we must seize what we see, talked about seeing with exactitude. And no less an authority than Helen Keller said it a little differently. She said those who have never suffered impairment of sight or hearing seldom make the fullest use of these blessed faculties. Their eyes and ears take in all sights and sounds hazily, without concentration, and with little appreciation.
That is slide 27, Helen Keller. Let's give you a little test here. Let's try the next slide, 28, tell me, look at this image here. 87 percent of people that see this image can't see what is wrong with the picture. Can you? Of course I can't hear any of you right now (chuckles). But yeah. Some of the sharper, some of you guys who are already trained in observation techniques will note that the woman has six fingers, got five of them there, her index finger at her mouth, can't see her thumb but they add up to six. That is a little different, isn't it? Sure. Tell me what you see here. Think about this anyway. What you see in this next image. Well, Fed Ex logo that is the most appropriate response, right? I don't know. Fed Ex logo, you know, five letters, three in purple, two in orange, abutting each other, block letters. That is a logo. They paid somebody many thousands of dollars, what could that be about? Why is that the Fed Ex -- keep looking? Keep observing? And do you notice the white space between the E and the X? Okay. It's an arrow. An arrow, pointing to the right. Moving, it indicates movement. It's delivering, Fed Ex delivers, right? I think that is maybe subconsciously what they are going for here. And I guess this applies to description, not only from the standpoint of observation, but I think you have to remember in Paul Valery's words, seeing is forgetting the name of what one sees. Slide 30. You know, it's one thing to know the name of something, and you dismiss it. Fed Ex logo, okay, next. You don't really look. To really see, you have to forget the name of what one sees. One more test for you, and this is fun. Those of you who are habitual inhabitants of the web, and YouTube, will perhaps recognize this awareness test. Play this for us, will you please?
We are having difficulty playing the awareness test video.
I'll summarize for you, I’ll describe for you since you can’t see it. You have a team of basketball players, they are tossing a ball, two teams actually, one in white, one in black. They are tossing the ball between their members. At the end, they say, well, how many passes did the team in white make? If you have been looking carefully, if you have been observing, you will note, 13 passes. But, did you see the moonwalking bear, my goodness, we play it again and there he is. Moving on from the right, moving left, there is a moonwalking bear, in black. So it's difficult to see perhaps. Going across the screen, nobody notices it. Few people notice it because they are focused on how many passes did the team in white make? You can find that easily on the web, on YouTube. There are clips for that all over the place. Observation that is that first fundamental.
Moving on, slide 32. Editing. What is most critical to an understanding, he points to his head, and an appreciation, his hand is on his heart, of the visual image? Again, there is no time to describe everything that one can see, and I doubt even in a museum exhibit, there are no dialogue, no parameters to deal with that way. But you want to listen to somebody describe everything that is in a picture without emphasis, without choosing, without picking? Well, I think perhaps not. Editing allows us to focus in on what is most important. We have to select what is most valid, what is most important, what is most critical to an understanding and an appreciation of an event. We are in a way like the artists that Oliver Wendell Holmes refers to in slide 33, the great struggle of art is to leave out all but the essential.
I think that actually allows us to see a lot more, for instance, in the next slide, number -- well, excuse me, this actually is another quote here, Georgia O’Keefe, the great wonderful American western artist she said it quite nicely. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things. That is what we are trying to help folks do, who can't see images. For instance, there is this image here, an image of Tiger Woods, crouching on a green, he has his putter leaning against his left shoulder. He's got his hands cupped around the brim of his cap, his hands curl down the sides of his face, almost like blinders on a horse. What is he doing? What is he doing? The caption says, to accomplish more, sometimes you need to see less.
He is doing that for himself, he is putting blinders up so he can accomplish more. See less, focus on making the putt, and he will of course. He is Tiger Woods, right? Sometimes to accomplish more, you have to see less. And that is what I think we can help people do by making careful and important choices of what we will describe. We do that based on an understanding of blindness and low vision. We go from the general to the specific. We use color. We include directional information. We also try to develop a, within part of the visual literacy or cinematic literacy or theater literacy or visual art literacy, what is being conveyed by the director, the cinematographer, by certain camera angles, clue into that. They are giving us hints as to what is most important to describe.
The third fundamental of the four moving on to slide 36, language. Less is more. Clarity, imagination, objectivity. This is where we spend the most of time, I think, crafting the language. We transfer it all, we transfer, we translate all the visual to words, objective, vivid, specific, and imaginatively drawn, words, phrases and metaphors. In the next slide here, I've got an image for you. You will recognize this if you have ever been to the, to Washington, D.C. and seen the Washington monument. How do you convey the height of this, shown in this picture? You could certainly say it's 555 feet tall. That is accurate. Is that the best way to describe it? Perhaps not. 500 feet, what does 500 feet mean? What does 500 square feet mean to someone who is not an engineer or architect? What about that Washington Monument? It is, yeah, 555 feet tall, it's 50 something stories tall, as high as 55 elephants stacked one on top of the other. It's almost as tall as two football fields set up vertically. And of course it towers over the ring of American flags on flag poles, at the base of the picture. Sure. Slide 38, Jonathan Swift said it nicely, vision is the art of seeing things invisible. There are no football fields there. But by invoking them, you help someone else see, feel, understand the height of that Washington Monument. In the color of paradise segment, there is no worm at the end. But by invoking the idea of a worm, he wiggles his finger like a worm, well, you convey what he is doing with his index finger, and of course appropriately enough, it goes right along with what is being seen, a small bird and a bird’s nest, that kind of thing. Mark Twain said all of this I think in an even more clever way than Jonathan Swift. He said, “You cannot depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”
So, I want to share with you another film clip here, real brief one, this one comes from the feature film, the Book Thief that you may have seen. It is a fairly recent film. A scene where young girl is describing the outdoors to someone who is not blind but he is trapped in the basement of this home. I think she does a wonderful things with language, at the encouragement of the gentleman for whom she is describing. Go ahead and play this short clip
Try to play this one again, we’re having trouble.
Okay, it’s just a minute. I can tell you what is going on there, of course. He encourages her to describe what is going on outdoors. Try it again?
Give it another try here, Joel.
Try one more time or should I stop it here?
Go ahead, Joel, it's not working.
It’s alright. He encourages her to describe what is going on, use words, make them your own. She describes the sun as a silver oyster. It is behind clouds, you know. It is a pale silver oyster. The gentleman says, yes, yes, thank you. I saw that, in his mind's eye, he got a sense of what is going on outside. Language. We have to become walking thesaurus if you will. How many words can you use to describe someone moving along a sidewalk? Why say walk, when you can more vividly imaginatively describe the action with sashay, stroll, skip, stumble, saunter and other words that don't begin with S. There is lots of things you can do with language. We become a walking thesaurus. You don't have to do it these days, when you write at the computer you can have thesaurus.com up on the screen and that will help you with developing more buried word choice if you will.
It's important, I say less is more, describers strive for simplicity, thinkness -- succinctness. That is summed up beautifully from a quote from the philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal. He said once in describing a letter, writing to a friend, said I have only made this letter longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter.
Yeah. It takes time to come up with the best words, to do language, to edit it down. That is what we strive to do.
Now, indeed while we try to do all this vividly, and even see beyond what is readily apparent, see that worm, see that football field if you will, we do have to maintain a degree of objectivity and describers, sum that up on slide 42, with the acronym, WYSIWYS.
What could that mean? Well, what you see is what you say.
All we mean by that, really, is that we need to spare our listeners from a subjective interpretation on the part of the describer. Those interpretations, they are unnecessary, they are unwanted. Let your listeners conjure their own interpretations, based on your commentary that is as objective as possible. So, no, he is not furious. No, she is not upset. Rather, he is clenching his fist, or she's crying. Let the audience make their own judgments. Maybe their eyes don't work so well, but their brains, interpretative skills are intact. We don't need to provide anything that isn't provided for the sighted audience. Going back to our very first slide, those three curved lines to the right of the curve and the letter D, leave it right there. Three curved lines. Resist the temptation to explain. We describe. We don't explain. We show. We don't tell. You don't need to tell folks that they represent radio waves or sound waves. No. Folks out there have great brains, they grow up in the world. We provide only what is being left out when someone can't see.
I think to speak to that, actually, Anais Nin, the great writer and diarist, she recognized, it is so difficult to do, there is no specific objective thing. We don't see things as they are. We see them as we are. Yeah. But we need to war against that temptation to interpret for our audience. Let them do that themselves. That is the fun in enjoying any piece of art. And this little cartoon on slide 45, I think, makes the point quite nicely. Pickles by Brian Crane, there is Opal, older couple, Opal is saying to her husband Earl this yard looks like a mess, Earl! Earl responds, Henry David Thoreau said it's not what you look at that matters. It's what you see. Me, I see a wild untamed area of indigenous flora, flourishing and thriving as nature intended. Opal responds. Yeah, and I see a husband who is full of baloney. There you go. Winding things up, the fourth fundamental vocal skills oftentimes certainly for media, it is a separate voice talent, who voices description written by a describer. Usually in performing arts, one and the same person.
But in understanding description, you have to understand that meaning is made with the voice. Meaning is made with the voice. The voice can communicate so much, that it will enhance what you have done with your words. So indeed the voice talent, just like they say about lighting designers or the sound designers on stage and theater, they can make-or-break an actor. A voice talent can build on, if you will, a good voice talent can make meaning with the voice that maybe isn't quite so clear with the words. And conversely, a bad voice talent can take beautiful description and ruin it. A quick example here. See if you can see what you have here, on this slide 47, yeah, it's pretty clear. A woman without her man is a savage.
I think we can all agree on that. Well, maybe not. Maybe not. I bet there are a few of you at least who are thinking, what the hell is he talking about? Woman without her man is a savage? How would you say those words back at me, and make it mean the opposite? Don't change any words. Don't rearrange any words. Don't add any words. Woman without her man is a savage. Well, of course, you probably figured it out by now. Woman: Without her, man is a savage. Yeah. Let's try one more. Maybe a little more difficult perhaps.
That that is is that that is not is not. Simply say that aloud so it makes some sense. That is all you need to do. Can you figure that one out? I used to use this in speech classes back in the '70s when I taught high school speech and theater. Sure. Insert those commas. What is punctuation, except an indication of how to do your voicing? Slide 50, that that is, is, that that is not, is not. Jumps right off the screen and bites you in the leg, doesn't it? Yeah. Finally with vocal skills, it's important to remember the concept of consonance. The idea that the voice talent must be, must match the tone of what is being described. When description first began, we were so cognizant, so, we emphasized so much this idea of objectivity that most describers voiced in a monotone. Like now he is moving here. Now she is moving there. Now they are doing this, like a golf announcer, almost whispering into the screen.
That can be, I think, as jarring as, as distracting as someone who is overdoing it and acting. You are not an actor as a describer. You are serving the actors and the theater and the film and the museum exhibit, and you are serving the people who are listening to you. Simply, the subtle thing, having in your voice the tone of that serious scene, or the tone of that happy scene. And that will help convey what is going on, what those visual images are. We are coming up on 3 o’clock here. I want to put up a slide that simply has my contact information. And other information about my book that was published by the American Council of the Blind last year, actually in 19 -- no, sorry, 2004. What am I saying? 2004, the visual made verbal, a comprehensive training manual and guide to the history and applications of Audio Description. I encourage you to look at my website, audiodescribe.com as well as the website of the American council of the blind's audio description project, which I direct, acb.org/adp. You will find there more information than you could possibly want to find about Audio Description and it's geared towards consumers. So they can find out what TV shows are on with description, what films have description, what is the latest DVD out with description, what museums, what theaters around the country have description, and much, much more.
Finally, I note at the bottom of the slide we have a 3-day Audio Description institute training coming up this July in Minneapolis. If you did not like this last hour, you surely will not enjoy three days of me in July, in conjunction with the American Council of the Blind's annual meeting. Before that training we will have a three day Audio Description project conference, with describers and scholars and consumers of description from all around the world, convening in Minneapolis to talk about description, and explore all kinds of things. Stay in touch with me. Send me an E-mail if you want more information about any of those events. With that, Peter, I'll open it up to questions that I guess I will look at on the chat screen here.
Very good. I had the pleasure to attend a session that Joel did at a conference last November. So in case you were sleeping during the presentation here, Joel certainly enjoys what he does. I think that definitely comes across. For those of you in the webinar room, you can submit your questions in the chat area. Simply use your cursor, click on the chat area, when you submit your question, you will not see the question has been submitted. But the presenters and moderators will be able to view the questions. For those of you who are using the app, you can type your question directly into the chat area. At this time, I will ask Eric to give our telephone participants instructions on how they can ask questions.
Ladies and gentlemen, if you have a question at this time on the phone, please press star, then the number 1 key. Once again that's star, then the number 1 key. If your question has been answered and you wish to remove yourself from the queue, you may press the pound key.
Alright. While we are waiting for folks to get in the cue, if they have questions, telephone participants, we have questions submitted by E-mail in advance. But I'm going to ask one myself because I can. I've had some involvement here, Great Lakes center is located at the University of Illinois Chicago, and they have a lot of projects that come through where artists have displays for a period of time. How, what would you say a best practice is in terms of working with those sort of temporary, they may be here for two weeks, may be here for a month, those types of displays, whether they are artists of drawings or photographs or sculptures, and what have you. What is the best practice for the university in terms of, who wants to provide Audio Description for these displays, and communicate that information, what are the kinds of things that a university could do?
That is a great question, Peter. There are a couple of things that come to mind. First, if the university knows about the exhibit, has the images, has access to the sculptures, whatever they may be in advance, they can certainly work with people who know about description to write description of each of those images, maybe a couple of paragraphs perhaps. And even record those descriptions, voice those descriptions, and make them available to folks, perhaps as an MP3 file that they can download to their smart phone. Or you can have audio players there. I go back to people doing this on audio cassettes, quite some time ago. But nowadays, more and more folks are downloading description and using an app to pair it with the sound track of a film, or certainly in an exhibit, so you can record it, you can also train your docents or guides to be able, to be proficient in description, so that they can take people around the exhibit, and describe as they go, as well as perhaps provide background information that they may be providing to everybody who comes anyway. The other thing too is to think in advance about ways in which you can convey the images tactilely. I don't mean that you necessarily want to be bugging the artist and saying, can we put our hands all over your painting? Probably you are not going to be able to. But it may be that you could do a, not even a 3D print job but something, a representation of a painting in relief, if you will, as a bas relief so people can touch and feel what they can't see.
It may be that simple things like a feather or a piece of cloth can give someone the sense of the texture in a work of art, or even a model, small model. Here is where 3D printing can come in handy. You can print your own model of whatever that sculpture is, rather than having to commission an artist or someone to develop models, that is a great way to have a little touch cart and let people touch models of what is on display. That is a great thing too. It's a matter of recognizing and involve all of people's senses.
Very good, like you said, that is something that museums have increasingly have done, and actually in some justice departments settlement agreements with museums, it is actually, it has required them to create and provide 3D tactile representations of some of the exhibits to give individuals that are blind or have low vision that tactile experience in addition to having it described.
I'm going to ask you one other quick question here, Joel. As a person who is blind myself, I listen to a lot of old time radio. I'm sure you are familiar with that. I'm not making any comment about your age. Could you talk about that in comparison, because it's almost the opposite of what they did on old time radio, but talk about that, what they did on old time radio in providing that description for everyone, everyone was blind when it comes to radio. So how they did that and how that relates to audio description that you are talking about today.
I have to make one quick comment, Peter. You may know this, and I have to honor and invoke the memory of the great Eddie Walker, Washington, D.C. native, blind from birth, was Willard Scott's radio pal, radio partner for many years, here in the D.C. area, the joy boys. For the last 25 years, he hosted a Sunday night program here on WAMU called the big broadcast. He would play those radio -- they are still available, every Sunday, they have a different host now. But it was just a wonderful thing. He had such appreciation for the skill of radio theater artists, not the least of which is the Foley artist, which you may know, is the first person responsible for making all the sound effects. That is an art form that hasn't been lost, because you may think that when you go to a film all those sounds you are hearing were picked up by a microphone on the sound stage. No. Those sounds are created after the filming is done by and large, and the actors are voicing their words to be paired with them in the film. Foley artists create all those sounds and sound effects. It is really quite a wonderful thing. But you are right, Peter. Everybody is blind with radio theater, radio drama. You don't have to be the describer of visual images. There are no visual images. You simply represent the visual, the action, with sound.
So Eddie had a door he could open and close right at his microphone to show a door opening, or he had shoes there where he could represent people walking, or whatever. Things like that. All kinds of little Foley artist tricks. That is a great example.
A little different than audio description. I think perhaps what is more akin to Audio Description is what the great radio play by play announcers do for baseball or football, or what have you, broadcasting on radio. They are broadcasting something that is visual, and they can oftentimes describe with great skill to help people see what is going on, on the football field or the baseball field.
Another thing I was going to mention, when a specific announcer, Kevin Harlan, who works for WestwoodOne Radio, does football games and you had mentioned this earlier, when he’s describing the football field, he will say, “The Broncos are moving from left to right.” When there is a punt, he will give the actual hang time in seconds, to give you an idea just how long or how short the ball was actually in flight. But yeah, if folks want to get an idea of, in the moment Audio Description, listen to a play by play announcer for an NHL hockey team, as fast as they are moving around. Joel, someone wanted to know if there is an audio version of your book that is available, and if not, if that is something that you are considering.
Great question (chuckles).
My background of course is in radio and theater, as a voice talent and voice artist, an actor. I do want to hopefully by the end of this year record the text of the book with descriptions of images, of course, by the end of the year, hopefully be able to record that and make that available.
But what is available now is, if you go to the ACB.org website, in fact it's on the screen there, https://mall.acb.org/mini-mall-shops/pages-and-tracks, that will direct you to where you can download, you can purchase the print book but you can also download it as a Word or text file. Most computers nowadays have the capacity to read the files to you. You don't necessarily have to have a fancy screen reading software like JAWS or window eyes, you can download the file and the computer will read it to you if you have a fairly recent computer with that kind of software built in. That is one way of making it an audiobook if you will, but hopefully by the end of the year we will have a formal one featuring the dulcet tones of yours truly.
Fantastic. Eric, I'll check with you, see if we have any questions from our phone participants at this time.
No, sir, I'm showing no questions over the phone line.
All right. Very good. We will go back to our—Joel, one of the questions that came in asking about providing specific guidelines and other best practices for providing audio description, obviously, in this shortened time frame you couldn't go more in depth, you mention the 3-day conference which would clearly outline best practices guidelines and so forth. But other resources, training information that you can provide to individuals that may be interested in becoming an audio describer?
Sure, he shamelessly plugged his book again, the visual made verbal, it's available on Amazon.com. Also at its own dedicated website, the visual made verbal.net. It's intended to be a training manual. It is essentially, puts out in print a lot of what goes on at those training sessions that I conduct worldwide. There is actually even a website that is associated with the book, so that you can at a certain point in the book talk about a particular exercise where you can go to the website and see a clip from a movie or a play or whatever, and work on that as a description practicum if you will. That book is helpful. Again at the acb.org/adp, Audio Description project website, we have posted there, you might have to do a quick search on guidelines or best practices, but we have posted there the latest best practices guidelines that were produced by the American Council of the Blind. What we did with that was to take the, I like to think the best of the best guidelines that exist for description around the world, most, I wouldn't say most countries but a number of countries as they have developed capacity with description have developed their own best practices, their own guidelines and they are similar one to another. The folks at the Canada council of the blind and a great description company in Canada, Accessible Media, Inc., they have I think on their website access to the Canadian best practices. There are best practices available in Spain by the group Once, which is the Spanish equivalent if you will of the American Council of the Blind or the National Federation of the Blind. And they have guidelines. The UK, I should mention that first perhaps, because they were really the first to organize best practices and guidelines that are on-line, and the best way to access those would be at the RNIB.org/, or .UK, RNIB meaning royal national institute of the blind and I'm pretty sure they have a link to description guidelines that are used in the UK. Fairly simple, they all focus principally on media. But in the UK you will find description guidelines for live theater as well.
In fact, in the UK, is the only country where you can actually become certified as a describer for live performance in particular. That is something that the American Council of the Blind is beginning to look at as well, because right now, just about anybody can hang out a shingle and say they are an audio describer. Well, there is more to it than just looking at something and talking. There really is. There are best practices. There are guidelines. We are looking at the possibility of developing an American certification for audio describers.
That was going to be the next question that someone had submitted for you. You got into that. I was going to add something on to that. You had mentioned early on in the presentation your educational background, PhD and work in Europe. In addition to any other additional thoughts that you have on the possibility of coming up with accreditation certification licensing for describers, what about educational programs at post-secondary institutions here in the United States? Any programs that are up and running or looking to start a program similar to what you were able to attend in Europe?
Yeah, I'll tell you, there is very little. Oftentimes it's like a course here and there. I've taught courses for Montgomery College here in the D.C. area, at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, at Penn State University. Boy that is something that even you guys right there at University of Illinois at Chicago perhaps you could work with the university to develop a series of courses that could result in an Audio Description major perhaps, or at least the study of description. I'd be thrilled to work with you on that. The reason I think for its, they are not being much at all in the United States, is because in Europe it's considered a form of audiovisual translation. As you are aware, in Europe, they get most of their film from the United States. It's in English. There is quite an industry in the dubbing of English, spoken in American films, into French, into German, into Spanish, what have you. There are certain countries that are primarily dubbing countries, but then there are also countries that are primarily subtitling countries. That is again an industry there. The translation of one language to another and then represented by words on the screen, well, the folks that are involved in that work, there is a whole range of academic programs in many countries that focus on audiovisual translation, subtitling and dubbing for film, for television. They learned about description, I actually was involved with this about 15 to 20 years ago, in working with some of the, about ten of the leaders in audiovisual translation in Europe, they convened in the area of the Portugal. I led them through training in audio description. They have run with it. They have developed masters programs, PhD programs in Audio Description, they have embraced it as a kind of translation. Of course in this country, English is the dominant language. There isn't that focus on subtitling. There is captioning. Captioning of course in this country simply putting in words what is being spoken in English, putting that down on the screen in English words. That is different. That is a transcription. It is not a translation. Translation is something that is studied academically in many programs around Europe. So the university of Barcelona is one of the top programs for that, is imperial college in UK, there's others in Germany and throughout the world actually, there are a few programs like that, primarily in Europe.
Excellent, gentlemen. Another question from the chat room was about, asked about is the area of Audio Description growing? Here in the United States, are you seeing it in more mediums? Is it still fairly isolated in certain pockets and only theater and television, movies, or are you seeing it more broadly being used?
It's growing. We are no longer in our infancy. But however, we are probably not past our adolescence, if you will. Description began in performing arts. So perhaps that's as far as the number of audio description programs around the country, probably see that most, the quantity there is available. But it has been embraced now by film, just about every film release now has an Audio Description track that is accessible in the movie theater. The Department of Justice is looking at requiring that, and requiring captions, so that deaf people can enjoy films, as they generally have never done before.
As I mentioned, I'm not sure if I mentioned specifically the 21st century Communications and Video Accessibility Act that put into law some FCC rules that were adopted in the year 2000. They were struck down in court but then in 2012 Obama signed into law this act which requires four hours per week in the top 60 markets for the top nine broadcasters, the four terrestrial broadcasters and the top five cable broadcasters, four hours per week. If you think about the number of hours of television and the multiplicity of channels that are out there, four hours, nine broadcasters, that is nothing. That is nothing. In the UK, it has grown, it is now required not ten hours, 10 percent of all broadcasts must have description just like in the United States, we are now at a hundred percent of broadcasters are required to have captions. But captions and the needs of the deaf were acknowledged 40 years ago, 30 years ago. We are not quite there yet. But in the UK, it has been embraced by the royal national institute of the blind, and they have been very influential at getting those requirements. 10 percent is the requirement, most broadcasters do 20 percent of their programming. In this country we have several hundred DVDs with description. In the UK it's probably several thousand of it that are available. Of course there are many more to go. But the UK has certainly embraced it. As I mentioned, I've done presentations on description and actual trainings in over 40 countries now. It's growing. It's being embraced around the world. I will be introducing it in Uruguay and Argentina next month and in May, speaking about it in Brazil and in Poland, two countries that do have significant description already. So we are getting there. We are getting there.
Then we have two questions, going to tie them together, around the area, you mentioned this a little bit, but talk about some of the technologies that are used by the user, at the end, to actually access the Audio Description, in a museum setting or a setting similar to that.
Absolutely. I'm glad you mention that, because I think the future of description, I think I referred to it just briefly, is about downloading description tracks from the web, from the Internet. Pixar in cooperation with Disney just recently released an app that it’s, I think it's amazing though there are three or four versions of it I've been working with over the years. The app once you download it hears the soundtrack of a film that is playing in a movie theater. Then you download to the app the audio description for that soundtrack. You can then play the Audio Description through your own smart phone, through your own ear buds, hear the description, timed perfectly to the soundtrack of the movie in the movie theater or on the DVD at home. That I think is the future of description. Folks will bring description with them, if you will, even to live theater conceivably. There are some Broadway shows that have recorded description even for live performance. I think we are headed that way. Certainly that can be done in museums as well, very simple to download an audio that you can simply turn on, when you go to the museum, and use in your own smart phone. It is going to take a little while until we are at 90, 100 percent of folks out there who have smart phones. It's going to be a little while. But probably not more than five or ten years, I would think. I think that is the future of description and I look forward to it.
Excellent. Can you explain briefly how Audio Description, the technology equipment that is used to provide the Audio Description in a theater setting, where you have a live player or theatrical production ongoing.
…that is a much different bit of technology, I mentioned Arena Stage. What was being used then and still is today for most assisted listening systems is an infrared system. Microphone on stage, hears the sound if you will, translates that into electrical pulses that are sent to a box above the proscenium, in that box the electrical pulse is translated to an infrared beam of light. That light is received by a receiver, a glass ball that you wear, and put the ear buds in your ear, and that glass ball receives the infrared light, translate that back into sound and you can adjust the volume. That is what is used nowadays, more often though you will find audio description provided via FM radio. It's the same kind of system. It is simply not dependent on the beam of light. A person in the live setting will get a receiver from the house manager with ear buds. They will put those, turn up the volume, it will be set to a certain frequency. Elsewhere in the house, the audio describer has an FM radio transmitter with a steno mask microphone or headset microphone, and that person is delivering the description live, again in those pauses between bits and pieces of dialogue or critical sound elements, and FM radio goes through walls. You are not dependent on line of sight. It is also portable system, so you don't have the boxes installed over the preSenium so you can pack it up and take it to another theater and use it there. That is essentially what happens in live theaters.
Excellent. We have gotten ourselves to the bottom of the hour. I'm going to end with this one last request. We had someone ask if you would be able to provide all of the URLs for the different resources, including your audiobook that you had mentioned. And if you are able to pull those together and provide those to us here at Great Lakes, when we post the archive and the materials, we can include a document with all of those links that you had mentioned.
I'd be happy to. No problem.
Excellent. Well, we have reached the bottom of the hour. And I want to thank Joel for his participation today. In addition it's not just the 90 minutes-plus that he spent with us today providing all of this great information, it's all the time that he took in putting together his presentation and preparing for that. We truly appreciate his participation and on behalf of the ADA National Network I want to thank Joel for today’s session. I want to thank all of you especially for your attendance. Without your participation we would not be doing the ADA audio conference series. So we appreciate your participation. Our next session will be April 19th, and it will be hot legal topics on accessible transportation. You can find information on how to register description speaker information by visiting ADA-audio.org, as a quick reminder today's session will be archived, within 14 days we will have an edited transcript posted along with the audio, handout materials, and the additional resource sheet with all of the URLs and links that Joel mentioned during his presentation. Once again thanks to Joel and thanks to all of you for participating. For those of you in the webinar room, you can simply close out your browser. Those of you on the telephone can simply hang up. We look forward to seeing you in April. Good day.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for participating in today's conference. This does conclude the program. You may all disconnect. Everyone have a great day.