The Western Cape branch of Audio Describe PTY is making huge strides to help the visually impaired enjoy art and performances more, thanks in part to Audio Description Associates, LLC, based in the USA.
Audio description, whether by voice recording or in person narration, is a way of providing blind or low vision persons with the verbal version of a visual image. It is like descriptive imagery in a book, but spoken for those who cannot see.
Joel Snyder, president of Audio Description Associates, said, “Any setting with a visual element is key. For movies or performing arts, the narrative is woven into the soundtrack, around dialogue and key sound elements. We don’t want to cover those, we weave it around important parts to help people see in their mind’s eye.”
Snyder and his South Africa team held workshops in the beginning of October in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town to teach people about audio description. At the workshops, participants learned the four fundamentals: observing what you see; editing what you see to be concise; choosing what language to use to convey images (vivid and imaginative); and vocal skills including learning about tone of voice and inflection. Since the point of description is for the visually impaired to enjoy the arts, descriptors must learn to have enough impact for people to understand what’s happening, but to stay out of focus enough to not take away from the film, performance or exhibit.
“Unfortunately there are very few DVDs or movies here (in South Africa) that have audio description. I don’t know why that is and it’s something we want to tackle,” said Jeremy Opperman, Western Cape coordinator of Audio Describe, PTY.
For Opperman, who is blind, the issue hits very close to home. “I’m 49 and I had one of the best days of my life just days ago. We took a trip to the museums for the entire day, and for the first time I was able to really enjoy the visual art and exhibits because I was privileged to be walked through by one of the worlds leading audio describers.”
The workshops were given to trainees, but also to “captains of industry” within the arts, tourism and media, including an intern from the South African Holocaust Museum and film producers. Unfortunately, not all trainees will become audio describers, but for Snyder and Opperman, the most important aspect is to get information out to those who were previously unaware of this tool.
According to the South African National Council for the Blind, there are 724,000 visually impaired people in the country. “They’re invisible because they aren’t included into society. Audio description has the potential of opening the door to be more naturally integrated into mainstream society,” said Opperman.
Image 2: Joel Snyder in audio description session;
Image 3: Joel Snyder, president of Audio Description Associates.