Flipping the Script on Audio Description

When it comes to Audio Description, are we listening between the lines? There’s so much more to AD than what we hear. So, today on the podcast, we’re going to expand who we actually hear from on the topic. There are the “experts” but there are plenty more with something really valuable to contribute. Like, Alejandra Ospina, Liz Thomson & Chanelle Carson who share their expertise on the subject.
Sometimes you just have to Flip the Script to hear what’s on the other side!

Plus I’ll introduce you to someone from the other side who I’ve been turning to when I need a bit of help! Or maybe I really do just need some help!

Listen

Resources

Alejandra Ospina
Disability Visibility: First Person Stories From the 21st Century

Transcript

Show the transcript


Sound of Vocal booth closing.

TR:

Geez, this idea of trying to open the podcast with something different or catchy is just starting to get to be too much.

If only I had help. If only I had help, If only I …

Sound of Dream Harp!

The Great Kazoo:

(Yawning!) You called?

TR in dream sequence:

Yes, oh great Kazoo. Didn’t you hear me calling you?

The Great Kazoo:

When? Of course not I’ve been sleeping.

TR:

Bruh! Isn’t that your job. To be there to look out for a brother.

The Great Kazoo:

My dear fellow, I’m not only undependable, but I’m a bit of a Kook… That’s why I’m hear remember I’m being punished.

TR:

Really, punished? You act like I call you that often. It’s been a minute since I actually needed your help Bruh. Plus I looked out for you that last time. I sent a very nice email to your supervisor.

The Great Kazoo:

Why don’t you try counting on yourself.

TR:

Oh, it’s like that son? Aight, forget you. I’ll just do the regular intro myself with you, nahmean!

Drop the beat!

Music begins with a Hip Hop Kick drum & bass.

What’s up Reid My Mind Radio Family! My name is Thomas Reid. I’m the host and producer of this podcast featuring compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability. I should clarify that a bit because I think it may get lost. People impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability? This includes all those experiencing disability directly. A person new to blindness for example. But it also includes their family members and friends. The teachers of the visually impaired, O&M & Rehab instructors who teach the white cane for example or other daily living skills. There are also those in supporting industries from technology, accessibility & of course Audio Description. I consider all of this to be summarized by impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability. For the record, I think our entire society is all impacted by disability, but we don’t all happen to realize that or even feel that way. But don’t worry y’all eventually they’ll catch up with us. That’s on them. So let us just keep doing our thing!

The Great Kazoo:

(Yawning) Oh look, I don’t wish to stay here forever. And since I am supposed to serve you I will try. But take heed, don’t ask for more than you can handle, you may get it.

Sound of reversing Dream Harp…

TR:

Maybe I don’t need help. I think I have an idea after all.

The Great Kazoo:

(Yawning…) Well, see you tomorrow. Maybe. Laughs. Sound effects signaling his disappearance.)

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

TR:

Today I’m bringing you excerpts of some conversations I had over the past few months with multiple Audio Describers. Specifically writers and narrators, each bringing their own perspective and background.

AD is still new. There’s no one “right” way. With there being so much more to Audio Description than what we hear, it’s past time we hear from a more inclusive set of people involved in the process.

So, this is the first in a series I’m calling Flipping the Script on Audio Description. You know, sometimes you just need to hear from another side.

Now let me introduce you to my guests.

Alejandra:
My name is Alejandra (American English accented) or Alejandra Ospina depending on your audience.

TR:

That’s what I’m saying! The Reid My Mind Radio Family like our world is diverse. And that’s how we roll!

(Music begins)

Alejandra:

My business cards have a long list of things, but I like to consolidate it into what I’m calling a Media Accessibility Provider. I do Close Captioning and I do transcription and I do translation and Audio Description and so I like to imagine the things I’m doing all sort of promote access to content. I don’t consider myself as often a content creator but I like to facilitate people getting to see or hear or know what they’re watching.

TR:

That makes me think Alejandra’s introduction to media access is personal.

Alejandra:

Having close friends and chosen family members that are visually impaired and I’ve spent a lot of time describing things for them so it sort of was a natural progression.

Related sort of anecdotally growing up as the primary English speaker in a Spanish speaking family I spent a lot of time explaining things to so the concept of explaining comes naturally to me.

TR:

That sort of hits home for me. My mom played that role for much of her family. One thing I know is that can be a great way to develop an advocate’s spirit.

Alejandra:

I was one of those folks that got on my high horse which isn’t very high, about having people on social media describe images and photos that they post. So I spent a lot of time in the last five years gently shaming or encouraging people to describe the things they post on social media and over time that has caught the attention of folks in disability community and communities of people that are doing this kind of work. And it was sort of a natural progression.

TR:

Next, one of the first Describers to provide a visual description of themselves. This prompted me to not only begin asking other describers to do the same but really to think about incorporating that going forward with all interviews.

Here’s Liz Thomson, who is currently pursuing a Doctorate degree in Disability Studies.

Liz:

(Spelling her name)
Liz Thomson. I would visually describe myself as a dark skin 5 foot 2 person with black eyes and black rimmed glasses. Currently I have a mostly shaved head with a band of 2 inch short black hair. I identify as someone who is disabled, also bisexual and queer. A Vietnamese adoptee. Mostly grown up and worked in the mid-west. I use they, them they’re pronouns.

TR:

you can say Liz had a fast tracked introduction to AD. Learning of it and experience it all in the same evening.

Liz:

One of my good friends who is Low Vision, he invited me to go to a Disability Cultural Program. At the very beginning of the program they ask if anyone needed headsets for Audio Description. He’s used to that and I think he typically takes advantage of that accommodation, but I had never heard of that. And so I was like hey you know I’ll try it out. So I got my headset. I believe this was kind of like an open mic performance.

TR:

It included things like poetry, dance or movement and other artistic expression. probably not the most traditional first experience with Audio Description.

Liz:

So that really got me hooked!

Chanelle:

My name is Chanelle Carson. I am a Freelance Audio Describer out of Las Vegas, Nevada. I’m also the Senior Audio Describer at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Las Vegas.

I’ve been working with the Smith Center for actually 8 years now. About 4, 5 years ago actually, during one of our pre shifts they just asked if anyone was interested in learning how to do Audio Description.

At the time I was 22 just out of college. I had been studying film with a focus on screen writing, I was thinking oh, this sounds like it’s right up my alley. I’m a writer and at the time I was very interested in learning how to do voice acting.

Didn’t hear anything for a few months then they sent me and another woman off to get trained at Joel Snyder’s Audio Description seminar.

[TR in conversation with Chanelle:]

Was it kind of hard to take what you learned and go right into the live stuff?

Chanelle:

Oh yeh! It was extremely difficult going from the training to doing live theater because the training was so heavily focused on TV and film that sure the basic stuff like;
Don’t talk over the dialog, Blind people aren’t idiots – don’t worry about being too tender or politically correct with your description. What you see you describe.

Of course with TV and film when you’re doing description for that you have the lovely pause button. You don’t necessarily have that for live theater.

(Music ends!)

You can’t go hey guys I screwed up can we go back. (Laughs along with TR) So it’s very much having to learn how to do things on the fly.

TR:

Like Chanelle, Liz too completed the ACB AD Training. Similarly, the application was less about TV and film.

Liz:

I’ve done photography ever since I was in middle school. I did photo journalism at my high school newspaper, in college. As a photo journalist I was realizing I wasn’t adding Alt Text. I wasn’t adding description in my captions to make it kind of more integrated. I would add a caption but I wouldn’t add that photo description.

TR:
Today, Liz can take up to 25 minutes crafting an image description when preparing to upload.

Liz:

Sometimes people are like how can you do that? Do the in their eyes the extra time and labor to do the Audio Description. My response now is how can you afford to not.

TR:

Even if you put aside making the world a more accessible place for all (boring!) there are some real benefits:

Liz:

It makes me look at my images more closely. It makes me reflect a lot more on images that I shot.

TR:

That reflection could lead to a better understanding beyond the pixels. Photography biases for example.
Liz:

Not taking images of people with disabilities. Taking more images of cisgender men.

TR:

It’s not just about description – Liz is thoughtful about phrasing.

Liz:

Language is also fluid and socially constructed and also has different meanings over generations and time. Like modern and traditional. Well that means something very different now than it did in 1940.

My first draft will be one way and then I’ll look at it later on in the day and then I’ll change it. If I say something like traditional, then I have to ask myself well what do I mean and also what did I really see.

It’s about writing and saying what you saw.

(Music begins)

Alejandra:

In addition to learning the sort of standard ways that one is meant to do Audio Description for video for things like Netflix and Amazon, I’ve also been thrown into the world of how do you break that open and describe differently in ways that are actually respecting the culture, respecting the art. becoming part of the art and not just being tacked on after the fact because somebody does not want to get in trouble for not providing access.

TR:

I find it very empowering to see a lot of that pushing of the boundaries around Audio Description coming from the disability community.

It’s no surprise that Alejandra has worked with Alice Sheppard and laurel Lawson who we featured here on the podcast. All sharing this way of looking at Audio Description as more than an access accommodation.

Alejandra:

I don’t have a specific background in writing, but I have a specific background in wanting to be right!
[TR in conversation with Alejandra:]

Hmm , hmmm! I like that. (Laughs)

Alejandra:

Laughs…

Given that I have a personal investment with my community and the people that I care about

TR:

That’s the Disability community. When you’re connected like that it’s more than a job.

For the record, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it being a job that you perform professionally.

Alejandra:

I have AD on for almost everything that I watch as well as captions. And there have been so many times where I’m like you know that’s not right, I don’t like that.

TR:

Word selection, maybe failure to fully describe what was on screen…

Alejandra:

We both know that a lot of it is in the timing. And again it’s because AD is added on after the fact. There’s some really interesting things that I’ve been able to consult with

I did a live Audio Description for a panel sponsored by the New York University Center for Disability Studies. it featured the short films of a film maker named Jordan Lord. They create autobiographical films but the AD is baked into the narration. It’s written in sort of a prose style and the shots sort of follow as it’s written. So it’s not something that you have to add on after the fact. The filming is informed by what the film maker has written. And it’s very interesting. I think more films should be made that way.

(Music slowly fades to silence.)

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

have you always identified as disabled?

Liz:

No, I haven’t. Four or five years ago I was in the Disability Studies program, another student was talking about her letter of accommodation and her relationship to disability and her own disability identity. She also had mental health issues and mental health things and I was like oh my God like I’m also part of this community and I didn’t even know.

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

How do those identities impact how you write description.

Liz:

I don’t think people are talking about this, the identity of the describer or the person who does the voice, who writes it. They’ve made a huge impact on how I think about Audio Description and describe.

TR:

While working on an art gallery project, Liz and a colleague each drafted what they refer to as positionality statements. This included their bio’s and a statement about how they became involved in description.

Liz:

If you’re going to read a book, you might want to know a little bit about the author. You don’t have to.

We are not in a post racial world. I think it’s very important and necessary to know if you’re in an art gallery or theater you definitely need to know who’s writing that book or that script or who’s doing the painting, where they’re coming from.

TR:

Liz who completed the ACB Audio Description project training, refers to one of the lessons taught.

Liz:

In Snyder’s training even in his book, I don’t know about other people’s training and workshops but there’s about two sentences about race and that’s about it.

Basically, just to kind of paraphrase it says to describe race if it’s important.

TR:

The guideline refers to importance in regards to the movie’s plot. But like Liz says:
Liz:

I would offer that it’s always important.

TR:

It’s especially important to those who are marginalized . those who have been under or misrepresented on and behind the camera. Important to those who care about equity & justice. Important to those who want to see the real world which includes so much more than just white men. (My words, not Liz)

Important is subjective. So who should make the determination when it comes to consuming content?

I propose the consumer. In order to do that, Blind consumers need that information.

Liz:

If you are describing race you need to do it for all the people or all the characters not just the people of color because otherwise it centers whiteness. So I agree with that. What I’ve experienced though, race is not described. Even in for example, Black Panther or in some movies or TV shows that is predominantly people of color.

Chanelle:

Traveling Broadway shows, they are so white. (Laughs) I’ll be the first to admit and I am about as white as you can get. Thank God more recently we have had a lot more diversity in shows.

(DJ Scratch… Music begins)

Hamilton is like the perfect example of this. Also Hades Town more recently.

I will absolutely go out of my way to make sure to point out that there are Black actors, Hispanic actors, Asian actors in a show just because I really want to celebrate the diversity of these shows going forward. I’ll do the same thing when I’m doing Circe Sol as well. The audience will always be very diverse as well so it’s great for someone who may not be sighted or may be Low Vision to be able to imagine themselves within that person in the show.

TR:

And if we’re going to change the way we think about race & privilege it’s just as important that non people of color also see and acknowledge & respect this diversity.

Like the saying goes, things are rarely black and white. There’s lots of shade in between. Those shades are important and often reveal other stories.

Liz:

If I do distinguish between someone who might be light or medium or dark skin, is that perpetuating colorism? I don’t want to perpetuate colorism. On the other side, probably when people in TV or film make casting decisions they are making decisions like that. Unfortunately!

TR:

Colorism or the practice of favoritism towards those with lighter skin has its roots in slavery and white supremacy. It’s not exclusive to the US or to African Americans but rather throughout communities of color.

Acknowledging a person’s color as description does not perpetuate colorism. A Blind viewer Wanting descriptive information about a person doesn’t make them a racist. Including editorial such as the prettier or menacing followed by color or racial identification, well that’s another story. It’s going beyond what’s required for Audio Description and providing opinion or analysis – which is the responsibility of the consumer alone.

Alejandra brings up an interesting point around identity.

Alejandra:

I’m Hispanic, but I have a lot of experience code switching and ultimately being very white passing, both in my physical appearance and in my voice. And whether or not I realize it or admit it in different situations that’s opened different doors for me.

TR:

And yet…

Alejandra:

The two things are very separate, AD script writing and AD Voicing, but I’ve done some AD script writing for some Netflix shows as a contractor. Not particularly things that I found super exciting but they needed somebody to write a script and then I didn’t get to voice those things because AD Voice work is like any kind of performance and acting work, they sort of have to want you for the part.

I think it’s important for the voicing of Audio Description to match the tone and the content and the intention of the work. And I don’t see that happening. Not very often anyway.

TR:

And then, there’s physical access for the creation of accessible digital content

(Music ends)

Alejandra:
At a practical level, places that are doing audio production, voice recording and audio books, even our local library that handles recording for the NLS, booths are tight. Wheel chairs are not. This is not an experience that these places generally have. They’re not generally expecting a wheelchair user to come in to record and it’s unfortunately like everywhere else I’ve had to have this discussion. Yes, I use a wheelchair, yes we’re going to have to make adjustments to booths so I can get inside, you can just barely squeeze into the booth and you need space to do these things.

And I’m also very interested in Spanish language content AD as well because there’s not as much of it.

TR:

This raises the question of non-English access in general. Something I fail to personally remember on my own when thinking about access.

Chanelle:
Each studio sometimes has their own rules of stuff that you can or cannot say. You can’t say that they point a weapon at someone. You can’t refer to anatomy in certain cases like you can’t say chest you can’t say butt!

TR:

I’ve heard this about Disney. At first, you may think well, Disney produces a lot of content for children. So they’re being sensitive to the viewer. But remember, it’s on screen. And it’s not just Disney.

It’s not just the censorship that annoys me, but even in terms of researching this, we’d need sighted help.

Liz:

If we as describers similar to people who do interpretation with like ASL, if someone swears, the interpreter should interpret that. I think the captioner should caption that. Because that’s what the person said. So similar to Audio Description, I think we also have that obligation.

TR:

Whatever the medium, television & film, live theater, video games, museums, art galleries and yes, you too right now uploading your images and videos to social media – getting all of these content creators to know and think about Audio Description needs to be a goal.

The benefits of AD extend further than the consumer. We all win!

Chanelle:

Regardless of what I’m watching now if it’s a TV show if it’s a movie if it’s another stage show, I find myself kind of mentally describing it like I would do it for an actual performance. So it’s very much changed my view point of media in general.

TR:

I know I’ve heard some conversation around what qualifies someone as an AD professional. A specific number of training hours? Certification perhaps?

(Music begins)

Alejandra:

Here’s the thing.

There are many folks who do this work because they have particular kinds of voices. Because they can crank it out because they’re smooth and more power to them.

I just am not that kind of describer because I have a very particular investment in my community and in the work that I am producing and that doesn’t mean that other folks aren’t doing high quality work. It’s just that what is informing their work is very different.

TR:

For an example of what’s informing her work, you can hear Alejandra narrating Alice Wong’s Disability Visibility: First Person Stories From the 21st Century right now on Audible. The book is available on Amazon and other outlets and it’s Alice y’all so it’s in a variety of formats because Access is love!

Alejandra does a great job narrating and I highly recommend the audio book.

Shout out to all of my guests for taking the time to speak with me;
Alejandra Ospina (Spanish accented pronunciation)
Available at SuperAleja.org that’s S U P E R A L E J A. O R G
The site Includes links to all social media.

Liz Thomson and Chanelle Carson.

You can find both on Facebook especially in the Audio description discussion group

Sound of News Breaking Segment…

This just in, it’s official! You are all a part of the Reid My Mind Radio Family!

I have a couple more episodes that I’m including in this Flipping the Script on Audio Description series. I’m not publishing them back to back so if you’re interested in the subject and want to make sure you don’t miss the next installment, please allow me to make a suggestion.

Subscribe wherever you get podcasts!
Transcripts & more are over at ReidMyMind.com. And yes, that’s R to the E I D
(Audio: “D and that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)

Like my last name.

Audio from The Flintstones:

Barney Rubble:

Do you think he’ll be back?

Fred Flintstone:

I don’t know Barn. Might be better if he wasn’t. Look at all the trouble he caused us.

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

Flintstones continues…
Barney Rubble:

He caused us or we’ve caused us? I wonder which it really is. Augh, I think he’ll be back.

Fred Flintstone:

Ah, looks that way. Goodnight, Barn.

Barney Rubble:

Goodnight Fred.

Hide the transcript

4 Responses to “Flipping the Script on Audio Description”

  1. David Linton says:

    This was a very useful program. Everyone was quite articulate and important issues were addressed. I too am an AD provider both as a writer and narrator. I have done a few dozen films for the Reel Abilities Film Festival in New York as well as dance films for several choreographers. If you’d like to do more on this topic, I’d be glad to add my views.

  2. T.Reid says:

    Thank you. I have a couple of episodes slated for later in the year which have already been recorded. But it’s pretty much an ongoing topic – I’ll definitely keep you in mind.

  3. Nefertiti Matos says:

    Quality content! Keep it up. #Fan

  4. T.Reid says:

    Thank you so much… welcome to the family!

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