Posts Tagged ‘Access’

Flipping the Script on Audio Description – Blind Grown & Sexy

Wednesday, September 15th, 2021

“Let’s talk about sex…” ~ Salt-n-Pepa

When we talk about describing movies and television, eventually we have to discuss sex. Whether a romantic love scene in a film or adult content including racy images to porn videos, Blind adults who want access to this content should be able to get it.

Yet, for many people who are Blind or have Low Vision, their experience with this content has been less than stimulating. In fact, leaving some downright frustrated.

In this second to last episode of the FTS series, we’re talking to my new friends over at Alt Text as Poetry, that’s Bojana Coklyat & Shannon Finnegan. These two are all about encouraging everyone to have fun with descriptions while recognizing the art. We also hear from Danielle Montour who began exploring descriptions and all that has meant for her personally.

We kick off the episode with Pratik Patel who shares his opinions about the way adult content in films are currently described. But as we know, conversations about description always lead to much larger issues like infantilization of Blind and disabled people, sex education, consent and more.

You don’t actually have to be Blind to listen to this one or even consider yourself sexy, but it is for grown folks.

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TR:

Reid My Mind Radio Family!

Before we get into this latest episode, I need your help.
I want to take Reid My Mind Radio to the next level,
that’s making it a sustainable venture.
But I need to know more about you, the listener.
I’d really appreciate if you could take a few moments to fill out
a quick survey. Just go to ReidMyMind.com and hit the link that says , hmm, what should I call it?… Survey!

— Pulsating Swoosh Transition sound

Welcome, to another installment of Reid My Mind Radio. i’m your host Thomas Reid and thank you for joining me.

In this second to last installment of the Flipping the Script on Audio Description series, we’re discussing topics related to sex.
— Music begins, a slow, sentuous R&B track…

I’m not saying it’s X rated, but I am saying its for the Blind, the grown and yes, (– An orgasmic “Yes” from “When Harry Met Sally”) the sexy!

You don’t actually have to be Blind or even consider yourself sexy, but I do want you to know that in this episode, we say some words, discuss and suggest some things.

— A woman’s orgasmic moan. From “When Harry Met Sally”

Let’s get it on!
— Reid My Mind Theme Music

— A scene from Fifty Shades of Gray where a man is undressing a woman… being described

TR in Conversation with Pratik:
I think it was December of 2020. Do you remember?

Pratik:

I kind of generally remember the, the gist of what I was tweeting out. I remember watching a Netflix show. And there were a couple of sex scenes in it. And the narrator of the audio described content, basically used the same phrase again and again. They kiss passionately, they kiss passionately, they kiss passionately

Even though from the context you can tell that there was some other things going on. And I found that to be a bit stale.

TR:

This is Pratik Patel.

Pratik:

I am a 43 year old Asian cisgender Male. I have someone medium length, dark hair, brown skin. I’m five, eight. And on the thin side these days.

I own a small business that deals with digital accessibility in different products, websites, applications, as well as working with companies and in different organizations on integrating people with disabilities in their employment contexts.

TR:

Access, employment, hell yes, that’s grown and sexy!

Sex scenes in film and television have become way more prevalent especially with providers like HBO, Netflix and others who
are pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable on screen.
So what does that mean for Audio Description consumers?

Pratik:
I found a significant gap in what should be conveyed while describing a sex scene, and what was conveyed while describing a sex scene perhaps because it was the narrator not being comfortable. Or rather, the idea that disabled people or Blind people don’t really need description, even though, that may not be stated outright, it’s an idea that can still persist in people’s minds.

TR:

Hey, come in close, I have a secret to share with you. Blind people, Disabled people are sexual.
But, let’s take our time here and explore that gap.

Pratik:

I was looking at a review of a movie that I had just watched basic instinct 2, it had come out in 2005 2006. It had descriptions in the UK, and that was how I first encountered it.

It has quite a bit of sexual content in it.

There’s this scene between the main female character Catherine, played by Sharon Stone. And the main male character was a psychiatrist providing her therapy.

In one of the scenes, she is speaking to her therapist, and she knows that the therapist is attracted to her.

TR:

A highly sexual being, Stone’s character that is, is dressed in a short skirt.

— Audio from scene in Basic Instinct 2:
AD Narrator:
“She glances over her shoulder with a smoldering predatory expression, then drags the chair into the middle of the room. She straddles the chair with the with the back in front of her and hoists her dress up revealing her thighs.”

Sharon Stone Character:

“When you think about fucking me and I know you do…”

TR in Conversation with Pratik: 10:12
So she’s sitting with her legs open.

Pratik:10:16
Yes.

She has this entire monologue with a therapist. And in the background, you hear a sound, a rhythmic sound.

— Sample from the scene plays in the background.

And at the end of the scene, the narrator says…

— From Basic Instinct 2 AD Narrator:
“Suddenly, she stops touching herself.”

Pratik:

In some ways, the US version is even worse, because it doesn’t even tell you that she was touching herself.

In some cases, when the scene is moving really fast, and there isn’t enough time between dialog, I can understand that you leave out some information.
But it’s not the case in this and other shows or movies that I’ve seen. There’s plenty of gap.

TR in Conversation with Pratik:
no pun intended with the gap. Sorry.

(TR & Pratik share a silly laugh)

TR:

Ok, I never said I was grown!

Maybe you have experienced watching a film with a sighted person who can easily point out these gaps.
That’s the difference between what’s taking place on screen and what’s being described.

Pratik:

It brings up multiple points not only not having that information, but the context the artistic expression of that scene, you know, sometimes sex is sex is sex, but other times especially in movies like that sex is used for effect right? And not describing that is a bit of a travesty. I think.

— Music begins, a slow, sentuous Hip Hop groove

TR:

Let’s flip this, and explore from another angle.

Bojana:

I feel so often, when I’m reading alt text there isn’t much joy or delight. When there could be.

I have started to use Alt Text as Poetry as a lens to look at everything else that I’m engaging in.

TR:

That’s artis , Bojana Coklyat.
One half of Alt Text as Poetry,
who focus on getting people to think creatively when it comes to descriptions and access in general.

Fellow artist Shannon Finnegan makes up the other half of this dynamic duo.

Shannon:

We talk a lot about this idea of attention to language and just being aware and intentional about what the tone of the writing is, or what words are you using, jargon or slang.
Thinking about how that tone relates to the tone of the material or the image?
Trying out different things and learning from each other and not defaulting to one way of writing.

Some people have an association with poetry as super flowery language or kind of inaccessible. We don’t mean poetry in that sense. Access is at the core.
It’s more about bringing an intentional and creative mindset to it rather than writing a sonnet.

TR:

Shout out to Reid My Mind Radio alumni and family member, Cathy Kudlick who pointed me to Alt Text as Poetry.

The two each bring valuable perspective to this subject.
Bojana herself is a person living with low vision.

Bojana:

I am also a project manager at the museum of Art and Culture Access Consortium.
I am a white woman with short brown hair cut into a bob. I’m wearing a black cardigan. A red shirt with white polka dots behind me is a boring tan wall.
I use she her pronouns.

TR in Conversation with Bojana/Shannon: 01:17
Shannon?

Shannon:

I am disabled, but my disability is physical. So it mostly affects my kind of walking and movement. I’m sighted which I think is important to clarify in the context of Alt Text as Poetry that I approach this material in terms of cross disability solidarity.
I am a white person with short hair. I’m in my studio. So I’m in the middle of a big art project. So I’m dressed for comfort.
I use they them pronouns.

TR in Conversation with Bojana/Shannon:
You two superheroes, Tell me about the origin story of Alt Text as Poetry?

Bojana:

I love it. So can we make some outfits? I want some outfits.

TR in Conversation with Bojana/Shannon:

Yeh, you should. And you have to describe them! (laughs)
Bojana:

Oh, yes, exactly. And they have to be tactile…

I was working on my master’s focusing on disability studies and art administration. Kevin Gotkin was trying to organize something around disability nightlife. So I went to that event. Me and Shannon, chit chatted a little bit. And we connected from there.

Shannon:

I was a resident at a place called IBEAM, that focuses on like, artists thinking about technology, and had just started formulating this idea of Alt Text as Poetry and felt like Bojana had a lot to add to the project.

We kind of came to this idea of Alt Text as Poetry, in contrast to the compliance oriented way of thinking about access generally, and certainly alt text that feels very dry and perfunctory and kind of like minimum effort and really doesn’t feel engaging or truly welcoming.
— Music ends

We started talking about this project as a way of creating time and space for conversation about text and image description. Not coming to it with like, Oh, we know all the answers about how to write the best image description, but much more like, wow, there’s a lot of questions and a lot of interesting things that come up in this process. And it would really be great to hear from other people.

Bojana:
I don’t have anything as exciting as like, you know, being exposed to gamma radiation and giving us Alt Text powers.

TR:

Well, we’ll see some of that power in description. Whether alt text or AD.

For now, Bojana shares some of her experience with what she describes as a sexy , romantic period drama, Bridgerton.

Bojana:

They never mentioned nudity. The love scenes they never really described very sexily.

I think it was like the final movie moment where the Duke and I can’t remember his love interest name, but they’re finally together in bed. And like, we’ve been waiting for this for how many episodes …
The audio describer is like , and the Duke is thrusting, repeatedly. Staying thrusting. And it was like the most detached, non sexy description of two people who have been so intensely attracted to each other. And I will never forget it.

Pratik:
I find that describers aren’t always conveying the context when it comes to describing sex scenes.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy. Terrible movie by the way, and terrible set of books. The only one I saw was the first one. I saw the UK version, I didn’t compare it to the US. But mostly the describer does a fantastic job of conveying the information of the movie, the context, and the sex scenes. But I found that the narrator was a bit shy. It felt like she was cringing when describing the scenes.

TR:

I could imagine the narrators comfort level could affect some Blind consumers.

Pratik, who was involved with early advocacy for the CVAA,
recognizes the difference between the quality of the movie and that of the audio description.

But what other aspects impact a viewer?

TR in Conversation with Pratik:

Let’s say it was really good description, would it make a difference for you to get that description from a man or a woman?
Pratik:

That’s a good question. I don’t think so. The accent does make a difference though.

For me, I find the UK accent to be highly sexy, especially female UK accents.

TR in Conversation with Pratik:

What about the texture of the voice? You know, tone?

Pratik:

The tone, ? Yeah.
TR in Conversation with Pratik:

So it does make a difference. So you wouldn’t want Roseanne Barr? (Laughs…)

Pratik:

No. Okay. Some people might find that sexy.
TR in Conversation with Pratik:

Woooo!!
Okay, no judgment!
Pratik:

When we talk about quality, I’m talking more about the content itself. Not the person delivering it. That’s highly subjective.

TR:

This is consistent with what we say, the most important piece of audio description is the writing.

Pratik:

What do you include in the kind of detail of two naked people that could get you the same context, that can give you the same information that’s being conveyed to the sighted people.

TR:
Shannon has some thoughts on this.

Shannon:

What’s wild to me is I have experienced very sexy descriptions in books. Right now I’ve been listening to the audio book, Red, White and Royal Blue, which is like a romance novel. And it’s extremely sexy.

Going back to the bridgerton example. It was a book that was adapted into a TV show and I haven’t read the books, but I was actually thinking recently it would be interesting to do that.

I’m sure there’s licensing and copyright issues around why maybe some of that language couldn’t be brought into the audio description, but how cool if that could be mixed in?

TR:

So we do have examples of language to fill the gap!

Shannon:

It’s just somehow that’s not when it comes to it as an access practice. There’s a different frame or something. I think for me, it also pushes up against this thing of like, a kind of infantilization of disabled people that always feels very dehumanizing to me.
Bojana:

Just remembering something in a book by Georgina Klieg, in “More Than Meets the Eye: What Blindness Brings to Art.” She was talking about a movie, I can’t remember what it was called.

TR:

The book is available on BARD and I’ll link to it on Bookshare on this episode’s blog post.
The movie is “The Sessions” and during a love scene, Helen Hunt’s character takes off her clothes.

Bojana:
I think it says she takes off her clothes, but does not describe her naked body at all, when other things have been described.

I think it’s the infantilization. And also the stigma attached that, oh, why would Blind people be interested in that. They’re not thinking about sex. That’s not something we should be talking about, maybe it could be offensive.

I think sighted people assume that human beings can only take in information through their eyes, and ears, and they forget about the other senses, and how important those are.

There’s real value in not only recognizing the ways we take in information but also all the ways we communicate.

Shannon:

Podcasts or books or literature or hearing from a friend about something they saw on vacation or things like that, like description is really all around us. And somehow all of that creative energy isn’t always getting there when it’s specifically around access.

— Music begins, a bass heavy, pulsating groove

Pratik:

When we talk about sexuality, there’s such variation in people’s preferences in terms of what they practice and in terms of what they’re attracted to, that it’s hard for us to say, this is what we should describe first. But I think the best way for us to look at and the best way for us to think about it is to look at different communities, sex positive communities, and to advocate for getting more description from individuals who posted and just different groups. For example, I know that a lot of kink communities tend to be pretty aware of disability issues. And when you point it out, they’ll start to think about how to make those spaces accessible.

Danielle:

Hi. I’m Danielle Montour. I am 24. I work primarily in accessibility and sex education. I’m getting into the kink education space as well.

TR:

Danielle and I share something in common.

Danielle:

I was born with bilateral retinoblastoma. I do not have any eyes anymore.

Let’s see, image description.

So right now I’m probably a little bit lighter than olive. So I have a warmer undertone type of skin. I am relatively petite. But I have a curvy build. I have hazel eyes, I have hair that goes almost to my waist, but it’s about to be cut by the end of the week. So it’s only going to be a little bit above my shoulders.

I am wearing a very, very bright smile. And my hazel eyes are kind of crinkled up the corners because my smiles are often big enough that my eyes do that.

TR:

Warm undertones, eyes that crinkle up on the sides,
she began exploring visual concepts through conversations with sighted friends who happened to be artist.
Learning the importance of detail.

Danielle:

What does my hair look like? What facial features are most noticeable? What do you see when you look at me first?

Does something I’m wearing bring out particular features.

I’ve tried to think of all the different pieces of information that sighted folks would get. And honestly, my image descriptions can be a paragraph long sometimes because I’m just trying to put all of the information that I would have possibly wanted to know about the picture. And if I want to know I’m sure somebody else might want to know, and if they don’t, they can just keep going.

TR:
Sharing these descriptions can be infectious.

Bojana:
So I make sure I have it in alt text and in the caption, so everybody can see the image description.

Sometimes I’ll see my friends start to right image descriptions.

Whoa, where’d you learn that?
I learned that from you.

At least people on my Instagram or my Facebook feed start to see examples of it and kind of reflect it back.

Shannon:

Some friends and colleagues, john Harmon and Molly Joyce did a dance and music performance and they had a director of audio description. It was Andy Slater, who’s a Blind artist and writer.

Putting someone who’s blind or low vision, in charge of that creative process makes a lot of sense in terms of setting the tone, and kind of making the plan and thinking about what the approach to it is going to be.

— Music ends – smakcs into…
— Audio from Radical Visibility Collective

TR:
Marginalized communities are producing progressive examples of audio description
weaved into performances. And even keeping it grown and sexy.

Shannon:
actually, I thought of a really good example. The performance by radical visibility collective. It’s put on by three people, it’s also related to queer and crip nightlife and, and the audio description is in music, and it is so fun. It really has that feeling of a dance party of the kind of ways that people are showing off on the dance floor. For me that was a kind of experience where I was like, Oh, right, okay, like this can be really fun, really sexy, very much in the same feeling of the performance in general.

TR:
Earlier in our conversation, Bojana mentioned an accessible Cabaret on a barge in Brooklyn.
I was intrigued and had to ask for more because parties and night life, that can be sexy!

— Audio from Radical Visibility Collective ends and smacks into…
— Music begins, a thumping club dance track…

Bojana:

I’m really glad you asked.

There was music, poetry being read, everything there was done with access. So everybody was wearing a mask.
There were non alcoholic beverages available. It was a very like relaxed environment.

It was just a way of being together in a space that would not just like, oh, it had a ramp or like a no barrier to entry. But there’s also the attitudes. So often you can go into a place that might be, quote unquote accessible as far as like the built environment, but you get there and you feel like, Oh, this person is acting a certain kind of way, because I’m disabled, and they’re not.

Shannon:

Our friend and colleague Kevin Gotkin has been doing a lot of research and planning around disability nightlife and also planning remote parties that happened over zoom, where there’s a DJ set, and there’s audio description available.

There’s sound description, so thinking about captioning, but also thinking about someone who’s describing the feel of the song that’s on.

TR:

So what are the implications of all this sexy access?

Danielle:

It kind of puts out a statement that our access matters. And it really kind of changed my perspective and thinking.

Now I’m kind of someone who is always going on and on about image descriptions and the art that can be involved in image descriptions.

I’m always asking blind people, why are you not describing your images at all, they will post images with no description.

It’s just a conversation that we have to continue having. And just recognizing that a lot of folks are where I was several years ago, in terms of audio description.

TR:

Danielle learned how she could benefit from accessing this visual information.

Danielle:

I started being able to kind of understand, like the facial expressions and kind of the silent things that were happening with the mood of the room

I just ended up finding that I had so much access to things. I didn’t realize that I could ask people about the colors of the decorations in the room, or how exactly somebody space looked, or how their face would pinch before they felt really ill. I didn’t know.

It kind of started setting me on equal footing with my sighted peers who had access to all these things for so long

TR:

Access to things like sexy advertisements that can let’s say arouse one’s interest.

Bojana:

As a person with low vision, who never has driven and never will,, I don’t think about how cars look, I don’t think about the design of cars.

I read this description of this one car, feline, like a panther about to strike. I was fascinated because the picture was right there. And they weren’t writing this description for access, they were writing this description to enhance the image or in order to draw people in.

— Sound of a Bugatti engine roaring like a feline…

I looked at the other descriptions of cars, and it wasn’t anywhere near as delicious.

I want to go to a car museum now. Like, let me touch your cars.

TR:

Imagine if online descriptions of clothes, shoes and other products were as sexy or captivating. Cha ching!

The need for access to sexual related content actually has implications that begin earlier in life.

TR in Conversation with Pratik:
What was your experience? If you care to talk about with sex education growing up? Was that something that you felt was accessible to you?

Pratik:
No. It wasn’t accessible.

I had a couple of good teachers in high school who were good enough to describe the content, but it still wasn’t enough.

And the book we were using for sex ed wasn’t brailled In fact, I think there are a bunch of copy pages. They played a couple of videos not accessible. You know, the typical banana video but I think the most difficult thing about that course was Male and female anatomy and what discussions that were around different anatomical parts.

I found that part to be missing in my education. It wasn’t until later in life when I started exploring that I figured things out. That’s a major problem in our current education system. blind students don’t have enough information.

Danielle:

I did not learn a lot in my sex education in school, I learned a lot from books. I got one when I was eight, and one when I was 10.
I was the one telling people what pelvic exams were when I was eight, because they were in a book that I read. It’s called, it’s perfectly normal and it was in Braille. I think the NBP,national Braille press, Brailed it.
Pratik:35:58
The male teacher was not comfortable having that conversation. I had a female teacher who did a health and wellness course, that was somewhat different than your normal health course with sex ed attached to it. She was a student teacher, young hip teacher, she was far more comfortable talking about sex. Not only generally to students, but she actually spent some time with me. Outside the course, with the itinerant teacher, working with me to talk about some sex ed issues.

And it only happened because I was persistent enough to ask questions. Not all students are comfortable enough to do that.

Danielle:

I didn’t get to learn a lot about 3d example of anatomy until I was out of my own house, even then, I only knew mine, until I started my phase of getting around and experiencing other bodies. And that’s when I learned a lot about what penises and vaginas look like.

I think it’s really healthy for people to have an idea of what different vaginas and penises look like, even as children because sighted kids get to see it.

I don’t think that we have to single out blind kids by giving them really super extended image descriptions or models that the sighted kids don’t get, I think we can actually give everybody access to those models and let everybody experience them.

And that sets the stage for really important access expectations for everything else later on, too, because kids are really good at learning that stuff. It’s the adults who are shitty at it.

Pratik:38:25

I don’t think we should be shy as a community using sex toys to demonstrate different things to blind students. There are some realistic models available.

TR in Conversation with Pratik: 38:57
Wow. If the male teacher was just nervous about having a conversation with you? (Laughing….)

Pratik:
(…Laughing) I can just imagine,.

Communities and parents have a role to play in this as well. And oftentimes, I think that’s where a lot of suppression comes in. Parents don’t see their children as having desires. Wanting sex. But I think the more we accept that disabled people are sexual beings, the better it is.

Danielle:
It’s called blind positive sex ed, the community group that I work in. They talk a lot about making realistic models.

Right now it’s more about genitalia. So different states of vaginas and penises, a flaccid penis, circumcised uncircumcised . Vaginally, we have some where it has been subjected to genital mutilation. All of these different things that we really have to think about.

That’s the beauty of models, just like the audio and image descriptions they can convey so many different points.

TR:

Points that go beyond the individual.

Danielle:
I work a lot in talking about consent, and consent in terms of sexuality and kink. All of these things I learned because I’ve had so many descriptions being thrown at me that I get to enjoy the art, but the person who described it does not belong to me and I have no ownership of them or their time.

I think conversations around sexuality and just sex and just all the raunchy things like everything, literally everything, talk about what a money shot is talk about what it looks like when somebody squirts talk about all these things because sighted people have access to that stuff, if they want it, blind folks don’t.

TR:

Of course, it’s more than access.
Danielle:

I think particularly in blind communities, access to this information is so new that there’s not a lot of examples of us conducting ourselves with respect in these ways. I might be the first rather sensual image description that a blind person has ever seen. Meanwhile, most sighted people I know, have seen 10s, hundreds 1000s of sensual pictures. And they’ve had a lot more practice having to try or not try to conduct themselves with some decorum whenever they see those pictures. So I think that’s all part of consent education, and what we talk about when we start opening up equal access to a lot of this information.

My intention is not to lambaste the blind community and be like, they’re all terrible for this and nobody else because like, we all know, sighted folks are just as bad with consent.

boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.

Bojana:
People don’t understand boundaries, they think it’s out there and it’s there, right? Or their privilege to just comment on whatever they want to comment on.
People feel more anonymous online and they can do these things.

It’s hard to say where the boundary should be for people who are commenting.

If somebody wants to write a sexy and grown description, they should have that. Absolutely.
I think like anything with the internet you kind of curate it.

Try something out you see if that works and maybe you get a response you don’t want you kind of try to peel it back and edit yourself.

I’m thinking about how I describe myself
if there’s a picture of me and maybe it has some cleavage I’m probably won’t for that very reason. I don’t want to signal something.
I don’t know

TR in Conversation with Bojana/Shannon: 54:39
So you would leave it out of the description? You’re censoring blind people. (Laughing…)

Bojana:
Oh, no. Strike that Thomas!

I feel like I’m reinforcing the sexiness of it. Just by writing it by noting it by marking it.
Shannon:
This gets to such an important topic in image description, there is always this prioritization and filtering, that happens, because you’re never gonna describe every single thing.
So you’re choosing certain things. There can be a mismatch, where it’s the thing that’s most important to me about sharing the photo, there may be something that really stands out to someone else about it, but I might gloss over that.

This also comes up against some issues around consent and description.

You’re describing an image of yourself, you get to make a choice about what parts of your body and how you want to name them and what you feel comfortable doing and what you feel you don’t. Certainly if you’re describing someone else, thinking about consent and that situation. If you know them, checking in with them about how they want to be described, or researching online about language they used to describe themselves.

I think especially for marginalized people, there is a potential for harm there.
Going back to boundaries or crossing a boundary and that of course, is this like Delicate Balance with like, not withholding information or like hiding something or not naming it because of a describers discomfort or unease. But also, being aware that there can be like power imbalances like talking about someone’s cleavage may make them feel vulnerable in a way that they shouldn’t have to be. Right.

TR in Conversation with Bojana/Shannon: 1:00:27
Bojana when you said strike that Thomas we use, were you serious?

Bojana:
No. I’m just joking, joking around.

TR in Conversation with Bojana/Shannon:

I thought so. But I just want to make sure.

Bojana:
thanks for checking.
TR in Conversation with Bojana/Shannon:
Yeah, absolutely. Get your consent. Cool.
(“consent” echoes for emphasis and transition)

TR:
sex education, understanding how to fit in society,
I’m telling you, Alt text, , Audio Description is more than entertainment. That access goes deep.

Danielle:
I never , in my image descriptions describe myself as an indigenous white woman. I don’t know what that means.
Often my skin tone is not the same shade year round. At its widest point, it is an olive tone. At its darkest. It’s many, many, many shades darker.

Sometimes I’ll notice when my skin gets darker, how I’m treated. Sometimes it’s just like, who talks to me when I’m in public. White women in general really will approach me a lot. I noticed that they start avoiding me the darker my skin gets. When I’ve gone to other places like Florida I will have folks start speaking Spanish to me thinking I am Latina.

TR:

Body and facial features are tied to identity. The implications aren’t just how we’re viewed in society.

Danielle:
As a disabled person, my body was always public property for people to make remarks on. In the summer, it got so much worse, and people would make so many jokes about my skin, and what I looked like, and my body shape and everything. And I thought, for the longest time I thought it was because I was showing more skin, and that I was just genuinely ugly. I did not realize that my skin was getting darker and darker and darker, the longer I spent outside.

Because I was on my mom’s side, primarily white, my father’s side wasn’t really in the picture all that much. I am by far the darkest in my family. There were just a lot of jokes made about that, even in passing, whether it was by my family members, or just by people around me. They would always make remarks about how dark I was.

It’s a whole big thing that I’m still working through, honestly, in terms of my racial identity.

Shannon:
I went to this audio description workshop that was put on by a UK organization called Whiplash. And they were talking a little bit about how self description can fall a little bit heavier on marginalized people, marginalized in various ways.

I felt that a little bit around gender identity, I’ve had like a shifting understanding of my gender and it’s hard to put that into words or to kind of like process that or update that in real time. It also has been really helpful to think about what my gender presentation is versus how my gender feels.

— Music Begins, A sexy , smooth melodic Hip Hop track
TR:

Alt Text as poetry offers some great resources for those interested in stepping up their description game, including workshops.
Shannon:

We basically get together with small groups of people, talk to them about what alt text is and talk about this idea of Alt Text as Poetry and then practice together.

And then we’ve also created a workbook, a self guided version of the workshop. And we also now have a blog as part of the project called alt text study club, where we gather interesting examples of alt text, again, in that spirit of learning from other people and thinking about different approaches or ways of writing.

Bojana:

One of the things in the workshops that I love, is just when people have the chance to share.
Maybe we’re talking all about the same image. And people have so many different perspectives.
Just giving people a chance to share and learn from each other, I think is just one of the more beneficial parts of the workshop.

People sometimes get so caught up in writing text correctly and perfectly, instead of just doing the best they can and having some fun with it and adding a creative flair. I think that’s something that we also talk about and encourage.

TR:

So whether we’re talking about describing love scenes in film, subjective images that we deem sexy like
those featuring the curves of a woman’s body to those of a stylish sports car, having fun and being creative is a great place to start. Who knows where it will take you.

Bojana:
Thomas, if all of a sudden, all my decisions get a lot sexier. She’s talking about cleavage and… (Laughing)

TR in Conversation with Bojana/Shannon: 57:00
Just point them to this episode. (Laughing…)

Bojana:

That’s the Grown & Sexy episode.

TR:

Big shout out to my grown and sexy guests;
Alt Text as Poetry, that’s the dynamic duo of :
Bojana, who you can find on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

Bojana:
at bojana Coklyat. That’s B as in boy, O J A N AC O K L Y A T as in Tom.

TR:
Shannon!
Shannon:
at Shan S H A N and then my last name, Finnegan F I N E G A N. So that’s for both Instagram and Twitter.

TR:

Danielle

Danielle:
I’m Danielle Montour on Facebook. I think i’s still Can’tC4Shit on Instagram
Can’t, letter C, number 4, shit…

TR:
You’re funny for that one Danielle!

And Pratik Patel is on Twitter @PPatel

Pratik:
Spelling it out… PPatel

TR:
I need you all to understand, you are each official members of the Reid My Mind Radio family!
— Air horn

Subscribe wherever you get podcasts and join the family.
We have transcripts and more at ReidMyMind.com.
I’ll let you in on a family thing…
That’s R to the E I D…
— Sample “D! And that’s me in the place to be!” Slick Rick

TR:
Like my last name!
— Reid My Mind Outro
Peace!

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Flipping the Script on Audio Description – Access 4 All

Wednesday, August 25th, 2021

“I came to this country to start leading the project and start putting all the technicalities together to start doing captions and audio description in Spanish, serving the Latino community.”

Headshot, Maria Victoria Diaz
Maria Victoria Diaz PhD, an Electrical Engineer left Colombia to help “Flip the Script” not only on Audio Description but access in general for native Spanish speaking people.

President of Dicapta & Chair of Dicapta Foundation, her efforts continue to prove that creating access for one group can benefit others as well. In this episode hear about ;
* The struggle for Spanish AD
* Access 4 All – Dicapta Foundation’s solution assuring Audio Description can be shared across platforms.
* Go CC – providing access for the Deaf Blind to content and emergency information
… and more.

It’s fitting that I open this episode with my own Spanish translation.

Getting to Know You!

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Please, take just a few minutes to fill out this survey.

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just ask it to play the podcast Reid My Mind Radio by T.Reid on your default podcast player.

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* Leave a voice mail at 570-798-7343
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Resources

Transcript

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TR:

Reid My Mind Radio Family! Before we get into this latest episode, I need your help.
I want to take Reid My Mind Radio to the next level, that’s making it a sustainable venture.
But I need to know more about you, the listener. I’d really appreciate if you could take a few moments to fill out
a quick survey. Just go to ReidMyMind.com and hit the link that says , hmm, what should I call it?… Survey!

— Music Begins A mid-tempo Reggaeton Hip Hop influenced groove.

TR:

Greetings, my beautiful brothers and sisters.
Welcome back to another episode of Reid My Mind Radio.
You know, the podcast featuring compelling people impacted by all degrees of
blindness and disability

TR in Spanish:
Saludos, mis hermosos hermanos y hermanas.
Bienvenido a otro episodio de Reid My Mind Radio.
Ya sabes, el podcast que presenta
a personas atractivas
afectadas por todos
los grados de ceguera y discapacidad.

TR:
We’re continuing with our Flipping the Script on Audio Description series.

TR in Spanish:
Continuamos con nuestra serie Flipping the Script en Audio Description.

TR:
By now, you should have an idea of where we’re going in this episode. If not, give me a moment for my theme music, and then I’ll introduce you to my new friend and she’ll make it clear.

TR in Spanish:
A estas alturas, debería tener una idea de hacia dónde vamos en este episodio.
Si no, dame un momento para mi tema musical, y luego te presentaré a mi nueva amiga y ella te lo dejará claro.
— Reid My Mind Theme Music

MV Diaz:
“I came to this country to start leading the project and start putting all the technicalities together to start doing captions and audio description in Spanish, serving the Latino community.”

TR:

That’s Maria Victoria Diaz.

MV Diaz:
I used to be Maria Victoria and now I’m just Maria, in this country.

TR:

I like people to feel at home around me.
And she said I can call her Vicky.

— Music begins –
MV Diaz:
I’m from Colombia. I’m Latina. I have tan skin and brown eyes, my hair is over my shoulders usually is how I wear my hair.

I’m the President of the Dicapta and the director of the board of the Dicapta Foundation.
I’m an electronic engineer. I’m hard of hearing.
My pronouns, she/hers.

TR in Conversation with MV Diaz:
Tell me a little bit about you. And let’s start with how you became interested in audio description.

MV Diaz:
I started working as an engineer in a television company in my country.
The first time that I saw captions in my country was working in television, and I was like, What is that for?

I started to be interested in captions.
Specifically being hard of hearing, that was like natural to be interested in that kind of service.

Then I started working, specifically researching about accessibility features, specifically, to make television accessible.

That’s where I started like, 20 years ago, trying to push in my country for some policy or regulations for captions to be included.

TR in Conversation with MV Diaz:
How successful was that?

MV Diaz:
It was just good luck.

At that time, I had friends in the television industry, some of my colleagues from school, were the technical director of different television stations there.

TR:

Actually, that wasn’t the so called good luck. Those friends in high places didn’t make it happen. At least not until the government got involved.

MV Diaz:

So they came to me suddenly, one day, like, oh, there’s this new regulation that we need to comply, then help us please.
I think that one person, the government had a child who was deaf, and then that’s how they became interested. Sadly, that’s the reason most of the time.

And so I started doing captions for every single television station in the country and training.

TR:

What began as a two person team in 15 days grew to 20 people.

MV Diaz:

We needed to cover all the regulation that came at that time.

We help them to install the technical facilities for captioning

So the sad part of the story is that that regulation came at still the same 20 years after just like, two hours per week one newscast in the per channel.

TR:

Soon after that work began with captions, she met a guy who was Blind. He had a question.

MV Diaz:

Have you consider doing something for me?

And I was like, what kind of service Do you need, or how I can serve your needs?

And so he was telling me about Kurosawa’s “Dream” movie. And
he was describing for me every single scene of that movie, and I was like, how you can tell me those details about that movie If you don’t see. So I was so interested in his specific process.

TR:

That movie, Dreams, a 1990 film by acclaimed film maker
Akira Kurosawa was subtitled.

MV Diaz:

It was like a team effort, in a way with friends from his university.

I started researching how I can be involved in that field. It was like 20 years ago.

It was aligned with my interest in I wanted to be a musician, when I finished my high school, and I couldn’t because according to my doctors, being hard of hearing, it was not a good idea to be a musician.
I was like, Okay, I have to fight to do something else to overcome barriers.

TR:

At this point Dicapta, Vicky’s team of 20, was working on caption and Audio Description
when she was approached by one of the 2 private Colombian broadcast company’s.

They wanted to buy her out and control the market. Her response?

MV Diaz:

No, I’m not interested.

I started looking for options to serve to in Spanish in other places. And I found out that in the United States, services in Spanish were like really nothing available, not for captions, not for description at that time. So I decided to write an email to the Department of Ed asking how I can participate in your initiatives. And they told me, no, you have to talk to the television stations or to the channels. And you have to ask them. We’re not the right source for business.

TR:

Vicky’s response set her on a path and in my opinion says a lot about her motivation.

MV Diaz:

I’m not looking for business, I want to know how I can contribute in the discussion.

So they just mentioned it to me that they have a television Access Program. I’m talking about 15 years ago, 16 years ago.

TR:

It’s government, so that means lots of paperwork.

MV Diaz:

I can tell you that I was in Colombia, in my office preparing a proposal for the Department of Ed,

I had no idea how to do business in the United States… the right words to use or how to fill these forms. And I just started reading the forms , filling them up giving my ideas there.

I guess that it was a really good proposal, because we just got funded,

TR:

Come on, you know it can’t be that easy.

MV Diaz:

They call me but you can’t run a project, serving the Latino community from your country, you have to be here. And I was like, okay!

TR:

In about two weeks, she gathers her belongings, leaves Colombia and is in
the states.

MV Diaz:

I just really thank the Department of Ed gave us the opportunity to just try to add value, and to discuss and to tell what we think.

It’s wonderful for me that I every single time that I try to do it, sometimes I have to work a little bit more. I can talk with whoever I wanted to. And I can, I can just at least try. Most of the times the answer is no, we’re not interested. But it is okay. Just to have the opportunity to share what you think.

TR:
Thankful for that opportunity, Vicky uses her voice to continue her mission.

MV Diaz:

I came to this country to start leading the project and start putting all the technicalities together to start doing captions and audio description in Spanish, serving the Latino community.

TR:
While Dicapta is a for profit company, most of the work being done has been through the nonprofit Dicapta Foundation.

MV Diaz:

We really have some new partnerships doing dubbing in Spanish but most of the work that we do in audio description and captions is funded by the Department of Ed.

TR in Conversation with MV Diaz:
So accessing audio description for television, and cable here in the States requires the sap the secondary audio programming.
And it just happens to be that that’s the same channel that delivers Spanish translations in for shows in English. So does this mean that it’s impossible for a person who speaks Spanish to be blind? Hashtag sarcasm?

MV Diaz:
(Laughs)
Kind of…

Spanish language television, They don’t have a Spanish in their SAP, they don’t have anything in the sap.
So we’re not competing with the Spanish translation in the Spanish television, we’re competing with the Spanish translation in the English television.

The big problem here is that the CVA didn’t include Spanish.

So the first thing is audio description in Spanish has to be mandated.

What I have learned is that the FCC is following the mandate from the Congress. So how to push for Spanish to be included? I don’t know Tom

TR:

Remember, the CVAA or the 21st Century Telecommunications Accessibility Act
requires local TV station affiliates of ABC, CBS,
Fox, and NBC located in the top 60 TV markets
to provide 87.5 hours per calendar quarter.

How’s this for a regulation; AD on everything!)

MV Diaz:

Telemundo Okay, they are part of NBC. NBC is under the regulation, why? Telemundo is not under regulation?

TR:

Hmm good question. But, bad answer.

MV Diaz:

No, because it is not. Period.

But why, if they are under regulation and Telemundo is part of NBC? No,

I became part of the disability Advisory Committee of the FCC, and I was like, I’m ready. This is exactly the place where we’re gonna change the story.

No, no, no, no,. (Said slowly with lots of frustration)

TR:
When it comes to advocating for Spanish AD, it often comes down to priorities.

MV Diaz:

We have different problems in our community, bigger than the accessibility, I have to say that.

We are in a different place in history right now. Our concern is more, jobs, education and immigration. We are trying to fight different fights. We don’t have Latino consumers as organize. The Blind Latino consumers that we have been working with, it is not enough.

I don’t know, my grandma said something, but I can’t translate. How is your Spanish Tomas?

TR in Conversation with MV Diaz:
Well!

— Sample Price is Right loser tone!

MV Diaz:
My grandma used to say just one little bird is not able to call winter.

TR:

There’s power in numbers.

MV Diaz:

The consumer organizations, they know that that’s a problem.

If you have to go to the Congress, or if you have to go to the FCC, asking for specific questions, is going to be like priority number 10, maybe or, let’s say, five to be more generous.

, but is never going to be their first priority. I kind of understand now

TR in Conversation with MV Diaz:

I think that can be said about a lot of communities.

There are definitely people who say, oh, why are you talking about audio description all the time, we need jobs. I get that. I also see a relationship between jobs and audio description, education and audio description.

TR:

Couldn’t these lower priority issues serve as vehicles to elevate those considered higher priority. Especially when putting into context?

That’s what I mean when I say, “Audio Description is about much more than entertainment.

MV Diaz:

Our a Latino community communicates in Spanish. We are trying to have that. In here. We are trying to find our space and our beliefs, our roots, our culture alive.

It is incredible. The amount of kids that are Spanish speakers coming from different countries don’t speak English yet need access and they don’t have the access that they need.

We are working with the DCMP and they are doing a really great job. And we are trying to include some educational titles there. But in entertainment we are really, really far

TR in Conversation with MV Diaz:
I’m thinking about the streaming companies, they’re not obligated under the CVAA. But they do decide to go ahead and stream audio description, Univision, Telemundo, none of them are interested in doing it at all? Have you not been able to talk to them?

MV Diaz:
Yeah, I have talked to them. I don’t know. They think that I’m just a girl trying again.

But no, the thing is that, for example, Telemundo at the beginning, what they told me like three years ago, they didn’t have SAP in the whole network.
So they didn’t want to provide the service for this kind of part of the audience and not to others

We have been working with funds from the department of Ed.

TR:

Those fund enabled Vicky to have one request.

MV Diaz:

We’re gonna provide you with the description. You just have to put it on there.

Even that is really hard tom.

We included audio description but the cable companies. Don’t pass it.

For example, Channel 22. They are an international television channel. They are in DirecTV, they are in

we provided Audio Description. we created all the audio track.

Okay, DirecTV, No audio description. Spectrum, no audio description.

TR:

Cable companies, you had one job!

But regulations do really go a long way.

MV Diaz:

Caption is not that bad. I can tell you because of the regulations. The FCC regulation includes Spanish captions. So we are safe there.
Just because the regulation is there, they just know what it is. They know what it’s about.

TR:
In the rare event that the cable company does pass the AD, you better catch it that first time being aired because it probably won’t happen again. Whether on that same channel or another.
The problem, many of us have experienced.

we know a show or film has AD,
maybe we saw it on one channel or on a DVD,
but another broadcaster or streaming network doesn’t pass it.

MV Diaz:

Let’s try to do it ourselves. And that’s why we started working in a different direction creating technology and creating Access 4 All.

TR:
Access 4 All is a central repository for any accessibility asset.
That’s the actual digital caption, audio description and ASL files for example.
No matter the language! They’re all stored in one location.

Access 4 All serves as a clearinghouse.

MV Diaz:
Dicapta is a really small organization. We need influential organization or powerful organization to believe in the value of a clearinghouse the importance of sharing the resource that we have.

That’s why we are creating like a membership model under the foundation. The idea is for people to come and say, okay, I created this audio description and no matter if you are in Mexico or if you are in London or if you are in Italy, that specific program is going to be accessible.

So that’s the big dream.

TR in Conversation with MV Diaz:
When you say a membership, so for example, Netflix would come in as a member, the BBC would come in as a member, Argentina television would come in.

so they would have a membership. And they would upload all of their audio description tracks to this repository.

MV Diaz:D

So who’s member of this repository right now?
New Day films, some movies from PBS POV and the Spanish content that we are creating with funds from the Department of Ed.

TR:

Plus, it empowers us as users to access the assets ourselves.

MV Diaz:

You just download the app. You just can watch the program with audio description, you can read captions, or you can do the ASL version of the program if it’s available.

TR:

The app developed with funds from the Department of Education, is free!

Check it out!

download the app…

Start the film, while your app is open… And voila!

TR:

Right now Dicapta is working on creating a searchable catalog. Already, they have over 300 hours of content.

— Dicapta audio icon

TR:

That little tune or audio icon was created by consumers of audio description and members of the Dicapta advisory committee.
It’s formed by the notes D, C, A, and G.
D for Description, C for Collaboration, and
A Accessibility.
The sequence finishes with a G major chord that stands for Go!

It includes a graphical element as well.
It’s formed by two purple triangularly shaped capital letters “A”.
The letters are thick and slanted toward each other so that
the adjacent sides are in a vertical position.
A blue number 4 sits over the letter A on the left.
The horizontal bar that goes from left to right on the number 4 matches the horizontal bar that goes from left to right on the letter A and also covers a small portion of the letter A on the right.

MV Diaz:

What we are proposing is to add that icon at the beginning of the program or during our in them guide, just to show that is in the repository.

I have tried to talk to the big players in the industry. But it is not an easy conversation.

my invitation is this Okay, so that if you don’t have a solution, we have one maybe you can use these one or you can start trying it and see if it if it works and if not someone come with a better one, right? But today we don’t have any solution. We are not sharing, we are creating the same track twice instead of Sharing the one that is already created.

— Sesame Street Cookie Monster shares with Elmo

Elmo:
Oh, Cookie Monster would share his cookie?

Cookie Monster:
Yep, it’s against my primal instinct, but you share with me, and me share with you.

TR:

There are some who understand.

MV Diaz:

Nickelodeon. Latin America, we launched a project with them using “Access 4 All” and they did audio description for some shows. And then they are promoting the show.

Maybe that’s kind of the support that we would need.

TR:
There’s more to be hopeful about.

MV Diaz:

the world is changing. And I see a better scenario for accessibility now that the one that I found when I came 15 years ago, the conversation is different. More people knows about accessibility and about the descriptions. So I think that consumers are more aware of that. Okay. Maybe it’s possible. I just have to say, Tom, I really thank Netflix. They are, they are they’re showing different ways. To support accessibility, and they are including Spanish, they are asking for audio description in Spanish to be included.

Hopefully, if they are showing that the assets are going to be there, or maybe somebody is going to decide to share.

TR:
It’s probably worth mentioning that Apple too offers access in Spanish.

I know there are decision makers or at least some who have the ear of decision makers
who listen to the Flipping the Script series, and
hopefully the podcast in general.

I believe many of them are sincerely about providing access because they see it as fair and just.

If you are an independent content creator, I encourage you to talk to Vicky and get your captions, audio description and any access assets on to Access 4 All.

MV Diaz:
it’s supposed to be a membership.

For now Dicapta Foundation, we’re not charging anything to independent producers.

We have a basic agreement saying that you are donating for the Clearinghouse and you’re not charging the user to use. And in case that someone else is interested in having that, that specific accessibility, they’re going to contact the owner to say like, Okay, I’m interested in this audio description to be downloaded to put it somewhere else

I think that we Dicapta, we’re going to concentrate our effort in educational programming and in independent filmmakers.

TR in Conversation with MV Diaz:
Let’s talk about the work that you’ve been doing with a community that’s often overlooked, and that’s the deafblind community. Tell me how Dicapta is serving that community?

MV Diaz:
I invited the daughter of a friend of mine who is Deaf Blind to one of our advisory meetings. We were talking about television and about movies and about access. We were trying one app. We asked her for her opinion, oh, my goodness. She was like… Are you serious?

We don’t have access to television. I haven’t watched television in my whole entire life, how you think that I’m going to go to the movies. And it was really a bad moment in that room.

TR:

Come on, we know by now, Vicky turns these sorts of situations into good.
She reached out to more consumers for input.

MV Diaz:

And so we started trying to, to bring captions to braille displays in a in a way that that they can have some kind of access, those of them that are Braille readers. So that is a minority among the minority and the minority. But given access to the caption streams through braille displays, was the general idea to start working with. So it was like four or five years ago that we started working with that project, and we got funds from the Department of Health. And we were able to produce the solution but then again, the problems came and the industry and the practices

TR:

Of course they did!

Technically, captions on Braille displays is easy. The problem is when your captions don’t include the name of the person speaking. So it’s just an endless stream of words without context.

MV Diaz:

We try to push again, like, changing best practices just include identification of the speaker in the captions or streams just to serve the deafblind community. And so we produce documents and we spread the word in the industry in the caption providers to whoever is creating captions just provide identification for the speakers to make sure that no matter what technology is coming, captions are gonna serve the Deaf Blind community.
[
TR:

The service is called Go CC and provides even more for this community.

MV Diaz:

We work with FEMA to provide emergency alert information.

we work with the Helen Keller National Center. And that’s the reason why the product is as good as it is because we work with the consumers and they created what they needed.
It was not our invention, we just did what they asked us to do.

Next step in that is just to find a foundation or an organization that has all the capacity to share that into the community in a way that we can’t do.

TR:

Dicapta’s expertise is in solving problems and creating access.
MV Diaz:

We put together captions and audio description in stream text to make sure that the deafblind communities serve. So we’re doing that through Access 4 All. So if you use access for all you can use it from your Braille display too. And you can read captions, read the descriptions. And it is done. It is already there.

TR:

The challenge is the speed of that stream of information in relation to the actual film. It could be difficult to stay in sync.

Yes, someone could read the transcript and avoid the movie all together, if watching alone.

MV Diaz:

I don’t want you to go by yourself to the movies, I want to go with you.
Same thing with television, coming from our culture, we don’t do things alone, we do things with families all the time. So it is the idea is to have sync it with the movie, just to make sure that you can be part of a group of people watching the movie.

it is the experience of being with someone else. What is different,

TR:

Family. Friends. Community!
Sharing… y’all feel what’s happening here. It’s about more than access for Vicky.

That young lady who never had access to television, they’re on Vicky’s advisory team.

MV Diaz:

$
I’m here to show you that maybe I apologize. But we do we do better now and then try to do better things.

TR in Conversation with MV Diaz:
Congratulations. I believe you got a television access award. Is that what it was? Tell us about it.

MV Diaz:
Yeah. It is wonderful.

I have to tell that that the Department of Education hasn’t been recognized enough for their support to access. So those who have been working with them, we know that they have spent I don’t know how many millions of dollars supporting captions at the beginning before that, the regulation of captions and then audio description for years too.

But it was really not clear if they had plans to continue supporting description, especially after audio description is already mandated by the FCC.

The educational part of it is not as regulated for the network’s.
So that’s why the Department of Ed decided to continue the program.

We got one of the television access awards. We are so happy.

TR:
We should all be happy!

At least those of us who say we care about access.

MV Diaz:

We’re going to make sure that Access 4 All is a reality. Not just for our community, we’re working with English language content two. So every single hour of audio description or captioning that we create is going to be shareable in our clearing house, and is going to be accessible, no matter if you are watching it in one television station, or in any other is going to be accessible using their app

It’s gonna be five years collecting audio description, collecting captions, and asking others to join this effort.
So at least for the educational programming, I think that we’re going to have very good news to report at the end of these five years.

TR in Conversation with MV Diaz:
Okay, so this is a hard question. What are you doing? When you’re not creating all this accessibility?

MV Diaz:

Laughing…

Oh, I’m playing my flute. I’m learning piano. Okay. They pandemia show me my piano in the middle of the living room.

My daughter’s used to play piano because mom wanted them to be the biggest artists. They decided that they don’t like to play.

TR in Conversation with MV Diaz:
they said that was you Mom, not us.

MV Diaz:
Yeah. So I had this big coffee table in the middle of the living room. Coffee Table.

(Hearty laugh along with TR.)

So I have to decide I have two choices. The first one is just giving my piano to someone that is going to use it. Or taking some piano lessons. Yeah.

And I love the music that you play.

I think that we would go to the same party.

TR:

If you’re throwing a party and
you want to invite a strong advocate and someone who is dedicated to access or
if you want to learn more about the great work taking place at Dicapta, open your favorite browser and point it to;

Flipping the Script on Audio Description Part Three – Moving Beyond Just US

Wednesday, November 25th, 2020

I’ve had conversations where people have said, Blind users don’t want to know about race, they want it to be completely neutral.
– >Elaine Lillian Joseph

Today we’re going beyond the US border to hear from two international describers. Rebecca Singh of Superior Description Services in Canada. A square yellow logo reads Superior Description Services in black capitals under a black dot containing a sequence of vertical yellow lines.
And if that’s not international enough for you here in the states we have Elaine Lillian Joseph from the United Kingdom.

We hear a bit about their AD origin story or how they came to description, the importance of centering Blind people in the process and more on guidelines for describing race, color or ethnicity.

And by the way, who in the world is neutral? Just US? Hmm!

Maybe not the final episode in the Flipping the Script series, but it is the last of 2020!

Listen

Transcript

Show the transcript

Music Begins – A smooth, funky mid tempo Hip Hop beat

TR:

What’s good Reid My Mind Radio Family!

It’s me, your brother Thomas Reid. I hope you’re doing well.

Me? Why thank you for asking. I am doing well.

Today, we’re bringing you part three of the Flipping the Script on Audio Description series.

You know, this was never actually supposed to be a series. I originally planned for one episode but it was quickly evident that several people had something to share on the subject.

It got me thinking about Audio Description in two categories.
First, mainstream.

These are the writers and narrators creating AD for major television and film projects.

Then you have the independents – these consist of a varying degree of theater, live performance, museum and other sorts of description work.

Flipping the Script is all about promoting different voices, alternative views and Audio Description topics that are often overlooked.

As we’ve seen, this applies to both mainstream and independent.

I can’t say for sure this is the end of the Flipping the Script series but I can say it’s the last for 2020.

You know, just when I think I’m done with the topic…

Audio: “… they keep pulling me back in” Al Pacino in Godfather Part 3

Audio: “And here we go!” Slick Rick, A Children’s Story

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro
Rebecca:

My name is Rebecca Singh I am an Audio Describer also a performer. I’m the owner of Superior Description Services which is an Audio Description service which consults with the Blind and partially sighted community one hundred percent of the time. I am a cisgender woman of color and I live in Toronto Canada with my young family.

[TR in conversation with Rebecca:]

How’d you get involved with Audio Description?

Rebecca:

I got involved with Audio Description through the theater actually. I have been a performer for a very long time and just over ten years ago I saw an audition posting for this thing I’d never really heard about, Audio Description and it was a class that I had to audition to get into. I got the part. Started training, that led to something of a building up of the industry here in Toronto.

— Music Begins – A dance track with a driving beat!

TR:

That’s right Y’all, in this third part of Flipping the Script on Audio Description we’re going international!

What’s that? Canada’s right there to the north? Ok, let’s cross the Atlantic.

Audio: Airplane in flight.

Elaine:

My name is Elaine Lillian Joseph. I’m from a city called Birmingham which is the second biggest city in the U.K. I’m a proud Birmie! I’m a Black woman. I’ve just got my hair done. I’ve got long light brown extensions with cane row on top. I’m wearing a floral long just below the knee length dress. I’m sitting in my friend’s bedroom because I’m currently quarantining with my friend’s family. I’ve been doing AD for just under two years. I work for ITV which is our second biggest channel after the BBC. I’m also a freelance Subtitler so I do subtitles for Hard of Hearing as well. A lot of accessibility going on.

TR:

Subtitling or what we know here in the states as Captioning was Elaine’s gateway to Audio Description.

A fan of film and television, she studied English and German in college — oh my bad, University

Elaine:

It always seemed like a natural thing to want to go into media. Finding out that there was this whole kind of world of accessibility and it’s not just, it’s not just transcription I guess. Not that there’s anything wrong with transcription but that you can be a bit creative with it. Doing subtitles for Hard of Hearing for example, doing a Horror film and working out how to describe the sound of of an alien creature and what words am I going to use to do that. It seemed like a natural transition from that to also thinking about how to describe things in general.

TR:

Prior to working at ITV, Elaine was Subtitling at another firm, BTI. it just so happened to be the employer of an influential colleague.,

Elaine:

Veronica Hicks, who kind of really kick started AD in the U.K., certainly. She used to sit directly behind me and she has this velvety plummy (chuckles) voice. I was sitting subtitling and thinking what is it that she does because it sounds fascinating.

TR:

Elaine asked around and learned more about Audio Description. Eventually she left BTI.

Elaine:

Everybody at my company knew that I really really wanted to do it. A position came up; they kind of said go for it! I tested and I got the job and I’ve been very very happy ever since.

TR:

Such an important thing to keep in mind — let people know you’re interested.

Today, Elaine has written AD for projects including a remake of Roswell. She’s been trained on narration so we can expect to hear her post pandemic. She also narrates live performances.

Elaine:

I usually do kind of Queer Cabaret events. There’s like dance, spoken word, lip syncing and things like that.

— Music ends with a drum solo

[TR in conversation with Rebecca:]

I’m wondering what was the experience from your other work that you brought to Audio Description?

Rebecca:

I liked my drama class in junior high and I decided this is the best thing ever. I made my way to a performing arts high school and got bitten by the performing bug and was doing at first some film and television. As it goes as a performer, the work opportunities change.

Instead of just sitting by the phone as they say, I shifted over to doing more theater work, clowning.

[TR in conversation with Rebecca:]

The whole get up, the makeup and everything? Or is that something different? (Chuckles)
Rebecca:

I think that’s a certain kind of clown. I was living in Montreal, like the city of Circ De’ Sole. It was a little bit more movement, physical theater based kind of stuff. The acrobatic storytelling with the body. I went to dance school for a while. So it was really more about expressing myself through the body.

[TR in conversation with Rebecca:]

Okay, so you’re not jumping out of cars with like fifty other clowns. (Laughs)

Rebecca:

No!

TR:

She’s a creative person who found herself doing more arts administration. After moving to Toronto she moved back into the performance space gaining even more of the experience she needed for Audio Description. That physical performance for example prepared her for her first AD assignment describing physical comedy. And the administration work was quite valuable as it gave her a community of people to talk to or a network.

Rebecca:

There were people that had already worked with me in a different context and so I understood their concerns, what their fears were as producers. Everything from being afraid of touch tours because you’re potentially bringing a service animal onto a stage before the show. Rehearsal schedules, the time and space actors need. The types of conversations that are appropriate to have with directors if you’re having discussions. When is a good time to approach a designer if you have some questions? All of those things really help to mitigate any hesitancy that producers had in terms of adding something new to their palette.

TR:

Elaine’s love of reading & creative writing adds value to her description. But that merging of creativity with Audio Description has it’s challenges.

Elaine:

It’s a service and I think it’s important to remember it’s a service. There can be ego (Chuckles) in any industry and sometimes I think people forget the user and what’s most important to the user.

TR:

Rebecca has her own way of assuring Blind consumers are always centered throughout her process.

Rebecca:

Paid Blind and partially sighted consultants. I get two different kinds of feedback. I learned a long time ago it’s definitely not a one size fits all in terms of description. I have a roster of consultants with different interests as well. I also try to match the interests of the consultant. Some people like Opera, some people like dance. All of their different expertise filters into my descriptions. And they ask those really deep and probing questions that I have to find answers to.

[TR in conversation with Rebecca:]

What kind of differences do you find between the Blind and partially sighted feedback that you get?

Rebecca:

One of the most striking differences is things like when I’m describing a set. With people who are partially sighted some people need to sit really really far up close and they want a different type of perspective in terms of what the set looks like. they may not be sitting in the same place. If they have a service animal they may be sitting further back in the theater. Maybe they’re closer to a speaker where that might cause some sound level things that need to be worked out. Sometimes light matters in a production, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I’ll get feedback from Blind consultants saying things like I really appreciated the fact that you called this thing almond shape because I know what an almond feels like. I really developed a sense of what words work better and what words are more inclusive over time working with both Blind and partially sighted consultants especially if they’re working together with me on the same show.

That’s the other benefit of having multiple consultants is that they can learn from one another and I always have a chance to bring in somebody new and widen my pool.

TR:

Inclusive language reflects all sorts of identities.

Elaine:

I’ve had conversations with people before about things like race. It’s wonderful that we’re kind of having a moment where we’re really grappling with that. And I’ve had conversations where people have said, Blind users don’t want to know about race, they want it to be completely neutral. I find that a really interesting argument because I’m like what does neutral actually mean and who are we assuming is neutral?

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

How do those conversations come up when writing description?

Elaine:

When I first started I remember asking questions like should I describe color? Should I describe that this rose is red or that this car is blue or whatever? And then moving from that I guess to should I describe race and the color of somebody’s skin?

So I’ll talk specifically about race rather than diversity I guess because there are other things that we can describe.

The industry standard was to not describe race unless it’s important to the plot.

TR:

By now, if you’ve been following this ongoing conversation on the podcast, you should be pretty familiar with this AD guideline.

As an example of the guideline, Elaine refers to a production of Hamlet

Elaine:

And Hamlet is Black. Then I should mention it. But that doesn’t mean I should mention the race of anybody else. We can assume that everybody else is white. I took that on board and then I kind of ignored it a little bit. (Laughs)

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

(Laughs…)

Elaine:

Because I just found it really difficult. I was like, but why? (Laughs)

I found that I was working on shows where I just wanted to describe like the color of somebody’s skin.

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

Why?

Elaine:

Why!

Because I thought, what’s it mean for it to be relevant to the plot. If there’s a conversation happening between sighted users and they’re saying oh did you notice how the policeman in whatever show it is is Black? I just kind of feel that means that as a Blind user you can’t be part of that conversation because someone’s decided that that Black policeman isn’t relevant to the plot so we’re not going to mention them. Also personally I know Blind users who I’m friend’s with who definitely wanted that information to be included because they’ve definitely felt like there are conversations that they can’t be part of because people are making these decisions.

TR:

Decisions being made on behalf of Blind people without our input. How does that make you feel?

Elaine:

Initially I wasn’t bold enough to say the Black man. I would describe the texture of his hair. So I would say the man with black afro textured hair. (Laughs) I think it should be fairly clear, but I still felt like I was kind of skirting around it.

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

Would you get any pushback?

Elaine:

We definitely didn’t receive any pushback. When my manager kind of reached out to a community of Blind users then it was an overwhelming yes! (Chuckles) Please do include that.

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

Okay. So you never got pushback from management.

Elaine:

No. My immediate manager was like a resounding yes! When I went into the kind of wider Audio Describer community that’s where I definitely felt pushback.

TR:

Like the time Elaine attended a conference where for the first time she heard a discussion of race and Audio Description included in the conversation.

Elaine:

There was a lot of why do we need to do this? What terms do we use? People not feeling comfortable saying the Black man – will the terms change. We might offend somebody, so it’s better if we don’t use any terms at all and just kind of ignore race. It felt uncomfortable for me being the only Black person in the room.

TR:

That’s uncomfort when people are either looking to you for the answer. Or one that I know I’ve experienced, giving the impression that you’re doing something wrong by raising the issue. (Oh well!)

Elaine:

Maybe it’s my British politeness kicking in but I found it very difficult to sit and listen to kind of put in my two pence. Imagine if a user is Black, maybe they do want to know about race (laughs… You never know!

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

Yeh, absolutely

It’s just as important for a Blind consumer who is not Black to know that there are Black people on the screen y’all, like this is real.

Elaine:

Definitely.

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

I’m wondering if there’s an age gap here too. Is this the old guard that we’re talking about here?

Elaine:

I guess so, yes.

I have much respect for them. I feel like I need to put that disclaimer out . (Chuckling)

I really do and I felt like almost a young usurper at that conference and in some of these conversations I’ve had. I get that they’ve been trained in a specific way. If we look at the breakdown of describers in the U.K. it’s white middle age women.

Audio: “To be or not to be. That is the question” From Hamlet, Royal Shakespeare Company

Music ends with beat in reverse!

Rebecca:

I feel like I owe it to the listener and the listener is not necessarily a middle class cisgender white female or a male and sometimes I feel like from some of the teaching and reading and some of the history from what I’ve seen of Audio Description and words, it’s really taking one particular perspective. That is exclusionary and also not fair to people who are Black and Indigenous or people of color.

TR:

In general, no matter what country, fairness, access, equity that should be the goal.

Rebecca, who thinks quite critically on this subject of inclusion presented at a conference in Europe.

Rebecca:

The Advanced Research Seminar on Audio Description.

I, over the last, I would say five years or so, have been really been honing in on the idea of creating the Canadian accent for Audio Description. We here have had a lot of influences from England and also from the states. We haven’t had our own Audio Description culture in Canada. So I went and was the first person to present from Canada and I talked about creating the Canadian accent and describing race gender, class and recognizing our bias.

[TR in conversation with Rebecca:]

And how was that received?

Rebecca:

people were very interested. I think that there’s not a practice of using consultants quite as much as we do here in North America and specifically what I do. The other thing that was really well received was the fact that I presented it in a way that did not require any description. I described all of the images. I tried to make the entire experience inclusive to a point where the person who was operating the CART, the real time captioning, didn’t have anything to write. That was all just part of the example of how we can be more inclusive.

TR:

The responsibility of making media inclusive and accessible includes the role of Audio Description.

Rebecca:

Everybody deserves the opportunity to see themselves in a story. We as people who are helping to tell a story have a responsibility to do everything that we can to not exclude people from seeing themselves.

TR:

So what exactly does that responsibility include?

Rebecca:

even as Describers we need to understand what our own bias is. I live in a very progressive city. And I live in a arts bubble inside that city. I try and check myself against that as well. I don’t want to use language that is so open that only a very small amount of people with very specific references will understand.

We need to have more conversations with consultants and also understanding what the history is and what the perspective is of people who are heavy users of Audio Description. We need to talk about it.

TR:

She’s talking about multiple conversations from all perspectives. Some times that just means raising the issue.

Rebecca:

It’s all of those little tiny actions that every person can do just to point out when things could be better perhaps or when things could be more inclusive.

Just being self-reflective about how we’re receiving information. I think many voices is much better as opposed to a government mandate or something like that.

Sometimes words aren’t enough.

TR:

But the words can inspire actions that lead to real change. Like getting film makers and broadcasters to include a bit more space to allow for Audio Description.

Ultimately, the change happens when our thought process becomes more inclusive.

Rebecca:

If the creator of the material no matter what it is, has the Blind and partially sighted community in mind as part of their audience from the beginning.

TR:

Having Blind people in mind translates to our access not being an afterthought. When it comes to Audio Description?, we need to be centered.
[TR in conversation with Rebecca:]

So the idea that there are sighted people enjoying Audio Description?, that’s cool, that’s really cool and I get it because hopefully that means there will be more of it, right?

Rebecca:
Yeh!

[TR in conversation with Rebecca:]

Do you see the potential for that to be a problem?

Rebecca:

I’m really in favor of Audio Description guidelines and standards being created for the needs and wants of the Blind and partially sighted community. Anyone who is putting something forward that they call Audio Description is aware of these guidelines and is providing something that is standardized. That said I think it’s also okay to create things that are not necessarily Audio Description?, but use techniques of Audio Description and as long as they’re not called Audio Description. I think more is better and so as long as it’s not called Audio Description when it doesn’t meet the standard, go for it!

TR:

From my understanding, there are conversations happening today exploring these guidelines.
I’m not sure what will end up being decided, but I do know that if these conversations do not include people of color in a real way, including decision makers, then we have to ask the question, why? Is it just fashionable right now to appear as though we’re addressing issues of diversity?

It’s a similar question I asked of all those in the Flipping the Script series;

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

It’s a simple question, so feel free to answer (laughs) because I’m asking it!

Elaine:

(Laughs) I see I have no choice. (Laughs) Okay!

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

(Laughing )No, but answer it anyway you want.

My question is why, why AD?

Elaine:

Oh! That’s a lovely question.

AD has brought me into contact with people that I probably would have never have met. In terms of the Queer drag community that I’m now part of and speaking to Blind users and Blind performers as well. I think that’s enriched my life and I hope that the descriptions I give in turn enrich their experience.

Last year I remember telling someone another sighted person, that I did AD. They just laughed and were like Blind people don’t watch TV. That was just like a whole education let’s just say for that person. (Chuckles)

I think it’s a really, really beautiful service and I think that it’s having a bit of a moment over here where people are certainly from the describer point of view, people are starting to think about how we can change it and engage even further with the community who uses it and that’s really, really exciting to be part of honestly. It’s so so fun! I honestly want to keep on doing this and developing my skills and my confidence and listening to people.

— Music begins – a chill piano leads into a smooth jazz chill Hip Hop beat

Rebecca:

I am a storyteller, I was born that way (chuckles). I think it’s really important to be able to tell your story in a way that everyone can hear it, receive it. I don’t think we have any excuses to ignore that anymore. We have technology to help us out. I want to see the amazing wonderful gifts that actually like Blind and partially sighted creators present having had access to some of this more popular culture. Some kind of performance art. So I think it’s important for everybody to have those opportunities. and I really feel like access to art is as important as access to sport. I think it’s part of what makes us human. And so everybody should have this access.

I just think it’s fair!

TR:

That’s Rebecca Singh, you can call her CEO of SDS or Superior Description Services where she centers Audio Description.
Rebecca:

Also known as described Video here. I do live description, image description, I produce podcasts with the Blind and partially sighted community in mind. Consultation to help with Universal Design. My Twitter handle is @SDSDescriptions.. I’m also on Face Book Superior Description and you can always check me out at SuperiorDescription.com.

TR:

Elaine Lillian Joseph is on Twitter @@elaineLJoseph.

I’d like to thank Elaine for putting up with my attempt to include the London slang in our conversation.

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

Init! (Hysterical laugh)

Elaine:

(Laughs) Oh my days, you really love Top Boy don’t you?

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

I do!

I get in to the whole street shows and all that type of thing so, I’m sorry! it’s Hip Hop I’m going to be in there!

Elaine:

Ah, that makes you (possibly says me) really happy! I love it, I love it!

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

Yeh! (Laughs)

TR:

Big shout out to Rebecca and Elaine for all they do and for openly sharing their experience and opinions for the improvement of AD for all.

So let me welcome you to the Reid My Mind Radio Family!

Audio: Air horn!

I’m hoping you’ll hear them back on the podcast in the future.

While this is the last official episode of 2020, you know I usually do something for the holiday season. Right now at the time of this recording, I have no idea what that is, but I’m pretty sure I’ll put something together to wrap up this incredibly challenging year.

To be sure you get that episode;
Subscribe wherever you get podcasts!
Transcripts & more are over at ReidMyMind.com. And let me do a bit of Audio Description for you. That’s R to the E I D
(Audio: “D and that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)

— Music Ends

Like my last name.

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Flipping the Script on Audio Description Part Two – Voice matters

Wednesday, November 11th, 2020

Continuing with the question; When it comes to Audio Description, are we listening between the lines?

In this episode I’m joined by some extremely talented Voice Over Artists who are also lending their voice to some of your favorite Audio Description projects.

Allyson Johnson, Bill Larson, Inger Tudor and Tansy Alexander.

Each of our guests have more to say than what’s on the script

How important is voice? Not just the quality and tone, but what else is implied by what is heard? Is the voice indicative of an entire group of people. Can a woman’s voice fit a specific genre of film? Is there really a Black voice? Let’s flip the script and find out.

Listen

Transcript

Show the transcript


— Music begins – pulsating bright funky beat!

TR:

Greetings! Welcome back to another episode of Reid My Mind Radio.
The podcast bringing you compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability.

Audio: The beat comes to a stop after a record scratch “Hold Up!” DJ Cool from “Let Me Clear My throat”

I need to jump in with an amendment to my opening in order to acknowledge that yes, I should have posted this episode last week. However, last Tuesday was Election Day in the U.S and I just didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do.

Maybe it was an over analysis on my part, but if anyone actually missed the episode, I apologize. I just wasn’t in that space.

then yesterday, Saturday November 7, my wife yelled down to me, they called it for Joe!

Music: “A Brand New Day” The Wiz

So we took some time to celebrate and for a moment at least feel hopeful!

— Breathes in deep and exhales

That really does feel good!

Now back to my original opening.

Bring that beat back!

— DJ Scratch and then the pulsating bright funky music resumes!

Today we continue Flipping the Script on Audio Description and focus a bit on voices.
You can say voice matters. Or Voice Matters! Voice, matters!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro

#Intros

Inger:

My name is Inger Tudor. I am an African American woman , middle age, we’ll leave it at that. And I live in Los Angeles. I am a Voice Over Actor, I also do film, theater, television. I do some hosting, announcing and all that kind of fun stuff. Is there anything else you wanted me to tell you?

[TR in conversation with Inger:]

Did you say Audio Description?

Inger:

I didn’t because I was like oh that’s the assumed, but you’re right, I do Audio Description and audio books too.

— Music Begins – Upbeat Hip Hop beat

TR:

Earlier this year I had the chance to speak with several talented AD Narrators. I’ll tell you exactly where you heard them but go ahead and see if you recognize the voice or name.

Tansy:

Hi I’m Tansy Alexander. I’m a Caucasian woman. I’m five foot seven, I have Auburn hair. I’m very athletic and active. I do all variety from narration to audio books, to commercials, promos trailers, IVR phone systems. I’ve done pretty much it all.

Bill:

My name is Bill Larson I actually am a Voice Over artist. I do commercials, I do different types of announcing and so forth.
And I also do Audio Description.

Allyson:

My name is Allyson Johnson. I have been a professional Voice Artist for about 2 3 years. I’m about five foot five, a hundred and five to a hundred and seven pounds, I’m pretty thin. Now see here’s when I need an actual Audio Description writer because there so much better at this than I am. I read what they write and I think that is fantastic, but if I have to write it I’m like how do I describe my skin tone. Well, it’s kind of I would say, cafe ole. If you took coffee and you put a whole bunch of half and half in it, that’s my skin tone. I have people would say dark blonde, some people would say light brown ringlet curls. I wear glasses there like a brick red and black modeled polymer plastic frame. What else? Are there things that I’m leaving out?

[TR in conversation with Allyson:]

No, no you probably did more than most did. (Laughs) That’s why I left it vague, I just want to see what you do. Laughs.

Allyson:

Laughs… So that’s me!

TR:

Well, there’s way more to her than that! And we’ll get there, but first I know what you’re thinking. Thomas, that’s messed up, you didn’t ask Bill to describe himself.

He’s sort of off on his own.

Bill was one of the earlier interviews and the idea was not presented until after. However, stay tuned I’ll be sure to ask him more about himself during our conversation.

Each of our narrators share a few things in common. They’re all experienced Voice Over Artists who have either acting backgrounds, radio and even a bit of television. Of course, they each have great voices and know how to use them.

Inger Tudor used hers as a DJ at her college radio station. After graduating Harvard Law she put it to use as a litigator.

While working at a mid-size law firm in Boston, Inger was in conversation with another attorney who side gigged as a studio musician. She asked Inger an important question.

Inger:
What is it that you like about law?

I told her what I liked and why I wanted to be a lawyer. She said,
(– Music ends.)
you like acting in a courtroom, go act. You’re not married, you don’t have kids you don’t have a mortgage do it now, because you’re going to wake up and go okay, I want to do it and you’ve got all these things that keep you from doing something you can actually do. I thought about it and I prayed about it and I was like you know what, she is absolutely right!

TR:

She began taking classes and working in the field. This included voice acting. Boston happened to be a good market for her to get her start and SAG or Screen Actors Guild card. This gave her greater access to opportunities. Moving to New York city gave her even more. By the time she moved out to LA she was acting full time and no longer doing any law related work. Staying in touch with a playwright helped lead to her first AD opportunity.

Inger:

About five years ago he contacted me and said oh, I forgot that you do voice over. Would you come in and audition for me. I work in a department where we do descriptive narration for film and television.

TR:

And today!

Inger:

I do a lot of recording for the Media Access Group which is a subsidiary of WGBH the PBS station out of Boston.

TR:

Tansy’s introduction to VO felt more like that Hollywood story.

Tansy

I was out with my friend who did Voice Over, my friend Steve. We were at lunch at a restaurant and we were chatting about Voice Over and other things and a few minutes later a gentleman came over, a very distinguished gentleman, and said, do you do radio or voice over and I said well, not yet but my friend is trying to tell me to do it. He said well when you’re ready give me a call. He’s one of the partners in Abrams Rubleoff.

I never did sign with them but things did go from there because that was the impetus I needed to take it seriously and get things going.

TR:

And indeed things started going. Tansy intro to AD came after volunteering for a radio reading service in Los Angeles.

Tansy:

AIRS LA.

They would have us reading articles out of magazines and so forth then I decided since I am an actress as well to cover the entertainment portion which was really fun. I did that for a few years and then out of the blue this other opportunity came around not related, to continue to be of service to the Blind community through doing Audio Description.

TR:

Allyson’s first AD project came through her friend who owned a post-production company. He was approached by the producers of another film who were interested in including AD on their film and wondered who would be right to narrate. Why not an audio book narrator, he thought?

Allyson:

My first Audio Description was for the movie that he was working on which was the major motion picture Arrival. I left that session and I thought this is fantastic. I sort of went on my own journey and found Audio Description Training Retreats in North Carolina, Jan and Colleen who teach this wonderful program. That’s how I learned. It was within the year of me doing that film.

TR:

Bill’s introduction to AD?

Bill:

It was by accident. I used to work at Best Buy. We had this demonstration room where you could go in and experience what a home theater would sound like.

It wasn’t working right. We actually had a Blue Ray in there to demo for people but to get the normal audio that you would hear on a Blue Ray to play you had to cycle through at that time all of the other audio channels; French German, Chinese, the whole bit. The last track was Audio Description. When I heard somebody’s voice start to speak; (in his AD Narrator delivery)

“A plane flies over head” I listened to this and I said I need to do this. This is important.

[TR in conversation with Bill:]

Do you remember what movie that was?

Bill:

Yes I do, Kong, Skull Island.

TR:

Bill grabbed some more DVD’s and researched more about AD. He learned of the American Council of the Blind AD Project and headed out to the conference that year.

Bill:

That conference was in St. Louis that year. I was lucky enough to meet people who do and produce Audio Description. Did a demo for them and the rest is history.

TR:

Voice Over and AD fall into the entertainment industry which definitely has a history.

Allyson:

When I started out in this business, when I was still doing demo tapes on cassette, the sort of common acceptance was you would do a demo tape without your photo on it for the most part. Certainly in commercial voice over world which is where I started. They didn’t necessarily want to know what you looked like and you as the voice talent didn’t want people to know what you looked like either because you wanted them to make a decision about whether or not to cast you based on your voice. If you already been cast in something you wanted the listener to be able to create their own image of who you were based on what you sounded like so it sort of wasn’t relevant what you looked like. In some ways it could be either distracting or could give someone the wrong idea because sighted people tend to make very quick judgements when they look at someone. And if you don’t look like what you sound like in the voice over world that’s a whole other kind of issue.

Bill:

I have worked with different casting people and they look at my picture and have their own preconceived notions of how I sound.
[TR in conversation with Bill:]

Could you describe yourself?

Bill:

Are you of age to know Al B Sure?

[TR in conversation with Bill:]

Yeah!

Bill:

(Singing)

“I can tell you how I feel about you night and day!”

[TR in conversation with Bill:]

Laughing… I’m keeping this!

Bill:

I know you are, that’s alright though.

(Singing in his Al B Sure impression)

“Oh, Girl!”

Al B Sure was the bane of my existence in high school. Oh my God you look like Al B Sure.

TR:

If you don’t know Al B Sure, well he’s an R&B singer from the 80’s. He was something of a heart throb who had lots of female fans.

In case you’re listening Al, don’t worry Bill isn’t planning on leaving his day job any time soon.

Bill:

I have worked very hard on my voice. First of all I come from Chicago. I had to work the Chicago out of my voice, but at the same time I wanted my voice to be universal. I didn’t want somebody looking at me and making an assumption about me and that actually speaks to what’s going on right now in the world. I don’t want them to say oh well he looks Black so he must sound Black so I’m only going to give him the voice work for Black actors. I know the business enough to know what sound somebody is looking for for something. I would never, never ever say to use me if my voice is not appropriate for something.

TR:

Bill recalled one particular time when he went out for a role that helped him come to an understanding.

Bill:

Because of how I looked they wanted me to sound more ethnic. They didn’t want me to be my natural self. Because my natural self sounds like this. I am a bi-racial Black man in this country. There is no denying that. So when you see me as they did, they saw a voice in their head that was counter to how I actually speak. the product I thought sounded like crap because I was trying to be something that I wasn’t based on the notion of what they wanted me to sound like. I wasn’t me I wasn’t my authentic self. But more than that, there are other actors out there especially actors of color, announcers of color who would have given them exactly what they were looking for. So I thought to myself I’m never going to do that again. When you’re in this business, you’re always looking for work , I just don’t ever want to take the work out of somebody’s hands who could deliver what somebody’s vision is.

TR:

The goal of a fair selection process is to remove pre-judgement and create a system based on merit. In Voice Over that means the best voice for the role wins. Yet that’s subjective from the start. Meanwhile we know there are many ways to pre-judge.

Inger:

Inger is Scandinavian and Tudor is Welsh. There usually not expecting someone African American. Depending on who I’m talking to and how I’m talking, they can’t necessarily tell what ethnicity I am over the phone. It can become a funny thing or sometimes a frustrating thing.

TR:

Although not specific to the sort of Voice Over acting she does today, Inger shared a story about a time when she interviewed for a telemarketing position. Let’s be honest, the best telemarketers are truly acting!

Inger:
The initial interview was over the phone because they need to see how you sound. I’m talking in my corporate voice and how I would talk if I was talking to someone for a survey or what have you. I show up for the first day of training. Actually it happened to be a fairly diverse group of people but they couldn’t figure out why I was there. I said Oh, I’m here for the job interview and they all look at me like well who are you? I said I’m Inger Tudor and then I literally see like five or six heads all turn to each other with this look like what, huh? And I went “Ya, ya, you expecting someone Swedish, ya!” (Said in accent) So they all started laughing, because they were!
My name can work for me or it can work against me. Knowing my ethnicity can work for me or against me.

TR:

If we really think about it, the impact goes beyond the individual.

Voice Over agents for example. Pre-judgements can limit opportunities not only for the clients, but also the agents as they receive percentage of the work they find.

Inger freelances with two separate agents.

Inger:

One of them only brings me in for Black Voice Overs. the other one will bring me in for things that are a lower register or someone that’s middle age or an authoritative voice. Things that fit the type of characters I would play. And they bring me in for the Black characters as well.

TR:
Casting a project is often more than just voice. A narrator familiar with the culture for example, can provide insight into a project that those outside may have never realized they were lacking.

Allyson:

I did the Audio Description for If Beale Street Could Talk. What a glorious film that was and the description was so beautiful. I think it was the description for something that Regina’s character was putting on or taking off. Something with her hair.

TR:

Here’s a culturally competent moment for you. Those in the know, heard that and paused. Those who don’t know, well, we’ll just get back to the conversation.

Allyson:

I don’t know what the word was that they used to describe it but I was like I don’t know what that word is but that is not what we would call it and I don’t think anyone who’s listening to this would understand what you mean when you say it.

— Music Begins – slow dark Hip Hop beat

[TR in conversation with Allyson:]

Now you said that’s not what we call it. Who was the we; women, Black women?

Allyson:

I think in that situation it was Black people.

TR:

Issues of race and identity aren’t new, right?

Allyson:

There were no phrases like bi-racial, nontraditional casting, ethnically ambiguous. We didn’t have ethnically ambiguous back then (laughs) I mean we did because I am it but we didn’t call it anything.

[TR in conversation with Allyson:]

(Laughing) Right!

TR:

A natural extension of voice acting especially for commercials is on screen acting. The casting process there often begins with the image. If you’re interested in auditioning for a specific role, well your look will need to match the casting director’s or any other decision maker’s perception of that role.

Allyson

Whatever the category was they thought I might fit in, I probably wouldn’t fit.

Voice Over made more sense to me because nobody was necessarily thinking about it.

TR:

Necessarily!

Allyson:

They would use phrases in the specs like we’re looking for an urban – urban was always buzz word. It’s like ok, so you want Black.

In terms of Audio Description, I have been hired to do Audio Description for shows that are primarily dealing with Black topics or set in a place where the majority of characters on the screen are all Black. And I know that I’m being hired because they want a person of color to do the Audio Description. So in that sense it does play a factor that I happen to be a Black Audio Describer. It’s more of them just wanting to be sensitive to the content and to the material. You and I both know everybody needs a little bit more representation.

##Tansy:

And if I may broach this subject, I do think that we need to see more inclusiveness on the narrator side.

I get plenty of work, but I still think there’s a gender bias in the industry for males to succeed.

It’s the same it’s been for the whole spectrum of Voice Over since I started over twenty years ago, the belief that a male will sell it better. For whatever reason; the voice will cut through or people listen more to a man than a woman. These are stereotypes that probably aren’t true at all. These decisions to use a man or a woman are extraordinarily subjective.

TR:

Narrating for over ten years, Tansy had the opportunity to help in the early stages of multiple AD production companies.

Tansy:

I used to do a lot of action, landing on the moon, war movies, I’ve done a few last year. I can do a romantic comedy, I can do a children’s thing, I can get in there and get gritty. But all of a sudden they decide oh well for all the Marvel we need to have men.

TR:

Tansy noted some growth in opportunities expansion with the advent of female lead characters.

Bias we know goes beyond race and gender.

Bill:

I am double the man I used to be. (Laughs) So there was a time when I lost a tremendous amount of weight. But I don’t look like that anymore. When you’re in the professional acting and voice over field it’s best if you don’t misrepresent yourself. Now a days they call it Catfishing. If you’re cast for something based on an old picture and when you get to set and they realize you are double the size or your size card is out of date or your voice changes, then they’re probably going to dismiss you and not hire you again. I know how I sound. I want people to hire me. (Pause) And I love the look on their faces when I walk in the studio too. (Laughing )

[TR in conversation with Bill:]

Laughing

TR:

Representation really is serious business.

Have you ever really considered who you expect to hear narrating action movies or thrillers versus dramas or romance films? What about those films based in or on communities of color?

. For closing arguments I’ll call the litigator.

Inger:

Yes, we should be voicing the characters of color, but don’t Ghetto-ize us and make that the only things you give us to do. Cast me also because of the quality of my voice. If you’re looking for something that has a particular quality and ethnicity is not important to what the character is then I should be considered as well as a white actress. You shouldn’t just assume that it has to be someone white if that’s not important to the story.

TR:

I know some people hear this and say, why should it matter? Shouldn’t anyone with a suitable clear voice just be able to voice characters or narrate films no matter their race, ethnicity, gender etc.?

Inger:

Hold on a minute. Four hundred years, we haven’t had the opportunity to do a lot of stuff, take a seat for a moment because I guarantee you your seat for a moment will not end up being four hundred years. Then when we get to the place where everybody can do everything that’s fine, but we’re not there yet and we need to catch up so give us a minute, ok?

[TR in conversation with Inger:]

There it is!

— Music ends with a base drop that pulsates and slowly fades out.

TR:

Did you recognize anyone? Here’s some of the projects our narrators voiced.

Allyson:

Arrival was my first. It sort of made me realize what I now know I like about description. The guys who wrote that script were not “Description Writers,” but they were the sound guys. They knew that movie backwards and forwards. They’d seen it over thirty times so they knew what was important to put in the copy. I only know that now looking back.

Audio: Allyson narrating Queen Sono

TR:

Allyson also narrated If beale Street Could Talk and can be heard on Queen Sono on Netflix.

Just this past spring, ESPN premiered The Last Dance. A documentary about The reign of the Chicago Bulls in the 90’s. I’m not really a sports fan, but I do love a good sports documentary. Unfortunately, it did not include AD. That is until it was released on Netflix this summer.

Audio: Bill narrating The Last Dance

Bill:

being from Chicago, growing up in that time knowing that the Bulls were that championship team and we had two three peats. That was amazing to me.

TR:

It just so happens, Bill has a connection to sports.

Bill:

If you happen to attend a Philadelphia Eagles football game, I’m one of the in stadium announcers there.

I’m not announcing the game, that’s actually the guy next to me. We’re not on radio, we are in stadium only. Whenever the teams go to a TV timeout, that’s when I speak because people in the stadium hear commercials or see promotions and I announce those.

TR:

In addition to The Last Dance on Netflix you can hear Bill on Money Heist and Project Power.

Audio: Inger narrating Hanna on Amazon Prime

If you’re familiar with The Neighborhood, Amazon’s Jack Ryan, Proud Mary or Once Upon A time in Hollywood then you probably heard Inger as she narrated these projects.

Audio: Tansy narrating See on Apple TV

Did you recognize Tansy’s voice?

As I mentioned to her, technically this is her second time on the podcast as her voice opened my episode with Joe Strechay and his involvement with Apple TV’s See.

Tansy:

Oh my God, well thank you, thank you very much. (Laughs)

Well, that’s interesting, ok, so now I have a question for you. If you watched See did you not know that was me by listening to me talk right now.

TR:

Ok, well, I didn’t. To be fair, yes, I could have had her full bio for the interview, but the interview wasn’t about specific projects. Tansy Alexander has voiced hundreds of projects over the years including Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things and she’s even doing live narration for the WWE. or World Wrestling Entertainment.

When I asked her if any stand out she struggled a bit but mentioned one

Tansy:

Switched at birth series.

We are doing a show with Audio Description but we’ve got a daughter in the show who can’t hear so we got sign language going on. We also have to describe any sub titles. It’s all fascinating how it works together. One of the episodes was completely done in sign language, so there was no talking what so ever in this whole episode so we had to bring in other people to do some of the reading of their sub titles because I couldn’t do them all it was just too many. It would sound stupid nobody would know what’s going on.

TR:
Having people know what’s going on is important to Tansy.

Tansy:

A person who is not able to see what’s going on is left out of the discussion. You can access the show but you can’t access the whole content. It’s not fair. I’m about equity.

[TR in conversation with Inger:]

Why AD? Why do you enjoy Audio Description? And I’m assuming you enjoy Audio Description.

Inger:

Oh, I do actually!

It’s a number of things.

One, I’ve always liked reading aloud. It was actually how I got into acting was in grade school, when we had to read aloud in class I would get so into doing it and giving the different characters different voices that they started sticking me in plays.

When you have the opportunity to see how it effects people like when you actually have an audience or if you’re reading to a group of people, you can gauge how your words are affecting them. If you change the tone, change the pitch, if you change the pace. What that does to how they’re receiving it, how they’re taking it in how they’re being emotionally effected by what you say.

TR:

yet, there’s little immediate feedback in Audio Description.

Inger:

I like the aspect of knowing everything I’m doing in terms of entertainment or acting just being about being on stage. There is some part of it that you want to be service, you want what you’re doing to help somebody in some way. Whether you’re helping them to see something different about themselves or about how they view the world or particular groups of people or what have you. One of the things I appreciate about the descriptive narration is you feel like you’re at least doing something that you know directly helps a particular group of people have access to something that they might not otherwise have access to. To being able to more fully enjoy a television show or a film because you’re describing the action that’s going on. So it’s one of those areas where you can feel like you’re entertainment and service are merging.

Bill:

I take this very seriously and I want you as a consumer of Audio Description to know that. Audio Description is a responsibility. Someone is watching this movie or this TV show. If you don’t take that craft, if you don’t take what you do seriously enough then the person who’s listening to it is not going to have a good experience and they’re marginalized even more. Just because it’s provided doesn’t mean it’s very good. And I always strive for it to be good.

— Music begins – A driving upbeat Hip Hop beat

TR:

Ladies & gentlemen, join me in saluting:
Allyson Johnson;

Allyson:

My social media handle is the same on everything @AllysonsVoice And that’s AllysonsVoice (spelled out)

TR:

Mr. Bill Larson

Bill:

On Insta Gram @BillIvoryLarson. Hit me up! let’s have a conversation.

TR:

Tansy Alexander

Tansy:

There’s links on my website TansyAlexander.com. TansyAlexander (spelled out)

And last but definitely not least, Inger Tudor. By the way, during the pandemic Inger began a cool project during the pandemic. The name really does capture the mission.

Inger:

“A Poem A Day Art and Love in the Time of Corona”

TR:

She continues to bring you exactly that. Every day a new poem read aloud. You can find it on her social media, Facebook, twitter and Insta Gram all @IngerTudor.

Inger:

IngerTudor (Spelled out)

TR:

Occasionally she’s even dropping some of her own original work.

Inger:

If you do check it out feel free to leave a comment about a poem or a poet or a topic you would like me to do a poem on.

[TR in conversation with Inger:]

Oh, you’re taking requests? (Laughs)

Inger:

I take requests!

TR:

As do I! Ahem!

— Music ends.

Four Voice Over Artists
Become Narrators for what we know as AD
they get interviewed for a podcast
And now become Reid My Mind Radio Family!

Audio: Air Horns

Audio: “It’s official!”

TR:

I salute you all!

— Music begins – A driving upbeat Hip Hop beat

TR:

Subscribe wherever you get podcasts!
Transcripts & more are over at ReidMyMind.com. And , you know I told you this before and I’m going to tell you every single time… ReidMyMind.com is R to the E I D
(Audio: “D and that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)

Like my last name.

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Superfest Disability Film festival: Going Above & Beyond

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020

Superfest Disability Film Festival Logo

When the Covid 19 Pandemic forced a shutdown, some people and organizations were in the position to really step up in different ways. Cathy Kudlick & Emily Beitiks from the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability home to The Superfest Film Festival are among this group.

In this episode we’re discussing the history of Superfest and more including:
* Providing online content for an underserved community during the Pandemic
* Defining 101 vs. 201 Disability Films
* Creating a template for Accessible Film Festivals
And of course More on what you can expect from Superfest 2020 on October 17 & 18, 2020. Plus, join me on a quick journey “Back in the Day “through my own movie experience over the years.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

Audio: Record player static… “Back in the Day” Instrumental, Ahmad

TR:

Every now and then I like to tell my kids about my experience growing up. It puts things into a perspective. At least that’s my intent. They usually just make fun of me.

I tell them how as a young child growing up in the 70’s we used to get dressed up to go to the movies. I mean actually put on our good clothes. For me that meant dress pants which more than likely was polyester. Hard bottom shoes and dress shirts or sweaters.

(“Yuk”)

Movies were an experience.

Over the years that experience changed. By the early 80’s, I didn’t get dressed up and go downtown with my family, we now had a local theater. I could go with my friends, choose my own clothes. At first that was during the day time, but then as I got a bit older and a new multiplex theater was built in the borough, we all traveled there on Friday and Saturday nights.

Audio: Krush Groove Movie Trailer…

RIP, to the Whitestone Theater in the Bronx!

The experience continued to change. I changed as well. I began to prefer going to the movies during the day again. Eventually with my own family.

For a few years, I stopped going to the movies altogether. That was when I could no longer see the screen. I didn’t return until a theater about 30 minutes away from my home began offering Audio Description. That process wasn’t very smooth at first, but it did get better.

Now I’m back to my family trying to tell me what to wear.

Today, Covid 19 has obviously made adaptation a requirement for just about everything in our society. As we’ve seen, these adaptations paired with accessibility can equal opportunity. It’s not permanent, we know experiences evolve. When it’s inclusive, well I think that’s a good thing!

By the way, there’s nothing wrong with my sweat-shirts!

I’m Thomas Reid, your host and producer!
You’re rockin’ with Reid My Mind Radio!

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

Cathy:

My name is Cathy kudlick and I’m Director of the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University. I should spell out Longmore because so many people here it as lawn mower, but it’s Longmore. It’s a disability cultural center. We try to kind of get people to think about disability in new and creative and innovative ways.

I’m a History professor in addition to my role as Director at the Longmore Institute and I teach Disability History among other things and I come at this largely as somebody who grew up with a serious vision impairment and was in complete denial through much of my life trying to pass and pretend and all of those things and then a random encounter with somebody and then started to read more about blindness tuff and disability stuff and all of that led to kind of start to say hey there’s nothing to be ashamed of here so why not embrace what’s really cool about this and think about it in new ways.

TR:

Thinking about disability in new ways. We’re going to come back to that.

If you’ve been riding with Reid My Mind Radio, you’re probably thinking we’re about to dive into Cathy’s journey. It’s obvious, Cathy’s story falls in line with this podcast’s mission. Well, for now that’s not the case. She has however, agreed to come back to share her story on a future episode.

Today’s episode is all about the…

(Audio: “Super, Super Super, from Super Rhymes by Jimmy Spicer)

Superfest Disability Film Festival.

Also here to take us through the festival is Emily Beitiks the Associate Director at the Longmore Institute on Disability.

Emily:

I’m the Coordinator of Superfest. I work with the film makers each year to help them audio describe their films and work with the audience each year as we kind of learn from them what works what doesn’t work and bring Superfest into other arenas to kind of broaden the reach of where our films are seen and introducing people to audio description for the first time when I do school assemblies or go to libraries or not your traditional Superfest audience. I’m a non-Disabled accomplice in this world. My mom had a disability since before I was born so I’ve been really passionate about bringing my own experiences kind of straddling both worlds experiencing disability discrimination and also participating in it as being a non-disabled person.

TR:

Let’s start with a bit of history.

Emily:

Superfest was started in Southern California in Los Angeles in 1970. It switched hands to various organizations over the years and migrated up to the Bay area where it was run for many years by Culture Disability Talent. It was a really well loved grass roots effort volunteer lead.

TR:
Running an event like this solely with volunteers can be a challenge. In 2012, Superfest found a new home with The Paul K Longmore Institute on Disabilities and The San Francisco Lighthouse.

Emily:

It was just kind of a very exciting match because the Longmore Institute was just getting started in a new sort of way as our founder Paul Longmore had passed away and Cathy had come on as Director and Lighthouse was a really established organization but focusing more on direct services and was interested to kind of push their boundaries by doing some more cultural programming.

We partnered up and ran Superfest for the past seven years.

TR:

The festival, which originally was not an annual event, is now headed into its 34th year. This will be the first time it’s solely run by the Longmore Institute, as the Lighthouse leadership decided to focus on other programming.

Emily:

We were really lucky to have that partnership with Lighthouse for many years because they just had a sort of organizational structure for like getting the bills paid and the reservations booked that moved a lot faster than we were capable of when we were just getting started. We’re really lucky that they waited and gave us a lot of warning because now we’ve been up and running for some time and we’re ready to run the ship by ourselves.

Cathy:

The other thing that kind of got thrown into this that makes it less hard to measure what the big change is you know with Covid how much of this is ultimately going to be online anyway. We’re still trying to decide. We don’t quite know if the venues we want to have it at in mid-October are going to be open and ready and all that. So it’s hard to measure exactly what a new Superfest without Lighthouse is going to be like.

TR:

Fortunately, Superfest in October won’t be their first go at managing events online.

Emily:

For the last few years, we do an annual event called the Longmore Lecture in Disability Studies and we had started to experiment with using Zoom to live stream that event to be able to bring it to people that by nature of their disabilities they couldn’t come or geographically they couldn’t come in person. When shelter in place hit and we’re here in San Francisco which is one of the first places in the country that got the official lockdown, we kind of saw it as a real opportunity, we’re like oh, we can do online programming. We’ve had experience with this and we could figure out how to bring it to a festival environment.

TR:
The challenge in presenting films online is the threat of pirating.

Audio: Scene from Pirates of the Caribbean”

“You are without doubt, the worse Pirate I’ve ever heard of.”

Jack Sparrow: “But you have heard of me”

Emily:

But I knew I’d worked with enough film makers over the years who I could reach out to that their primary mission was just for people to see their films. So the risk of possibly somebody making an illegal recording was just not as big of a concern. The more people that see this film the better.

TR:

Some of the films included work from Reid My Mind Radio family members Cheryl Green & Day Al-Mohammed.

Emily:

People really need this right now. People are cut off from their community and at the same moment that there’s so much hurtful and ablest rhetoric circulating around disability. And so to be able to spend an evening or an afternoon watching some disability films it also really brings people together and celebrate disability and get at the nuances of life with a disability that certainly the mainstream media doesn’t always get, just felt like a really important possibility.

TR:

My initial interest in featuring Superfest here on the podcast began with access. I was really impressed with the way they just for me at least, appeared to come out of nowhere and start providing content for the disability community. The way they do access; not only did I feel included, but knowing others were also able to participate just felt like something I should share with the Reid My Mind Radio family.

I wasn’t the only one reacting.

Emily:

One person was like I’ve never been able to participate in any sort of film festival in my life because I spend most of my time in the bed. They said this was just incredible to get to be part of this. Another one that stood out was a guy who stayed up super late to watch in Kenya with a group of friends and was like that was absolutely worth staying up for. Now I have a group of friends and we’re going to watch all your programs. And he certainly has.

So just being able to bring this program to people that don’t have what we have in the Bay area has been really exciting.

Cathy:

Emily thought to do another really cool one which was Superfest Kids which was kind of a nice home schooling moment I guess, with disability awareness and it was all geared towards kids. How many people did we have on that one? Do you remember?

Emily:

We had about 150. A number of people were like my kids are supposed to be on a Zoom call with their class right now but this is a more important lesson.

TR:

A lesson that more of us need no matter our age.

For the unfamiliar, the idea of a disability film is something like;

Cathy:

Oh Disabled people are people too and isn’t it great that they’re there and this is a positive happy uplifting story. It’s not a depressing one whatever. Those are fine, but we highlight what we think is disability 201 – films that share the creativity and the ingenuity or the unexpectedness or the intersections of disability with other kinds of identities.

TR:

Identities like race, gender, sexuality

Considering the idea of Disability 101 versus 201, you may think those new to disability should begin sequentially. Cathy however doesn’t see it that way.

Cathy:

I would say go to Superfest right away because if you’ve even thought about disability for five seconds or anybody around you has thought about it, chances are they’ve seen some version. It’s usually some films by a family member or friend that just thinks wow you know it’s really great that so and so with fill in the disability and then fill in what they did. They either traveled somewhere or they climbed a mountain or they went to school.

TR:

The 101 or 201 classification isn’t about good or bad. The distinguishing factor between the two is 101 films aren’t often made with disabled people in mind.

Cathy:

We want people to sort of think about disability as experimental and as interesting and as passionate and not just as yet another feel good story about somebody climbing a mountain because they started to be more comfortable with their disability or they needed to prove themselves. We want to ask them to think about well what happens when that person comes down from the mountain. What’s their life like after that?

TR:

That’s another difference. The 101 films feature a single disability experience.

Cathy:
But the 201 version would have them speaking to other disabled people and kind of bonding. There would be some sort of connection and some sort of excitement and engagement. It’s not just like one person being show cased all by themselves.

It might be that they have a quirky view on things and they change the thinking of other disabled people or they changed the thinking of people around them to give an unexpected perspective on the world around them.

TR:

The 201 films like Superfest, really center disabled people. And at the end of the day, as Emily explains, the goal is pretty simple.

Emily:

We’re just trying to not have them be bored. Even if you are new to finding your disability identity, typically a 201 film can just go a lot farther with pushing people’s buttons and thinking like wow, there’s this whole world of thinking about disability that I haven’t seen before.

A few years back we came up with a list that we kind of think of 10 things that define disability 201 and what Superfest is all about. Things you’re going to find at Superfest that you’re not going to find anywhere else.

TR:

These are things like;
People with disabilities as the main characters
Intersectionality – people with disabilities aren’t just white men as often portrayed in movies. So at Superfest, you’ll see representation from Black, Latinex, and LGBT people with disabilities.

I’ll include a link to these ten categories on this episodes blog post at ReidMyMind.com.

At Superfest, all screenings include open Audio Description. So unlike when you attend a film at your local theater and you request the headset and receiver to privately stream the audio description, these films have the description streaming with the main audio. As Cathy notes, this does require some introduction for an audience unfamiliar with AD.

Cathy:

You’re going to hear this and you’re not used to it. Think about it as a new way of watching films. I’ve often thought of it as in that context of when they introduced talking to silent films. It’s another layer that people weren’t ready for and then suddenly like woh this is very new. The problem with that though is it can be sensory overload for people that have processing or cognitive stuff going on

TR:

A challenge of producing a film festival like Superfest is the idea that creating access for one group of people may unintentionally exclude another group.

For example, Emily talked about a film called To Be or not To Be. It featured a young man with Cerebral Palsy in Kazakhstan. The film which was in Russian, required translation. For sighted users, printed sub titles along the bottom portion of the screen will do the trick. Blind viewers require over dubbing.

Emily:

The focus of the film is really his incredible acting abilities. In making it accessible to the Blind we were then losing hearing this actor with CP and his own voice telling his own life story. So it was a really tough example of like a competing accommodation of wanting to bring access to the Blind but not wanting to lose this man’s voice.

TR:

This particular film worked out because it had enough quiet space that the description and dubbing was staggered to allow the actors voice to be heard. For this very reason, Superfest now determines which films are better suited for open description but offers closed description for others.

Emily:

So much of our work is working with these film makers to teach them, think about the problem and have tough conversations as we do it so that hopefully people are thinking about it in advance of making their films.
[TR in conversation with Emily:]

So what is that process like, of teaching the film makers?

Emily:

Well, when they apply to participate in Superfest, there’s a requirement box that they have to check that says that they’ll get their films captioned and audio described.

TR:

Most of those who apply are in agreement with this philosophy. In some cases especially for independent film makers, the cost of captioning and describing, while small in comparison to other production costs, can present a challenge.

Emily:

A lot of our film makers are able to get it done. Other times we have to work and get creative about finding funds ourselves to be able to cover those expenses or find funders that are willing to do it for them. With each film kind of think it through with the film makers and sort of talk through the strategies.

TR:

Funding is just one of the challenges. Some films may just be packed with dialog and visuals leaving little space or no space for description. Emily and Cathy explain how one such instance was managed and how the result can be a win for all involved.

Emily:

And so we were like we’re going to just have to add pauses to the film to do this right and get some of that Audio Description in. There were going to be visuals that like everyone in the crowd who was sighted was going to laugh at that and we didn’t want to risk that people would not get to experience those jokes. And so we built in those pauses and I think this film maker was super up for it.

Cathy:

You know when audio description’s done badly it’s horrible, it’s like suffocating on something that’s beautiful and something that’s not. But when it’s done well it kind of coaxes out some great stuff that’s already in there and enhances it. So she got somebody to audio describe the film that had the same snarky tone that the images did. So it totally enhanced the images for everybody.

Emily:

We’re introducing it to them for the first time but we’re also really trying to empower them to be advocates for what the final product is and be like you know your film best. You know if that visual right there matters or if that was just some B roll you needed to fill the shot. The more active that they can be in the audio description process if they do outsource, the better the results have been.

Cathy:

To me that’s the dream of a Superfest audio description experience where the film maker says woh this made my film better!

TR:

Currently, English and American Sign Language (ASL) are the only supported languages. However, an online festival offering multiple links for various languages would simplify the process in comparison to a live physical audience.

Getting that audience whether in person or not takes work.

Emily:

Shout out to our wonderful student assistants. Every time we have an event they get an email from me like okay, here’s the audience for this one, think of everybody you can and send them this email. We have like a big list of disability organizations all across the country, but then with each one we’re like who can we reach that would not have any interest in attending a disability film festival but because of this new sort of twist on it right, might be interested.

TR:

Selecting the students, or Longmore fellows, as Cathy refers to them is not about finding interns to get the job done.

Cathy:

We try to hire as many students with disabilities and put them in the majority as our kind of student workers but also we’re educating them and bringing them into community with each other about new ideas around disability.

TR:

The students are experiencing the mission of Superfest, advocacy, education and community building. All done through the phase one judging of the films.

Cathy:

It’s almost like a class but we get paid internships for students with disabilities to come and basically watch like 190 – 200 films and have to Weddle it down to like 10 or 15. And we teach them and they teach each other and they become advocates and learn about representation of disability and all these things by working together.

TR:

Both Cathy and Emily lead the interns in discussions about the films. With each of the students coming to disability from different angles as you can imagine, the conversations are rich and engaging.

For more on Superfest jurors, check out episode 76 of Alice Wong’s Disability Visibility Podcast. I’ll hook you up with that link on ReidMyMind.com.

While much of the world got caught flat footed during the pandemic, we see how the team at Superfest was in a position to quickly respond.

Emily:

We have always evolved with new twists and turns each year.

Emily & Cathy:
There’s always something!

Cathy:

The BART Station right by the venue was down. We created a bus bridge to another BART station. We found out like that morning at the festival.

Emily:

One year we arrived at one of our venues and the night before they had painted a wall like right outside the entrance to our auditorium. So the fumes were going to be a serious problem for anyone with chemical sensitivity. We’re like, alright great let’s figure it out. We’re going to get some fans in here. We’re going to reroute and everyone’s going to enter through the back.

We’ve been giving advice to some of the other film festivals not just disability film festivals but film festivals period with how to do online programming. I think that’s a great example of like when you’re in the disability community you’re used to things not being made for you because of ableism. That gives you this adaptability and flexibility and like our festival has that spirit.

TR:

The Superfest Film Festival will take place on October 17 & 18, 2020.

With 15 films all falling within the range that Superfest aims to include.

Emily:

Different disabilities featured, a mixture of documentaries that look at some of the honest hardships of life with a disability and others that are light and hilarious and really get at some of the funniest moments insider humor inside the disability community. A lot of really incredible artistic films that explore the beauty that comes with disabled bodies and disabled dance movement.

TR:

This year’s set of films consist of 14 short and 1 feature film.

Emily:

Called God Given Talent that explores a local Oakland based artist who’s Black and Blind. Really looking forward to sharing that more local story.

TR:

And yes, you are going to hear more about that particular artist in an upcoming episode right here on the podcast.
*

For more on the films included in this year’s Superfest lineup visit SuperfestFilm.com.
You can learn more about the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at LongmoreInstitute.sfsu.edu
They’re on Twitter @LongmoreInst and Facebook Facebook.com/SFSUDisability.
Or, just check out this episodes blog post at ReidMyMind.com for all the links.

Superfest sounds like much more than a film festival. In fact, I see it as a resource for those adjusting to blindness.

Chances are those new to blindness or disability in general haven’t spent much time critically thinking about disability. Being new to the experience is an opportunity to examine all that’s been accumulating in the sub conscious over the years. The films featured in Superfest encourage us to move our thinking about disability to a conscious level.

Take a look at the list of 10 things defining the 201 films and Superfest. They resemble some of what I’ve been learning along this journey of adjusting to blindness. Like;
* Recognizing the various ways disability intersects with other identities
* Exploring disability as a political and social issue, not just medical
* Seeing ourselves throughout all aspects of society and finding friendships within the community.

In fact, now that I think about it, Superfest sort of reminds me of how I feel about this podcast.

Cathy:

People need to know about this. it’s just such a great opportunity and it’s kind of great that it’s gone under the radar for so many people for so many years but on the other hand it just would be so great to have it be really, really well known. It’s so beloved and people are so excited about it and every year people come and they’re just like woh, we never thought of this. This is so amazing.

TR:

I’m just sayin’!

While I’m looking forward to Superfest being online this year because I personally get to attend, I know there’s no replacement for that in person experience. I look forward to one day being able to participate in person. I get the sense that it could be a similar experience to my first blindness conference. That sense of belonging or community.

Audio: It’s Official…

Cathy Kudlick…
Emily Beitiks…
And Superfest…

Its official! You know you’re part of the Reid My Mind Radio family!

Come hang out with yours truly and the rest of the cool kids watching some fun, interesting and thought provoking films. Head over to SuperfestFilm.com to check out the lineup and grab your ticket. Don’t forget the snacks and drinks. (You gotta have the snacks and drinks.)

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: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

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