Posts Tagged ‘Discrimination’

Viewing Audio Description History Through Audio Eyes with Rick Boggs

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020

Audio Eyes LLC Logo - graphic of film transforming into brain waves with the text "Turning pictures... into words"
Continuing with the exploration of Audio Description, I’m very happy to have one of the founders of Audio Eyes, Rick Boggs on the podcast. We get a bit of a lesson on the history of Audio Description with an emphasis on the role Blind people played in its creation and advances. Why is this important? How can we be proactive in promoting AD? How can we become more than consumers of AD?

Listen in as Rick doesn’t hold back sharing his thoughts on the problems with AD, Blind consumer organizations and more.

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Audio: Crash Crew Hi-Power Rap.
“We don’t want to be left behind, all we want to do is just blow your mind, just one more time!”

Instrumental.

TR:

What’s up Family!
Back again! Bringing you more of what you bargain for. Reid My Mind bringing you the baddest guests and topics we can find!

We are here to tell the world, just who we are.

I’m Thomas Reid your host and producer of the podcast featuring compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability.

Every now and then when I’m inspired, I bring you some of my own experiences as a man adjusting to becoming blind as an adult.

Audio Description is and will continue to be an ongoing topic on this podcast. it makes sense. We focus on those adjusting to blindness. Audio Description in my opinion, is a part of that process.

Its access to information, entertainment, bonding with family and friends and maybe even career opportunities?

If you’re new here, check out the link on this episodes blog post that has a page with all of the podcast episodes featuring Audio Description.

Today we’re looking at the contributions of Blind people in Audio Description. Let’s get it!

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

RB:

I needed a job as a young guy, 17, 18 years old. I have many, many as most Blind people do, many grueling stories of discrimination. Just in telemarketing to sell the local newspaper here in Los Angeles and I don’t mean the LA Times, They hired me on the phone. But then when they told me to come to their office and were giving me directions they were vague. I said would that be the second building from the corner? They said, don’t worry about it just come down the street you’ll see the yellow sign. I said well, I don’t think my guide dog will notice the yellow sign. They said your what? Wait a minute, put me on hold for 20 minutes and came on and made an excuse; “Oh you know what, I didn’t understand my partner was also interviewing someone on the other line. We already filled the position.”

I’m Rick Boggs, professional Audio Engineer and am responsible for making Pro Tools, the state of the art audio recording software accessible for Blind Audio Engineers. I’m also a musician, playing multiple instruments. I’m a composer and song writer. Something of an accomplished actor. many appearances on television and film between 1987 and 2007. And for the last 20 years I’ve been operating the company that I founded which is called Audio Eyes and we produce Audio description for film and television.

TR:

As you can see, Rick came a long way from that 17 year old young man in search of a job.

Today, we’re specifically exploring Rick’s career within Audio Description. As he has been involved with the industry for over 20 years, we get a bit of a history lesson on the role Blind people played in Audio Description.

Rick’s own introduction to Audio Description, from my understanding illustrates how many people felt at the time.

RB:

When I first heard of Audio description was when the American Foundation for the Blind was conducting their research and creating the booklet that eventually became “Look Who’s Watching”. Where they surveyed Blind people and asked them if we could add a voice to TV programs describing what was on the screen when no one’s talking would you like it?

No, I feel very independent. I can watch TV all by myself. I don’t need some voice telling me what’s going on.

TR:

AFB’s next step was to invite a group of those surveyed to watch a film.

RB:

I think it was a Forrest Gump film with Vince Skully doing the description.

TR:

The group was then re-surveyed.

RB:

90 percent of the people who said no, like me, changed our mind and said well actually, this is really cool and I didn’t realize how much I was going to enjoy it. I would like to have this.

TR:

No, like he really liked it!

RB:

In 95 and 96 when WGBH, which is now Media Access Group, they were installing Audio Description systems in movie cinemas. they called me because I was very visible on television at the time. they figured I would be a good representative of Blind people and they asked me to find other Blind people to come to these events. I helped recruit Blind people to come to their installation celebrations and then of course the media would come. I was interviewed on cable news and broadcast news, talking about what the value of Audio Description was. I became a volunteer promoter and the face of WGBH.

TR

This was in addition to his actual career at that time.

RB:

From 1987 to 2002 I had a record label and recording studio. I built a recording studio from money I had earned as an actor. My desire to get into audio recording was driven by my passion as a song writer. I wanted to be able to record and produce my own things mostly because I couldn’t afford to go to a bunch of other studios and hire a bunch of musicians, so I wanted to be able to do it myself.

TR:

And he did. He produced bands and song writers in his studio located on his residential property.

Doing it yourself can present very specific challenges .

RB:

That led me down the path of the transition from analog audio to digital
I wanted to make sure that we weren’t left out. That’s a long and interesting story of how that ended up happening.

TR:

For now, we’re focusing on another sort of accessibility.

RB:

Then moving forward to 2002 when my good friend Mike Hansel who at the time was working for Caption Max, he came to visit me and my good friend Jack Patterson. We were in the music studio and he was coming over to play drums and we were going to jam and he said, rick, I don’t get it, how come you’re out there promoting this Audio Description stuff. You’ve got the studio and you got the chops as an engineer and all the equipment to produce and you’re not producing any. I was just stunned.

Well, I guess I never thought of that.

I immediately said let’s look into that. maybe that’s not a bad thing to do.

TR:

Even today, when we discuss Audio Description, it’s more than often from the perspective of a service FOR Blind people.

During my conversation with Rick, it was apparent to me that Audio Eyes should be viewed from a historical perspective.

So let’s go back to the beginning of Audio Description.

RB:

Well this is one of my favorite topics, I have to tell you. I’m so proud to say that United States of American has invented many, many , many things and has held many, many patents. And many of the things we’ve created and invented benefit people with disabilities, but normally those things are created, invented, delivered by people that don’t have that particular disability. Hey we will help those that are less fortunate kind of thing. What I’m proud to say about Audio Description is Audio description as created by Blind people. And every innovation and advancement in Audio Description that has really contributed to what it is now was made by Blind people.

TR:

According to The History of Audio Description, written by Joel Snyder, the idea of Audio description in its current form was first conceived in the 1960’s by Chet Avery, who lost his sight at 17 years old.

In 1981 Margaret Rockwell, a blind woman with a PhD in Education decided to pair the assisted listening devices with her future husband, Cody Pfanstiehl. An expert in media and public relations, Pfanstiehl read for the Washington Ear, the radio reading service founded by Rockwell.

RB:

Cody and Margaret, their gone now, rest in peace, but they set the standards for how description should be done so that it’s not condescending, so that you’re not explaining the plot. And they trained some people.

TR:

One of those trained was Allen Woods who continued training others in the Pfanstiehl method.

RB:

Another Blind person, a wonderful guy that I know, Jim Stovall, created the Narrative Television Network, NTN. He set out to try to apply Audio Description to television programs And in 1989 he worked I believe with WGBH, a television station, to demonstrate how it would be done. They used the SAP channel that was originally devised by Congress and the FCC to facilitate foreign language broadcast. They demonstrated it successfully in 1989. Jim received an Emmy actually for technical achievement.

TR:

During the 1990’s the only television network broadcasting Audio Described content was PBS.

RB:

Commercial TV wouldn’t do it no matter how much we pushed and advocated. They resisted.

In 2002, the FCC made a rule that commercial broadcasters would have to do three and a half hours of prime time described programming on their network. That’s how I got my start and some of the other companies got there’s

TR:

In hindsight, it seemed obvious. Rick familiar with recording technology was already promoting Audio Description and learning the business.

With his good friend Jack, Rick formed the first iteration of Audio eyes known then as We See TV.

RB:
I was invited by my good friend Jolene Mason who is a Blind person who should receive a lot more recognition than she has for her contributions to Audio Description. She insured that the Tournament of Roses parade every New Year’s is described live on television for Blind people. And has done so since the mid 90’s at least. Putting that on through her nonprofit, the Los Angeles Radio Reading Service.

Well, she invited me to a meeting with Deborah Shuster.

TR:

Deborah Shuster did the captioning for ABC television. She was approached about creating Audio Description for the network.

RB:

Deborah having the integrity to realize that Audio Description was not her forte and she didn’t know it was going to go look for a company that was good at it because she cares about providing good services in the industry, unlike some people who were caption companies who just said let’s just throw something out there and call it Audio Description. No one will know the difference because no one knows if it’s good or bad anyway, which we’ll get into at some point.

TR:

That meeting led to him describing for ABC television.

In 2007 Rick renamed the business.

RB:

Same company, same service same people and everything, but it became Audio Eyes.

We secured various clients and now we’re on as many as 9 broadcast networks, Amazon, iTunes, Netflix. Large venues and many corporations that produce corporate videos and so on.

The Pfanstiehl’s created it and trained sighted people to do it. Jim Stovall put it on television and GBH took it, but it became sighted people doing it without any input.

Yet another important stage in the development of Audio Description was made by another wonderful professional Blind person, Dr. Josh Miele.

TR:

Long time listeners should be familiar with the Smith-Kettlewell Physicist Dr. Josh Miele. He’s an alumni of the podcast and a member of the Reid My Mind Radio family. I’ll link to his episode on this episodes blog post.

RB:

He has developed a lot of really cool adaptive stuff for Blind people, but he was interested in description. He found that there was a grant available through the Department of education which he applied for initially.

He did the impossible, he brought together all of the major providers of Audio Description services and created the Description leadership Network under the Video Research and Development Center. the legacy is its website VDRDC.org

TR:

It served as a resource on Audio Description related information and provides a communication platform where leaders in the field discuss topics like inclusion.

As Josh too is a proponent for the inclusion of Blind people in the Audio Description production process he began an internship program.

RB:

Paid internship so that any description provider, who’s writing description could experiment with having a Blind employee and not have to have a financial risk for whatever the time period was three months, that any, six months and experience the value of having that person. The disappointing part of it was that really only one other vendor besides myself did it. I shouldn’t say one I think it’s technically two. One of them absolutely did take on the intern as a staff member for whatever the period of time was. The other one simply contracted with a Blind person as a third party to review their work after it was already done. It’s a little different to have a Blind person critique your work when it’s already out there on television as opposed to give the Blind person the opportunity to have input before its finished.

TR:

As for the company taking on the Blind intern, the feedback was positive. Full of praises for the intern and admitted to it being a mutual learning experience.

RB:

Josh had the great courage and integrity to ask well then does that mean going forward you would consider maybe employing the Blind person in your process. And there was a long silence and the person answered by saying. Well, we think maybe it will be a great idea since there’s so much work going on the internet right now, these Blind experts could volunteer their time helping companies that providing description on YouTube and other places on the network. The whole room kind of ooo’ed!

Maybe in an unintended way it sounded very much like they were saying that they should work for free.

TR:

Meanwhile back at Audio Eyes…

RB:

Our staff is now 30 people and it started with just two of us back in 2002.

Our desire was to provide the best quality description out there. And we emulated WGBH who was doing the best Audio Description. The only difference was we were going to be inclusive. We were going to make sure performers with disabilities had opportunities to work in it and Blind people in particular would always be included in the company. We would recruit, find train Blind people to work in production and we’ve always done that.

[TR in conversation with RB:]

You have 30 employees, can you talk about how many of those are Blind/disabled?

RB

Seven staff members that are totally Blind. Actually one guy might be qualified as Low Vision but it’s pretty low. (Laughs)

TR:

Rick was active as an advocate within the Screen Actors guild serving as an alternate board member and co vice chair of a committee creating opportunities for actors with disabilities. This and possibly those early experiences in the job market, helped form his early hiring policy.

RB:

I was very connected to a lot of disabled talent. for the first two years I willingly practiced reverse discrimination. I would only cast Voice Over artists with disabilities. I just felt like there was so much discrimination in the industry. We’re never giving people with disabilities and opportunity. I wanted to make my statement. I boasted about it on the internet and I naively thought it would make other companies feel the pressure and they would start hiring people with disabilities too, but it didn’t work.

TR:

Now looking towards the future and how we improve Audio Description.

RB:

Making sure that Blind people have a voice; what’s good, what’s bad, what are the standards, what should it be. I was eventually invited to edit and re-write a lot of sections of the style guide for one of the major streaming services. The big dog in the industry. To their credit, they recognize hey this guy is the expert he’ the professional let’s take his notes on what our style guide should be about, what description should be.

[TR in conversation with RB:]

You mentioned that this was your favorite topic, what’s the importance of this topic? Why do you think it’s important that people are aware of that history?

RB

I think it’s really important that people understand Audio Description was created by Blind people for Blind people because I want the industry to be accountable to the consumer. I want the industry not to be like many services for people with disabilities which are well intending but also have unintended patronizing elements to the services they provide. In other words, making people feel less than, less powerful, helpless, creating a dual class system. Sort of treating the people you’re helping like they’re not really equal to yourself
.

TR:

Audio Description is not a charitable venture, it’s commercial. The need for inclusion is therefore even more relevant in my opinion.

Making sure not to leak any revealing information, Rick shared a recent experience. One of his Audio Description clients received some complaints about description from the general public.

RB:

(In a mocking tone)

What’s with this annoying voice? Why do you have to put that in here? We don’t like this. How can we get rid of it?

They decided to address it in the TV program itself. Which I thought was a unique decision. The comment wasn’t very flattering of description itself. It offended some of my staff who are Blind. To the customer’s credit, when we notified them and said you know this is offensive. They decided to change it. And kudos to that organization that was willing to do that and showed some sensitivity to their patrons and actually care about the feelings of Blind consumers.
[
[TR in conversation with RB:]

What are some of the other hurdles that seem to be in the way , “in the way” (laughs) of Blind people being involved in the production side of Audio Description

RB

Blind people are not loud and vocal about wanting good service.

[TR in conversation with RB:]

Talk about it!

RB

Blind people are all too often grateful to have anything. In recent online forums…

TR:

I’ll include links to these forums on Reid My Mind.com.
They include the Audio Description Discussion Facebook group and the ACB Audio description project listserv.

RB:

A lot of Blind people and describers are on there. Unbeknownst to the members of that group there are actually a whole lot of network executives and TV people that watch that group sort of lurk there. Someone was complaining because the description on a particular series or program was poor. They told us stuff we already know. They didn’t tell us stuff we wanted to know. Bla, bla, bla!

Now I love it when Blind people get up and go hey man if you’re going to describe it for me do a good job otherwise I’ll turn off the description and listen like I used to.

So the discussion was fruitful, it was very constructive. But then some Blind person, inevitably, comes on and says guys I don’t understand why we have to be complaining about the description that we’re getting. Can’t you remember the days when we didn’t have anything at all. I mean can’t we just be grateful that these people are providing something.

That is the most destructive thing that Blind people can possibly do.

TR:

I have a feeling this attitude exists in any marginalized group. Perpetuating the idea that Blind people should just be happy with what they get implies they don’t deserve quality.

RB:

I have been told by one of my customers. And a major customer at that. Rick we’d be happy to even pay increase rates for this stuff if we could verify that what you’re saying about the quality of your service is actually true. Basically, they said if you can point us online to anywhere Blind people are saying this is what makes good description and it lines up with the kind of service you provide Rick well then yeh, we’re not going to grind you on the prices as much as we do because we want to pay for the best service there is.

TR:

At the end of the day, are these really just excuses based on what they already believe to be true?

RB:

the public perception of blindness and Blind people is really inaccurate. And really flawed and really is the greatest barrier to inclusion of Blind people in anything. Anything at all! Social services, employment of any kind. From my perspective in particular in inclusion in Audio Description production.

TR:

Misperceptions that ultimately question the abilities of blind people. Assumptions that lead people to think it’s amazing that a Blind person can do even the most basic things that have little to do with the ability to see like brush their teeth, get dressed…

RB:

People trying to drag them across the street, talking loudly because they can’t see or all these stereotypical things that do happen to all of us. Those same misperceptions are the same barriers within the entertainment industry, that prevent production companies, caption companies, localization companies these post production companies from thinking about Blind people and considering employing Blind people in their operations. And I have story after story I have so much inside perspective and direct contact with people.

TR:

The type of stories, based on real experience, that can provide insight into the industry that we as consumers may otherwise never
know.
RB:

It really is far and away public attitudes toward blindness and Blind people. That’s why I became affiliated with the National Federation of the Blind. I always sort of walked the fence between that and the American Council of the Blind and been a member of both and participated in both. I appreciate the American Council of the Blind’s advocacy. It was there advocacy really that led to the FCC ruling in the first place in 2002 to make description mandated for commercial television. They really deserve the credit for that.

What I’m about to say may sound like sour grapes, but it really isn’t.

TR:

The difference between organization’s as Rick sees it conflicts with his own philosophy of employing Blind people.

It stems from the initial development of ACB’s Audio Description project.

RB:

Committing themselves to ongoing advocacy and promotion of Audio Description. They did not include a plank that would strongly advocate for inclusion from an employment perspective. I felt that they should have consulted me because I had already been employing Blind people in this field for eight years. they knew very well of what I was doing. And yet when they created this initiative they didn’t even call me to say hey do you have any thoughts on this or that or the other thing. As a result in my opinion, they failed to include the professional opportunities and the importance of inclusion in the process in their initial manifesto on Audio Description.

TR:

While he appreciates both organization, for Rick, the difference between the two is clear. The National Federation of the Blind…

RB:

In my view, walks the walk. When they needed a lawyer they hire a Blind lawyer. When they need a travel agent they look for Blind travel agent.

TR:

The two teamed up and Rick and his colleagues offered a training.

RB:

It was a 50 week intensive training program. To train 10 Blind people to become Certified Description Quality Specialist.

TR:

The NFB’s support not only enabled Rick to provide this training but it also helped lead to opportunities for those trained.

RB:

We found that we definitely had a like mind.

I would like to have the legacy that providers of Audio Description automatically seek to include Blind professionals in their own operations. We are really far from that now, nobody does that, but that is my goal. I eventually want to return to producing music and get out of Audio Description but I would really like to establish that first.

TR:

As far as finding ways we can help, Rick suggests that those with a platform, podcasters, YouTubers, bloggers, no matter what your topic is, find a way to include discussions about Audio Description.

RB:

Get people talking about it whether they’re Blind or not. Kind of introduce people to it that don’t already know it.

TR:

And from the consumer point of view, well let’s share our comments; good or bad.

RB:

And they need to get those comments directly to anybody and everybody. In other words; tell the network, you write to the show, and to the description company that did it. And then publicly on social media. On your FB timeline on your Twitter account. Hey saw a great Audio Description and name where it was and when it was. And why? I love the voice that they chose or they had a horrible voice or the mix I could hardly hear the movie the description was so loud. Whatever it is be vocal about it.

TR:

If you want to be vocal about Rick, well, he’s on social media;

RB:

@BoggsBlogs (spelled out) on twitter. Facebook at rick Boggs.

TR:

You can find links to his social and more by visiting AudioEyes.com. Remember, that’s plural
RB:

AudioEyes (spelled out)

TR:
Or…

RB:

Give us a ring 818-671-6190. We’ll take your phone calls. We’ll talk to people, sighted people, Blind people, Voice over artists. I take demos over the internet all the time. Any Blind person interested in getting involved in this kind of stuff, I’m the only way in right now. We’re pretty busy but I do get to everybody eventually, if you’re patient and persistent. And I thank everybody really, if you listened this long, thank you so much for your interest in the whole topic, really!

Shout out to Rick Boggs! I enjoyed this conversation. Audio Description as you hopefully realize is about so much more than entertainment. It’s adoption, the level of commitment given by entertainment producers and broadcasters is a reflection of how Blind people are perceived in society.

Scripts censoring on screen scenes or talking down to the viewer, expecting quality control work for free,
overlooking the contributions and minimizing input from Blind people…

That to me sounds like a statement about how much Blind people are valued.

As Audio Description evolves it becomes more important to understand and assure its original purpose is maintained. All the more reason for more Blind people to be involved in its development.

I personally suggest Audio Description to those who are not Blind, however, I would not want to see Audio Description move away from centering Blind people and possibly becoming less about making the visual accessible.

How do you feel about Audio Description? Do you like this sort of dive into topics? Let me know; ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com or leave me a voice mail at 570-798-7343.

If you liked what you heard today, Tell a friend to check out Reid My Mind Radio. It’s available wherever you get podcast

Transcripts, resources and 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)

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Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

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