Posts Tagged ‘Netflix’

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!

Hide the transcript

Audio Description with IDC: Good Enough is Not Good Enough!

Wednesday, August 19th, 2020

IDC LogoWhen it comes to Audio Description, “Good enough, isn’t good enough”, says Eric Wickstrom, Director of Audio Description at International Digital center or IDC. As AD Advocates, this has to be our message.

In this episode we feature Eric & IDC’s Head Audio Description Writer Liz Gutman. We learn about their process, the industry and more all through the lens of consumers advocating for #AudioDescription. Plus if you believe Blind people should be involved in the creation of AD, you’ll want to hear what IDC is doing about this.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

Welcome to another episode of Reid My Mind Radio.
This podcast brings you compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability.

I’m Thomas Reid, your host and producer. Occasionally, I feature stories from my own experience as a man adjusting to becoming Blind as an adult. Today, we’re continuing with our ongoing look at Audio Description.

Reid My Mind Radio has several episodes exploring the topic. They range from consumer perspective discussions and opinions to profiles of those in the field. In fact, you can go back to when ReidMyMind was solely a blog; I’ve been writing & thinking about the topic for a minute y’all.

Today we’re bringing you a conversation with some Audio Description professionals, through the lends of consumers as advocates. What can we learn from their process and experience about AD that can help improve our advocacy efforts?

The answers and more are up next.

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

Eric:

My name is Eric Wickstrom. I am the Director of Audio Description for International Digital Center otherwise known as IDC, based out of New York City.

I run everything from the initial order through the delivery of AD projects.

TR:

Eric got his start in AD about 10 years ago while working at the USA Network. this was shortly after President Obama signed the 21st Century Telecommunications Accessibility Act now known as the CVAA. This mandates that major broadcast companies including some cable stations like USA, are required to provide a minimum number of hours of described programming each quarter. Over time, this number increases with a goal of 100 percent.

Eric:

I stepped up at that point and kind of offered to help spearhead the charge. Working with the heads of my department we were able to figure it out pretty quickly and get started building a library, got in compliance with the FCC. I did that for about 4 to 5 years. By the time I left we had the biggest library on broadcast television in North America.

TR:

About four years ago, Eric left USA and began working for IDC.

Eric:

We do everything from editorial stuff, color correction, quality control, media processing conversions audio mixing sub titling and all sorts of localizations. We have a full service dubbing department now that will do English to foreign language dubbing or the reverse. Pretty much A to Z anything you need we do

TR:

I wanted to speak with Eric to learn a bit more about their process specifically as it relates to us as consumers who are advocates.

We start with identifying some barriers to Audio Description which fall into two categories; quantity & quality.

First, budgets.

Audio: Music…

Eric:
It’s a very, very small part. Depending on the size of the production I mean there are cable networks that spend 12 to 15 million dollars an episode on productions and I can tell you in those cases your AD budget would be a percentage of one percent. The cost of producing a good , I’m talking about a good AD track; hiring the right people and getting it done the right way, your average AD track’s going to cost you less than like the Kraft’s service table does for a production of a T.V show.

Audio: Sound of a Adding Machine

TR:

We’re talking about a few thousand dollars.

Definitely not an amount to consider as a burden on the production of a television or film project.

So let’s not even call budget a challenge to AD.

Eric:

I just generally believe a lot of people don’t know what it is. My father and step mother were asking me three weeks ago about what AD is and I’ve been doing this for 10 years. If they don’t know by now…

[TR in conversation with Eric:]

Well, that’s just parents! Laughs…

Eric:

You know!

TR:

Truth is its much more than parents. I’m sure we’ve all encounter someone who has no idea about Audio Description. And like the good advocates we are, we explain it and probably encourage them to give it a try. The more awareness the better. But really, we need those in positions of power to be aware.

[TR in conversation with Eric:]

How is it that, production companies aren’t that aware of Audio Description at this time in 2020?

Eric:

A lot of production companies are aware of it now, the bigger production companies. They work with the bigger networks, the ones that would be mandated based on rating. Smaller production companies that traditionally work for like an HGTV or History Channel it wouldn’t surprise me that a year and a half ago when they were finally mandated to provide it, people looked at each other and said what is this. It wouldn’t shock me. If you haven’t been exposed to it you wouldn’t know about it.

TR:

It’s true, most major films are released with Audio Description. However, what about the older content that seems to remain undescribed?

Eric:

Well that’s changing. I know that like Paramount I believe did a big push two years back for AD to get it included on all the DVD releases. That back filled a lot of content that hadn’t been previously described.

Audio: Music ends in reverse.

TR:

Who watches on DVD anymore? We’re streaming.

Eric:

The problem with the streaming services is not all of them require AD. At least not for everything they air.

TR:

The issue is licensing. Streaming companies pay movie studios and television networks fees for the right to run these films and shows.

Eric:

They only have the rights for a year or two and then it goes away.

TR:

So if streaming network X pays to add AD, when it moves to streaming network Y…

Eric:

That service would have to commission their own AD track.

I think the answer there would be if every streaming service required AD, across the board then these companies that are selling the rights for these things would have to commission a track and then the track would follow that piece of material from service to service.

TR:

There’s different reasons for content not beings described. As advocates, an understanding of these can help direct our energy. In general when we find content has no description at all.

Eric:

You’d want to reach out directly to the studio itself. As far as television programming goes that would be a conversation for the network. If it became an issue about quality, it might be a conversation with the network, but then that conversation would have to happen with the production company that provided the show in the first place.

TR:

The push for quantity doesn’t automatically lead to improve quality.

Eric:

A lot of AD is mandated by the Federal government and a lot of networks look upon it as they have to do as opposed to something they want to do. That’s unfortunate because I think that’s where you lose a lot of opportunity for quality or conversations about the best way to do it.

TR:

As consumers, we want both; quality and quantity.

Eric:

It’s like anything. If I give you a gig bowl of frost bitten ice cream, yeah, it’s a bowl of ice cream but… a giant bowl of Ben & Jerry’s or Haggen Daaz that’s the difference. As more and more networks are pressured into providing the service, I’m hoping that they take a moment and say hey let’s give them ben & Jerry’s.

TR:

Shout out to Ben & Jerry’s!

Doing it right consists of three components;
The script (Audio: “Word”)
Narration (Audio: “Aw Yeh”)
And the mix (Audio: “In the Mix”) or making sure you can comfortably hear both the film’s dialog and AD narration.

Eric:

It’s all about the writing in my opinion. Without a great script you’re never going to create a great track of Audio Description. I don’t care if you get a James Earl Jones or Morgan Freeman to come in and read the thing.

If I were going to make a pie chart, the scripting would be about 80 to 85 percent. That’s how important the script is.

Audio: Music

TR:

Breaking it down further, here are the ingredients for a good Audio Description script.

Audio: Sounds of typing. ” What are you doing? “I’m writing.” – From Finding Forrester

Eric:

It has to identify the right things, it has to keep the character names right, not over explain things. You don’t need to write he shoots the guy, you hear a gunshot you know what happened. That’s a big failure with Audio Description is the overwriting of scripts and the over explaining of things.

TR:

Developing a staff of writers for Eric comes down to deciding whether to recruit or train?

Eric:

I have found over the years and this is just my experience, this goes back to my years coaching youth basketball 20 years ago, I coached young kids, 4th and 5th graders who never picked up a basketball in their lives and I so much prefer coaching those kids because it’s so much easier to teach somebody from the ground up than to break them out of bad habits they already developed.

TR:

Eric has seen a lot of bad habits from writers with years of experience.

Eric:

There’s too much good enough is good enough. For us and our standards at IDC, no we’re not striving for good we’re striving for great!

TR:

I agree the script is that important. So I spoke with head Audio Description Writer at IDC, Liz Gutman.

She first heard about Audio Description from a podcast. No, it wasn’t this one that would have made for a fantastic segue. The podcast is called 20,000 Hertz.

Audio: Music ends in reverse.

Liz:

It’s a great podcast. There was an interview with a woman named Colleen Connor who runs a training retreat in North Carolina. She is blind. She has theater training; she’s a performer and a creative person herself. She and this other woman Jan Vulgaropulos, who’s been a describer for a number of years, run this training retreat. I had never heard of Audio Description before, I didn’t know what it was and hearing Colleen talk about it, explain what it was and the purpose it served and what’s good Audio Description and what’s not good Audio Description. My mind was completely blown.

TR:

It wasn’t just Audio Description that blew her mind open.

Liz:

I’m a non-disabled sighted white lady and I have never really had to examine my own biases, my own assumptions, the way I move through the world. The way I perceive others to move through the world. I’d never really had to challenge that from a nondisabled point of view before that weekend. It was a profound experience.

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

That really does fall right in line with what we do at Reid My Mind Radio. I mean it’s all about adjusting and examining our misperceptions. Can you tell me what that was like?

Liz:

Yeh, absolutely. At the risk of sounding like a total jerk I was terrified. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what was okay to say or ask… Should I offer to help or not. Is it okay to say Blind? All this stuff that now seems very 101 to me, I was lucky to be amongst a group of very kind open people who encouraged me to ask questions and were very open about answering them

TR:

Ready for more, Liz completed the AD Retreat and attended ACB’s Audio description project training. There she was paired with a Blind Mentor.

Liz:

Her name is Myra. She’s great! I’ve gotten to go on described museum tours with her. She took me to see a described performance of Waiting for Gadot. That was excellent. She’s also taught me a lot about experiencing culture in different ways and that helps me become a better describer. Understanding what goes in to theater description and what goes into museums and art description. All of those things inform each other, I think in real important ways.

TR:

Soon after attending her trainings, Liz began freelancing with an Audio Description provider.

Liz:

Not too long after that I really lucked out and was referred by a guy who’s now a friend who I met at ACB who worked at this company IDC who was hiring a full time writer. I went in and chatted with them and as they say the rest was history. I’ve been at IDC since August of 2018.

Audio: Music

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

So you’ve only been doing Audio Description for two years?

Liz:

Yeh… (Laughs)

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

Laughs… Oh boy! Wow! Aw man.

Liz:

I know, it’s wild. I have a lot of impostor syndrome to get over.

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

Laughs…, Yeh, Well, you’re definitely not an impostor, c’mon!

Liz:

Laughing… Oh, thank you!

At the risk of sounding big headed I do think I’m good at my job. I would not consider myself an expert by any means, but I am very curious and I do love, I love, love love this work. I sort of intensively been reading and talking to people, watching stuff with Audio Description and kind of immersing myself as much as possible. Which has just been so rewarding. Not just because I love the work, but this community is just unbelievable. Describers and consumers of Audio Description alike. I’m just like floored and grateful always to be doing this.

TR:

It’s said it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in any given field. But what about the related skills that comes from prior experience? That has to account for something, right?

Liz:

My first job out of college was watching T.v. and writing trivia questions about it that would then be linked to product placement. So basically gathering marketing information to sell to advertisers.

(Laughs…) I’ll just put it this way; I couldn’t watch any T.V. or movies without noticing products. (Laughs along with TR)

That brands of cars, that brand of soda (laughs) Oh he’s wearing that brand of that t-shirt. I couldn’t unsee it.

TR:

That attention to detail serves a purpose today. Add a minor in creative writing in college, publishing a cook book, writing for a well-known food blog and running her own business for 10 years, Liz has a wealth of experience and knowledge to draw from. She wrote about chocolate for goodness sake!

I’m not sure how many ways you can describe mm delicious!

Audio: Music ends

That’s quality AD – language that succinctly evokes an image.

At IDC, writers are selected for a project based on their specialties or specific interest.

Liz:

One guy just sort of tends to usually do a lot of the fantasy actiony stuff. Someone else does a lot of reality stuff.

Our department head will kind of weigh all of those things between scheduling and who might be best suited to write it and assign it to the writer.

TR:

Just because there are specializations, doesn’t mean you’re working alone.

Liz:

What I love about working at IDC is that it’s really collaborative and we all ask each other questions. We get the best of everybody. If you get stuck on a phrase or can’t decide how to deal with a certain thing and you want to describe all of the stuff but you only have time for one thing or help prioritize.
A lot of what we’ll do is take a poll. Do you guys know what this word means? If more than half of us do then we’ll use it!

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

I’m wondering when instances of cultural competence come into play, how that works through in the writer’s room. So what does your writer’s room look like and how does that play? Can you talk a little bit about that?

Liz:

Yeh, absolutely. And that’s a really important question and one that we’re constantly considering and making sure we take into account. We’ve had conversations about the finer points of a person in a wheel chair, person using a wheel chair, and why the phrase wheel chair bound is not okay. All the finer points of describing someone who is different from you in any way.

TR:

Differences like race or skin tone. Yet, the AD guidelines specifically call for excluding race or color.

Liz:

Unless it’s crucial to understanding the plot. And if so, everyone’s race, ethnicity needs to be called out and mentioned specifically.

I do think representation is super important and I do think it’s important to mention it just so that a Blind Asian kid or a Blind Black kid so they can know oh cool, just in all the ways that representation matters right?

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

Yeh, 100 percent. I think it’s important for a Blind white kid to know that too. To say hey these people are in this movie.

Liz:

Right, and to not make the assumption.

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

Absolutely.

Liz:

If you say like oh, a tall woman and a short woman and a Black woman then you’re making the assumption that everyone else is white and white becomes the default.

TR:

As advocates believing in inclusion for one group, I’d hope that means inclusion for all.

If so, we should absolutely promote diverse writer’s rooms. That diversity should include the widest range of identities; race, ethnicity, gender, disability and LGBTQ plus representation.

Audio Description is all about providing access to information that isn’t conveyed audibly. Sighted people have this access and process it individually. Some may choose to question the casting choices and others may find them empowering. No matter how one chooses to use that information, Blind people deserve that same level of access.

Liz:

We also struggle with as describers, having enough time to include any of this stuff. Sometimes you don’t get to add any description to somebody before they’re named or even after they’re named if it’s something really dialogue heavy.

TR:

This lack of time is extremely important. This has to be a part of our awareness conversation. It’s not enough that networks and studios have to provide AD. We need them to understand the value and make it an equitable experience. Creating the space for AD in their projects makes that possible.

I’ve been ranting for years about making use of pre-show AD.

Liz, who in addition to writing also narrates and directs AD sessions at IDC, agrees, it just makes sense. Especially in the fantasy genre where the imagery is unlike anything people would be familiar with.

Liz:

When a creator builds this entire world from scratch for the audience and I only have the spaces between the dialogue to describe it, I do my best, but there’s no way I can do justice to the scope of that. So I’d love to have an extra 15 to 20 minutes to just talk about the world; each village, each type of character and all of that stuff because it’s so integral to really enjoying the series.

Eric:

That’s the writing and from there you talk about voicing.

TR:

Eric’s referring to narration – the second of three components required in Audio Description.

Eric:

When I say the writing is 85 percent of it, that’s not to imply that the voicing is not important. The voicing is extremely important. You can certainly ruin a great AD track with a bad voice. We’ve seen it happen.

Audio: “Do you hear the words coming out of my mouth?” Chris Tucker in Rush hour

Eric:

Finding the right voice for the track itself to try to match the story to the VO (Voice Over) as much as possible. But also just you want to make sure you get the right tone. Some places use a one size fits all approach to voicing where the same voice person will do a wide array of projects. Nothing wrong with that it’s a creative decision, a creative approach. We try to really fine tune every choice of voice with the script. That’s usually a conversation between me and the writers as they get into a project, maybe half way through I’ll have a conversation with that writer and say hey who do you think. That’s a benefit of having a team that’s been together for years. They sometimes have an idea before I even do about who’s going to voice something.

The last part of the process which again, very important and generally overlooked is the mix.

Audio: “As you hear it, pump up the volume!” Eric B & Rakim, I Know You Got Soul.

Eric:

A lot of times you hear AD tracks and you hear a really jarring shift in volume? That’s because the company’s feeding through an automated program. It’s a cost cutting move. It doesn’t save that much money. It really hurts the quality. I don’t like it. We won’t use it. Period!

Eric:

The last part of our process is a full QC pass.

TR:

QC or Quality Control. Checking the final production for all sorts of inaccuracies.

Eric:

If we’re misidentifying a character and this happens often. You’re writing thousands of words, it’s easy to type Bob instead of Mark. Bob enters the room. Bob leaves. Well maybe that was Mark.

TR:

Additionally there’s checking the levels of the mix, listening for mouth clicks and pronunciations.

Eric:

When that track leaves our facility it’s gone through quite a production line of work.
[TR in conversation with Eric:]

Would you employ Blind folks for the quality control part of it?

Eric:

You know that’s something we definitely discussed. We would. As far as the quality of the mix, the overall experience of the AD, yes!

TR:

IDC already holds regular focus groups bringing their writers together with AD consumers.

Eric:

That’s a very important part of what we do. We’re not making unilateral decisions about what the Blind community likes. All of our decisions are informed by the Blind community.

TR:

Audio Description advocacy needs to include creating opportunities for Blind people in as many possible paid positions throughout the production process.

By possible, I don’t mean based on the current process. There are many ways to get something done.

Eric:

Covid especially added another level of stress because everybody was scattered. We were used to writing as a team in a room together. Like a regular writer’s room in any television show we’d sit there and bounce ideas off each other. That’s taken on the form of daily Zoom.

As far as the Voice Over people goes, a lot of our VO people work in New York City. We use a very diverse roster of people. I had to figure out how dozens of people were going to be able to record VO. Some of them are already actors and Voice actors that have their own setup, but many of them didn’t

TR:

The pandemic demanded job accommodations and a new workflow which can be beneficial to the disabled community.

Eric:

One of the things we said this year at IDC we wanted to do, we wanted to get some Blind people involved directly with the narration of Audio Description tracks. The challenge of that was that we didn’t do a lot of remote recording. We weren’t setup for it.

TR:

. Since this interview IDC has made some progress on that goal. I reached out to Eric for an update on his progress.

Eric:

I can tell you it’s going very well. You could speak from personal experience. You were nice enough to be the first person to jump in with us and help develop some workflows. I was very happy with how the quality of the track turned out. The feedback we received through social media and through the clients at Netflix., they were very happy as well. We’ve already launched our second project on Netflix with a Blind Narrator. The third one’s in the works. We’ve onboarded two other Blind Narrators and I have three more on deck.

TR:

I’m excited for the opportunities this presents for all Blind and disabled people intrested in AD Narration.

Eric:

Kelly McDonald who we used on the second project that just launched, Sam Jay’s Three in the Morning on Netflix. He’s a radio host up in Canada. In fact, his co-host Romnea was onboarded as well. They have a unique ability because they’ve done radio for so long and I think Thomas you said you have this ability as well from podcasting all these years to be able to actually hear a track in their ear and repeat it in real time. At the same pace, same inflection. Originally we thought using Blind Narrators is going to be something that’s gonna be easy to do with reality shows like the one you worked on SkinDecision. Stand up specials like the one Kelly worked on.

TR:

It’s a matter of being vocal about our abilities.

Eric:

We’re not the first studio using Blind Narrators. That’s not accurate if people are thinking that. There’s plenty of narrators out there that have been working for years doing narration and podcasting, radio broadcasting. So the talent is out there.

TR:

With that said, if you’re interested and have the ability to record professional sounding audio, stay tuned and I’ll let you know how to contact Eric.

Eric:

We’re putting our best foot forward as a company in trying to be inclusive and accessible using as many talented people as we can.

There’s no excuse based on what we’ve discovered over the last few months, every studio creating Audio Description should be using Blind Narrators to voice the material they’re putting out. And in addition to that we’ve onboarded some Blind people from the community to work in our QC process as well.

TR:

These conversations with Eric & Liz helped shed light on the challenges to AD right now and the future.

Company’s cutting costs by automating the mix and employing synthetic speech are underbidding for jobs. Multiple people in the business have said how this has directly impacted the fees other AD production companies are able to charge. How soon before other companies are forced to cut corners in order to stay afloat?

It’s imperative that as consumers and advocates we demand quality – not that cheap sort of accessibility that gets slapped on at the end in order to comply with a federal mandate.

Eric:

That has to be the push of the community to develop universal standards. There’s no approved vendor list per se like universally, everybody’s kind of left on their own. It doesn’t take much more effort to do it right.

TR:

AD unfortunately, is viewed as an expense and not one that generates revenue.

Eric:

And that’s wrong. There’s 6 to 8 million visually impaired people in America at the last estimate. Every year as people live longer that number goes up. Those 6 to 8 million people are part of families. Families are using Audio Description so everybody in the household can enjoy watching television together. Especially now in this time.

That track is made for 6 to 8 million people but its impacting tens of millions of more people.

TR:

Remember, the AD budget is a few thousand dollars. Your annual streaming network subscription will set a family back over $150.

Eric:

. If that encourages a family of four to subscribe to your streaming service or pay extra for cable it’s more than paying for itself. You really don’t have to draw that many families to break even and then to turn a profit it’s just a few more.
just left on their own. It doesn’t take much more effort to do it right.

TR:

Making sure AD is done right inevitably comes down to the Blind community.

Eric:

If you hear a track either on a streaming service and you like what we did or you didn’t like what we did, reach out and let us know. I’m always open to feedback.

Audio: Music

TR:

Feedback should be a gift, so make it constructive.

Eric:

Don’t just say hey you suck!

Well, thanks, that doesn’t really help!

We’re trying to provide a service. We love this we want to make sure we’re doing it right. I always say if I want positive I would just ask my mother what she thinks.

TR:

Do you have a project that would be a lot better with Audio Description?

Are you interested in getting involved with AD as a narrator and have the ability to produce a high quality recording?
Do you have some comments on a specific project with IDC produced AD?

Reach out…

Eric:

I’m always happy to talk about AD. It’s a passion for us. It doesn’t have to just be business inquiries. Anything you have to say feedback otherwise … you can find us at IDCDigital.com. You can search for Audio Description, fill out the form and it will get to me.

TR:

You can also get to both Eric and Liz on Twitter:
@IDC_Eric
@ Liz_IDC

TR:

I hope this episode contributes to moving the conversation around Audio Description advocacy to be more about good & bad Audio Description, the ways it could be improved and the inclusion of more Blind people at every point in the workflow.

We know why AD is important to us as consumers. It goes beyond watching movies, television and theater. It’s relationships that come from these shared experiences. It’s opportunities for conversation, education, entertainment, imagination building and more.

What about the perspective of those producing AD?

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

When you speak about it you’re very passionate about Audio Description. Why?

Liz:

That’s a really good question. (Long Pause) Selfishly, it plays to my skill sets really well. It requires a large vocabulary, I’ve been a bookworm my entire life, but it also has really strict parameters. Audio Description provides that framework I find challenging in a really stimulating way. And on top of that it provides a service. That creates meaning for me.I go to work every day and I get to write, think hard about the best way, the most vivid and concise way to convey something that’s on screen. So that someone’s who’s listening to it will get the same feeling that I have watching it. And to help bring us all in to the same level. Especially since I have become more familiar with the Disabled and Blind and Low vision community. I have friends in that community now. I care about their experience.

Audio: Stay Golden

TR:

Eric expressed a very similar sentiment and noted that he really appreciates the feedback from the community. He shares his wish about AD in the future.

Eric:

I look forward to the day where I don’t get as much appreciation. Because it just becomes the norm. I look forward to the day where Blind consumers become pretty complacent about it. Oh yeh it’s got AD, great! It shouldn’t be something special and quality shouldn’t be something that’s special.

TR:

A big Shout out to Eric Wickstrom, Liz Gutman and the entire Audio Description team over at IDC. It’s official; you all are now part of the Reid My Mind Radio family!

Eric was a really kind coach. After submitting my first draft he shared his comments which were incredibly helpful and I think go beyond AD narration.

Eric:

You suck!

TR:

That really isn’t helpful!

You know this isn’t the last you will hear on this topic. In fact, I have some more coming up soon so stay tuned. In order to do that may I suggest you subscribe wherever you get podcasts!
Remember transcripts & more are over at ReidMyMind.com. And yes, tell them that’s R to the E ID
(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

On the Mic with Roy Samuelson

Wednesday, January 30th, 2019

Picture of Roy Samuelson
Continueing the #AudioDescription conversation this time with Voice Over Artist and AD Narrator Roy Samuelson. Hear about his start in the business, more about the process of creating Audio Description from his perspective and our shared enthusiasm for the subject.

We’re talking;
* Process – can Blind and Low Vision Narrators participate?
* Normalization vs. Diversity – Is there room for non-white voices?
* Technology & other opportunities for growth in the field and more…

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

RS:
My name is Roy Samuelson, I’m a Voice Over Artist.

Audio: Multiple demos of Roy’s voice over work.

TR:
That’s up next, right here with me T. Reid
your host and producer of this podcast, Reid My Mind Radio!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio theme Music

TR:

In 2018 I published some thoughts on Audio Description. That was followed up with an additional conversation on the subject. Today we’re continuing this exploration of Audio Description or AD. This time from the perspective of Voice Over artist and AD Narrator Roy Samuelson.

First, Roy answers the question, what exactly is a voice over

RS:

Voice over is anything you hear with a voice. That could be in a video game a character that’s talking. A commercial where someone’s introducing a product. A promo where there’s a T.V. show being advertised, someone’s introducing when it’s going to be on and what channel.

TR:
As a kid, Roy and his class was assigned the task of interviewing anyone they wanted.

RS:

I wanted to interview someone att eh radio station. When I went there one of the first things the announcer showed me was how to angle the mic so the p’s won’t pop and I thought that was the most amazing thing I had ever seen in my life. Laughs!
This little adjustment could make such a difference. So my curiosity was definitely started then.

TR:

That curiosity along with some additional experience helped lead Roy to voice over.

In his early 20’s he landed a job with then Disney’s MGM Studios theme park in Orlando Florida.

DisneyJob

RS:

I would take over as a gangster and take the audience through all of the scary scenes in movies. I’d have a microphone and in between shooting things I’d be narrating what was going on around the place.
Every 6 to 8 minutes I’d get blown up and start the thing again. So it kind of became like an exercise in just building the skill of talking to people who are paying attention to the story that they’re seeing. That kind of introduced me to voice over.

[TR in conversation with RS:]
What makes a good voice over artist?

There’s a bunch of different opinions. I like to see voice over as a form of acting. It’s a character whether it’s a narrator, a character in a cartoon or even just a commercial. It’s a character telling a story and being part of a story and sharing that with people.

[TR in conversation with RS:]

Do you have a background in acting as well?

RS:

I do yeah. I took a lot of improv classes. In school I had a lot of opportunities on stage and that’s really helped a lot.

TR:

That acting experience eventually landed Roy in a script writers group.
These meetings brought together professional script writers seeking feedback from actors who would cold read their scripts. Meaning, there was no preparation on the part of the actors.

RS:

We would read the characters and read the description and afterward the feedback was all about the writing. So the spotlight was definitely on the script and not the actors and I felt that was so enjoyable. I could play and I could have fun do these ice cold readings without a lot of preparation. The more times I practiced, the more experienced I got with cold reading. When I found out about audio description it seemed like a real segue way from what I had been doing at the script writes and even as far back as that Disney job along with all the other voice over work that I’ve been doing. It felt like a right fit.

[TR in conversation with RS:]

So how did you actually find out about Audio Description?

RS:

A friend of mine referred me and I didn’t literally knock on the door, but I knocked on the door for about two or three years just letting them know I was available and strongly interested and the response was well we’re kind of booked up right now we got everyone we need but thank you for checking in. It wasn’t a brush off it’s just that’s where it was. Every now and again there would be an opportunity where I could fill in for someone and I did. It was so exciting and so much fun and I said thank you so much any other time please let me know, oh sure we’ll let you know. Another year passed . It took a little while.

TR:

In order to get better insight on how Audio Description is made, I asked Roy to walk us through the process
from his perspective.

RS

Audio: Upbeat music…

The scripts are pre-written by, they’re called Describers.

I call myself a Narrator, Audio Description Narrator.

The scripts come to me pre-written and in it are obviously the words that I say. There’s a bunch of queues that tell me when I say what I say. For example, a queue could be time code, where I’m watching the screen and reading the script at the same time and on the screen there’s a time code (like a stop watch). When it gets to a certain point in time that’s my queue to start talking.

there’s visual cues or audio queues. Sometimes it’s the last few words of dialog that the character is saying. It could be even a pause between a long section that I’m speaking. First two sentences then there’s a 2 or 3 second pause before I start speaking again. There’s all sorts of different queues that they use.

TR:

Process makes production efficient. But
they can also unintentionally exclude people from
participating.
Visual cues for example could limit a blind Audio
Description Narrator’s ability to independently function in
such a position.
When I asked if laying down all of the voice over work and
editing at the appropriate time positions was an option,
Roy explained further.

RS:

That could be a way. I’m on a few one hour shows, when we’re all in sync and the script is ready, we’re able to finish in about an hour. They give me four hours total, just in case something can come up . For the most part, it’s not real time but it’s pretty close to real time.

TR:

Watching over the entire recording process is the AD Director. Familiar with the script, they’re listening for any mistakes including mispronunciations and time overlaps.

[TR in conversation with RS:]
So you’re sitting there watching the time code and reading the script, what happens if you go a little longer? Is it just okay, take two?

RS:

If there’s one line that I did not speak quickly enough and the last few words and maybe the last few syllables are spilling over to dialog , as you know that’s not fun for an audience member. They do their best to adjust it either by having me go a little faster or they try to change the words or they even slip the audio that I recorded and make it slide in to fit just perfectly.

TR:

Fully aware that Roy’s responsibility in the process is voicing the narration, I still had to ask;

[TR in conversation with RS:]

How do they determine which narrator is right for a movie or project?

RS:

That’s a great question. I’m learning, I’m definitely on the action adventure horror side of things. (Laughs…) You know with Criminal Minds, the upcoming Girl in the Spider’s Web, the Inspector, Jurassic World. This is the genre that is pretty narration heavy and I do my best to go as quickly as possible without sounding fast. I’ve done some other projects that are more wonderful in the sense of awe inspiring, kind of take it all in sort of thing. Those are the sorts of things that I been cast. That’s something they know I can do and I would think the people that make the decision it makes it easier for them. Oh yeh, this is something Roy’s already done before.

[TR in conversation with RS:]

One that I talked about and this was my personal opinion was Black Panther. So Black Panther ended up being voiced by what sounds like a British White Man.

RS:

Oh!

[TR in conversation with RS:]
For me as the consumer, I thought it was a little disruptive…

RS:

Sure!
[TR in conversation with RS:]

… to the whole feel and aura of the movie.

RS:

Yeh! Absolutely.

[TR in conversation with RS:]

I ended up hearing from some other people who said that same British person voiced Captain America. They were like, I didn’t like the fact that it was a British guy voicing Captain America. People felt a little upset by that. What is taken into consideration when these choices are made?

RS:
Oh it’s so exciting I have so many things I want to talk to you about with
this.

[TR in conversation with RS:]

Okay!

RS:

I remember there’s a quote by Shonda Rhymes where she talked about normalizing instead of diversifying. I’m seeing so many femal voices, people of color voices all sorts of opportunities. I hate to say it, the stereotypical white male voice that has been so common is now not as common which is great. I think there’s many more opportunities different voices to be in this. I think it can only help the story. I think you named two really great examples. When you’re in a story you don’t want to be interrupted. So when the audio description comes in it shouldn’t be out of left field.

I do think these companies are more aware of the content of the story being told and they’re taking a lot of consideration into that.

[TR in conversation with RS:]
That’s good to hear.

[TR in conversation with RS:]
One of my complaints in terms of the script and how things are determined, what are you going to describe? So if I go back to Black Panther, there was a very interesting thing that I found out because it was being discussed. It was not included in the description at all it came up like months after on a radio program I was listening to. They went into more description about the spaceship. I guess in one of the angles when the ship came down, they said how it resembled an African mask.

RS:

Hmmm! (In understanding.)

[TR in conversation with RS:]

They all look different but I get a real sense of that. Plus the fact that the spaceship was created like that , that blew my mind! But I never got access to that information.

RS:

Oh!! (In further understanding.)

[TR in conversation with RS:]

So there was a decision made. Someone didn’t think that was important. So this is why I’m always wondering well at some point it seems to me that the writers of the description should be the writers of the movie.

RS:
Oh, I see.

[TR in conversation with RS:]

They have the vision right? the Director, they’re the ones making these decisions . So some of that information of what they want that consumer to feel , whoever that consumer is Blind or sighted, that should be passed along and so I always wonder, are there conversations between the audio description company and the actual producers and writers of the film. And it doesn’t seem like it. Maybe on like an independent.

RS:

I’m not sure which film it was, but I know it was a big budget film, they definitely cared about to make sure the audio description was heard and they brought in the team. I was brought back and recorded some lines that were very nuanced.

So I think there is a genuine care for the audience for audio description. I’m not going to make a generalized blanket statement on that but I think there are people who are involved outside of audio description but still want to care about the things that you’re talking about.

I’m not sure if Haunting on Hill house on Netflix is described. There’s an element of that series, after 10 episodes I was kind of familiar with the story line. There was an element that was shared on line and as soon as I heard it it was so obvious. It was one of those things like aw wow I didn’t even notice that.

But I think what you’re talking about, back to the Black Panther spaceship is that with audio description we are limited to … if a picture is worth a thousand words , there’s 24 frames per second you know it’s like… I’m not defending it but it definitely is selective. The audio description is by its very nature limited. I’d be curious if there is a way to have like I’m just brainstorming here but out takes or something else that goes deeper into the story to allow those visual elements. How exciting that would be.

[TR in conversation with RS:]

I think there is.

For the Audio Description experience part of it is so so frustrating. It has nothing to do with what you all are doing, it’s the technical side. When you go to a movie theater chances are they’re giving you either the wrong device or the device doesn’t work. So you have to run back over and find a manager. And in my case it’s always my wife. She moves a lot faster than I’m going to move so she’s doing it! Boom, boom, boom! And I feel terrible. I feel awful because she’s missing that part of the movie, but she doesn’t want me to experience it without it.
There’s all this time during the promos. Those aren’t described so I’m usually bored. It would also be a test of the technology because if the right track is coming through that’s telling you about the movie, then you know your stuff is working, you technology is working. This is exactly what they do in a show, like a Broadway show. They introduce you to the cast beforehand. They describe their costumes, they let you get acclimated to their voices, they’ll describe the set. All of that is done before the show. So I think like hey, why not put that out beforehand. Yes the movie is limited to that time, but the experience really does go past that time.

RS:

Wow!

TR:

Listening back to our conversation, I realize a few things.

First, I think I get a little enthusiastic about the subject.

Secondly, I referred to the issues encountered in theaters when using AD only as a technical problem. And while yes sometimes the problems arise from the technology, more than often I feel as though the problems stem from uninformed theater workers.

I’m still trying to figure out why when you let them know you’re Blind and want to use the Audio Description device they translate that to mean you want the device for the hearing impaired.

Come to find out, Roy is familiar with this faulty part of the process.

RS:

My mom wanted to watch a screening with audio description, same thing happened. It didn’t work. The exciting thing with that is the manager found out apologized profusely , they said it was a glitch . There’s other technology coming out. I want to say Acti View?

[TR in conversation with RS:]
Yes Sir!

TR:
Acti View is the app that allows audio description consumers as well as those using captions and enhanced audio, with the means of directly downloading their access solution. For more on this service and how it came to be, check out the episode where we speak to one of the founders.

RS:
That kind of stuff is starting to happen. I can’t help but think that this is an opportunity. The popularity of podcasts, audio books and how easily accessible those are for this audio description is kind of in the same world. Commuters who happened to be sighted can enjoy the experience of audio description and that can only help the audience get more opportunities that look forward to enjoying it.

Aw I’m so excited.

TR:

It was nice to hear that Roy and I share a mutual excitement for Audio Description. It made for a good conversation.

Not only did I appreciate hearing his enthusiasm for the subject, listening to him accentuates his ability to employ several styles in his narration work. Roy says he tailors his voice to the genre.

RS:

I gotta be part of the stories. I can’t sound happy and joyous all the time. Laughs…

TR:

Next time you’re enjoying a television show or movie with Audio Description and you find yourself thinking that voice sounds familiar. there’s only one way to be certain. Wait until the end of the credits and you hear;

Audio: Read by Roy Samuelson. (Audio Description from “Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom”)

TR:

You can connect with Roy on social media;
On Twitter @RoySamuelson and
on Facebook you can find him as Roy Samuelson Biz or
visit Roy Samuelson.com

Audio bumper

Audio Description isn’t new. The lack of AD in movies and television programming over the years since its creation amounts to exclusion.

The result, many in the Blind and Low Vision community feel as though movies are just not for them.

In 2019 however, there’s lots of reasons to give television and movies with audio description a try.

We have
the 21st Century Telecommunications Act on our side – leading to more content.
And we have multiple accessible ways of consuming that content.

. If you haven’t yet experienced AD either at home or in a theater , I urge you to give it a try.

It’s not just entertaining television and movies, more documentaries are including description. Something I’m personally happy to see.

The process of making video accessible shouldn’t itself be inaccessible to the community it seeks to serve. Blind and low vision people should have access to these opportunities.

Blind people come from all backgrounds. We’re Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native as well as white. We’re straight, gay, lesbian transgender. As we call for television and movies to be more reflective of our society so should the voices that describe these movies to us.

How do you feel about Audio description?
Holla back!
We have the comments section on the blog, ReidMyMind.com.
The email; ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com
The Reid My Mind Radio Feedback Line where you can leave a voice mail: 1 570-798-7343

I would really love voice messages that I can share on the podcast. If you don’t want to call, you can grab your smart phone and record a voice memo and email the finished recording to ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com.

I’d love to hear and share the voices of those who are listening. If you want to send a message but don’t want it shared just say so and it’s all good.

We’re going to continue to explore Audio Description as we move through 2019. So my best advice for you to make sure you don’t miss that and everything else in store…

Subscribe!
Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast Sound Cloud, Stitcher, Tune In Radio or wherever you get podcasts.
Visit www.ReidMyMind.com

So there’s no confusion, that’s R to the E I D like my last name!

Audio: Dramatic closing music from Jurassic World, Falling Kingdom RS: “Cut to Black”

Audio: RMMRadio Outro Theme

TR:

Peace

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio: Black on Audio Description

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018

Earlier this year I posted an episode discussing my thoughts on Audio Description. While I’ve been consuming and thinking about description for some time, it was Marvel’s Black panther that sparked me to share some thoughts and ideas.

I decided to continue a discussion on the topic. This time it’s really a conversation. I called a listener who sent me feedback regarding the episodes question. Why didn’t Black Panther have a Black person narrating the description?

And as a bonus, the listener just happens to be someone I’d like to interview for RMM Radio!

So yes, we’re back on that subject or better yet, we’re Black on Audio Description. Let’s get it!

Listen

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:
What’s up Reid My Mind Radio family? For anyone new to the podcast, my name is T.Reid.

This podcast more than often focuses on issues of adaptation and adjustment through interviews with people who have been impacted by vision loss – from low vision to blindness. I should say severe low vision because personally I’m tired of people telling me how blind they are without their glasses.

You Sir/Madam are more then welcomed here, but if you can put on your corrective lenses and get into your vehicle and drive off – you are not impacted by vision loss.

The people mainly profiled here are indirectly challenging stereotypes about what it means to be blind.

I’m always hopeful that listeners learn something new. Maybe it’s an unfamiliar subject or a new way of looking at or solving a problem.

Occasionally , I share my own experiences around becoming blind as an adult. These are influenced by all aspects of identity – including
gender, socioeconomic status, age, demographic location and of course so called race.
I mean, this is America!

A few episodes ago I discussed an aspect of blindness that can intersect with race.
Audio description!

Audio: “What” – From “Jay Z “Jigga what, Jigga Who.”

Well that could be two whats…

Audio: “What, What” – From “Jay Z “Jigga what, Jigga Who.”

Don’t be nervous! Let’s get into it…
After the intro…!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme

## TR:

Back to the questions.
What is audio description & what does race have to do with it?

If you don’t know audio description, let me really welcome you to the podcast. Audio description or AD is the additional narration distributed with a movie or television show that describes scenes without dialogue,
enabling a person to non visually follow or access the content.

That other what?
What does being black have to do with audio description?

On the technological level , nothing! But as we know, race is complex. It’s ingrained into the fabric of this country. The complexity though, isn’t tied to the tech, rather its the subtle aspects of language, decisions about what is relevant and the voice of the narrator that impact some viewers experience

In the earlier episode on audio description, I was specifically referring to the Marvel hit movie and what many Black people looked forward to as a cultural event; Black Panther.

Following that piece I received a bit of feedback.
If you go to the episode blog post at ReidMyMind.com you can see one commenter’s response and I encourage you to follow the link to her blog
where she shares more. She is a person who herself is involved in the description process. Self described as a white lady she was appreciative of the issues and questions raised and thought they deserved to be discussed. Shout out to you for the link love and being in the accessibility field. I think sometimes we forget that AD is accessibility.

I also received an email from a young lady – who closely identified with the issues raised in the episode.

She was pleased to know that she was not the only one who felt that the description included with Black Panther, well sucked! My words, not hers.

No shots to the gentlemen who described the film, you sound like you’re probably a very nice person and quite honestly, I’d love to speak with you. In fact, I reached out to Deluxe, the company who created the description for Black panther but I never heard back. I really wanted to begin a dialogue.

It seems fair that a consumer would have something to say about a product or service.
And personally I think it could be helpful to have a bit of input from those who consume your product or service. And well that’s today’s focus.

Audio: James Brown: Black & I’m Proud – Instrumental

That email expressing agreement with my opinions, was from a young lady named Denna Lambert. Like me she experiences blindness as an African American.

She black yawl!

I don’t often get the chance to meet new people who are blind and who are people of color. So I’m not gonna lie, I was looking forward to the conversation. I had questions.

So, let’s get black on Audio Description.

Audio: James Brown: “Say it loud, I’m Black & I’m Proud”

TR in conversation with DL:
You heard the podcast, what was it that jumped out to you to write the email and say “Hey I feel this too, I get it!”

DL:
Well being blind, sometimes just getting audio description feels like a luxury and your happy that somebody did it and it came out at the same time as everything else and I can just shut up and be happy. But at the same time with you being really thoughtful in what you were saying like “hey this was a mismatch” And I was like “Oh, you voiced what I was thinking!” Just knowing that I’m a consumer of a service and we should have a voice in how that service is implemented. If it’s missing a mark we can help take it to the next level. Yes people have fought and probably sued some theaters to make sure the equipment is functional and that is there from day one. But let’s take it to the next level to make sure that it is culturally confident. And it was like Oh Snap I got to support this too. I think that is why I reached out because I was thankful for being silently dissatisfied at some level. I felt like I didn’t get the full Wakanda experience.
TR in conversation with DL:
I’m still lacking some Wakanda experience myself. [laughs]

TR:

That Wakanda experience was what drove millions of Black people to get excited about the movie.

Some indeed were fans of the Marvel franchise, some may have even been fans of the comic book. But many were simply looking forward to a movie with strong diverse images of Black people on screen.
I talked a bit more about that in the original episode of the podcast on this subject.

Denna herself was anticipating the movie just as much as many others and got a bit more into it than I did.
DL:
I was in the hype just like everyone else when the trailer first dropped which didn’t even have audio description. I called my mamma and said let me get my dashiki so I got my dashiki and I was ready and had my headdress. When i heard voices of Andrea Bassett i was like “Yes!” So I went and thankfully the movie theater I went to they had the audio description devices ready and they were fully operational. From the first introduction where they were talking about how Wakanda was created with the different tribes and the describes voice coming up I was like “Who?! Who is this?!” But I’m still excited. So it was kind of a mismatch from everybody who was in the theater. Some people brought their gymbays and people had their dashikis and you know just black power. And you can hear the describer’s voice and not to say you can sum up a movie by their voice but it was like “huh.” The descriptions were definitely okay but that’s the piece as a blind viewer. But there was so much content for any viewer whether they were sighted or blind. I have to wonder what did i miss. Could there have been different words used that would have more aligned with the culture and the theme of the movie.
I started using AIRA and now i started seeing more AIRA agents of color. Im seeing Antonio and Annika and all them. And I’m like “Okay I’m going to need yall and come and describe some movies for me.”

TR in conversation with DL:
MMM you just made me think about something hold on one second. That takes that whole idea of description out of the movie theater because that’s the whole purpose of AIRA and then cultural inclinations about various things that you are doing.

DL:
Yeah. I’ve seen Black Panther abot 3-4 times just because anybody who wanted to go I wanted to go with them. There’s probably so much mystery and thoughtfulness that was put into it. SO like the scene where T’Challa and Nakia were in the club and they were trying to go after the main guy and they were in their attire. I don’t think the person described the attire, he described her movements but i was watching a video from one of the directors and he intentionally used the colors; green, black, and red to symbolize their african pride. And that’s something that just one little sentence could have brought that out. While I was very happy and thankful that the description was available since day one because that certainly was not the case 10-15 years ago that i could just show up whenever i wanted to. But i think there is some growth that could happen with this area of accessibility.

Tr in conversation with DL:
SO went you went a bunch of times with different people, did you go with anyone that was blind or no?

DL:
No actually no it was just with different sighted friends who just wanted to go.

Tr in conversation with DL:
Did you compare notes with them or anything at all?
DL:
A little bit because I went with some friends that were black and then I went with some friends that were white. And you know they were asking me what was this and what was that and i was like well I don’t know. [Laughs]

Tr in conversation with DL:
“I don’t live in Wakanda!” [laughs]

TR:

There are definitely some overlaps in this conversation around audio description that transcend cultural Competence.

Feeling as though audio description is a privilege, I’m sure is something many blind people have felt.

Going to a theater and the device doesn’t work, well you may not want to trouble the person you’re with to quickly exchange the device. That means missing part of the movie and chances are you don’t want someone to have to do that.

Shout out to ActiView and their audio description solution that puts more of the power in the consumers hands. You can check out the Reid My Mind Radio archives for that interview on that service that I personally hope begins to get more movies in their app.

Audio: Public Enemy: Party for Your Right to Fight

Privilege or a right?

If audio description is access to content, then I believe it’s a right. Like everyone else who has the right to pay money to watch a film or television show, people with disabilities have the right to audio description, captions and physically accessible theaters.

What makes our lack of excitement about Black panther’s audio description
so confusing is the lack of consistency between the big and small screens.

Watching the Marvel franchise on Netflix with audio description is vastly different from Black panther.

For the sake of comparison, I asked Denna about her thoughts on Marvel’s Luke Cage.

Luke Cage is the black superhero who calls Harlem home. He can’t be hurt. Bullets bounce off and knives can’t penetrate his skin.

The person describing Luke Cage, who by my account sounds like a white man, describes the other shows in the series, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, The Punisher and more.

DL:
He’s been consistent through the marvel comic series as netflix has been rolling it out. So it was almost embedded in brain that this was the dude that’s going to bring it. There was definitely some awareness in hearing when they would say things like “he’s wearing a fedora.,” or “he’s swaggering down the sidewalk” or “he did a dab” or the hair. And I don’t know if just anybody can point these things out.
With Luke Cage there was nothing apologetic about how this is the blackest comic that you are going to get. What I really loved is that the describer, I don’t know if it was apparent to the visually to whomever was viewing it, but I love that they reference the specific artists as they came up in the Paradise Lounge.
So to me that was showing respect and it gave me the experience of thinking “okay let me go look for some of these people.”
Tr in conversation with DL:
It’s not only the ones who are actually performing, they also are good at including people who are just around and even in other scenes.

DL:
Yeah so even like the picture of Biggie, he described his expression, his crown and how it was kind of laid to the side. To me that, I don’t know, it just seems…

Tr in conversation with DL:
Just culturally confident.

DL:
And I think with you were saying earlier, it wasn’t like two different scripts. It felt like there was one different script with the description being apart of the verbalizations too.

Tr in conversation with DL:
I almost don’t even think of the description as description while watching netflix.

DL:
Right!

TR:

That term truly encapsulates what should be a part of the audio description checklist.

Is the description culturally competent – meaning are we informing the blind viewers about the subtle references that will make sense to them? This would probably require input from the films creator if there’s no one in the know involved in the process.

This idea is already relevant to the movie or television show’s dialog and choices made regarding character development.

It’s one thing being black and looking for true representation in Hollywood. What about as a woman? As a black woman with a disability.
Tr in conversation with DL:
What do you think about the role of the black woman in Luke Cage.

DL:
Oh now that was pretty sweet! I was really proud that Luke Cage he’s like the strong Black man. Hes caring. I was really glad to see his girlfriend, Claire. And she was holding on to that no this behavior of holding on to your anger, she grew up with that and she was not going to tolerate it.
I loved Missy. I loved that she was this strong woman who was feminine. She
Didn’t lose not just her sexuality bit sensuality.
There was so many different aspects of black women in this. You had Mariah.
Tr in conversation with DL:
[laughs] She was crazy.

DL:
She was great! She played that! I loved seeing Luke’s father.

Tr in conversation with DL:
I didn’t realize that he passed, I totally forgot he passed away.

DL:
Yeah! Because he was in House of Cards and I was so happy to see he was in there. SO there were so many examples, a whole spectrum of what blackness in. You know you don’t have to be the thug or the jessabella. There were so many different examples of black women in there that i was really impressed.
I love how Missy called out all of her coworkers cause they were staring at her prosthetics. SHe was like “let’s just get a look at it, im here, im not going away, this happened.” And i was just glad that she called it out. That was a way of handling disability, it became a part of who she was. She even described on when she was using her prosthetic arm or robotic arm and when she wasn’t. Which I don’t know if that was so important for me to know but the describer pointed that out.

Tr in conversation with DL:
I think the whole idea was that shes statint to use it more and it’s even more of a part of her, she’s getting accustomed to it. And so I’m wondering if she’s going to get her own thing.

DL:
Yeah you know what, she was doing some things that were like humanly impossible so I was wondering if she’s going to get some superpowers.

Tr in conversation with DL:
Yeah because isnt that a Stark arm?

DL:
Yeah yeah.
I loved the complexity of them having different territories; the choinese, the russians. They pulled in references for Katrina and showing that there can be disagreement. Like the judge who said “i had a family in louisiana who lost everything, don’t use this as an example for your shadiness. I don’t know I loved it I felt it was pretty cool. The ending ended with I think he changed the picture from Biggie to Mohammed Ali. But that’s the thing! I think the way that the description was, we noticed those things but we don’t know what we missed in Black Panther.

Tr in conversation with DL:
What i liked about it was how they would say it because the director meant for it to be. For example when Mariah and Shades were standing in front of the picture and the crown aligned to Mariah’s head to show she was the queen.

TR:

As we see with Luke Cage it doesn’t specifically mean the narrator has to be black. Or does it?

TR in conversation with DL:
What would you think about a woman describing that? A black woman doing the description in Luke Cage.

DL:
Ohh. Oh.

Tr in conversation with DL:
You think it could work?

DL:
It would have to be the right voice because I’ve seen on Netflix the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt because it wasn’t really for me. But the person’s voice on there, I don’t’ know if she’s’ white or not, but no she could not do Luke Cage. [Both laughs] We don’t want her! She can do some other shows but she can not do this.
If Octavia Spencer or, why am I forgetting her name.

Tr in conversation with DL:
I know who you’re talking about you’re talking about the woman from How to Get Away with Murder.
DL:
Yes!

Tr in conversation with DL:
Yeah she has a great voice.

DL:
Yeah if she wanted to describe it, then yes.

TR:
For those who are fans of How to get away with murder… my apologies. The star of that show is the incredible Academy award winning Viola Davis.

Whether the description is voiced by a man or woman, Denna says:

DL:
It has to be somebody who follows that it was Harlem so you have to have somebody who has that Harlem… I don’t know.

Tr in conversation with DL:
That texture in their voice, I know what you’re saying.

DL:
It cannot be a very thin voice it’d have to be a full bodied voice.

Tr in conversation with DL:
I think it could work. That is if they don’t give me the job because I’ve put it out there before that I wanted that job. Although I like the guy who does it, I’m fine with him but if he’s going im going to jump in there because that’s Harlem. I’m not from Harlem, Im from the Bronx but I can take Harlem.

DL:
Yes! You could do it. [Both laughs]

TR:
Hey, there’s nothing wrong with trying to speak things into existence. But come on, , how cool would it be to have a person who is actually blind, from New York… born just a few miles away from Harlem, my Daddy’s from Harlem. And I’m blind. Universe, do you hear me talking.

#NetflixCallTReid

There’s much more to this discussion. Hopefully like the original episode, this will attract some feedback. I’d love to hear from others on this subject. Maybe you are a person of color and have some other examples of both disappointing and enjoyable audio description experiences. let me know. In fact, if you’re not a person of color and
was disappointed in the Black Panther description I’d like to hear from you.

When it comes to movies and television, Ultimately, , I think we all want the same thing; the right to enjoy the experience.

I’m interested in all experiences of blindness and disability in general, but I would really like to hear more from other people of color. I know there are some compelling stories out there .

For instance, corresponding with Denna prompted me to be even more nterested in her experience.
Let me show you what I mean.

Audio: Screen reader reading Denna’s email signature…
TR:
If you don’t speak screen reader, that was her email signature. Denna is a project manager at NASA.

Now, this wouldn’t be Reid My Mind Radio if we didn’t find out more about her journey. We’re going to get into that next time on the podcast.

So, if you’re new or if you haven’t just yet, may I encourage you to subscribe to the podcast. Reid My Mind Radio is available on
Apple Podcast, Google Play, Sound Cloud, Stitcher, Tune In Radio. If you’re using a podcast app you can find it there.
Go on over to ReidMyMind.com for links to subscribe as well as a transcript of the show.

Remember that’s R E I D like my last name.

If this was your first time here I know what you’re thinking…
It happens all the time…

DL:
happens all the time…

TR:
Wait until you hear what more is coming up!

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio: The Super Hero Behind Marvel’s Daredevil

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

Netflix launched their new series Marvel’s Daredevil earlier this month. While they received some negative feedback from the blind community and others for not including audio description, this piece doesn’t address that. However, be sure to check out the piece I did for the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind’s Talking Advocacy & government titled Behind the Scenes of Netflix Advocacy.

 

I was fortunate to have a chance to talk to Joe Strechay from the American Foundation for the Blind. He is the man behind Daredevil…well hit play and find out what I mean!