Flipping the Script on Audio Description – More Than One

Headshot of Alyscia Cunningham
Alyscia Cunningham is an author, photographer and film maker. Her latest book and documentary “I Am More Than My Hair” explores women’s hairloss. One of the subjects of the book and documentary is Marguerite Woods. Through this relationship, Alyscia became aware of the lack of access to the arts among Blind and Disabled people. It changed her approach to producing and thinking about art.
Yet, she couldn’t do it alone. It takes more than one…

In this latest FTS episode, we explore the power of one persons ability to spark an interest in access, help shape how we think about it and even create it. Once again, proving Audio Description is about so much more than entertainment!

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TR:
Your listening to Reid My Mind Radio.
Chances are, you know that already because you pressed play!
Duh!
This is where we examine this art form that in its basic essence, is making visual content accessible to those of us who are blind or have low vision.
But in actuality it goes way beyond that.
Today, we look at the power of one.
I know it’s the loneliest number and all, but really that’s only when it chooses to stay by itself.
This experience directly led her to her second book of photographs titled, “I AM More Than My Hair”.
It tells the stories of women who are bald.
Yet, according to Alyscia, the most common cause is stress.
And that can occur earlier than we may expect.
As part of both a marketing and fundraising effort, Alyscia recorded footage of some of the women included in the book.
She applied to Docs in progress – a nonprofit organization that fosters a creative and supportive community for documentary filmmakers.
— Music begins, a slow jazzy piano Hip Hop groove
That required her to contact some of the women featured in the book and arrange to capture their stories on camera.
I am bald, My skin is Mocha. leaning towards chocolate, and about five, seven. I normally wear certain shades. And I love interesting earrings. And so I normally have those on as well. I’ve got on a black dress. It’s sleeveless.
Her first experience began with Bustin’ Loose,
A film starring Richard Pryor and Cicely Tyson.
The description Marguerite says was horrible.
— Richard Pryor saying…
so it kind of took a backseat for me for a while. But the thing that really got me with audio description was I like to go to plays and conferences and music shows and that kind of thing.
TR:
We didn’t get into that for the purposes of this particular discussion, but that to me sounds like a case of a lack of cultural competence.
— Music ends
What is more of a part of this discussion is her response.
When Alyscia was looking for women who were bald to participate in her book,
she put the word out and heard back from a friend who told her about Marguerite.
Marguerite wanted Alyscia to understand that while she herself is blind she doesn’t represent everyone.
I’m always encouraging people to go to places where there are lots of other people that may look like me, because we’re multifaceted. We’re not all the same, just like sighted people we’re not all the same we are of all manner of variables and we’re diverse and in so many things so don’t just think you really understand what’s going on with blind people cause you’ve met me.
About two months following that meeting, Alyscia premiered her documentary at a theater.
Marguerite was there.
She realized the impact of the visuals based on the audience response…
Check out the Reid My Mind Radio family connection y’all!
That documentarian was none other than 2019 Reid My Mind Radio alumni Day Al-Mohammed.
— Music Begins – an up tempo energetic, inspirational Hip Hop beat
That’s my good friend and another 2019 Reid My Mind Radio alumni,
Cheryl Green, Captioner and Audio Description Writer and Narrator extraordinaire.
It’ goes beyond Audio Description and captions in the documentary.
Alyscia created an accessible exhibit on display at Sandy Spring Museum in Maryland.
My hope for this was having the exhibit and also having a panel discussion with Cheryl and marguerite, Judy and three other women was that this will be an example of how museums and artists can incorporate accessibility in their work and into their venues.
One of the main challenges from the perspective of the museums and venues is often funding.
Unfortunately, we know that sometimes museums and other venues and businesses want to see a return on investment.
But it’s not as simple as build it and they will come.
this can’t be a onetime thing.
it’s like now that you know How could you not do anything about it because now you’re aware of it. It’s in your space.
Did you get any feedback from non-disabled people?
— Music ends.
I’m sorry y’all, but sometimes I really do just have to laugh.
Spending time and energy advocating for something can be challenging.
I was more interested in her getting a sense of, of blind people, and that we are asking for opportunities to be able to relate to our world, just like sighted people are, and that she as an artist and a creative person would do whatever she would do with it. And that would be good enough.
Marguerite: 26:36
Just interact ting on different levels, and asking people to recognize, I’m here in this space, and I want to participate.
And sometimes, because people don’t know, you got to be in there, in their mix to get your conversation in there.
Marguerite herself is an artist. She is quite thoughtful and makes some deep connections between the More than My Hair project and well,
life for example.
Marguerite: 30:51
People tend to want to treat you like you’re less then because you don’t have the same access to vision that other people had. But
As an African American?
Most of us realize that we’ve grown up in a country that has not been kind or fair to any of us. And even if we don’t have the words to speak about, it’s a heavy burden, to exist and grow in this society. And when you know that the majority of the power structure is literally walking around with disdain for us, because of the color of our skin. You can put on a happy face and move around. And that’s fine. But I think that it’s deeper than a happy face, I think that there are some natural laws of the universe, that are, are at work all the time. And it would be beneficial to get in touch with what they are, and try to work your life from there. Because if you go with the laws that this country is offering, it’s telling a story, and I’m just given a message that’s not healthy. And it’s not about wellbeing, especially for my community and for me.
Totally unrelated to that project, she’s also working on a new project in the horror genre and says she’s making sure to build in the space for Audio Description.
She’s continuing to give panel discussions on how to make art accessible based on her experience.
Whether you’re a consumer who can help someone learn about access,
a creator who can make your content inclusive or
you’re someone who can provide the funding,
we all play a part.
— “One” Sample from Public Enemy Number One, Public Enemy
— Music begins, an upbeat bright Hip Hop funk groove
The I’m More than My Hair, accessible exhibit will be on display through September 5, 2021. Unfortunately, Covid restrictions have probably been a factor in the lack of feedback from the Disabled community, but Alyscia is hopeful that the restrictions being lifted will help bring out more people.
She’s currently seeking distribution for I Am More Than My Hair the documentary,
which at some point will stream online.
This is just one example of what we know to be true.
When creators learn that their content is not accessible to an audience, chances are pretty high that they will want to do something about that.
Well at least the cool ones!
— Sample – “What the hell are you waiting for” from “Encore” by Jay Z
— Sample (“D! And that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)
— Reid My Mind Radio Outro

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