Posts Tagged ‘BCAD Chat’

Blind Centered Audio Description Chat: Allyship

Wednesday, December 20th, 2023

Just in time to close out 2023, the band is back together!

We’re continuing our live series “Blind Centered Audio Description” with a conversation on Allyship.

Plenty of people claim to be allies, but how many of us actually know what true allyship is supposed to look like? Too often, much of what we experience is performative.

Take a listen to this live conversation and then consider those you and many of us in the community perceive to be an ally.

Join Us Live

To find out when and where the next live chat is taking place, send an email to BlindCenteredAD at Gmail.com. We’ll add you to our notification list.

Listen

Transcript – Created By Cheryl Green

Show the transcript

Music begins
THOMAS: Welcome to the Blind-Centered Audio Description Chats. These are the edited recordings of the Blind-Centered Audio Description Live Chats!
CHERYL: The live is the most fun part! We get together, we start with a question, and then we invite up anybody from the audience who wants to come and chat with us, agree, disagree, shed light on something that we hadn’t thought about before, which is Nefertiti’s favorite. [electric whoosh]
NEFERTITI: I’m Nefertiti Matos Olivares, and I’m a bilingual professional voiceover artist who specializes in audio description narration! I’m also a fervent cultural access advocate and a community organizer.
CHERYL: I’m Cheryl Green, an access artist, audio describer and captioner.
THOMAS: And I’m Thomas Reid, host and producer Reid My Mind Radio, voice artist, audio description narrator, consultant, and advocate.
THOMAS: Hey, Nef, why don’t you tell people how they could join the live recording?
NEFERTITI: That’s really simple. Just follow us on social media to keep up with important details, such as dates, times, and what platform will be using. On Twitter, I’m @NefMatOli. Cheryl?
CHERYL: I’m @WhoAmIToStopIt.
THOMAS: I’m @TSReid, you know, R to the E I D.
[smartphone selection beeps]
CHERYL: Recording now!

NEFERTITI: All right. Here we go! So, as a reminder, we are here to talk about what it means to center blind people and how that affects the quality of audio description. What exactly is allyship? How can our allies be effective using their position and privilege to open doors and then get out of the way? Or as I like to say, “Great! You’ve got clout. Now get out!”
THOMAS: [chuckles]
NEFERTITI: That said, plus, we’re also going to get into what to expect from BCAD, Blind-Centered Audio Description Chats in the future. And now to Thomas to kick us off.
THOMAS: Cool. Cool. So, why don’t we start with Blind-Centered Audio Description? So, since we’re back, you know, this is our, I guess, second season, if you will, second year. Just talk a little bit about maybe how we started this and why we started this, and then we can get into the conversation. But I think it’s important for everybody to know. The reason we call this Blind-Centered Audio Description Chats, well, let’s take that, the chat, we’re talking. That’s simple. The blind-centered audio description is really what we feel about audio description in general and how it should always center that target audience, which is blind folks. And when I say blind, I just wanna make it clear, I’m including low vision. So, I don’t necessarily always say, “blind and low vision.” I’m including that in “blind.” Okay. So yeah, the idea there is that if you are going to create audio description—and audio description is a service for, and it’s a art for folks who are blind—and so, when we’re creating it, that’s who we should be thinking about.
So, we shouldn’t necessarily be thinking about…we shouldn’t be thinking about, “Oh, I have to do this because the government tells me so or because my boss told me so.” Eh, that’s not too great because the product isn’t going to be that great if that’s where you’re coming from. But what you should be thinking is, “What are the needs of folks? What does the community want,” right? That’s a big deal now. We get audio description. We have conversations, and sometimes folks who are dominating those conversations aren’t necessarily the users of audio description. That doesn’t seem cool! [laughs] It doesn’t seem smart. If you had a product, don’t you want to hear from those who are using your product? Well, that’s what blind-centered is all about: keeping that in the target there.
So, allyship. We’re talking about allyship, so I figured, why don’t we do a little bit of a definition of allyship? I looked it up on WordHippo! WordHippo says that an ally is, “a person or an organization that cooperates with or helps another in a particular activity,” okay? That’s a basic definition, right? So, you could say, what does that help? So, we got “partner, associates, colleague, confederate.” Not crazy about that one. That brings up some other stuff for me when I hear “confederate.” Just saying. It’s America. “Accomplice, collaborator.” I like accomplice. I like collaborator too. “Comrade.” That’s cool. “Deputy, helper.” Meh. “Supporter, accessory.” That’s cool. “Aide, backer.” And here’s my personal favorite. I don’t know about y’all, but this is my personal favorite: “henchman.” [delighted laugh] I’m just digging that one. You’re not an ally. You’re my henchman!
THOMAS and NEFERTITI: [laugh]
THOMAS: And sometimes in life, you need a henchman. You need a good henchman to get you by sometimes, I’m just saying.
NEFERTITI: Heck, yeah.
THOMAS: You never know.
NEFERTITI: Two thumbs up to that one. [laughs]
THOMAS: You know what I’m saying? It could come in very handy to have yourself a henchman. [laughs] Not that I know anything about it! Anyway. But, you know, an ally is really about someone who has privilege but chooses to stand for and with usually a marginalized community, right? And so, we all in our lives, in different roles, can play the role of an ally, right? So, when we talk about marginalized communities, there’s many different marginalized communities. So, you know, I as, myself, as a blind man, blind cisgendered man, could be an ally for women, right? That would make sense. What’s interesting is if we talk about some of the steps to allyship. And then what I think is, so these are just general, right? These are very general. But I think what could be fun and interesting is if we apply them to audio description after that. All right? So, here’s some steps. So, ten steps I found. “Number one, listen.” I love that one. I love that one. And so, real quick, Imma tell you a real quick story. So, a few years back, I think it was… I think it was John Legend, the artist, right, the musician. And he was talking about how he was very much into prison reform and wanted to become an ally and be all about it. He spent the first I think it was like a year or two going to meetings, going to all these various things, learning about it, and never saying a word, just listening. And I always remember that because I was like, wow, that’s the way to do it, right? That makes total sense because you’re new. You’re new. You’re new to this, and so you’re just all about learning. And so, that’s what that listening was. “Get educated.” That’s a part of that listening, that listening process. Three, “Get involved.” All right. We can talk about that again. Remember we’re gonna talk about these specifically around audio description. Four, “Show up.” I like that. Five, “Speak up,” aight? Six, “Intervene.” Now intervening, you know, you just don’t intervene. You gotta intervene with permission. So, just don’t go saying something. “Welcome discomfort.” Now, that’s a real good one. That’s a real good one, because, you know, if you’re not of a community, and you’re learning, there’s some things about that, especially if we’re talking around disability, that non-disabled folks are just uncomfortable. Well, sit with that. That’s good. Sit with that uncomfort. Eight, “Learn from your mistakes” ‘cause you gonna make them. And yeah, I said “gonna.” You gonna make them. [laughs] Nine, “Stay engaged.” Real, real important. Ten, “Donate!” That’s a good one. That’s a good one, ‘cause everybody and every process and every movement needs some money.
So, if we think about this from audio description, and y’all help me out. And this is a question that I wanna ask the audience, so in prep for y’all, if you have any stories around allyship, specifically around audio description. But, you know, if there’s something that makes a point that is non-audio description related, I think we’re open to listening to it. But let’s keep some of these steps in mind around audio description. So, listen. I can even just say listening to audio description. If you’re an ally, and you don’t listen to audio description? You don’t even ever watch a film or a television show with audio description? Well, how you an ally?! You know? I think you should be familiar with it. But it’s also listening to the people who are talking about it. And so, listening, again, remember, this is blind-centered, listening to blind people talking about audio description and what they care about, what’s important to them.
Getting educated. Well, what are some ways you can get educated about audio description? One is if you’re in the house right now, I appreciate it. And hopefully, we’re gon provide some of that education. I think, you know, the series of Blind-Centered Audio Description is one way. Listening to Cheryl and Nefertiti when they’re on a panel. Those panels are great, and they are great on them, and you’ll learn a lot. You know, there are podcasts, and yes, Reid My Mind Radio is one of them. But there are other podcasts too, that you can learn. I think Reid My Mind Radio’s the best one, though, but I’m just gon say that. Anyway, you know?
NEFERTITI: [imitates boisterous air horn] Ber-ber-beeeeer!
THOMAS: Thank you, Nef! [imitates air horn]
NEFERTITI: [laughs]
THOMAS: [chuckles] Get involved. Let’s think about this one. Because how do you get involved with audio description, right? How do you get involved with this? So, let’s say, obviously, if you are someone who is making audio description—you’re a writer, you’re a narrator, whatever the case may be—that is one way of getting involved. Obviously, listening and watching something. But what are some other ways to get involved in audio description? I think there are communities. When we talk about live audio description, there are many types of venues that offer it that might be looking for volunteers. Especially for those who are, you know, who know about it and are familiar with it, there’s opportunities there in museums, right?
Advocating. That’s another way to get involved. Just if you go to a theater, you go to a show, and they don’t. You could ask, “Do you have audio description?” “Oh, what’s audio description?” Bam! Tell them about it, right? That’s getting involved. Speaking up. That’s that one. I think that’s a great example there. If you go to a theater, even if you don’t consume it, I think that could be really fascinating for someone who is an ally to just, “Hey, do you have the audio description?” Even if you are, you know, you might ask for it or just ask to see if they have it there. And again, they might not know what it is. Or you can even go through an experience of what often happens in a theater environment, movie theater, right? Ask for it, go into the theater. Does it work, or do you have to run back out, right? Go through that experience, see what that’s like, and then maybe have a nice conversation with the manager. You can do that. You can do that, too. That would be great. Is that too much to ask for? What do you think, Cheryl, Nef?
CHERYL: No, I don’t think it’s too much to ask somebody, even if they don’t intend to use it, to be like, “Hey, do you have the equipment?” And I would even add, “Do you charge the batteries?”
THOMAS: Mm.
CHERYL: “Does your staff know where to find it? And who do I talk to if the equipment isn’t working?” Yeah.
THOMAS: That’s great.
NEFERTITI: Yeah, absolutely. “Does your staff know the difference between the setting for people who are hard of hearing versus audio description for blind and low vision folks?”
THOMAS: Yeah. Yeah. You know what that reminds me of?
NEFERTITI: It’s all part of advocating, educating, all of it.
THOMAS: All of it. All of it. And it reminds me Somebody was telling me or us that, how they don’t like to go to the theater because, for them, okay, I have to either, you know, the public transportation might be the situation. I get an Uber, I pay that money to get to the theater, and so many times when you get there, it doesn’t work, right? So, imagine if there’s an ally who’s kind of doing that work. And so, now you can go there because that work is done. Because often, you know, I can’t tell you how many times when audio description, when I first started going to theater, our local theater, and it was new, how many times I went there to watch a film and never got to watch it with audio description but got free passes to another film. [laughs]
NEFERTITI: Yes. And may I just say, free passes for what? So, I can come back, and you fail again?
THOMAS: Yeah.
NEFERTITI: You don’t want a free pass. You want to enjoy the experience you paid for at the time you paid for it.
THOMAS: Yeah. I want the free passes too, though! [laughs]
NEFERTITI: Well, you know! All right.
THOMAS: Plus I had, you know, they were little at the time. My kids were little, so. Yeah, we were using them free passes! [laughs] But it wasn’t cool to get them the way we got them. So, that’s part of that speaking up, and it’s also part of the intervening there. That’s a really, really cool way of intervening because you don’t have to necessarily ask because you’re just sort of taking charge. You’re in there. But other ways to intervene, you know, you might be in a live theater environment, and maybe you’re sitting next to a person. Maybe that person is not with you, but they’re having some problems with the AD equipment. And you might be able to help intervene, right? Maybe because that person might, you know, if they have to get up and go find a manager, if that person’s by themself, well, that could be a really time-consuming task for someone who’s blind to get up and try to go find a manager, where for someone else it might be really quick and easy. So, intervening and helping out in that situation is probably a very welcome thing.
NEFERTITI: I can tell you personally how many times I’ve wanted to attend a live performance—I’m really into live theater, Broadway, off-Broadway, etc.—and they only offer one audio described performance per season? Two is a lot to ask for. I live in New York City. I am in the mecca of live theater, and you mean to tell me that you only offer one to two performances with audio description? That’s not okay. So, how about intervening and advocating for more options, more availability of audio description?
THOMAS: Instead of that one show on a Tuesday at 7:35, right? [laughs]
NEFERTITI: Oh, if only! It’s usually like on a Sunday at matinee or something.
THOMAS: Oh, okay. Okay. Tuesday was a inconvenient day for me, but yeah. [laughs]
NEFERTITI: No, that’s true, too. The time can be inconvenient. The day can be inconvenient. Whatever it is. You know, a lot of us work, or a lot of us wanna spend Sunday resting or with family or whatever the case is.
THOMAS: Yeah.
NEFERTITI: Why are you pigeonholing me? Shameless plug. Cheryl’s podcast, Pigeonhole.
CHERYL: [laughing] Stop!
THOMAS: [laughs]
NEFERTITI: Check it out.
CHERYL: I have to say one of the reasons that they do that, that they only offer the one or the matinee or they don’t offer options, one reason is they will say, “Well, we don’t know that the demand is there.”
NEFERTITI: Mmhmm.
CHERYL: So again, even though I may not utilize that equipment and use the audio description, I can go in there and say, “Are you offering this? I know this is of interest. I know this is a good thing to offer,” and just, you know, we need to build the numbers up so that people know the demand is there.
NEFERTITI: Yeah. And if you build it, they will come. If we have more options available, guess what? More people will show up just by virtue of you giving them options that they can make fit into their schedule.
THOMAS: Yeah. And we can take that from the live theater space to the online streaming platforms, you know? If there’s a platform that you’re on, and maybe you’re watching something, and it said it had audio description, but it’s not there, it’s not working, do you just let it go? “Aw, that sucks.” Because, “Well, okay. I guess I just have to watch it without. That’s fine. I really wanted to watch it with, but I’ll just watch it without because I can.” Well, why not call the customer service and advocate on behalf of folks, right?
NEFERTITI: Or write an email.
THOMAS: Or write an email.
NEFERTITI: “You say you have audio description? Actually, you don’t. Most of your titles don’t. Or none of your titles do. What’s up with that?”
THOMAS: Yeah. Ooh-wee, what’s up with that?
NEFERTITI: Mmhmm!
THOMAS: So, learning from your mistakes. This is a good one, because I think it’s inevitable that well-intentioned folks are going to make some mistakes. And I think everybody has to leave some space for the mistake that’s gonna happen. You know, have some grace for that individual. But at the same time, if that individual makes that same mistake again, [laughs, sighs] that’s not cool. That’s sending a whole message that you, either you do mean to send, but you probably don’t. And so, learning from your mistakes could be a really big thing, you know. And that could be as simple as how you talk about audio description online. Like, are you, again, are you centering yourself, or are you centering the blind consumers in how you talk about audio description?
NEFERTITI: The blind consumers who, by the way, audio description was made by and for.
THOMAS: Correct.
NEFERTITI: Also, you make a mistake once, that’s understandable, reasonable, forgivable. But you make it more than once, and that’s a choice, y’all.
THOMAS: Yeah. That is. You’re right. You’re right. Three-strike rule. Do y’all use the three-strike rule?
NEFERTITI: Two for me.
THOMAS: You got two strikes? You playing softball.
NEFERTITI: If that.
THOMAS: Yeah, that’s the softball move.
NEFERTITI: If that. Depending on what it is, you get one!
THOMAS: You ain’t playing with two strikes. Okay.
NEFERTITI: Mm-mm.
THOMAS: Okay. Okay. Cheryl, you a two-striker or a three-striker?
CHERYL: You know, I tend to give a lot more strikes just because I want time. If the person’s willing to dialogue, I want time to uncover, “But why does this keep happening? Or what do you need to make this happen better?” Like, maybe I’m not giving enough instruction or enough context. And really trying to uncover people’s motivations, name the elephant in the room. I feel like if somebody refuses to name the elephant in the room, then you get all three strikes at once. But I do leave, especially ‘cause I’m neurodivergent, I do leave people a little more time to strike out a couple of times.
THOMAS: Mmhmm, yeah.
CHERYL: But, you know, I think refusing to learn from your mistakes and say, “Well, I’m not gonna advocate anymore, you know. I’m just gonna leave this,” then, like you said, Thomas, you’re centering yourself. You’re not being a good comrade. I like the term “co-conspirator, henchman.” [laughs]
NEFERTITI: Mmhmm!
CHERYL: If your mission and your values are, I will be an ally or a co-conspirator with this person or this group, and you make a mistake, recenter yourself on what that mission was. “No, I am gonna be an ally. I made a mistake. I’m not gonna beat myself up. I’m not gonna say I’m horrible. I’m not gonna leave the movement.” I do think it’s possible to recenter yourself on the goal if you are being an ally. And that is how to be an ally, is to recenter yourself on the goal, not on yourself.
THOMAS: Yeah. Yeah, I love that you said that, recentering yourself, because that goes to the next one, which is staying engaged. And that’s exactly it. Because sometimes folks get discouraged, get disappointed, again, centering yourself, “Eh, I’m taking my toys, and I’m leaving!” You know, that type of thing. “Aight, bye. I guess you wasn’t really about this.”
NEFERTITI: That’s right. It’s not about you, right?
THOMAS: Yeah, yeah.
NEFERTITI: It’s not about you. It’s about the general movement and moving it forward.
THOMAS: Yeah. Which is about everyone. Cut 00:28:12 – 00:29:18)
The final one is the idea of donating, and I think this donating when it comes to audio description again could be, there could be many different ways you do this. So, for example, if you know someone who hasn’t experienced audio description in a live theater space, whether that be live theater or whether that be a movie theater, perhaps you might want to donate a ticket. You know what I’m saying? Especially if you were the one. Maybe you went to that theater like we were just talking about and found out that this theater does have it. Well, maybe you wanna donate to someone, say, “Hey, go ahead and go check out audio description. I know you never checked it out because for most of your life, you’ve been experiencing inaccessible content. But hey, this is accessible, and I know they have it here, and it works. Go check it out. Here’s a ticket for your movie.” How cool is that? That’s an ally. I think that’s pretty cool.
NEFERTITI: That’s really cool.
THOMAS: Yeah. Yeah.
NEFERTITI: Also, you can donate your time.
THOMAS: There you go.
NEFERTITI: We’re all donating our time right here. We make zero, zero on these conversations, but they are super important. It’s a labor of love, and it’s a labor of progress that we’re trying to accomplish here. So, if you know, let’s say, of a podcast, become a guest, donate some time, you know. You being here, listening to us or telling somebody about the Reid My Mind Radio podcast where they can hear the replays of these, what do we call them, episodes? Gatherings?
THOMAS: Yeah, they’re the Chats.
NEFERTITI: Yeah, Chats. Oh, hello! It’s right in our name. Thank you.
THOMAS: Yeah.
NEFERTITI: Tell them to tune in if you find these conversations, these chats of value. That’s donating, donating knowledge.
THOMAS: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And so, yeah. So, I wanna hear from you all if you have any stories or if you have any comments or if you have any examples of some of these. There’s lots of conversations taking place today around the topic of audio description. Ah, I don’t know if I wanna say a lot, but there’s definitely more than there were a few years ago, right? And I wouldn’t necessarily say that they’re all even in terms of do they all come from a blind-centered approach? I wouldn’t say that was the case. I’ve seen some, I’ve heard talks. I’ve been around some things that the focus is definitely not on blind people. And sometimes that could make sense. But I think even in those conversations, there should be some centering, right? So, meaning if we’re talking within the industry, and let’s say it’s about narrators or it’s about the production of audio description, and unfortunately, there’s not that many blind folks involved in that, which we will probably be talking about again here at some point. But even in that instance, I think there are moments in the conversation where the centering of blind people and the consumers, right, blind consumers should be taking place, and I don’t see it happening. And so, maybe some of y’all have seen things like that, have witnessed that. I wanna hear about them if you wanna share them. Always looking for that.
So, in a situation like the one I was just kind of talking about, when there are panels, when there are panels, when there are these conversations about audio description, and let’s say they are inclusive of blind people, you know, how should they work? How should they work? When we talk about allyship, we talk about passing the mic, right? That’s a reference to letting those who are impacted have the say. Their voice needs to be heard. Amplify those voices, because even in something like audio description, the voice of non-blind people hits harder than blind people in the public. There’s a louder voice. There’s more, more folks will listen when a quote-unquote “expert” who’s not blind is talking as compared to another quote-unquote “expert” who is blind. Because the blind consumer is an expert. Is an expert. We can get into the weeds of that expertise, right? So, I’m not saying that they are that knowledgeable of the process, but they are often, not everyone, but many of them are quite experienced in terms of consuming audio description. And that means a great deal. That means a great deal, but it’s not often considered that way.
So, in a situation like that, I think we’re looking for more than input from that blind person sitting on that panel, right? It’s not, it shouldn’t be the non-blind person taking up all the airspace, taking up all of that, right? So, we have to be mindful of that. And I think we should be critical. We should be critical when we watch these things, when we’re listening to anything, when we’re watching anything, a panel, whether it be a podcast or whatever the case may be, I think we should be critical about that and say and talk about it, right? And again, you don’t have to be controversial, but it is something that we should be comfortable in critiquing and talking about. But another question could be, you know, what does performative allyship look like within the AD space? Because maybe you’ve seen that. And by that, I mean, you know, is this person really an ally, or are they just trying to get attention for themselves? We don’t have to mention names, but if we’re critical and if we’re honest, I think we’ve probably seen it. [laughs]
NEFERTITI: All right, Courtney, you’re up.
COURTNEY: So, I’m a learning experience designer, so we are constantly making videos for training. So, some people are like, “Well, you can write for accessibility and then you won’t have to use audio description.” Is that something that is acceptable?
THOMAS: Mm. It’s a cool way to go, but I don’t think you probably, especially if we’re talking about video content, chances are you’re not gonna eliminate the need for AD in total, right?
COURTNEY: Mmhmm.
THOMAS: And so, what I would add to that is it’s not only the writing for it, because that’s definitely something you can do, but the planning in general, right? So, if there are things that are going to need explanation that aren’t included in the writing, are you leaving space in the edit to have time to provide that audio description, right?
COURTNEY: Yeah.
THOMAS: So, yeah, I would add that into the mix. Those things together I think would work well.
COURTNEY: Okay!
THOMAS: But I don’t think when we’re talking about visual content, there’s a lot of stuff that’s going on. Especially around learning, right, educational stuff, if it’s eye candy, right? You know what I’m saying, right when I say the eye candy thing?
COURTNEY: Yeah. Yeah, for sure.
THOMAS: If it’s just eye candy, then perhaps that doesn’t need to be described. But if it is something that is going to impact the person’s ability to learn and get the lesson, those things need to be described.
COURTNEY: Gotcha.
THOMAS: And that’s often, it’s gonna be said, it’s going to be communicated visually, right? There’s often some of that stuff that’s gonna happen. But I’m not totally against the idea of writing for accessibility at all.
COURTNEY: So, maybe a mix of the two is probably optimal if there are a lot of decorative things. I feel like a lot of times it’s just illustrations with a [laughing] slightly waving hand, you know?
THOMAS: Okay, yeah. Yeah.
COURTNEY: So, that doesn’t add to the learning experience, but maybe adds something for those who are sighted.
THOMAS: Yes. Yeah.
COURTNEY: All right. Thank you.
THOMAS: I think the takeaway for Courtney that I would want you to recall is that one of the most important parts is to have that whole video QCed, quality controlled, by a blind person. And so, you should be able to get some real feedback as to how effective that really is, right?
NEFERTITI: Again, thank you so much. That’s a great question.
COURTNEY: Thank you.
THOMAS: Yeah, it was a great question. Courtney.
COURTNEY: Thank you, guys.
THOMAS: Thank you for your bravery!
COURTNEY: All right. Thanks! [laughs]
THOMAS and NEFERTITI: [delighted laugh]
NEFERTITI: All right, Scott, you’re up.
SCOTT: Hey, guys. How’s it going?
THOMAS: Scott Nixon.
SCOTT: Scott Nixon all the way out, all the way out here in Australia. I have a comment and possibly a question for the panel and everyone else as well. When it comes to advocating for audio description, what do you do when you just keep hitting the wall, you know? You talk to a company or a streaming service or whatever, and they just keep coming back with these vague, nebulous answers that don’t really give you what you want them to, want them to give you. And you keep explaining. “No, I mean this, this, and this.” And they just keep coming back with the same old, “We value your input, you’re a valued customer,” and things like that. Because I’ve been dealing with one of the major streaming services over the past two years now about their failure to pass audio description through to their streaming service outside the United States and Canada. They just don’t provide the AD anywhere else in the world, and I don’t understand why.
I’ve talked to them again and again and again, and they just keep coming back with responses A, B, and C that just don’t go anywhere. And it’s gotten to the point where dealing with them was affecting my depression and anxiety to the point where I’ve just had to say, I’ve had to throw up my hands and say I can only be an ally for so long. I had to cut off communication with them, and I’ve actually unsubscribed from their service until they can prove to me that they’re actually going to do something about it. So, what do you do when you reach that burnout phase of allyship where you’re just not, you just can’t, like, lick a watermelon into a different shape? And yeah, so, that’s basically the comment and the question. So, Broken Eyes out.
NEFERTITI: I wanna start by saying good on you for meeting your own personal needs.
THOMAS: Mmhmm.
NEFERTITI: That’s absolutely crucial that we take care of ourselves. So, whatever that looks like for you, in this case, unsubscribing and taking a break, kudos to you. But once you feel up to it again, maybe not start back up with the same person or company, organization, whatever the entity is, but maybe taking on someone or something else. But do come back. Take your rest, do your self-care, fully lean into your break, but do come back. We all need that spirit, that energy. That’s what I have to say.
SCOTT: It can definitely be a case of pick your battles and know when you need to take off ‘cause, you know, it was getting to the point where I wrote a three-page email that in no way could be considered abusive or heavy handed or anything like that. But I just went back through and read it before I sent it, and I just went to myself, “No, this is not me. This is not my voice anymore. You know, this is, this is coming from the bad place” type thing. And so, that’s when I decided that I had to take a step back. And yes, I definitely will come back and challenge things maybe from a different perspective, different tactic, or something. But yeah, just I hit that burnout phase, and it just, yeah, snuffed me for a while.
THOMAS: Yeah. So, I agree with all the self-care. Absolutely. But one of the things that I think we have to remember, especially in this day and time, is that social media effect and the ability to tag and put these conversations in public. And that right there is some pressure. You may not think it is, but it is often pressure. I remember I had a issue with Amazon. And this wasn’t even anything around audio description. It was like a product or something. And I was sending emails and calling, and all I did was at them on Twitter, and bam, they were right in my DMs, [laughs] right in my DMs, and like, “Hey, send us this, this, and this. We can get this resolved.” And it got resolved. And it’s like, wow. Okay, this means something. So, that’s one thing.
I’m gonna forward you a link. And it’s a couple. Cut 00:50:21 – 00:50:24) They wrote up that they were going through a similar thing, and it had to do with passthrough to was it YouTube or something? I don’t remember. But a station wasn’t passing through AD, and they wrote it up. They tracked every single call they made, and they wrote the whole thing up. And I think they posted it to their website. They contacted other people within the industry of AD who started to use some of their influence, and they’re having progress now, right? And I think part of that is the writing up of everything as well as the sending that to other people. Because there’s a big difference when you don’t have things written up like that, and you just like, “Yeah, this company’s” dah dah dah dah dah. I’m not saying you do that, but it sounds like that to people. Sometimes it comes across like, oh, this person’s just complaining. But when you have things documented the way they did, then it takes on a whole different thing. So, I’ll send you that just so you can see that. And maybe you might even wanna connect with them because they might be able to give you some good advice.
The other thing is that when you are contacting a company like that, one thing that helps is if you can—this is hard—but sometimes you can just, you looking for that internal ally that, literally what we’re talking about today, that person on the inside who actually cares. And I saw that in action years ago because my Fox affiliate, it was the X-Files movie that was coming out, and it was supposed to have AD. This was some years ago. And I turn on Fox. I was a big X-Files person back in the day, and they didn’t have it. And so, I call them, and I just happened to make my way to someone within my local Fox who knew the person within there who they said, “I don’t know about the audio description, but I know about the captions.” So, they got me to the captions person, and so the captions person ended up just kinda taking it because they cared about access. And so, they got it resolved for me the next day, and it was so cool. But it was only because somebody gave a “beep,” right? And so, if you can kinda finagle. And you know, you a charming dude, so I feel like you could probably do that. You could probably, you know, work something with the intention, maybe not just getting it solved right there, but maybe having a different intent is to find someone who gives a “boop” within the company, you know? But again, going back to your self-care, that’s the first, and then all of this stuff comes later. Imma send you that link sometime. I’ll send you that probably tomorrow.
SCOTT: Yeah, no worries. Thanks, mate. I really do appreciate that. And yeah, just, yeah, I agree that finding a way to find the person who will give a hoot about your situation and wanna help is definitely key. I do have a few contacts who may be able to help me once I’m back in a better mindset. But yeah, for now, yeah, it’s difficult, but I don’t wanna have to give up. But at the same time, I know that it was starting to affect other factors in life. And yeah, so, sitting back, taking self-care, going and exploring my newfound ability to play video games again after 25 years is what I need to do right now just to take care of myself.
THOMAS: There you go. Do what you gotta do.
NEFERTITI: Thanks to audio description!
SCOTT: Dang right. [laughs]
THOMAS and NEFERTITI: [air horns]
NEFERTITI: Thank you so much for your contribution, Scott. Always valuable.
SCOTT: And I just wanna say, you guys, it is so great to have you all back. Thomas, Cheryl, you guys are absolutely fantastic, but I just, I can’t help myself. I have to give a special shoutout to Nef. You have been smashing it lately with your advocacy and all the work that you have been doing, Nef. I’ve just been so impressed by everything you’re doing at the moment, and just please keep crushing it because we’re all just loving what you’re doing.
THOMAS and CHERYL: [enthusiastic air horns, laughter]
NEFERTITI: Thanks, you guys. Thanks. You’re gonna make me cry. Thank you so much! Appreciate you.
THOMAS: Nef is killing the game right now! She’s killing the game!
THOMAS and NEFERTITI: [laugh]
NEFERTITI: Thanks so much. All right, Renee, you are up!
THOMAS: Renee, who?
RENEE: Arrington-Johnson.
THOMAS: Aw! That’s who I was talking about! [huge laugh]
RENEE: I know! [laughs] Scott, I understand completely. My battle with the streaming service started over two years ago, and I did take a break because they frustrated me, and I had to regroup and rethink. And I took an approach that I had learned at work about how to document every step of a process. And just to put it really quick, I had a supplier that was doing work for me, and we set up a purchase order where they were docked every day they were late. And I documented everything, and instead of paying $65,000 for the service, we paid $3,000. So, that’s just, that was what was my idea for what I did, me and my husband, when we wrote that paper. But you do have to be in the right headspace to be able to do it. But besides that, I did wanna give a positive example.
THOMAS: Oh, cool.
RENEE: A few years ago, when I lived in Michigan, we had attended a movie theater, and the equipment was not working. The audio description was not working. And the one iPad that they had that was supposed to set everything up to fix things was broken. And I was saying, okay, for a $500 iPad, you’re not gonna provide this service. And I was so frustrated. I contacted a member of the talent for a local network for local ABC who was an ally to people with disabilities because he had a granddaughter with SMA. So, he was very in tune to people with disabilities ‘cause he advocated a lot for her. So, he actually knew the owner of the theater, and he contacted them, and he let them know what my complaint was ‘cause I had put it on Twitter and had tagged him. And he had the owner of the theater call me, and they purchased extra iPads and invited me and my husband back to the theater. And that ally made a big difference for me with that experience. So, they really can, you know, allies can really make a huge difference when they are committed to the cause.
THOMAS: Fantastic. Fantastic story. Yep. There you go. And you did it on Twitter. [laughs]
RENEE: [laughs] Yeah, I gotta find something new ‘cause I don’t even get on there anymore. I don’t know what to do.
THOMAS: Yeah. Yeah.
RENEE: But thank you guys for doing this. This is really great.
THOMAS: Thank you for joining us, Renee. Appreciate it.
RENEE: Okay.
NEFERTITI: Absolutely. Really appreciate your contribution. Keep up the great work. Thank you.
THOMAS: You know, one of the things I was gonna say is that that documenting is something that you can start from the beginning. You know, like, the first call you make, just open up a little, you know, text, keep a text file, whatever, and just put the date, the name of the person that you talked to, what happened, what you said, what the result was. “Okay. I gotta call them back tomorrow.” Put them back. Next time you call them, same thing. Write that date. You know, the documentation doesn’t have to be a real big project. If you wait till the end, then you’re gonna try to have to remember things. But if you could just do that right when you’re gonna start that process, it’s cool. It really does work. It’s very helpful on many levels, so, especially just remembering someone’s name. It’s a big difference when you can say, “Oh no, I spoke to John on this particular date, this time.” “Oh, John Such-and-such.” “Yes.” Boom.
NEFERTITI: Cheryl, any thoughts from you? We haven’t heard from you in a while.
CHERYL: Yeah, well, I was being a good ally and listening.
THOMAS: [chuckles]
CHERYL: And I said that on purpose to be silly, but also to remind people how very, very easy and tempting it is to ask for your plate of cookies for doing something that was asked of you. [laughs]
THOMAS: Mm.
CHERYL: So, just again, like it is that feeling when you want to be an ally and you name yourself an ally to a community, but nobody in that community knows that you’re an ally, you can get that energy, and “I wanna show off! I wanna post on social media how much money I donated to this fundraiser, and I wanna tell everybody about….” There’s kind of a rush with that. But it’s not a… that’s not an ally move. That’s not a comrade or co-conspirator move. So, yeah, I just made that joke just to sort of (Cut 01:00:49 – 01:00:52) recenter….
THOMAS and CHERYL: [laugh]
CHERYL: The blind-centered, the ally is not the center of the show.
CHERYL: Cut 01:00:59 – 01:01:13) ‘Cause I feel like I see it, but sometimes it can be really helpful to name it. You get a feeling in your stomach like, “Is that person, are they helping? Are they making it worse?”
NEFERTITI: Mmhmm or standing in our way?
CHERYL: Mmhmm. I love what Nefertiti just said about standing in the way ‘cause I think about, I have people open doors for me, and then literally stand in the doorway, and I can’t get past. And then they’re mad that I wait for them to move. And I know I’m not the only one who experiences that, but like, literally, I opened the door for you and then stood in your way, and now I’m mad at you. But an example of performative allyship I’ve come across is somebody maybe sharing something on social media like, “This is about blind” something, but they didn’t read the whole article. They didn’t carefully analyze who wrote it, you know, what is the source, was this actually debunked on Snopes already? ‘Cause it was. But just, I think it’s real performative to go out there and just share literally everything you come across that’s about blind anything, AD anything without carefully figuring out what is the message of this thing, and what will I be promoting when I share this?
THOMAS: What about someone who is talking that good talk, and then at the same time sharing images with no descriptions, sharing videos with no AD, not even recognizing it, not even providing any sort of context or anything like that. Like, you know, to them, they miss it at that point, but they still believe that they’re an ally [laughing] of audio description. But meanwhile, they’re sharing stuff without description.
CHERYL: Well, yeah, ‘cause you’re not an actual person, Thomas. You’re just an audio description consumer.
THOMAS: Oh!
CHERYL: So, I’m gonna clock in. I’m gonna do my audio description for your movie. But beyond that, you don’t exist to me, so it doesn’t occur to me that I should write image…. Obviously, I’m playing.
THOMAS: [laughs]
CHERYL: But I do feel like it’s that rehab and service provider model of accessibility.
THOMAS: Mm, talk about it.
CHERYL: Like, “I provided my service. I’m all done. But, you know, that one hour that you spent listening to AD and watching that movie, you are still a whole person the other 23 hours of the day. And I’m spending the rest of the 23 hours getting in your way, but I’m satisfied that I helped for that one hour.” And I think service providers of whatever sort have to always remember, if you are providing a service, you’re providing it to a complete and whole person and entire communities of complete and whole people.
THOMAS: If you’re in audio description, if this is your job, and you have [sighs] no relationships whatsoever with people who are blind, does that make a difference? NEFERTITI: I think that for people who want to make a name for themselves or get notoriety, get a pat on the back, “You’re so wonderful! Look at what you do for these poor blind folk,” you can’t have it both ways. You can’t be a so-called ally and then be on some “boop,” right?
THOMAS: Mmhmm.
NEFERTITI: You can’t have it both ways. Talk about performative. “Oh, I’m behind the scenes doing X, Y, Z thing, but really, I’m about the business side of it all. I’m about that money, right? It’s just a job to me in action. But in the performance of it all, I’m here to help y’all poor blind people.” No, no. People see that. People notice that. Maybe not right away. Maybe not everyone.
THOMAS: Yeah.
NEFERTITI: I’d like to think that it does catch up with folks.
THOMAS: So, it’s okay if it’s just the job. But don’t say you’re an ally if you have something else.
NEFERTITI: Exactly. Exactly.
THOMAS: Exactly.
NEFERTITI: If it’s a job, then be about that job. That’s fine.
THOMAS: That’s a job. So, I mean, I think that’s a really good thing. And the only thing that I would add to that person who it’s just a job, and that’s fine. If it’s just a job, it’s just a job. That’s okay. But you should still be centering blind people in that work. That’s what I would say. But it doesn’t mean that, you know, you’re an ally. You just do the work.
NEFERTITI: 100%.
THOMAS: Yeah. I don’t necessarily think everyone needs to be an ally if they don’t feel it, right?
NEFERTITI: No, of course not. I’d rather you not.
THOMAS: Exactly.
NEFERTITI: I’d rather you’re not because you’re probably gonna be really crappy at it.
THOMAS: Right, right.
NEFERTITI: You’re not about it. Okay.
THOMAS: You’re not about that life. [chuckles]
NEFERTITI: Right! And you have every right. That’s fine.
THOMAS: Yeah.
NEFERTITI: But again, then get out the way. Stop it. Stop being a fool. Stop being a hypocrite. We see you. We’re blind, but we see you!
THOMAS: Yeah, yeah.
CHERYL: [laughs]
NEFERTITI: Okay?! All right. [laughs]
CHERYL: I think for somebody who does wanna be an ally but is doing this, I think that from that list Thomas started with about listening, I think you gotta listen to yourself, too. Ask yourself, why is this so hard for me? Why do I want to be an audio describer, but I never want to do any alt text on social media or X, Y, Z? And not in a judgmental way. But really, I need to listen to myself. I need to ask myself what are the barriers? Why is this happening? And then, yeah, maybe your answer is, “Actually, I’m not gonna be an ally.” And I’m gonna stop there ‘cause Gary’s raised a hand.
GARY: This conversation is just so parallel to sign language interpreters in the Deaf community.
THOMAS: Mm.
GARY: And, you know, I’ve talked in the past with other audio describers about the certification process for AD and how that’s similar to the early days of sign language interpreters. And I think the development of the profession is fairly parallel and similar, but also the whole conversation around ally building, that are interpreters truly allies to the Deaf community, or are they just clocking in, performing a job? “Here’s my bill. See ya later.” And I think there could be some fascinating discussions between interpreters and audio describers and perhaps Deaf people and blind people—which may well be happening, because I’m probably not the originator of the thought—you know, just that how service providers are more than service providers. So, whether we’re providing interpreting or audio description, and being clear, at least in your own mind, how to evaluate yourself, you know, how to analyze: Am I truly being an advocate or an ally, and what does that mean? And how do I own it or not own it, but at least how do I be honest with myself? What are those clear expectations from the Deaf community, the blind community, so that I can be checked and checked myself?
THOMAS: Mm, yeah. Check yourself. [chuckles] Very important.
GARY: Yeah.
THOMAS: Yeah. I like the idea of that sorta conversation between the two communities because I did something like that on the podcast where, you know, it was around the idea that lots of blind folks refer to captions almost like the North Star, right? The Holy Grail. Like, “Oh, captions are ubiquitous, and captions are great. They’re everywhere. We need to have that. We need to be more like the Deaf community.” And I’m like, “Have y’all ever heard about the captions?” You know, because they’re not, there might be captions quote-unquote “everywhere.” And you know, that’s not true, but the quality of those captions aren’t always great. And so, that’s something that we need to know because we’re not just shooting for the quantity, we’re shooting for quality. So, you know, those discussions are really important, especially when you’re trying to, when you think one is a model that you should follow for your own access, right? So, I like that you brought that up, Gary.
GARY: Yeah, just to clarify, this is Gary Morin, here in Maryland.
THOMAS: Yes, sir.
GARY: Yep! We’ve just chatted. It was great turning on and hearing your voice tonight.
THOMAS: Very cool.
GARY: And for everyone else, I am an accessibility coordinator at the National Cancer Institute in Maryland, to introduce myself.
THOMAS: Thank you.
NEFERTITI: Excellent. Thank you so much.
GARY: Yeah. I love interacting with audio describers and learning more and more and just learning my way about it. So, I’m glad to be here.
THOMAS: Thank you, sir. Thank you for being here.
NEFERTITI: Glad to have you.
GARY: Thanks!
NEFERTITI: Cross-disability.
THOMAS: And thank you for being active in your learning. I think that’s really cool.
GARY: Yeah. Yeah.
NEFERTITI: 100%.
THOMAS: Very cool. Very cool. So, I wanted to ask another question. I think questions are good, right? Like, all of these conversations sort of start with a question. And I think allies and consumers, all of us, we need to be asking better questions of ourselves. Sort of like that example that I just gave, like sometimes we just repeat things, you know, without ever really, really thinking about it. Or things get just said, and they just get repeated, right? There’s phrases that people repeat all the time around audio description. It’s like, “Oh, you just saying that.” What does that mean, you know, when folks say, this is just something I came to recently in terms of, you know, we talk about we want the equal experience of sighted people when we go to a theater and while we watching visual content. That’s not gon happen. [laughs] It’s not gonna happen. I don’t even think the best audio description is going to be able to do that, right? So, why are we repeating that?
NEFERTITI: Yeah, no. As somebody who has repeated things in the past that I have since then thought better of or now have lived experience from which to speak from, I can say that no. Repeating just because a high-profile person has taken this approach or has made up this punch phrase or catch phrase, whatever the phrase is, it’s not okay. I think what is okay is to examine, to question, to really dig deep, like, is this really true to me? Is this really what I believe? Is this really what I experience as a blind person, especially, not for nothing, if it’s a sighted person saying these things? We are all about blind-centered here, yes? So, as a blind person in this community, what’s my fellow blind person saying, thinking, experiencing? And what about me? Is this true to my experience? How? And if it isn’t, should I really be repeating this, perpetuating this, bringing focus to this, and bringing more focus on this person or people or organization? Mm. Cheryl?
CHERYL: Yeah. Slightly different thing that popped into my head was a good ally move, if you’ve got a question, and you need to check a source or you need more education on something, I think a real good ally move is to speak to somebody and get the resources and get guided to the education you need without bugging the people in the community you’re trying to be an ally to, to educate you for free.
NEFERTITI: For free.
CHERYL: For free. I think there’s some steps to work through first, and that’s where you can speak to another ally or another comrade or co-conspirator to get directed. And then you are coming with more education and more self-reflection before you come into the community with deeper questions.
NEFERTITI: And it’s okay to humble yourself a little bit. It’s okay to admit what you don’t know or that you’ve made a mistake or that you’re afraid to make a mistake. Aren’t we all? Haven’t we all? But respect to those who do better, who try harder, try at all, right?
THOMAS: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. So, and, you know, it applies to all of us, the questioning: questioning of ourselves, questioning of others. You know, everything you just said goes back to those steps, those points for the steps to allyship, right?
NEFERTITI: Mmhmm.
THOMAS: Listen, get educated, get involved, show up, speak up, intervene, welcome discomfort. That’s a big one. [chuckles] Learn from your mistakes, stay engaged, and donate. So many of those were wrapped up in what you were just talking about, Cheryl, [laughs] in that example, even the donate. Because, you know, you’re asking someone for their time and for their education. You know, sometimes it might just be asking. That person might be like, “Nah, it’s cool,” you know? But just offering, that could be a, that could go a long way, too, so. And so, we’re gonna continue this conversation. And what I can guarantee you is that whatever avenue we’re talking about when it comes to audio description, can you guess who’s at the center? [laughs]
CHERYL: [imitates air horn]
NEFERTITI: I mean, I don’t know. Could it be blind people?!
THOMAS: Yeah! How’d you know?
NEFERTITI: I mean….
CHERYL: She was listening!
THOMAS: [laughs]
NEFERTITI: And I’m a genius! But no, I was listening.
THOMAS: She is a genius!
NEFERTITI: I live this every day. Blind and low vision people at the center. Always! Always.
THOMAS: All day. Every day. Yeah. Yeah. I hope folks will stay tuned. Nef, tell them what’s the best way of keeping in touch with BCAD Chats and learning more? And let’s say they had a suggestion. If anyone has a suggestion or something that you’re interested in, how could they let us know?
NEFERTITI: Absolutely! Well, we are on the socials, y’all: LinkedIn, X. That’s mostly where we are, right? We have an email address now. BlindCenteredAD@gmail.com. (Cut 01:21:49 – 01:21:57) BlindCenteredAD, I was just about to say, all one word @gmail.com. (Cut 01:22:17 – 01:22:30) Hit us up. You know, if you didn’t speak today, but you want to let us know your thoughts, we’re open. Any suggestions for future chats? We are here for it. Anything you wanna complain about, we will take that too. We are here for all of it. So, BlindCenteredAD@gmail.com. And if you’d like to follow me or just whatever, you’re big on the socials, look for me on LinkedIn: Nefertiti Matos Olivares. It’s a long name, y’all. N E F E R T I T I M A T O S O L I V A R E S, or the first three letters of each of those names: @NefMatOli on X.
THOMAS: Very cool. Very cool. Cheryl, you wanna give your?
CHERYL: Yeah, I’m just here. I just, I just, I don’t go anywhere. I’m just, I’m just right here.
THOMAS and CHERYL: [chuckle]
CHERYL: I just follow Thomas and Nef and share what they write. [laughs]
THOMAS: Yeah, I share what you write.
THOMAS and CHERYL: [laugh]
NEFERTITI: I do too. And since the three of us will be, you know, receiving and reading and the like, we will take turns responding. We will sign our first name, so you have an idea of who responded. And don’t be surprised, if it’s a thread, if you get feedback or responses, replies, whatever, from, you know, one or two or three of us.
CHERYL: We do have a lot of resources that we’ve collected over the years, too. So, if you’re curious about, you know, stuff that other people are talking about, other ways people are writing about it, I mean, we got all, we love to share this stuff, and we love to be in these conversations.
NEFERTITI: Absolutely. Like Thomas offered earlier to Scott Nixon. I mean, that’s what we’re about.
THOMAS: All right. Thanks, everybody.
NEFERTITI: Thanks, everybody. Thanks for being here live. Thanks for tuning into the replay. We will be announcing on our various socials when the next chat will be, what it will be on, what platform it’ll be on. And tell a friend, all right? Tell someone you care about. Sharing is caring.

THOMAS: Cool. Well, that concludes this week’s conversation. Why don’t y’all keep the conversation going on social media.
CHERYL: Use #ADFUBU, for us by us, #DescribeEverything, and #AudioDescription.
NEFERTITI: And hey, you know we’re out here, right? Mmhmm! Gathered and galvanized y’all. If you haven’t joined us yet, what are you waiting for?! You can find us in the LinkedIn Audio Description group and the AD Twitter community. We know that your participation will only make these spaces better.
Music fades out!

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Blind Centered Audio Description Chat: – Becoming Critical Part Two

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023

In this part two episode we present the second half of a two part conversation from April 5, 2023.
We speak with John Stark, a Blind film critic who reviews films both with and without AD, in order to highlight the need for audio description.
And now, let’s jump into this latest Blind Centered Audio Description Chat!

Join Us Live

The BCAD Live Chats can take place on a variety of platforms including Twitter and Linked In.

To stay up to date with the latest information and join us live follow:
* Nefertiti Matos Olivares
* Cheryl Green
* Thomas Reid

Listen

Transcript – Created By Cheryl Green

Show the transcript

Music begins
THOMAS: Welcome to the Blind-Centered Audio Description Chats. These are the edited recordings of the Blind-Centered Audio Description Live Chats!
CHERYL: The live is the most fun part! We get together, we start with a question, and then we invite up anybody from the audience who wants to come and chat with us, agree, disagree, shed light on something that we hadn’t thought about before, which is Nefertiti’s favorite. [electric whoosh]
NEFERTITI: I’m Nefertiti Matos Olivares, and I’m a bilingual professional voiceover artist who specializes in audio description narration! I’m also a fervent cultural access advocate and a community organizer.
CHERYL: I’m Cheryl Green, an access artist, audio describer and captioner.
THOMAS: And I’m Thomas Reid, host and producer Reid My Mind Radio, voice artist, audio description narrator, consultant, and advocate.
Hey, Nef, why don’t you tell people how they could join the live recording?
NEFERTITI: That’s really simple. Just follow us on social media to keep up with important details, such as dates, times, and what platform will be using. On Twitter, I’m @NefMatOli. Cheryl?
CHERYL: I’m @WhoAmIToStopIt.
THOMAS: I’m @TSRied, you know, R to the E I D.

EDITORS Note:
THOMAS: The following is the second half of a two part conversation from April 5, 2023.
We’re calling it, Becoming Critical. In part two, we speak with John Stark, a Blind film critic who reviews films both with and without AD, in order to highlight the need for audio description.
And now, let’s jump into this latest Blind Centered Audio Description Chat!

[smartphone selection beeps]
CHERYL: Recording now!

THOMAS: Tell me about your first experience with movies in general, not audio description, movies in general.
JOHN: I mean, I’ve been watching movies my entire life. I’ve always loved movies in sort of like an obsessive way. I remember as a little kid, I actually used to cut, back in the day when they used to put the ads in the papers and they had little posters of the movies, I used to actually cut those out. I was like five or six, and I collected them. [laughing] So, just like obsessed with movies! But I don’t know. I’ve always wanted to watch movies. I think Jurassic Park was kind of maybe the big turning point for me. I’ve never really wanted to make movies. I started reviewing as a critic. I used to live in a small town, and our small-town newspaper didn’t have a critic, so I actually convinced them to let me write for them in middle school. So, that was kind of cool. I got to write for a couple years until they ended up picking up a movie critic out of syndication and decided they didn’t want a, you know, 13-year-old writing reviews for them anymore. I guess they didn’t like the fact that I gave Power Rangers four stars.
But yeah, I used to be able to see, so I enjoyed a lot of films that way. And I eventually grew and started doing stuff online. And I’ve tried to bounce around on sites, trying to review wherever I can, eventually getting, you know, getting it all together to have my own site and post my own reviews and then my own YouTube channel. But I do have a degree in Cinema Studies; it’s what I went to school for. And then around 2017, I found out that I was losing my vision, and it went pretty fast. So, I kinda stopped for a little while ‘cause nobody told me right away about an audio description! And as soon as I found out about it, I dove like head first. And I was like, “Oh, what is this amazing thing?!”
THOMAS: How did you find out about it? How did you find out about AD?
JOHN: To be totally honest, when I went blind, when I started joining all these Facebook groups, at first, nobody was talking about it. I would try to talk about movies and television shows, like, “Hey, what do you guys watch?” And pretty much everybody was watching reruns, you know, of stuff that they were familiar with. But eventually one day, I don’t know, somebody just mentioned audio description. They were like, “Hey, do you know about this?” And I was like, “What?! Tell me how do I turn this on? Where is this amazing feature?!”
THOMAS: [chuckles]
JOHN: And I really, I mean, I knew it existed ‘cause I had worked in movie theaters, but I didn’t know that it existed in the, at least in the proliferation and like, how to turn it on and that it was on all these apps, and I could have it on my phone, and I could have it on my Roku. I just, I just didn’t know. And as soon as I did, I haven’t stopped.
THOMAS: So, what was your—
JOHN: I felt like I had to catch up on everything.
THOMAS: Yeah.
JOHN: So, I feel like I’ve just been watching non-stop.
THOMAS: Do you remember your first experience with AD?
JOHN: Oh. I don’t. I wanna say it might’ve been when, like, a new season of Stranger Things was coming out.
THOMAS: Oh, really?
JOHN: Probably like, around when Season Three of Stranger Things, I think, hit.
THOMAS: Ah!
JOHN: ‘Cause I think I went back ‘cause I didn’t get a chance to watch Season Two. And I remember I had to watch Season Two before Season Three. That’s about the time that I remember hearing about it.
THOMAS: Okay.
JOHN: Yeah, and that’s probably the best memory I have because Stranger Things is such a visual show that I was so happy to have that audio description and feel like I, you know, I knew this world, and I knew the crazy special effects and everything that were going on, and it was great. And, yeah, I just, I would get disappointed after that every time a film didn’t have audio description. And when new things came out, and I couldn’t understand them, I was like, “Why? How do I tell somebody that this is unacceptable? You know, why doesn’t this film have audio description?” So, I joined the community, this audio description community, and just started listening, paying attention and calling and arguing with streaming services to try to get audio description on titles and fighting with them. And I just wanted to sort of help those out there who don’t know about audio description to try to help other blind people find titles that work for them, to talk about titles that don’t have audio description. And is it sort of watchable if you have to watch it? Is it not watchable? Like, what level of it is it, and why is it that way? Why can’t we follow this?
THOMAS: With the audio description specifically, how long did it take you to sort of get your own determination of what is good audio description and what is bad audio description?
JOHN: A lot of different things for a lot of different companies. And ‘cause everybody kinda does things differently.
THOMAS: Mmhmm.
JOHN: And for me watching, you have to watch every genre, too, because it’s different for genres. I think there’s, there are different expectations with everything. I notice with a lot of TV sitcoms that really just kind of nobody stops talking, the audio description is very light. Whereas there are other programs where almost nobody’s talking, so the audio description narration fills in a lot. I mean, you get everything. You get costumes, you get hair, you get people’s facial reactions because there’s nothing there to, you know, to talk over, to accidentally. I understand you don’t trample the dialogue. It’s comparing them. It’s seeing who does it differently. It’s hearing conversations.
I remember when I started reviewing, I went pretty hard on how I felt about Chip N’ Dale Rescue Rangers and that audio description because I thought it was pointless. It didn’t do what it was supposed to do, which is bridge the gap for blind and visually impaired users because it didn’t include basically every single cameo that they had in the film. There’s YouTube videos going over like 300+ cameos in that film of other animated characters. And it was like the audio description went out of its way, even on characters where it did reference, it described what they looked like instead of saying what characters they were. So, you had to guess based on the description. And meanwhile, if I was able to see, I would’ve instantly recognized all these characters as all the sighted people did! So, come to find out that was actually Disney requested that. So, I don’t understand why Disney requested that. I don’t know why they wanted us to have half the experience, but that was definitely a moment for me where I was learning from the community as I was reviewing.
THOMAS: Mm.
JOHN: And I try to pay attention. I try to come to meetings like this and learn as much as I can so that that way, I know what it is I’m criticizing, like, what the parameters are, what’s possible for audio description, and so that I’m not demanding something that is impossible or cannot be done. And I think I’m doing that? But I don’t really know.
THOMAS: It takes a while for folks to get used to listening to films with audio description and get their own bearings on what is good and what is bad. Take us through your process in critiquing a film. How do you do that with the AD? ‘Cause you do with and without AD, is that correct?
JOHN: Yeah, I do with and without. ‘Cause I tried to call out a film. I actually had that really interesting experience where I worked with a producer—we can talk about that later—of an Oscar-nominated short where her film didn’t have AD, and she saw my review. And then we ended up getting the film AD.
THOMAS: Yeah.
JOHN: So, that was a cool experience for me. But in general, first of all, the question is, can I understand it?
THOMAS: Yeah.
JOHN: Did the audio description, was I lost? Could I not follow the film? Most of the time, the answer to that question is yes. Most of the time I am able to follow. It gets a little bit trickier the more you get into like, action, sci-fi, and horror, because there’s a lot of things happening. And I think especially with horror films I’ve seen, that’s probably where the audio description gets the most tricky because I’ve seen audio description that leans away from horror and gore and doesn’t describe it. Which sort of defeats the purpose of the genre.
THOMAS: [chuckles]
JOHN: But then again, I go back to the thing about contracts, and I don’t know whether or not the studio is saying, “Please don’t describe this.” So, and sometimes things are described sort of generically, and you don’t really get the scare of the scene. It’s really hard to be scared anyway. I mean, I used to be kind of a baby about horror movies. Now I find myself watching anything because it’s like, well, if I don’t, if I can’t see it, good luck scaring me. And so far, that’s proven to be largely true. I can be grossed out a little bit, definitely. But jump scares and everything have a completely [laughing] different effect when you can’t see the thing that’s lunging out at you on screen, and it’s just like sound or something. Just, I don’t know, for some reason it’s not as scary. But yeah, it’s stuff like that. Is it effective for the genre? Did I understand? Did a character die, and they forgot to tell me about it? [laughing] You know, did I miss something?
THOMAS: Hmm.
JOHN: Was somebody referred to as the wrong thing? When I get to review a film that I did see visually, and then now I’m watching it again as a blind person, that’s when it gets really interesting. ‘Cause then I’m like, okay, I actually got to see this, and now I’m blind. What’s my experience like now?
THOMAS: Yeah.
JOHN: Those are interesting comparisons for me because I do know what I’m missing. With audio description, I have to guess what I’m missing. And sometimes I don’t even know. Like recently with Tetris, there’s a scene that’s like an 8-bit car chase scene that just is kind of described as a regular car chase scene. But when I heard another critic describe it, it sounds like I totally did not get that scene described to me the way that at least they’re describing it in their review. So, that happens a lot. I don’t actually know what I’m missing, so it’s hard sometimes to grade it. And then I come back around. I’m like, I, you know, I don’t know. Did I miss something that I didn’t know that I missed?! So, it’s very tricky. And I hope to continue to get better at it and continue to pick up and just further the audio description discussion, so.
THOMAS: So, how do you do that on a film that doesn’t have AD?
JOHN: By pointing out why the film doesn’t work and why it’s unintelligible and why someone would need audio description. Sometimes it’s led to somebody pointing out to me that there is audio description available. It’s just nobody’s using it.
THOMAS: Mm.
JOHN: I know William Michael Redman reached out to me because I reviewed Crimes of the Future, which I rented when iTunes had it 99 cents on sale. And then later on, Hulu had, it still didn’t have audio description! So, I saw two different versions of it. And he’s like, “I recorded audio description for this. I don’t know why nobody’s using it!”
THOMAS: Yeah.
JOHN: But it’s a body horror film, and there’s almost no, there’s almost no dialogue in it. So, it’s pointless, and it’s impossible to watch. It’s a waste of time for blind people. But I did sit through the whole thing to let people know, like, “Yeah, I sat through this, and this is what you’re gonna get. You’re gonna get about three scenes of dialogue and just kind of some sound effects.” Skinamarink was an experience. I mean, that film by law should be required [laughs] to have audio— It’s impossible. It has almost no spoken words in the entire film. It’s all just sounds. So, it’s a very weird experience, and there’s no score. [laughing] It’s a very weird experience.
THOMAS: Oh, my gosh.
JOHN: And so, a lotta times I stopped. At first, I was using, I was using the lack of audio description in my grading, which I didn’t feel like actually represented the film. So, I just started grading those films as being unwatchable.
THOMAS: Yeah.
JOHN: Like, it doesn’t get a letter grade anymore. It just, I just say it’s unwatchable, and I move on.
THOMAS: Oh, I think that’s an F. That’s should be an F. [laughs]
JOHN: I mean, basically it equates to an F. But I also am acknowledging that this might be the best film ever made.
THOMAS: Yeah.
JOHN: I just have no idea because this film is not accessible to me.
THOMAS: Wow. And so, talk about describe watching a film like that with no AD. I’m like, “Dude, what are you doing?! [laughs] Why are you, why are you, why are you doing that to yourself? Why are you?” You know. So, why? Why are you doing that to yourself?
JOHN: To show people. I actually, on my YouTube channel, I filmed myself watching RRR, which Netflix had decided to offer only with English dubbing and no audio description.
THOMAS: Hmm.
JOHN: And so, I basically filmed myself watching it and then uploaded it, just talking about like, can I understand anything what’s going on? And I would talk about, like, as things are happening, I’m like, “This is what I think is happening. I’ve got no idea because there’s no audio description here. Oh, this song sounds really cool. I don’t know what they’re doing on screen, but…” you know, stuff like that. If somebody’s not doing it and pointing it out, then everybody will think that everything’s okay, that we’re just okay, that because nobody’s complaining, nobody’s saying anything. You know, these streaming services, they hire customer service agents to just kind of placate us and move along. I mean, I’ve complained to Paramount+ about some things. I complained about Showtime audio description on their service when it launched, and it still doesn’t have audio description for known, for titles that have audio description. And it’s owned by the same parent company.
THOMAS: Mmhmm.
JOHN: So, I’m trying to bring attention and focus in whatever way I possibly can. And if it’s me suffering through things to be able to point out like, “Yes, I tried it your way. Your way doesn’t work, you know. You have to do it this way. You have to get the audio description because I’m paying the same amount as everybody else for all my subscriptions. But I’m actually, like, a bunch of these titles are not accessible to me. They’re completely unintelligible without audio description.” So, I’m fighting complacency within the streaming service, so I will watch anything if I think it might stir the pot. But like I said, I don’t know. I don’t have a huge following. Everything nowadays is based on your social just footprint. And if I had a million followers, I feel like there would be audio description on Showtime! Because there would be a series of videos of me calling out Paramount+ until they actually did it, so.
THOMAS: Are you on Twitter?
JOHN: I am on Twitter. I’m MacTheMovieGuy, yeah. I don’t use Twitter as much as I do YouTube, but I have the ability to tweet. It’s, I feel like people are leaving Twitter, so I don’t really know what to do [laughing] with Twitter!
THOMAS: No, but the reason I ask about Twitter is because I think, like, I’ve personally had some really good experiences with HBO, Amazon, I think Paramount also, when you get at them, right there on Twitter, right in public. Because you could just @ them. You could, if I were you, I would be @-ing them every single video, you know. But even when you just have your customer request stuff, like, put it out there in the open for the world to see. It doesn’t mean that the world is going to see that, but it means that the world can see that.
JOHN: Oh, I’ve done that a couple of times.
THOMAS: Okay.
JOHN: I just don’t do it all the time. Because I, again, I don’t know how effective Twitter is anymore, and I was just worried. I just don’t know if anybody is—
THOMAS: Yeah, I don’t know either. But I would still put it out there.
JOHN: —listening on Twitter anymore.
THOMAS: I would still put it out there.
JOHN: Yeah, I will.
THOMAS: Yeah, yeah. Especially all your videos because, What’s interesting is that there are people doing the same work, right, but doing it differently, whether that be, you know, making those phone calls, whether that be advocating the governmental environment, you know, the whole CVAA, all of that type of thing. But to show your experience is pretty good. People write about their experiences, all of that. But yeah, that’s an interesting, it’s another level, and that’s fantastic. I like that.
How do you choose the movies that you decide to film yourself watching?
JOHN: Every once in a while, it’s just totally random, but I usually try to review new titles. I need to allow myself the grace to not review literally every new title because I, last year I reviewed, I reviewed 295 titles that were released in 2022.
THOMAS: Huh.
JOHN: And there were some titles I wasn’t even interested in, and they were poorly made, and there were these like, crappy things that are thrown together that had audio description, you know. [laughs] And so, I reviewed them. I was like, “Oh, well, you put audio description on this film with nobody in the cast I’ve ever heard of. I’ll watch your random freebie rom-com. Sure!”
THOMAS: [chuckles]
JOHN: So, and a lot of them ended up being predictably bad. So, I’m trying not to review these films that I don’t think anybody cares about.
THOMAS: Hmm.
JOHN: But yeah, I wanna review things as soon as they at least hit streaming and they’re accessible to everybody. I could go to theaters. As somebody who worked for four major movie theater chains when I could see, I know that they do not train those managers very well in actually figuring out how to fix AD. And the whole thing about paying for the Uber to go out there to find out the audio description doesn’t work. I just know too many times when I was working in movie theaters, our audio description wasn’t working, and I never knew any of the projectionists who knew anything to do other than turn it off and turn it back on, unplug it and plug back it in!
THOMAS: Yeah.
JOHN: So, it’s gotta be incredibly frustrating. I had no idea how frustrating it was until I’m now on the other side of it. But nobody ever trained us. So, I see people all the time posting how frustrating it is to go to theaters. And it’s like, I can’t. I just don’t have that kind of time and money in my life to spend that money to Uber out to a theater to find out that the movie doesn’t even have audio description, so I can’t even review it.
THOMAS: Again, that’s an example of, you know, yeah, choose your fight, right? Because that literally, I know for me, it took about three years for this one theater that my wife and I would constantly go to, to actually start to get it right. It took about three years. Now, we were always comped, [laughs] you know? But still, it took about three years. So, it’s, yeah, it’s crazy. Tell me about—
JOHN: You always get passes, yeah.
THOMAS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We had lots of passes.
JOHN: Yeah.
NEFERTITI: And may I just say, passes are great except that when you came back, I’m sure it still wasn’t fixed. So, what good, really, are those passes?
JOHN: Well, the theater’s not giving you passes for the Uber either.
NEFERTITI: Right. Right.
JOHN: So, if you’re having transportation issues, it doesn’t compensate you for that.
NEFERTITI: Or gas money, you know?
JOHN: Exactly. Whatever it is.
NEFERTITI: Yeah. I’ve never been a fan of like, “Oh, we got comp tickets!” What good are they, really, ultimately?
THOMAS: Well, it could be good. It could be good. For me, it was good. [chuckles] Family of four? Yeah, I was able to go with just my wife. We’ll get a, they’ll end up giving us four passes, and then we go to watch something with the kids, you know. But it was, it was also, part of that was—and I’m not saying this works for everybody—but it’s just like again, you choose your battles, but that takes them seeing you there in a relationship because we started to talk to the manager. And again, this is just one of those things where once they know you, once it’s not a, “Oh, there goes that, here comes somebody,” you know. But now they know you. You know what I mean? They start to make a change. I’m not saying that everybody needs to do that, but that is one way is to go. When you go in there, ask for a manager, introduce yourself to that person. Because they’re probably gonna be there the next time. And so, that’s who you should be talking to. You bypass the little, you know, the college, the high school kid who’s working behind the counter. Bypass that guy. [laughs]
NEFERTITI: You build the relationship. And that is something that I am a fan of.
THOMAS: Yes. Yes.
NEFERTITI: I do like relationship building, and like, look, put this, put this human being who this lack of access is affecting, like, this is a real-world example. This isn’t some abstract thing. So, I definitely like that part. Yeah.
THOMAS: I wanna hear about, John, your experience where calling out a film ended up doing something happened there. Tell us about that.
JOHN: Yeah. I reviewed, ‘cause definitely, when I’m saying I review things that I think people are interested in, I review, I try to review as many Oscar nominees as possible, and that included the shorts when they were available on streaming. So, when My Year of Dicks was available on Hulu, I reviewed it. It did not have audio description, predictably, because Hulu doesn’t, [chuckles] you know, Hulu be Hulu. And so, I had to do my review based on how I was able to understand it based on the lack of accessibility. And it wasn’t great. It wasn’t completely unintelligible ‘cause it has dialogue, but there was a lot in there that just didn’t make sense and didn’t come together.
And I actually had the writer of the film reach out to me on Instagram, and she immediately tried to fix it for me. They hadn’t even, they didn’t even really think about audio description or know what it was. And suddenly, I had educated them. And she actually sat down at her computer and tried to do what I would call homegrown audio description, just at a laptop, which kind of sounded a little bit like director’s commentary, [laughs] almost.
THOMAS: Yeah.
JOHN: But because she didn’t know the ins and outs of audio description. So, it was essentially what she gave me, which wasn’t even complete, it was just like the first 10 minutes of the thing, talked over dialogue. And so, I explained to her, I was like, “This isn’t really audio description. This is why. Plus, I can’t really use this because no one else can use this. This is just in a Dropbox you sent to me. So, it’s not, I mean, I appreciate it. You’re going out of your way to do this, but it’s not like I could rereview the film based on [laughs] homegrown audio description you put in a Dropbox.”
THOMAS: Yeah.
JOHN: And so, she was really interested in trying to fix the problem permanently. And I was posting about this at the same time in that Facebook audio description group. And I had a producer on there that reached out to me and said, “Hey, can you connect me with the person that you’ve been talking to from My Year of Dicks? We would like to provide the audio description for that film free of charge.” Which I’m assuming they were doing so because they were a company I hadn’t really heard of, and they figured, hey, it’s an Oscar-nominated short. Maybe more people will know who we are, and it’s great publicity for us, so—
THOMAS: Can you name the company? What company was it?
JOHN: Oh! Off the top of my head? No, I can’t.
THOMAS: Okay.
JOHN: And I would have to go look up the producer’s name because I did not remember. I haven’t talked to her since she provided audio description.
THOMAS: Okay.
JOHN: But it’s on Vimeo, and it was uploaded onto Vimeo. There’s a, it’s, you didn’t have to turn the audio description on. It’s just a static, it’s like open audio description is what they ended up creating and uploading for the film. And they managed to get that out a little bit before the Oscars. They sent it to me. I shared it with the group. I’ve tried to share it out with other people, and I did do a second-look YouTube review of the film with audio description where I did give it a higher grade the second time around because it had audio description. I predictably was missing some things that the audio description made more clear for me. So, it was, yeah, all in all, it was, it was great. And it was nice to hear something from a content creator that said, “Hey, we should, we need to fix this. You know, how do we fix this? How do we make our title accessible?”
For something as small as an Oscar-nominated short, because honestly, I mean, I know film and shorts do not, they have a half-life of about five seconds. Once the Oscars are passed, nobody looks these things up again. Nobody’s gonna go back and try to find the Oscar-nominated short from 2004 that didn’t win the Oscar. They’re used, often, for those directors to get feature gigs, to get hired by bigger companies, generally, is where those directors come from. I don’t know that anybody is, in a couple years, is even gonna look up My Year of Dicks, but hopefully, until there’s another Oscars and it gets moved out of the limelight, people will go over to Vimeo and watch the audio description track, so.
THOMAS: But do you think something came of that interaction with the writer? ‘Cause you said it was the writer. It wasn’t the director. It was the writer of the film, right? Correct?
JOHN: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.
THOMAS: Okay.
JOHN: I think it’s somebody who now is aware.
THOMAS: Mmhmm.
JOHN: And I think she made her team aware.
THOMAS: Mmhmm.
JOHN: I don’t think, I don’t think this was a conversation that she had, like, just by herself, you know, without anybody else. I think she likely contacted, I don’t know, like, the producer, director, whatever of the team and said, “Hey, I wanna, I wanna do this. I wanna get audio description on our film. Can we allow this to happen?” ‘Cause somebody had to okay it being uploaded to Vimeo, so it wasn’t, you know, there wasn’t a copyright claim. So, yeah, I think a couple more people are aware. And if more people can be aware, you know, I mean, that’s what I did with just, I have 118 subscribers on YouTube, and I did that. So, if I have, you know, 118,000 someday, I don’t know who’s gonna see my YouTube video and who I’ll be able to reach. So, start small, and I’m just gonna keep doing this until I make effective change, so.
THOMAS: Why is this so important to you?
JOHN: Because film is. Because it’s what it—
THOMAS: Why?
JOHN: Because it’s, it’s everything that I do. I mean, I have, I…. I have, [chuckles], I’ve, everything I’ve done has been around movies. I’ve reviewed movies online on various websites. Even when I was a kid, I reviewed movies for a newspaper. I have been watching movies. I had a huge, massive VHS collection. I even did like the illegal thing where I dubbed movies that I rented so that I could try to increase my VHS collection back in the day. I have a massive DVD collection. I used to even play some of the games. There’s a whole bunch of games for people who love movies. There’s like Hollywood Stock Exchange existed for a long time. I used to play a game called Hollywood The Game where you kind of wrote a screenplay and produced like a fake version of your movie and released it into the box office to see how it did, stuff like that. Box office challenges, the stuff to predict box office. I’ve talked to people who run other websites or their movie websites. I worked for Movie Gallery while they still existed, and people still rented movies, actually, in a store. I was a store manager for them in addition to the fact that I worked for four different movie theater chains where I was also a theater manager, so. Then I went to film school!
THOMAS: So, John, let me ask you—
JOHN: I haven’t done anything else!
THOMAS: So, let me ask you the question a little differently then. Why should anybody else care?
JOHN: What do you mean by anybody else? Like, anybody but me?
THOMAS: Anybody. Yeah, I mean, you telling me why—
JOHN: It’s like anybody care about me or anybody care about film or audio description? Anybody else care about film?
THOMAS: Why should anybody else care about audio description? You’re telling me, because of you and your background—and I respect that. I get that—but, you know, a lot of people would be like, “Okay, that’s you. That’s your problem.”
JOHN: The weird thing is that I think a lot of people don’t know about it. I’ve had personal interactions with people where since then, I’ve told them about audio description and turned it on, and it’s like their mind is blown. Actually, I work in a school, and I had a student that came in who was also visually impaired. And I was like, “Dude, do you watch movies with audio description?” He was like, “No, what is that?” And I explained it to him. And I had him, I turned it on, on one of my apps that I just had. Like, I pulled up Netflix, just pulled up a movie and just played it. And he was like, “Wow, that’s really cool that you can actually follow the action.” It was like an action thing that I pulled up to get the most effect out of the audio description.
THOMAS: Mmhmm.
JOHN: Yeah, you can actually hear it. And I think if people realize what it is that they’re getting, that they’ll use it to watch those films that they consider unwatchable and the TV shows that they consider unwatchable. Because I saw so many conversations from people who believe that action movies and horror movies and sci-fi movies are unwatchable and they just, like, they won’t watch them anymore. They only watch things or listen to things that they’ve seen. They won’t watch anything new. But it’s like they want to. If you go blind right now, and you’re halfway through the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you know, you wanna keep watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But there’s a lot of visual stuff that happens in that. So, if nobody tells you about audio description, then maybe you just stop watch-, you stop doing the thing that you love. And I think blind people give up enough things when they transition that this, if there’s something here that can help you do the thing that you were already enjoying, that can help you to continue to watch the TV show you were already watching, why not, you know?
THOMAS: Mmhmm.
JOHN: I think, I think it’s just a matter of introducing people to it and getting them, and normalizing it. If you normalize it, then I think people will accept it. I know people who use audio description who aren’t even blind. I had a guy tell me that he uses audio description when he goes jogging so he can catch up [chuckling] on his TV series! You know, like, instead of listening to music or audio books, he jogs to Abbott Elementary with audio description!
THOMAS: Mmhmm.
JOHN: It’s like, okay, you do you.
NEFERTITI: I love that. I love that. Yeah.
JOHN: Yeah. I had another friend tell me he uses audio description because he likes to multi-task, and so he doesn’t have to pay attention to his TV. He can turn on the audio description, and it runs in the background, and he doesn’t actually have to look at the TV. He can catch up on whatever while doing other things. So, it’s interesting that sighted people I know use it too, so.
NEFERTITI: Mmhmm.
THOMAS: That exchange you had with the student, that would’ve been a fantastic video. That would be a really good video.
JOHN: I gotta ask the student if that’s okay.
THOMAS: No, yeah. I know. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But if that’s something you could, if you could show somebody else, another kid, a young person like that, an older person, somebody who hasn’t been exposed to it, capturing that, that could be pretty interesting. Not to say that what you’re doing is not because it is. I’m just saying I would just add that. But something to think about.
NEFERTITI: I think so, too. Yeah.
JOHN: I would say I almost had that opportunity in a weird way. And I have to very, I have to tread very lightly on this because I signed an NDA, but I think if I never say the company, I think I’ll be fine on this. But I would say that somebody caught me and offered me a contract to do just what you’re talking about. But I think it fell through. I was contacted to do essentially instructional videos because they saw me doing what I was doing, and they realized I was blind, and they wanted me to show how to use their product for other blind people. They thought a blind person doing the blind thing would be. Unfortunately, I think that ended up not happening. Which is unfortunate because I would’ve loved to do that. But I came really close to doing exactly what you’re saying, basically, and teaching people how to turn this stuff on and use it, so.
NEFERTITI: Yeah, I think examples like that are really impactful when other people come across like, wow, that person seemed really effected, you know, in a positive way. I think that can be hugely influential for those out there watching. But John, what would you say to people who, and I’ve heard from a number of folks interested in this conversation tonight because they’re interested in getting into this. So, my question is, I guess, a two-parter. One, do you think that there could be impact if the number of critics, blind critics specifically, critiquing audio description in particular, would that be helpful for raising awareness? Is that something you would like to see? And then how could they get started? What would you recommend? How do you recommend they begin?
JOHN: I would say absolutely. Actually, I’ve had this conversation with Alex Howard, who’s, he’s in that group. He’s doing The Dark Room podcast.
NEFERTITI: Mmhmm.
JOHN: And we talked about trying to figure out, we’re trying to figure out a way how to start essentially what is the equivalent of a critics guild, but a critics guild for either, you know, some kind of like disabled critics guild or blind and visually impaired, like, or maybe d/Deaf and blind, some kind of combination, so that that way it brings attention to all of that, so that we can all connect and be stronger together and show people how many of us there are. I think they think we’re some sort of weird minority, you know, like, I don’t know, albinoism or something. Just like, “Oh, I’ve never met anybody who’s like that before!” So, they, we need to provide this service.
NEFERTITI: Mmhmm.
JOHN: Like it’s just some weird unicorn thing, like, “Oh, there’s a blind person that watches TV?!”
NEFERTITI: [laughs] Yeah.
JOHN: I guess. I don’t know. So, yeah. I mean, if we’re all out there talking about it and posting about it and getting on the socials and, you know, if you wanna, if you wanna do a YouTube, do YouTube. If you wanna do a TikTok, do a TikTok. If you wanna do Instagrams, do Instagrams. There’s a website called Letterbox. You can post stuff there. I don’t do Letterbox because there’s only just so many social media [laughing] things I can possibly handle!
NEFERTITI: [laughs]
JOHN: But yeah, there are plenty of places to post and share your reviews and your content, and you just have to start somewhere. Start maybe with a film that you like. Don’t put yourself with the challenge of reviewing something you’ve never seen before. Pick something that you like, that you know you like, that has audio description, and convince people why you like that thing. And then start about, and then start there and explain why the audio description matters to you with that film, why it’s helped you. And then just grow from there and just keep it going and keep talking. And don’t let anybody tell you to stop talking. Because the more noise we make, the louder we are, the more audio description we’ll get, so.
NEFERTITI: [applauds] Yes. Yes. I’m clapping. I love this answer. As someone who is part of a collective, right, of professionals, we’re all professionals in our own right, and we come together and we’re doing and making audio description, creating audio description and spreading the word about it, and, you know, just maintaining this quality of excellence, commitment to the audio description we create. I’m a big believer in people coming together, and like you said, you know, collect our voices. The louder we are, the more we’ll be heard, the further the message. So, if people would like to get in touch with you, how can they do that? If they want to explore this idea with you and join, you know, whatever ends up coming of your collaboration with others?
JOHN: Oh. Well, like I said, I’m on Instagram. It’s @MacTheMovieGuy. I’m on Twitter @MacTheMovieGuy. I am on Facebook as John Stark. If you send me a request, and you let me know why, like, send me a message also on Messenger and say, “Hey, I’m in the audio description community,” then I’ll know you’re not like a weird spambot.
NEFERTITI: Mmhmm, mmhmm.
JOHN: So, don’t just send me a weird friend request out of nowhere! But I’ll accept it if it’s for audio description. And I mean, I’m on YouTube. YouTube.com/MacTheMovieGuy. My website is MacTheMovieGuy.com. Any one of those ways, just reach out if you wanna talk about audio description in movies or anything.
NEFERTITI: Excellent. So, you have a number, a number of ways of getting in touch with John so that you can add your voice to what I personally think, and I think we all agree, is a pretty critical thing that you’re doing.
JOHN: I think I’m here because right now, I’m a unicorn, and I, as awesome as it would be to continue to be recognized for what it is that I’m doing, I would much, you know, I would also be okay with being a horse. You know what I’m saying? Something that you see a lot more common.
NEFERTITI: Mmhmm.
JOHN: So, if there were more blind film critics that were talking about audio description, I don’t mind that. It’s there are a lot of people out there on the Internet talking about movies, and there need to be more of us that are blind and that are talking about the accessibility. So, I know why I’m here. It’s because I’m a unicorn! And if I’m not, then that’s fine too. So, it means that more, that I started a fire and it caught on, so.
NEFERTITI: Absolutely. Yeah. Cheryl?
CHERYL: Well, I want to give Unicorn John Stark such huge thanks. We’re so appreciative. So, everybody, Mac the Movie Guy. 732 videos on your YouTube!
NEFERTITI: Wow.
CHERYL: If somebody wants to see how it is that you critique a film, and it’s not just like, “I liked this.” It is so detailed. You go into so much about character, acting, directing, plot, audio description. That’s the place to go on YouTube to watch 732 reviews.
JOHN: They’re not all reviews. Some of them are talking about the Oscars. I did try to bring people in with Oscar talk, so.
CHERYL: Excellent.
JOHN: Most of them are reviews, though.
NEFERTITI: So, about that, what did you think about the Oscars audio description?
THOMAS: [chuckles]
JOHN: I liked the Oscar Audio Description. I feel like there was something weird about the red carpet, but I can’t remember what it was. But the actual show was great. And I know [laughs] you did it. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, the Oscars was, the show was great. I can’t remember what it was about the audio description for the red carpet though.
NEFERTITI: Maybe that there was hardly any because it was just talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. So, maybe like?
JOHN: That might’ve been it. I don’t know. You know, I don’t care about red carpet! I just was on it because I didn’t have anything else to do. So, it doesn’t really stick out in my memory. All I remember was was Hugh Grant just had that weird walk-off moment. But that’s it. Yeah. If you’d asked me a couple weeks ago, I might’ve remembered. I don’t know.
NEFERTITI: Well, you know what? You don’t have to remember because we can all go to MackTheMovieGuy.com and check out your review there.
JOHN: [laughs] Yeah.
NEFERTITI: So, do that, people. And, you know, full disclosure, I was one of the people narrating that, so that was a shameless question on my part. But thank you.
JOHN: Yeah, I knew. That’s why I said ‘cause I knew you did it.
NEFERTITI: [laughs] Yes! I appreciate that we got a good review from you. That means a lot.
JOHN: Yeah.
THOMAS: Cool. Cool. Well, thank you, John. This was good.
JOHN: Thanks, guys. Thank you so much for having me.
NEFERTITI: This was fantastic. Yeah.
JOHN: Yeah. If you don’t wanna set up your own thing, just throw me some follows or something and likes or something. Increasing my social media presence will end up increasing my voice in the long run.
NEFERTITI: Absolutely. Not everybody has to be advocate. Not everybody has to be a critic. But I do think it’s important that we support each other and we promote one another, right? Uplift. So, yeah.
JOHN: Absolutely.
NEFERTITI: Follow John everywhere. I certainly will. I’m really happy to get to know you a little better during this event. So, everybody, thank you for listening, whether live or on the replay through the Reid My Mind Radio podcast. We really appreciate you being here. And yeah, how do we close? I don’t even remember anymore. I’m so enthused by this conversation.
THOMAS: So am I. [laughs]
NEFERTITI: All right! See ya!
THOMAS: Peace, y’all.
NEFERTITI: Except not really, ‘cause I’m blind.
THOMAS: [chuckles]
NEFERTITI: Peace.

Music begins…
THOMAS: Cool. Well, that concludes this week’s conversation. Why don’t y’all keep the conversation going on social media.
CHERYL: Use #ADFUBU, for us by us, #DescribeEverything, and #AudioDescription.
NEFERTITI: And hey, you know we’re out here, right? Mmhmm! Gathered and galvanized y’all. If you haven’t joined us yet, what are you waiting for?! You can find us in the LinkedIn Audio Description group and the AD Twitter community. We know that your participation will only make these spaces better.
Music fades out!

Hide the transcript

Blind Centered Audio Description Chat: Becoming Critical

Wednesday, April 19th, 2023

Who should determine what qualifies as good or bad audio description?

What’s trust got to do with AD?

These questions and more. All from a Blind centered point of view in this part one of two.

Join Us Live

The BCAD Live Chats can take place on a variety of platforms including Twitter and Linked In.

To stay up to date with the latest information and join us live follow:
* Nefertiti Matos Olivares
* [Cheryl Green]*(https://twitter.com/whoamitostopit)
* Thomas Reid](https://twitter.com/tsreid)

Listen

Transcript – Created By Cheryl Green

Show the transcript


Music begins
THOMAS: Welcome to the Blind-Centered Audio Description Chats. These are the edited recordings of the Blind-Centered Audio Description Live Chats!
CHERYL: The live is the most fun part! We get together, we start with a question, and then we invite up anybody from the audience who wants to come and chat with us, agree, disagree, shed light on something that we hadn’t thought about before, which is Nefertiti’s favorite. [electric whoosh]
NEFERTITI: I’m Nefertiti Matos Olivares, and I’m a bilingual professional voiceover artist who specializes in audio description narration! I’m also a fervent cultural access advocate and a community organizer.
CHERYL: I’m Cheryl Green, an access artist, audio describer and captioner.
THOMAS: And I’m Thomas Reid, host and producer Reid My Mind Radio, voice artist, audio description narrator, consultant, and advocate.
SCOTT B: Hi, I’m Scott Blanks. I’m a passionate advocate for the highest quality audio description in all of the arts. I’m the co-founder of the LinkedIn Audio Description Group and the Twitter AD community.
SCOTT N: Scott Nixon here. I’m an audio description consumer and advocate, hoping to be an audio description narrator very, very soon. [electronic whoosh]
THOMAS: Hey, Nef, why don’t you tell people how they could join the live recording?
NEFERTITI: That’s really simple. Just follow us on social media to keep up with important details, such as dates, times, and what platform will be using. On Twitter, I’m @NefMatOli. Cheryl?
CHERYL: I’m @WhoAmIToStopIt.
THOMAS: I’m @TSRied, you know, R to the E I D.
NEFERTITI: How about you, Scott?
SCOTT B: I’m @BlindConfucius. That’s Blind Confucius.
SCOTT N: And you can catch me on my social media, Twitter only. That’s @MisterBrokenEyes, Capital M r Capital Broken Capital E y e s.
[smartphone selection beeps]
CHERYL: Recording now!

Editors Insert
THOMAS: Greetings! Before we jump into this edited version of our live Blind Centered Audio Description Chat from April 5, 2023,
we wanted to let you know that we’re editing this discussion into two episodes.
The next episode will feature a Blind film critic who reviews films both with and without AD, in order to highlight the need for audio description.
Here’s Cheryl kicking off our discussion!
CHERYL: We were inspired to talk about what does it mean to critique or even analyze or assess or publicly or privately give your opinion about a film and about the audio description, because there seemed to be some feelings of barriers about who’s allowed to share their opinion, especially if they say, “I didn’t like something.” Who’s gatekeeping that? And who’s doing the gaslighting when someone does present their opinion, and someone else says, “No, that’s clearly wrong.” So, those were some of the things that came up. And I know Thomas, you wanted to talk about some of the ways that you do critique or comment on films.
THOMAS: Yeah. And so, even before that, I kinda wanted to go back in. ‘Cause something I’ve been thinking about is based on this conversation that we have several times, not necessarily here, but folks, we have these conversations in many different formats. And so, it’s like, you know, we often want to hear from other people, right? Other blind folks, other folks with low vision, other AD users specifically now, and sometimes we don’t really hear back. And I started thinking about that. Like, why is that? Why aren’t we hearing back from the community as much as we may like to? You know, that could be on the, for the purposes of advocacy. And by advocacy, I’m talking about all aspects of that: reaching out to AD producers, reaching out to the streaming companies, broadcasters. Even back when we were trying to get the CVAA passed, you know, reaching out to your representatives, all of that stuff. And we always wanna hear from people.
And so, specifically now, thinking about the process of talking about AD from the user experience, why don’t we hear back from them? And I think there’s a lot of things that we have to remember. Number one, AD, even today in 2023, is relatively new within the last maybe five years, maybe even a little bit more than that, maybe less than that. But five years, I think, is probably the most amount of consumption of AD that we’ve had in probably in our history. So, whether that be five years, ten years, it’s probably definitely within that last year since the CVAA has been passed. And so, in that sense, watching films with audio description is a new experience.
And I know me personally, when I started watching films with audio description, I was excited about every single film that came out because I had access. So, it wasn’t so much that I was watching this movie to critique the audio description. At that point, to be honest with you, there was many films, there were many films that I was watching that I wasn’t even critiquing the film. I was just freakin’ happy to be able to watch this film and enjoy it. And I think that is probably the same for a lot of people. Anytime someone would ask me about a film, I would always say, “Hey, look. I’m gonna tell you that I’m gonna rate this film high already because I had access.” Like, I was already giving one thumb up. [laughs] You know what I’m saying? I was already giving one thumb up just because it had audio description. And I feel like there’s probably a lot of people like that, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I really don’t.
I think it’s gonna take some time for the community to become more critical about audio description, and I think it’s gonna take more time for the community to become more critical about all aspects of that, right? So, the writing, we always talk about the writing. And we know some of it is better than others. But then also the film itself, right? Being more critical about what you’re watching. Because, you know, we have to do both. We’re watching the film, and audio description is that filter. So, we’re processing all of that at one time. And that in itself, you know, can be a lot of work, and not everybody comes to audio description to do that work. Most people wanna watch television and films and whatnot as their form of entertainment, you know, just to chill. And so, we might be expecting more from the casual AD user than we should, right? ‘Cause most of us who talk about AD who are really caring about it, most of us who show up here, who, you know, who advocate for it, we’re not the regular AD user. And so, I just wanna, me personally, be mindful of that because I don’t wanna see a situation where we’re sort of blaming and putting all this extra stuff on the community, like we go, “Aw, you gotta get out there, and you have to!” And it’s true. We do. We do need to do that. But when we talk about, “You gotta get out there, and you gotta voice your opinion on the audio description,” well, you know, that’s public speaking. Whether it be in writing, whether it be on a forum like this, that’s public speaking. And we already know that’s something that’s scary to a lot of people.
And then you add on to that it’s being critical. And we know this is a subjective thing, whether it be the audio description, whether it be the film. These are people’s opinions. And you know how we get. Just think if you’re one of those people who argue about sports and stuff like that, it’s just anytime that it differs, you can get into an argument, you know. Someone could come and say, “I really enjoyed this audio description. I liked the narrator. I thought it was great. They did a great job.” And then you get someone coming out and telling them, “Well, I don’t know what you’re listening to. That sucked! And let me tell you why it sucked.” Damn. That’s kind of, ugh, you know? [laughs] Who wants to give their opinion after that? Who wants to get into that fight? So, these are things we have to think about. And, you know, eventually, I think we’re gonna see a lot more of us being critical about AD and about films, but I think it’s gonna take some time. So, I wanna throw that out there for some food for thought. I don’t know. Maybe that’s a…. I don’t know if it’s a steak. Maybe it’s a little Chicken McNugget. I don’t know what kinda food that is.
NEFERTITI: [laughs]
THOMAS: Maybe it’s just a snack. I don’t know. Whatever. But if anybody wants to talk about that, Cheryl, Nefertiti, if y’all still there. Maybe I lost connection, and I’m talking to myself. [laughs]
NEFERTITI: Oh, no, we’re here. We’re here.
THOMAS: So, what do you think?
NEFERTITI: I guess I’ll chomp down on the snack a little bit.
THOMAS: Yeah, chomp.
NEFERTITI: I’ll just quickly say, you’re absolutely right that there is more than a handful, I think, of us, but definitely a certain number of us who are very vocal and who do stick our necks out there. I’m one of these people who critiqued something recently, rightly so. These were verifiable mistakes and things that were happening. And, you know, I was accused of not uplifting other talent and all this stuff. And that’s not, was not at all my intention. But when you play favorites, right, and you have your favorites—we all do. I certainly do—and somebody points out a flaw or something like that, there are some people who might take offense to that and let their opinion, out there. So, what do they say? “Opinions are like mmhmms. Everybody’s got one?”
THOMAS: [chuckles]
NEFERTITI: Accusing me of not uplifting other talent? That’s just, that was… That was incorrect. And I don’t think anybody else saw what I said like that, but that person did. So, does that mean that that person is incorrect? Yeah, I and others think so, but it’s still their opinion. So, Thomas, when you say, you know, somebody was like, “Oh, I think this is great,” and somebody came back like, “I don’t know what you were listening to. It sucked,” I think both opinions are valid.
THOMAS: Mmhmm.
NEFERTITI: You know? But just it doesn’t have to get personal. It doesn’t. You know, if the person that just said, “Oh, that’s interesting ‘cause I’ve listened to the same thing, and I thought it was terrible for this and that reason,” then that would’ve been perfectly fine.
THOMAS: Yeah.
NEFERTITI: I think it gets murky and nasty when you make it personal. Like, “I don’t know what you were listening to!” You know, like, there’s no need for that. So, maybe a little decorum, a little bit of manners could go a long way. But I think everybody’s opinion is valid.
THOMAS: Absolutely.
NEFERTITI: And I think it’s super important that for those of us who are advocating and who are not afraid to say possibly controversial stuff, one, we have to have thick skin, right? And two, not everybody’s going to always agree with us. Feelings might get hurt, you know, for sensitive types out there. You have to expect with anything that when you put yourself out there, there might be a little blowback from people who don’t necessarily agree with you. And that’s okay. I think a lot of good discourse can come from that. Different perspectives can come from that. I always say that I love to hear from people who don’t agree with us.
THOMAS: Mmhmm, mmhmm.
NEFERTITI: ‘Cause it might teach us something. It might give us something to think about.
THOMAS: Yeah. That’s your favorite. [laughs]
NEFERTITI: It is. That is my favorite thing. I agree with you. Some people just wanna watch a film and lose their mind in that film and then forget about it. Not everybody’s an advocate. Not everybody is outspoken. But I do think that we do need more people to be comfortable with being critical, not just this, “I’m grateful that it exists at all! So, let me not say anything bad about it, because what if they take it away?!” No, I strongly disagree with that.
THOMAS: Mmhmm, mmhmm.
NEFERTITI: I think audio description is here. It’s not going anywhere. It’s here. And I think the more en masse we present, the more unified we present as a community, the more seriously we’ll be taken and the further we will move the needle. I’m not afraid of it going away or, like, having repercussions that because we speak up so much, you know, it’s gonna be— I don’t believe that’s true. I don’t believe that will happen.
THOMAS: Yeah. Yeah. No, absolutely. I 100% agree with you. For my own, and for a lot of other people I’m sure, when I say I was just happy to have access, I was not coming from the perspective of, okay, I’m gonna give this thumbs up or whatever, because I’m scared it’s gonna get taken away. No, not at all. It’s just about, you know, you have to remember that for grown folks, you know, and even some of the younger folks, this is, these last few years are almost like this sort of Renaissance in terms of what they have access to, in terms of film.
NEFERTITI: Yes!
THOMAS: And to expect folks to be able to just be really critical, we might be expecting too much. And I think what you said about the venue in terms of where they voice it, you know, if you’re doing that in social media, if you’re doing that in a closed, which I’ve noticed, too, is that in a closed sort of forum like a Facebook audio descriptions list or something like that, right, or an email list, there’s probably gonna be more of that taking place because it’s a somewhat controlled environment. There are rules around there, right? We invite people to come in here, and when they step in here, we’re not gonna take any nonsense. We’re gonna keep everybody, “Hey, no. We wanna hear from you if you have a difference of opinion. We’re gonna respect that.” So, this is a controlled environment.
NEFERTITI: Mmhmm.
THOMAS: But if you’re thinking about— ‘Cause I often wonder, like, I don’t see as much on an open forum like Twitter, where I think it is important to have it because that’s when other folks are gonna see it.
NEFERTITI: Yes.
THOMAS: But I’m realizing that might not be a safe space for people. People don’t feel that that’s a safe space. I gotta understand that and remember that. Yeah, that’s true. That might be true for people. So, but I still think it’s important for folks like you, whomever else, you know, say what you gotta say. But yes, be respectful. But, you know, you can’t control it. And like you said, if you put it out there, just expect that something’s gonna come back. Something’s gonna come back. There’s all the other -isms that come into play where people think they can just say something to somebody, and they wouldn’t say that to someone else.
NEFERTITI: Mmhmm!
THOMAS: And so, unfortunately, you might get more. You might get more than I would get because I think people might check themselves.
NEFERTITI: Oh, yeah. As a brown, blind woman.
THOMAS: That’s a good thing to do. That’s a good thing to do, by the way. Check yourself if you’re gonna come to me. I’m just letting you know.
NEFERTITI: [huge laugh]
THOMAS: I’m just letting you know!
NEFERTITI: Check yourself before you wreck yourself, okay?
THOMAS: Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
NEFERTITI: [chuckles] Yeah, no. It’s absolutely true. Like, as an outspoken brown, blind woman, you know, like, yeah, some people just, some people attack just because, you know?
THOMAS: Yeah.
NEFERTITI: Just because. So, I do expect it, and I’m thick-skinned. Some things do get under my skin, but guess what? You’ll never see it. I won’t show it to you. I might talk to Thomas. I might talk to Cheryl. I might talk to my partner. I might scream into my pillow.
THOMAS: [chuckles]
NEFERTITI: But that’s not like the kind of thing to give these sorts of people the ammunition to keep on, you know, attacking you. But also, because if you’re sure of what you’re saying and you stand behind it, I think that’s very brave of people to do.
THOMAS: Mmhmm.
NEFERTITI: And I think it’s really important that we just don’t accept the status quo. If there’s a show that you really like that clearly did not go through QC, what’s wrong with saying, “Hey, this is not okay. This is why blind QC is so important.” And QC for that matter, for some of the quality that’s being put out there these days. Any QC would be an improvement over this. Some people would take a lot of offense to that, right? You know, I think it’s important that we let these things be known, that it’s being noticed, that there is a community out here watching this content and paying attention. And if you’re not doing something right, you’re not doing, you know, putting in the care that it deserves, then if you get shamed, I think that’s okay. Maybe it’ll motivate them to do better next time, you know? We deserve that. At the very least, we deserve to have care in the access that we, you know, literally paid for, right? A lot of these streaming services, we’re paying for this stuff just to get a crappy…. I’m sorry I get so speechless with this stuff because it’s so infuriating to me.
THOMAS: What’s your experience with film before AD? Did you get personal audio description at home? What was your? I never asked you that. If you wanna share here.
NEFERTITI: Yeah, absolutely. You know, it’s interesting because these days when I watch something that I’m really into…. In fact, let me give you a real-world experience or, yeah, an example. So, my partner and I really like Family Guy.
THOMAS: [chuckles]
NEFERTITI: And we’ve been going through the seasons. There’s like 20-some-odd seasons. Season Nine is not described anywhere that we could find, and we tried. We tried recently to watch an episode from that season, and we had no idea what was going on! There was so much music with very little sound effects, very little dialogue that we were like, “Well, if this is the first episode of this 20-odd-episode season, you know, we’re just gonna have to go without because there’s no way that we can follow along.” And it got me to thinking, how were we watching stuff before audio description? And so, he and I had this whole conversation about we really don’t know how we got on without audio description before audio description! I think we just made do. I love the show The Golden Girls. Absolutely love that show. I started watching that show when I was nine years old, and it was only recently that it got some description. I’m realizing, based on the description, that so many of the scenes I thought I knew what was going on, I was completely wrong!
THOMAS: Mm.
NEFERTITI: My brain filled things in, and I was wrong so much of the time. But how do I know that? Because I now have description. I spent years thinking the wrong things were happening in the show. They made sense in my brain.
THOMAS: Yeah.
NEFERTITI: But it’s not what actually was happening.
THOMAS: How do you know that what you’re being described, what’s being described is correct?
NEFERTITI: Honestly?
THOMAS: Yeah.
NEFERTITI: You don’t. You have to trust and have faith—
THOMAS: Aha! [laughs]
NEFERTITI: —that you’re being told, giving, being given accurate information.
THOMAS: Uh-huh.
NEFERTITI: For example, let’s say in a scene, right, I thought one of the characters was, I don’t know, stirring some pasta in a pot. Turns out that actually, she was, like, I don’t know, serving a dish at the table, right? So, not a huge difference. It was still in a kitchen. It was still an action of some kind, but it was different. So, from my making up oh, she must be stirring the pasta in the pot ‘cause they’re talking about food to the describer not telling me, you know, “She stands at the table and serves from a platter,” I have to trust that that’s true ‘cause I’m assuming that nobody’s gonna lie about something visual simply because they’re saying it presumably to a person who can’t see it for themselves. But, yeah, the truth is that I don’t know.
THOMAS: That’s right. You don’t know. And you just said it, and I’m so glad you said it: trust and faith. Because that’s exactly what it is. Now, factor in when we ask folks to give us their opinion, and you’re nervous that someone else might tell you the opposite or disagree with you. And then sometimes, you know, it comes down to, well, damn, how do I know? Even your opinion is based on this audio description, is based on trust and faith. And then when you’re arguing with somebody or even when you’re just discussing something, maybe this, has this ever happened to you? You might be discussing a film or television show with someone who’s sighted, and then your interpretation of what happened was off?
NEFERTITI: Yes. Yes.
THOMAS: So, why in the world would you want to talk about films or anything in public again? So, you see the fact that we have to do that, and we’re using our trust and faith, right? And we already have all of these other things sort of, you know, again, with the idea that you’re somewhat new to film in a way, for a lot of people.
NEFERTITI: Mmhmm.
THOMAS: I don’t necessarily consider myself new to film. I was watching before I lost my sight, but I watch differently now.
NEFERTITI: Right.
THOMAS: And so, sometimes, I’m, I still might be really hesitant, or I’ll do, before I talk about it, I confirm. I might confirm things with other people. “Hey, is this correct? Is this what you see? Is it?” You know what I’m saying? I might do some of that to make sure to have things right. But yeah, that’s another part of it. Trust and faith is the way we experience content.
NEFERTITI: Uh-huh.
CHERYL: And Thomas, I think there’s also a trust issue—I’m gonna come from the sighted audio describer perspective—I think there’s a trust issue, too, where there are some audio describers who inherently don’t trust the opinion of the blind consumer.
NEFERTITI: Mm!
CHERYL: I’m not sure why or where that comes from. It could be, you know, “I don’t trust anybody unless they’ve gone to this institution and are credentialed or certified.” I don’t know what it is, but I have, it’s not universal, but I’ve noticed some people have a bias toward, “Well, I’m trained, so my opinion of what was good or bad audio description is more valid and better informed and more useful than opinions of the AD consumer.” And I think that’s a real problem. And I think that on the non-blind side, we need to check that bias, notice that bias, and do something about it, and really say if the end user is the person whose opinion matters most, then that’s who we should always be asking. So, you’ve talked about some barriers people may face to wanting to give a critique, and I think this is another one that’s real important. Not that somebody’s gonna take your audio description away, but that you’ll be discredited or ignored or talked about behind your back about, well, you know, “What does Thomas know? He’s blind! He doesn’t know what good audio description is.” And that is a bias that I think for any sighted people here listening to this or listening to the recording, stop and ask yourself if you might have that. Because you won’t know until you stop and ask yourself. And it’s something that I think really needs to be addressed in the community of people who provide audio description.
THOMAS: Mm. Absolutely.
NEFERTITI: 100%.
THOMAS: Absolutely. And [big sigh] if that person, right, so, if a user of AD has a good experience, they walk away from that film, that television show thinking, “Wow, I enjoyed that.” And then they hear someone telling them, “No, that was bad! You shouldn’t have enjoyed that,” that really is…that’s awful. [laughs] That’s awful. And it kind of goes against…. [sighs] Like, I’m all for better AD, that it meets certain criteria. But I also know that this stuff is subjective, right? And so, I’m not talking about the AD that breaks the quote-unquote “rules.” Like, the AD that’s telling you that the phone is ringing when you hear the phone ringing. I’m not necessarily talking about that. But it feels like, you know, the name of what we do here is Blind-Centered Audio Description Chats. And that scenario that you gave, Cheryl, is totally not centering a blind person, right? It’s centering the person who’s providing the service. [laughs]
NEFERTITI: Mm, mmhmm.
THOMAS: And I say that on purpose. The person who’s providing the service. The service provider. Mm! The person with the certification. Yeah, that’s interesting.
NEFERTITI: Well, I’m one of these people. And here we go with a controversial opinion. Just ‘cause you may have a letter or three or ten behind your name doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily the smartest or the most, mm, appropriate person in the room to speak on whatever. I understand that those, we put so much stock in, you know, yeah, certification. And, you know, those things are supposed to say, “Hey, yeah, this is what qualifies me to be here and say these things.” Just like at the top of our gatherings here, we say, “Hey, I’m Nefertiti Matos. I do this, then the third. I’m Thomas Reid. I’m Cheryl Green.” And you know, to let you know, hey, we’re here. We do this. Hopefully we know what we’re talking about, and yet we don’t have letters behind our names. And I think we’re some of the smartest people, most with it people out here. And yes, that is an opinion, and I’m totally biased.
SCOTT: Hi, everybody. I’m Scott, consumer of audio description and dabble in quality control in the field as well and have a day job in a non-profit blindness organization. So, it’s so interesting, Thomas. You were talking about how things changed. I was thinking back to in the early aughts, in the early 2000s, I would look for, and sometimes be successful finding, scripts online, like a complete movie script. And that was the closest I could get to audio description for some films, and I was thrilled with that experience. And I look back on it now and all the time that I spent searching those things out and still knowing that my access was not the same, you know, it just, it proves the point that we are beings in motion and that we’re constantly, hopefully, changing to some extent, learning, getting better, and looking for better.
There was also recently a discussion—it’s still going on, actually, I would say—in an email forum about audio description about synthetic speech versus human. And I had to kind of check myself because one of my initial reactions was frustration with people who just said, “I’ll be okay with something rather than nothing.” Because I think we’re all at different points on the journey, right? And there are people who have been used to a certain thing for so long that change can be challenging. But I also feel that it’s really important to continue to advocate. And I think we can advocate and show by example, and people will start to catch on to that. And I think it’s also a point that in that same conversation that was happening on an email forum this week, there were a number of people asking like, “What can I do? What can I do to get more involved?” And even that, I think, is a huge improvement. I think that the Renaissance, like you called it, Thomas, that’s a good word of what’s been happening in the last six years, five, six years, we are seeing a little bit of a wave building of people wanting to get more involved either professionally or even just to advocate. So, we keep setting the example, and I think we’re going to see good things coming.
THOMAS: You know, what Scott was talking about, it was really interesting, though. That’s amazing. Like, you’re going and searching for a script of the movie.
SCOTT: Mmhmm.
THOMAS: What made you do that? What was it about that particular movie that made you just need to know about what’s going on?
SCOTT: Honestly, I think I did it with most of the movies I was watching, and I was watching fewer movies. I mean, listen, at the time, 2005 versus now, let’s say, to me in my mind, there are a lot more things to watch now.
THOMAS: Yeah.
SCOTT: I don’t think it’s arguable that that’s the case. So, I would do it by default with everything.
THOMAS: Mm.
SCOTT: How did I start? I don’t remember. I just remember that like, I was trying to find any way I could to get to know more about the movie.
THOMAS: Mmhmm. But was there a specific reason in terms of that movie that?
SCOTT: No, I did it with a bunch of movies.
THOMAS: You did it with a bunch of movies, okay.
SCOTT: I probably, I don’t know, I would say my success rate was like, 15 or 20%.
THOMAS: Oh, wow.
SCOTT: Why were there complete scripts online? That’s a great question, too. I have no idea. That was maybe something that shouldn’t have been happening. But it was great ‘cause you got the scene setting and the scene transitions, the camera angles, and everything.
THOMAS: Right, right.
SCOTT: So, it was a form of audio description.
THOMAS: Mmhmm.
SCOTT: But [laughs] would I do it now? Probably not.
THOMAS: Yeah. Aha, yeah. That story, Scott, reminds me of like, you know what they say about water.
SCOTT: Yeah.
THOMAS: You know, water’s gonna, water’s gonna get through. You’re gonna find what it is that you’re looking for. You’re gonna find a way, which is audio description.
SCOTT: Yeah.
THOMAS: I mean, you know, the fact that blind people wanted access, and we find a way, we’re gonna find a way. Like, that, that is the thing, man.
SCOTT: Yeah.
THOMAS: Yeah.
SCOTT: Water will take its shape, find its way.
THOMAS: That’s right. That’s right.
NEFERTITI: I love that.
THOMAS: I’m gonna have to look up some scripts.

Swoosh audio effect and music begins.

THOMAS: Cool. Well, that concludes this week’s conversation. Why don’t y’all keep the conversation going on social media.
CHERYL: Use #ADFUBU, for us by us, #DescribeEverything, and #AudioDescription.
NEFERTITI: And hey, you know we’re out here, right? Mmhmm! Gathered and galvanized y’all. If you haven’t joined us yet, what are you waiting for?! You can find us in the LinkedIn Audio Description group and the AD Twitter community. We know that your participation will only make these spaces better.
Music fades out!

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Blind Centered Audio Description Chat: AD 101 for Content Creators

Wednesday, April 5th, 2023

In this conversation from March 8, 2023, we bring film makers and other content creators together with Blind consumers. We provide some introduction into audio description and invited Blind and Low Vision consumers to explain the importance of quality AD in film. Plus we talk about why it’s important to think beyond compliance, explore the artistic nature of AD and more.

Join Us Live

The BCAD Live Chats can take place on a variety of platforms including Twitter and Linked In.

To stay up to date with the latest information and join us live follow:
* Nefertiti Matos Olivares
* Cheryl Green
* Thomas Reid](https://twitter.com/tsreid)

Listen

Transcript – Created By Cheryl Green

Show the transcript

Music begins
THOMAS: Welcome to the Blind-Centered Audio Description Chats. These are the edited recordings of the Blind-Centered Audio Description Live Chats!
CHERYL: The live is the most fun part! We get together, we start with a question, and then we invite up anybody from the audience who wants to come and chat with us, agree, disagree, shed light on something that we hadn’t thought about before, which is Nefertiti’s favorite. [electric whoosh]
NEFERTITI: I’m Nefertiti Matos Olivares, and I’m a bilingual professional voiceover artist who specializes in audio description narration! I’m also a fervent cultural access advocate and a community organizer.
CHERYL: I’m Cheryl Green, an access artist, audio describer and captioner.
THOMAS: And I’m Thomas Reid, host and producer Reid My Mind Radio, voice artist, audio description narrator, consultant, and advocate.
SCOTT B: Hi, I’m Scott Blanks. I’m a passionate advocate for the highest quality audio description in all of the arts. I’m the co-founder of the LinkedIn Audio Description Group and the Twitter AD community.
SCOTT N: Scott Nixon here. I’m an audio description consumer and advocate, hoping to be an audio description narrator very, very soon. [electronic whoosh]
THOMAS: Hey, Nef, why don’t you tell people how they could join the live recording?
NEFERTITI: That’s really simple. Just follow us on social media to keep up with important details, such as dates, times, and what platform will be using. On Twitter, I’m @NefMatOli. Cheryl?
CHERYL: I’m @WhoAmIToStopIt.
THOMAS: I’m @TSRied, you know, R to the E I D.
NEFERTITI: How about you, Scott?
SCOTT B: I’m @BlindConfucius. That’s Blind Confucius.
SCOTT N: And you can catch me on my social media, Twitter only. That’s @MisterBrokenEyes, Capital M r Capital Broken Capital E y e s.
[smartphone selection beeps]
CHERYL: Recording now!

THOMAS: This is a conversation with filmmakers and users. So, we wanted to bring everyone together, and hopefully, we’re doing that, and give everyone a opportunity to hear from one another. Mainly, I think we’re really looking for filmmakers who may be new to audio description, who may not know, “What the heck is audio description? I’m hearing a lot more people talk about it, but I just don’t get it. Why am I supposed to do that? What is that all about? How is that gonna impact my film?” Good questions. And so, we wanted you all to hear a little bit about some of those answers. And even more importantly, because I think the real benefit of audio description comes from those who use it, which is mainly blind and folks who are low vision. And so, hopefully, some of them are in the room, some more of us, I should say, are in the room and will give some of that feedback. So, to start it off, we thought we would hear from someone who sort of straddles some of that, those lines, who’s a filmmaker and has a really good understanding about access. In fact, in my view, she’s an access artist. [chuckles]
CHERYL: [laughs]
THOMAS: And she is also a filmmaker. She has films under her belt or suspenders, whatever she uses. [laughs]
CHERYL: Yes! Yes, suspenders. Yes!
THOMAS: Okay. So, there you go. So, we thought we’d hear from Cheryl to talk a little bit about, you know, maybe a little bit about your experience learning about audio description specifically.
CHERYL: Definitely. Thank you, Thomas. We wanted to start with this story from me because I think a lot of people who are new to accessibility might feel scared. “How do I build it into my workflow? How much is it gonna cost? I don’t, I might say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing.” So, a lot of people don’t get started because they’re scared. So, we’re gonna kick off with an embarrassing story from me. And I went through it. You don’t have to. We’re all here to support each other.
So, when I, back when I was doing more filmmaking, there was a small community screening of one of my films. I had decent captions. Not amazing. And I was very proud of myself for how accessible this film screening was gonna be. And somebody was whispering through the whole thing, which for me, super distractible. I was getting really irritated, and oh my gosh, how rude is this person?!
And afterward, I asked somebody, “What was up with the whispering? Why was somebody doing that during my film screening? How disrespectful.” And they said, “Oh, that’s Carmen Papalia.” Y’all, write that name down. Anyway, they said, they said Carmen’s blind. Carmen uses the term non-visual artist. Carmen didn’t have visual access to the screen, so a friend was whispering to Carmen through the film about what was happening on the screen that wasn’t apparent from the sounds, the sound effects, or the dialogue. And it was just, you know, facepalm moment. I was so embarrassed. But Carmen was so generous and so kind and so forgiving, and was like, “Well, I hope you do audio description.”
And that was the moment that I learned about audio description, started hiring a live describer for all my film screenings, went and got professional training as an audio describer, and now that is what I do. And so, I don’t want you all to be scared to try. Don’t be scared to fail. Audio description is beautiful, and I’m gonna turn it back over to Nef and Thomas.
EDITORS NOTE
THOMAS:
This section of the recording was inaudible, of course right when I asked
Nefertiti to define audio description for those film makers who may not be familiar.
Fortunately, Nefertiti took some time to provide the definition in a separate recording that I will insert, right here!
NEFERTITI: Audio description is a term used to describe the descriptive narration of key visual elements in a video or a multimedia project. Audio description grants blind and low vision audiences access to content that is not otherwise accessible simply by listening to the audio. In audio description, actions, gestures, scene changes, and other important visual information are typically described. Audio description also includes access to info like titles, speaker names, and other text that may appear on screen.
Audio description is also sometimes referred to as AD, video description, descriptive video, Descriptive Video Service, or simply DVS. However, the latter two terms are registered trademarks of WGBH Educational Foundation. Did you know that? I didn’t know that. Interesting, huh?
In a video program, audio description is added to the secondary audio program, also known as the SAP Channel. In streaming multimedia, audio description can be added by synchronizing the narration track with the visual track.

Editor’s Note:
Thomas: And now back to the recording.
THOMAS: Can I ask you a question?
NEFERTITI: Please.
THOMAS: So, ’cause you said multi-media.
NEFERTITI: Mmhmm.
THOMAS: So, would that be, let’s say there was a documentary on, I don’t know, a streaming service or something or YouTube. That’s multimedia.
NEFERTITI: Yeah.
THOMAS: Would that apply?
NEFERTITI: Absolutely! Absolutely.
THOMAS: Ah!
NEFERTITI: I’m one of these people. If you know anything about me, I’m #DescribeEverything. So, yes! Yes. In fact, isn’t YouTube/Google sort of patting themselves, talking about patting themselves on the back for now starting to make audio description available or an additional track?
THOMAS: Yes.
NEFERTITI: Yeah, so, absolutely. We could talk about theater, Broadway, dance. Dance is getting a lot of attention.
CHERYL: Museum exhibitions.
NEFERTITI: Museum exhibitions. Absolutely. Absolutely. It doesn’t just have to be the canned audio description. Award shows. We’re in the award show season, aren’t we, folks?
THOMAS: We are.
NEFERTITI: So, yeah.
THOMAS: Okay. Okay. Somebody knows a little something about that. Award shows and audio description?
NEFERTITI: I mean, you know.
NEFERTITI and THOMAS: [laugh]
CHERYL: Thomas, are you referring to Nefertiti, who’s doing audio description for the Oscars this year?
THOMAS: I was referring to Nefertiti, who’s doing the audio description for the Oscars this year.
NEFERTITI and THOMAS: [laugh]
THOMAS: And when would that be airing? Anyone wanna mention that?
NEFERTITI: Well, I better know, right, since I’m gonna be there. I believe it’s on Sunday, March 12, through Descriptive Video Works, who, full disclosure is my employer, my daytime job employer, I should say. We will be describing the red carpet show, so the pre-show and the main show.
THOMAS: Okay. Excellent. So, tune in, y’all, and you’ll hear Nef doing the AD on the Oscars, which is fantastic. And I don’t know if it’s true, but are you the first blind narrator to do that, Nef?
NEFERTITI: You know, I think so. I’d hate to carry that mantle if it isn’t for me to shoulder.
THOMAS: Mmhmm.
NEFERTITI: If there is someone who’s done it before me, fantastic. I’ve got some big shoes to fill, I’m sure. But I might be the first one doing the Oscars, so.
THOMAS: Yeah, I’m glad you answered it that way, too, because, like, to me, when I think about, you know, we’re in 2023. And so, I’m like, this is way too late for a lot of these firsts that we’re seeing, whether it be around disability or any other identity. It’s a little bit too late in my book. But, you know, go ahead and, you know, it’s cool. We should acknowledge it.
NEFERTITI: No, I mean, I’m glad we’re doing it. It’s about time.
THOMAS: Yeah. So, Nef gave the, sort of the official definition of audio description, but I wanted to talk a little bit more about what else audio description is, as opposed to that second track or that information, that descriptive information describing those visuals, you know, information that I think is really relevant to this conversation about audio description. And one of those things is, starting off, is that audio description was started by and has always involved blind people from the beginning. Blind folks started audio description. And you can go and look that up, and hopefully it will make mention of the names and also refer to the person as blind because they were. And so, that’s important that whatever history you look up as far as the United States, there were blind folks involved in that audio description process. And we have a lot more folks talking about it now, which is fantastic. But the involvement of blind people, to me at least, is extremely important. I think it’s just as important as the access that this access can be done and performed, a lot of it, by blind folks. And I’m talking about, I’m talking about all aspects of it.
And we had other conversations, so if you wanna go and look those up, other Blind-Centered Audio Description conversations that talked about the roles of blind people in audio description. Feel free to do that. But I’m talking about, I’m talking about every single aspect, whatever that individual wants to do. So, that’s quality control. That is writing. Yeah, writing. Go look up that episode. That’s narration, that’s editing, and that’s actually project management as well. So, the audio editing is what I was referring to there, but I guess it could be editing as well because like I said, QC is almost a editor type of thing. Anyway, so, blind folks should be involved. And when I say blind folks, I always wanna make clear, when I say blind folks, I’m including, that is inclusive of anyone on that blindness spectrum. So, whether you’re low vision to totally blind, that’s inclusive of all.
Audio description is also about access, what I like to say is access to conversations. And what I mean by that is that if you think about your interactions with people, often they are about media, about pop culture. And so much of pop culture is media, right? Specifically, film, television. So, you know, Monday morning, you’re at the coffee maker on your job, and you say, “Hey, did you see that Game of Thrones episode yesterday?” And you have that discussion, and you’re going back and forth. And that can even lead, and has led probably, for many of y’all, to conversations and to relationships. So, to me, audio description is about relationship building, whether that be with your friends and coworkers or if that’s with your family. Parents like to have conversations about the things that their kids are watching. And the only, the real way that a blind parent will have access to that is through audio description. So, we can say, “Wait, wait, wait. You wanna watch what? Okay, I’m not, this movie doesn’t sound like something I really want you to watch. But okay, I’m gonna watch it with you, and then we’re gonna have this conversation about it.” So, maybe it can become a teaching tool, which is fantastic, but you need that AD. So, audio description is about relationships, right?
Audio description is the access point for blind folks to see themselves on screens. And we all know #Representation matters. And so, that ability to see yourself on screen. Consider a young, consider a young blind child who may be thinking about what their future holds. And whether or not the person is blind on screen, because that’s a whole nother topic. We’re only probably about less than 2% of people onscreen are actually someone with a disability. But let’s just say that person kind of can identify with other, because folks are intersectional, so they see themselves on screen in some sort of way, right, and then have aspirations about what they wanna do with their life. A lot of that starts from television and movies. And so, blind folks need to have access to that, whether you’re six or you’re 60, okay? I’m not 60 yet. [chuckles]
But that also, when you talk about seeing yourself on screen, that gets into the conversation about cultural competency, cultural responsiveness, whatever you wanna call it. Correctly identifying culture on screen and representing that culture on screen. And so, you know, for audio description, that’s not only seeing yourself on screen, but it’s also, again, because, you know, the way we take in that content is through the audio description, and through that, that’s sort of a filter. And so, the words used to describe should be culturally correct, right? They need to be correct. You don’t wanna name something from a culture the wrong name especially if you’re of that culture, and you’re gonna notice that. That’s a big deal. That’s a really big deal. But then there’s also the voices of the narrator that apply to the culture as well. Because if a film is sort of intertwined with a culture, especially, right, that narrator should probably be someone of that culture who can really represent it so that voice is authentic, and someone can truly get that experience. Again, think about it. You don’t wanna watch a film through quote “someone else’s eyes,” which is sort of what AD is, as long as that AD is, you know, filtered properly, I should say.
NEFERTITI: Mmhmm.
THOMAS: So, give that some consideration when we’re thinking about the importance of audio description. I’d like to see if we have any blind folks who are AD consumers who wanna maybe add something to this list, because I don’t think I included everything about what else audio description is. Maybe you have a quick anecdotal story about how audio description impacts your life. You know, I talk about it about my kids, and don’t get me started ’cause we’ll be here for three hours, four hours maybe if you hear me talk about my kids. So, I wanna hear something quicker. [chuckles] Something else.
NEFERTITI: Two beautiful girls.
THOMAS: Yeah. Thank you. They are beautiful. They look like their mother. Thank God. And so….
NEFERTITI: [laughs]
THOMAS: And this is the time, again, to explain that importance in your life as an individual. And it could be whatever it is. You know, I’m sure there are a bunch of different things. Educational stuff, non-educational stuff, it doesn’t matter. I wanna hear from you, and more importantly, I want the filmmakers to hear from you. I want them to hear from us. I want them to hear from us.
NEFERTITI: Absolutely. So, go ahead and raise your hands, folks.
THOMAS: [sings] Raise your hand. Raise your hand!
NEFERTITI: We’re gonna start with the blind folks first, blind, low vision folks.
THOMAS: Yes.
NEFERTITI: And don’t worry, filmmakers, we want to hear from you, your concerns, all of it. All right. Let’s start with Tanya. Welcome!
THOMAS: Welcome, Tanya.
TANYA: Thank you so much. I’m so happy to be here. So, for me, I guess I can start with the storytelling perspective that I really enjoy from an entertainment, the entertainment side of things. One of my favorite shows is The Crown, which I’m sure many of you have experienced seeing on Netflix. The storytelling is, like it’s such an art. The audio description, the way it’s written is complementary to the story without being like an audiobook. So, it, the tone of the narration, the performance, the dramatic quality and kind of like the delivery really complements this, the writing, the narration. So, it’s all coming together for me as one big package, and it’s done extremely well. They couldn’t have found a better narrator for that specific drama than they did, in my opinion. Another one I think of is Lord of the Rings. Excellent, complementary entertainment. Thanks!
THOMAS: Hey, Tanya, can I ask you a question real quick?
TANYA: Yeah.
THOMAS: Can you explain what you meant a little bit more about not being an audiobook? Can you talk about that?
TANYA: Sure. So, by that I mean sometimes audio description’s written more of where it’s inferring what the inner dialogue might be of the characters in the story. We may or may not know that by seeing the screen. So, that’s what I mean by more of an audiobook where it’s kind of filling in a lot of space where it may or may not be needed necessarily, because sometimes the sound effects can speak for themselves. Like, if a door closes, you don’t have to say, “So-and-so shut the door and drops her keys,” ’cause you can hear that in the sound effect. And you kind of let it breathe a little bit more. That’s what I meant.
THOMAS: Gotcha. Excellent. So, you wanna experience the movie sort of on your own and figure it out, as much as possible, the way the movie was sort of intended. Is that, would you say that?
TANYA: Definitely. As long as the context is enough for me to figure out what’s happening, I’m not too worried. If the filmmaker really wants someone to notice something, and it may not be apparent just without the description mentioning it, but it’s crucial to the story, I do wanna make that point. Because sometimes, from what I’ve heard from folks that I’ve watched various media with who are sighted is, they’ll say, “If I was just watching it, I would have completely missed this and this detail that ended up being very important.” So, like the color of the dress turns out to be important later because it’s in the crime scene, and it’s directly correlated. I’m just making it up. But you get my point.
THOMAS: Mmhmm. Yeah. Fantastic example. Thank you, Tanya.
TANYA: Thank you. Thanks.
THOMAS: Perfect.
NEFERTITI: Thank you so much.
THOMAS: Tanya, come back! You have to make sure you come back to our BCAD chats!
NEFERTITI: Yes, please.
THOMAS: Yeah. Great input.
NEFERTITI: Please. All righty. Next up, we have Martin.
MARTIN: Hi! I just wanted to thank all of you for putting this up ’cause this is really cool. I’m a huge audio describe user, and one of the things that drives me nuts is when there’s something that’s gonna happen, and the audio description tells you before it happens. So, it’s like a big surprise. Like, one of the Narnia movies, for example, there’s a wolf that jumps on someone, and they tell you before it happens. And it was like, “No! Don’t tell me! I don’t wanna know!” I wanna get surprised just as everybody else. So, that was one of my anecdotes.
But my main question was audio description via geography. I live in Canada, and a big example right now is Everywhere, Everything, Everywhere. And if you live in the States, you’ve got audio description for that. Here, it’s on Amazon Prime, and they don’t have audio description. I looked on the Apple TV. They have audio description in the States, and they don’t have it here. So, I’m just wondering how does that happen, and how can we make it not happen? Because if the audio description is already available in English, why can it, why can’t we not have here as well? Thank you.
THOMAS: Hey, Martin, before you go and before we get into that one, I wanted to ask you a little question about the timing. I can imagine someone thinking, “Well, it’s audio description. You’re blind. How do you even know that the timing is off?” Can you talk about that?
MARTIN: Yeah, sure. So, one of my favorite audio description series was actually Daredevil because they had it spot on. There was things that would happen, and the audio describer just timed it just right. So, you would hear the sound, and then you would say, “Okay, what’s that?!” And then they would say right away. So, it’s just, it’s almost like a split second, but that split second is really important because you wanna be able to sort of experience it at the same time as a sighted person. And you don’t wanna hear it before like, you know, a second before. You want to hear pretty much a split second after it happens. So, it’s like, “Oh, cool!” Right? ‘Cause you wanna get the same adrenaline that anybody else watching is.
THOMAS: Absolutely. Do you have experience watching it with AD with a sighted person where that conflict comes into play?
MARTIN: Well, you know, I watch a lot of series and movies with my wife, and she gets very frustrated when the audio description explains it beforehand, so.
THOMAS: Yeah.
MARTIN: And she can, she goes, “No, no! I don’t wanna know!” [laughs]
THOMAS: Gotcha. Very good. Thank you for that. Thank you, Martin. (Cut 00:31:07 – 00:31:27.) And also, that, the other question about the I think it’s more so it goes a little bit beyond what we’re talking about here today. But I think we’re definitely gonna see some of that conversation as well in terms of, you know, there are some issues where an AD doesn’t run with the, well, it doesn’t travel with the film itself, right? So, the film is in one place, but the AD is not there. But I know the AD was made! Why isn’t it here?!
NEFERTITI: Mmhmm.
THOMAS: Yeah, that’s still a big issue.
NEFERTITI: Pass-through is a big problem. You can end up with various copies of the same thing and for no good reason. But yeah, maybe that’s another conversation for another time. Excellent.
THOMAS: So, come back, Martin! [chuckles]
NEFERTITI: Let me check. Please do. Do we have any other blind folks in the audience who want to come up and share your experiences, anecdotes? Vivien Hillgrove. Hello, Vivien!
VIVIEN: Hello. [delighted laugh]
NEFERTITI: Hello!
VIVIEN: Hello, hello.
NEFERTITI: Let’s hear from Vivien, because Vivien, if you don’t mind my saying, you come from an amazing perspective, which is that you are a filmmaker who is losing her sight. Is that fair to say?
VIVIEN: That’s correct, yes. I’m low vision. Right.
NEFERTITI: Low vision. Exactly. So, I think you are uniquely poised to talk to us, so please do.
VIVIEN: What I’d like to say firstly is thank you, thank you, thank you. ‘Cause for me, it is the difference between being able to go to a movie and see a film and not. And one of the remarkable things that happens with audio description is that when I hear it, I’ve thought, oh, it’ll be like one, you know, hearing something and then imagining it? But all of a sudden, the film I think I can see, and I lose, I lose the separation of what would be expected to have an audio description of a visual event. And instead, I’m actually seeing the film in my inner imagination, my inner vision. And it is a remarkable feeling of being able to just let go like you do in a movie and have it wash over you and have it affect you. So, to me, it’s a bit of magic, and especially the really good ones that are timed one and mainly the tonality and style of it and that softness of it, maybe matching a lyrical, visual platform, a lyrical section of the film. So, to me, it’s really important that that person doing audio description is actually in the same genre and the same feeling and texture of that which is going on in the film. And Nefertiti, you are really great. [chuckles]
NEFERTITI: Oh! Thank you! I feel the same about you. Isn’t it nice?
VIVIEN: Well, you’re amazing because you have this voice quality. I love the range of your voice and the sound of your voice, and it just is so beautiful and luscious that it adds a level of texture to a film that I think that is remarkable.
And I have a really off the wall question, though, about just audio description is, does it always have to be speaking? Is there like a rule book that it is always, there’s a guideline for what it has to be and what it can’t be?
THOMAS: Mm.
VIVIEN: Because I’m very interested in investigating the idea of using whispering and possibly Greek chorus and some other kinds of interesting sounds but within the audio description track. Anyway, can anyone answer that?
THOMAS: There is a creative approach, and so you’re already sort of thinking about that and looking at that as an extension and an addition to the art form, to the art of the movie.
VIVIEN: Exactly.
THOMAS: And so, that’s fantastic. And so, I can tell you that, you know, there are probably guidelines, there are quote-unquote “guidelines.” Imma put those in quotes.
VIVIEN: [laughs]
THOMAS: But I don’t think you’re gonna get in trouble if you do your own thing. [laughs] So, I feel like you can experiment.
VIVIEN: Yeah, that’s right.
NEFERTITI: You certainly won’t get in trouble by the community, right? ‘Cause we just want the access. We want to be able to enjoy.
VIVIEN: Right! Right.
NEFERTITI: So, yeah.
THOMAS: Vivien, can I ask you a question, though? I wanted to go back to something that you said real quick because I just wanna explore it for a second. When you said the feeling of that experience of in the movie, and you said it’s a remarkable feeling, right?
VIVIEN: Right.
THOMAS: Does that feeling end once you’re done with the movie?
VIVIEN: Whoa. Well, a movie always stays with you for, lingers, you know? And so, the audio description and the film itself linger, and they become one for me. It unifies and allows me to understand what the filmmaker is, has in their heart and soul. So, that’s what the audio description does for me is that it lingers of that feeling of being moved by a film or enchanted by a film or crying in a film. It just, it does…. It does give me such access to being able to enjoy somebody else’s ideas and characterizations and love of what they’re doing, the love of their character. And that comes across so vividly for me in almost a visual context when I’m listening to audio description. A whole other world opens up, and it does, in fact, include this emotional heart space that’s remarkable that you want to do as a director. You want to engage with your audience. And I think there’s a bazillion people who would, who wanna see many more things, many more films and television shows in audio description, ’cause there’s a shitload of us, man, that are old and losing sight!
THOMAS: Mmhmm.
VIVIEN: Yeah. [laughs]
NEFERTITI: Yes!
VIVIEN: There is a ton of us. So, anyway, that went beyond your question, but the answer….
THOMAS: No. Absolutely. Because you see, what you said, what I’m hearing, what I’m hearing is like, that that ability for a film, like you said, the film is supposed to stay with you, right? If it’s a good film, it’s gonna stay with you. If you don’t have that AD, it’s not going to be etched in your brain the way it is, right?
VIVIEN: Exactly.
THOMAS: The AD helps you do that and perform that. And so, those feelings carry on beyond the movie, which again, audio description is about much more than entertainment.
VIVIEN: It’s much more than entertainment. And it involves you in being excited about, you know, that effect on you allows you to talk and gossip and put it on social media and actually present your film by more people to more people.
THOMAS: Absolutely, absolutely.
NEFERTITI: 100%. Vivien, thank you so much for speaking, for coming up.
THOMAS: Thank you, Vivien.
VIVIEN: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you. Thank you for doing this. Thank you, dear.
THOMAS: Awesome. Awesome.
NEFERTITI: Absolutely. All right. Let’s hear from Wendy.
WENDY: Hi, everyone!
THOMAS: Hey, Wendy.
WENDY: Thanks for this. It’s really wonderful. I’m a producer and writer of documentaries and totally new to AD. So, my question is, given what I’m hearing about the importance of the right AD, when I’m making a standard documentary, and I need a narrator, a voiceover narrator, I have a script, I audition people. I go into a sound booth. You know, an agent or somebody I know can line people up for me, and I have them read pieces of the script. And I decide who has the sound quality, the emotion, the delivery that I want. How do you work through that process in the world of audio description? How do you even start to find and identify people, let alone audition them?
THOMAS: Hmm. What a fantastic question. [delighted laughs] What a fantastic question. So, it’s really going to be-and Nef and Cheryl, feel free to just jump in-but I think it’s really gonna depend on the approach that you take to get the AD done, okay? So, let’s just take it from the, even though I would rather take it from the beginning of the project, let’s take it from the end of the project. Your film is done. It’s in the can, right? And you’re ready to have AD performed in post, in post-production. If you went to a standard audio description company, a post-production company that does that, they pretty much sort of take it and run with it on your behalf. There’s not often, as far as I know, that they involve the creatives in that process. So, they listen to it. They make the determination.
There are some independents out here, such as the Social Audio Description, who want to involve you in that process. And so, for example, and you know, for full disclosure, I’m a part of the Social Audio Description Collective, and so is Neff, and so is Cheryl. And part of the process that we have is that we allow you to pick from those narrators that we use that are a part of our collective. And so, that’s sort of kind of what you’re talking about. But as someone who is, if you’re working with other independents, I mean, you know, Cheryl also just does it on her own. Cheryl would probably say, “Oh, well, what type of voice are you looking for?” And she might work with you to find those voices as well. So, you can take that into your own control, but it’s more likely that when you go an independent route as opposed to going to the big box AD-I don’t know if they’re called that, but I’m calling them that today-the big box AD, and that’s no disrespect to them at all. So, Cheryl, Nef, does that sound about right?
NEFERTITI: Yeah.
CHERYL: Yeah, that’s one of the reasons why on the Social Audio Description Collective website, which is SocialAudioDescription.com, if you go to our team page, we have our bios. We also have pictures, and you can both read and listen to us in our own voices reading our image descriptions out. Because we do value people being able to choose the voice that they want, both like Vivien was saying for the tone and the texture, and like Thomas was saying earlier, for that cultural match, whether that’s accent or race or ethnicity, background. So, yeah, I like the independent route because you have that choice. And I definitely, when people hire me for independent work, I get on the phone with them, and I say, “You hear me now. If you don’t like this voice for your film ’cause it’s your film, I’ll write it. You don’t have to use my voice.” I think people are shocked when they go to hire me, and I tell them they don’t have to use me for if I don’t sound like the right voice for them. And plenty of people have said, “Yes, please find me somebody who’s a better match.” And we do.
WENDY: Oh, that’s fantastic. Can I also, I hate to bring up cost, but in the world of documentary, as I imagine you all know, money is always hanging over you. It’s tight, tight, tight. And you have to submit budgets, too, in your grant proposals, things like that. Is it more expensive or less expensive or a wash to go the independent route rather than using the big box model?
THOMAS: Hmm. So, depending on, because part of that big box are those who really cut costs, and they use artificial intelligence. They use TTS, text to speech, for voices. So, your narrator, going to some of those big boxes, could be a computer. [laughs] Like, literally. It could literally be the voice of a computer. And so, that is a thing. And so, they would give you an extremely low price. So, I’ll give you a range that, to my knowledge, that sort of falls, everything falls in there. So, that low range would be around I’ve heard $9, $10 a minute. They usually charge by the minute. It’s often quoted by the minute. And then moving down the line probably to about $30, $30, maybe $35, $40 sometimes, a minute. And so, that would include, depending on the big box, that could include, that would include the writing, usually includes the writing, the narration, the editing. With some, it should include a quality control, QC, process. It should include a quality control process that’s performed by a blind person because that’s your audience. That’s the audience for the audio description. And yeah, and as well as the project managing that whole process.
So, it’s sort of a wide range, but that should give you an estimate of what it would cost. And then again, depending on who you’re talking, if you’re talking about a independent, there’s probably room for flexibility. You know, the Social Audio Description works with folks, so. And, you know, other places might work with folks, but I’m just talking ’cause I know the Social Audio Description does. So, this is not a commercial for the Social Audio Description. This is all about just talking to filmmakers about audio description.
CHERYL: But you know what it is a commercial for? Putting it in your budget before pre-production starts. Because most of my clients, both for captions and audio description, come to me sometimes within days of distribution. “They told me I gotta get captions! They told me I gotta!” And some of this stuff cannot be produced by a human on the time frame that we’re given. And, you know, I know that sometimes distribution and acceptance into film festivals pushes the filmmakers’ timeline in a way they weren’t expecting, so I know that happens. But if it wasn’t in your budget pre-production, that means you weren’t, probably weren’t thinking about it during filming and during post. And then you run into the budget issues. So, moving forward, from today forward, if you haven’t already, always get it in your budget before you start anything so that you’re not stuck. The worst would be that you want to work with an independent, but you can only afford the artificial intelligence written and text-to-speech narration. That would be awful.
NEFERTITI: Yes, that would be very sad.
WENDY: [laughs]
THOMAS: Wendy?
WENDY: Yes.
THOMAS: Do you wanna take a minute and tell us about your documentary?
WENDY: Oh, I’ve written a number of films and produced some as well. They’re mostly in the realm of social issues: women’s health, women’s rights, some historical, but largely a progressive look at an issue like war or why war is not the answer, or women’s rights to control their bodies or things like that.
THOMAS: Gotcha. Very cool.
WENDY: I don’t have a particular project at the moment.
THOMAS: Okay. Got it.
WENDY: Thank you for asking.
THOMAS: Oh, thank you.
NEFERTITI: All of that sounds like material that I would love to have access to, and I know I’m not alone in that. So, I really appreciate you being here and that you do that work.
WENDY: Thank you.
NEFERTITI: It sounds very important. Thank you so much.
All righty. Do we want to now go deeper into compliance and creative, explain that a little bit more?
THOMAS: It sounds like the people wanna know! [laughs]
NEFERTITI: Yes, absolutely!
THOMAS: Cheryl, you wanna talk about compliance?
CHERYL: I mean, I can. I just feel like Vivien just picked up every microphone in the universe and dropped them all one at a time very beautifully. Everything that I do from captions and audio description, transcripts, all of that would pass compliance based on whatever law or guideline I’m trying to follow. But the people using the access are not walking lawsuits and don’t wanna be treated as such. So, if you come at accessibility like, “Oh, I gotta do it ’cause I gotta be compliant,” I think you might be feeling less likely to open up to the more creative approaches. And if your film is creative, why not enhance your film by having a really creative piece of accessibility as well? Again, folks have already explained that feeling of the creative audio description and the impact that it has on them. You know, compliance is the baseline, but I would urge folks to have a much friendlier, more exciting, and more curious approach and not focus solely on checking the boxes and saying you’re compliant. ‘Cause that’s not fun.
THOMAS: Yeah. No, it’s not fun. It’s not fun. And so, by the creative, and this gets, I know some people get confused by, “What are y’all talking about when you talk about creative?” Because I think sometimes folks think, you know, we’re gonna watch a action movie, and the narrator is going to describe the film in spoken word. No! Nobody wants to see that, okay? We want, that would not work for that type of film. However, maybe spoken word narration would work for another type of artistic film. That might be cool, right? So, that’s one of the things about creative audio description is that it is taking the feel, the vibe, the context of the film into consideration when creating that audio description track, right? So, again, it’s not just saying, “Okay, we gotta do this. Hurry up! Let’s get it done.” It’s not doing that.
If our audio description is just bam, bam, bang it out, chances are you’re taking the compliance approach. If your audio description is only being recognized, [laughs] it’s only being recognized by the people you want because you make them recognize it? Y’all know what I’m talking about. Then chances are you’re going just, you’re not being creative about your, with your audio description, right? If you’re putting limitations on yourself, if the first thing you think is, “I can’t do that because I’m not supposed to,” you’re not making creative audio description. So, I’m talking to you.
Now what would be? Creating audio description from a creative point, perspective would probably mean you’re thinking about it from the beginning, from the beginning of your film. That is not only the best thing to do from a accessibility perspective, but it’s also the best thing to do for a creative perspective. Because, and Vivian sort of touched on this, you might not need as much AD if you’re thinking about blind and low vision consumers from the beginning. I’m not saying all the time, but I’m saying you might want to think about some of the audio content that maybe you’re filtering out or maybe you’re not even just considering of putting in that is a part of your storytelling process. That would be a creative thing to do, and that would be an accessible thing for the blind community. That would definitely be that. If you’re thinking about it from the beginning, you’re probably going to leave more space for audio description because let’s take the idea of a documentary like Wendy was talking about. If you’re interviewing folks, and you have the talking heads and you have their information written on text on the screen, and there’s no time whatsoever to actually convey that information to the blind user by just saying, “Hey, Nefertiti,” right? “Nefertiti Matos Olivares, world famous audio description narrator. The first blind person to do narration for the Oscars.”
CHERYL: [imitates air horn]
THOMAS: There’s no time to put all of that great information in there, right? So, you may see-
NEFERTITI: You are making this brown girl blush!
THOMAS: [laughs] Well, blush on, girl! Blush on!
THOMAS: and NEFERTITI: [laugh]
THOMAS: If there’s no time to convey that, well, you know, you weren’t thinking about it. And so, that’s not, you know, you can’t be very creative with that, right? You really can’t do anything with that limitation that you actually put on yourself. And so, yeah, that’s not, I’m not gonna call that creative. We can’t call that creative. But it can go all the way to what Vivien was talking about. Oh, my God. A Greek chorus? I’m ready to see this movie! I don’t know what the movie is, but it involves a Greek chorus doing audio description!
NEFERTITI: Me too. I already have our tickets, y’all.
THOMAS: Oh, my gosh. Yeah, let’s go. I got the popcorn.
THOMAS: and NEFERTITI: [laugh]
THOMAS: So, but, you know, there’s so much. I mean, there’s some great examples out there. You know, I always go back to Rationale Method and Nathan Geering’s Not A Slave. Incredible. It was an incredible, incredible thing. It was only five minutes, but it was a dance performance. It was so artistic. And that one was actually done with spoken word. It was amazing. It was amazing. It was great. And it conveyed everything. It used sound design as well to convey some of the elements. Like, there’s lots of things to do once you start thinking about it. So, all of that goes into the creative. And like Cheryl said, when you go the creative route, you’re gonna hit that compliant route. So, you know, just something to consider.
NEFERTITI: They go hand in hand.
THOMAS: Yeah.
NEFERTITI: The other way does not go hand in hand. Compliance.
THOMAS: No, it’s only one hand!
NEFERTITI: Yeah. [laughs]
THOMAS: It’s like a hammer! It’s a hand with a hammer trying to put a round thing in a square peg or whatever how that thing goes. Yeah.
NEFERTITI: Yeah. I think, yeah, that’s right. Or a square peg in a round hole, something like that.
THOMAS: Yeah, something like that. Yeah. There you go. And if anybody wants to kind of talk about, you know, from the user community especially, I’d love to hear if you have any experience with anything creative or compliant, something that you feel like, wow, now that I think about it, this was really just focusing on getting this done. Like, what did that feel like to you? And you don’t have to mention the specific title if you don’t want, but if you do, go ahead and put them on blast.
NEFERTITI: Yeah, or if you wanna name names. Cut 00:57:07 – 00:57:13.) Is there a way that we could watch this five-minute masterpiece? Is it online at all?
THOMAS: Okay, here we go.
[recorded clip plays, ocean waves and fire whooshing in the soundtrack] Still A Slave, by Nathan Geering.
AUDIO DESCRIPTION: The sea moves softly, illuminated by the setting sun above him. A black man emerges fighting the waves that try holding him back. He stumbles.
-I’m not racist.
AUDIO DESCRIPTION: Collapsing to the seashore, he lays still, both physically and emotionally drained as ignorant racial comments weigh him down.
-I don’t see color.
AUDIO DESCRIPTION: He stands, hands bound by rope above him in the middle of a giant rectangular wooden frame. The skyline eerily dark, shaded with rich hues of fluorescent blues blended with fiery oranges that radiate light on his true feelings.
-Change takes a long time
AUDIO DESCRIPTION: He is shown with the rope around his throat, losing hope.
And then by his hands, hanging from the frame in emotional pain, he stands.
Legs immersed in the freezing water in which he lands.
Holding a rope with a fierce ball of fire raging on one end.
He’s hurting, anguish and despair.
Why don’t they care?
-Slavery doesn’t exist anymore.
THOMAS: So, that’s just a sample. That’s a sample of it.
NEFERTITI: Wow! Wow, wow, wow.
THOMAS: And I’m not sure if it’s online fully. But they might still be on some tours. But it’s The Rationale Method. The name of it is Still a Slave, so.
NEFERTITI: Super powerful. Thank you for sharing that with us, Thomas. Let’s move on to Rein. Rein, are you with us?
REIN: Yeah, hi. I’m here. My name is Rein, but there’s no way to know that.
NEFERTITI: Okay. Hi, Rein.
REIN: Hello, hi. I am excited and hoping to be writing audio description eventually. And I had a couple questions about animation that kind of seemed like they were relating to this discussion about whether something is creative or not being creative. I have been watching things that blind people I know say have good audio description. I just took a couple classes about how to write it. And something I noticed in animation is that there wasn’t a whole lot of description about what the animation style looked like. The show I’m thinking of specifically is BoJack Horseman, which is like a show that has animal characters and human characters that are sort of on the same scale, and they interact with each other. Just they’re kind of mixed together. I guess my first question is about animation style. It’s got a pretty static animation style, but it also has sort of like a watercolor texture that’s everywhere in there. I’m wondering if somebody is watching an animated show, and they have an interest in animation, whether it’s more appropriate to assume that the person who is the audience is gonna look up more details about the artist and the character design and how they wanted the show to look, or if you should try to make room during the introduction part of the show to kind of give some kind of background on what the show actually looks like visually.
THOMAS: Yeah. So, that last thing that you said, I’m very glad you said it. So, kudos to you because, so you know that with something like BoJack Horseman, with something that’s on television, number one, they did not start off, and they’re probably not thinking necessarily about the blind consumer, right? And so, you have a very, very limited amount of time. And so, whether we’re talking about animation or we’re talking about anything else, those time constraints are going , well, constrain you, right? And so, you’re gonna have to make some of these choices as to what to include in the description. What you said is that if there’s someone is interested in animation, so, you know you’re not looking at the masses by going that approach, right? And so, the AD narration probably wants to hit the masses and talk about what the, you know, what the actual story is about. That’s what the AD’s going to do.
However, often, some of that information is really relevant to the story, is really relevant to the story, and it would be great to be able to take some time to convey that to the listener, to the AD consumer. And so, an introduction, if there’s time during the actual episode in the beginning to provide some of that information, would be fantastic. But something that we talk about is a pre-show introduction, a pre-show, and that goes beyond. So, that’s not, there’s no time constraints for that, right? This is just a separate track that you would create for the viewer. So, think about it. Be creative, right? You can have a track like that that is just describing the animation for users, right? So, to the average person who may not be interested in the animation, but man, you know, as someone who would dig that, right, imagine if you had a track that was just for the animation, the person interested in the animation. And so, when you start to build in the idea of pre-show, there are no time constraints because, Rein, I don’t know if you heard of it, but we have this thing called the Internet, right?! And people are allowed to post things on the Internet, right? So, imagine that. That would be so fantastic if folks did that where they post pre-shows online, and then someone who’s really interested in BoJack Horseman like that, they wanna go and investigate it. That would be a way to convey that information. So, I’m glad you’re thinking that way already.
NEFERTITI: Absolutely.
REIN: Okay, I think I get it. There was a weird moment in the show that I noticed which came up when we were talking about creativity in the description, where like, since there’s characters that are, there’s a lot of sight gags in the show. There’s characters that are people, and there’s characters that are animals. And there’s like a joke that’s set up, like Amy Sedaris’s, characters like, “Oh, my enemy, Vanessa Gecko, that cold-blooded, bug-eyed woman that I met at….” And then the door opens, and she’s a human being. And she’s not a lizard. She’s just a person whose name is Vanessa Gecko. And the audio description did not mention what she looked like.
THOMAS: Yeah.
REIN: Are things like character descriptions baked into a pre-show, or is that something that regardless of the way dialogue is going in the show, you should try to be getting in immediately when a character gets introduced?
THOMAS: Yeah. You know what’s funny because I remember I watched one episode of BoJack Horseman because my daughter really wanted me to check it out ’cause she’s a big fan of it. And I was just like, it’s funny, but I was lost. ‘Cause I was like, I didn’t even know that they were cartoons. I had no idea. I was just like, are these real people? What’s going on here? So, it is a difficult thing, but I think a pre-show could be whatever you want. But yes, a pre-show would be perfect to describe the characters, and you can go be as creative as you like with that. Like, in a pre-show in a theater environment, what they do is to bring out the cast who are in character, right? And so, they’re using whatever dialect they’re, and an accent, their accents and stuff like that, when they describe what their outfits look like. And so, you can really get to recognize it and sort of imprint that in your mind. So, that would be fantastic for something like that because, yeah, if they didn’t say that this was a human, everybody else is laughing. And I’m like, okay, I didn’t get it, you know?
REIN: Okay, that’s genius. Thank you so much for your help.
THOMAS: Cool. Yeah. Thank you. And good luck!
REIN: Thanks!
NEFERTITI: Thank you. Yeah, this is a really interesting subject ’cause I find this to be the case where when it’s going from like color to black and white, and there isn’t room to let us know that. And obviously, the creative powers chose to make their film or their show, whatever it is, in that way for a reason. And so, we go without those really important details. So, animation is a place that’s fraught with that.
All right. Frances, are you with us?

FRANCES: Just on the examples of Thomas and also Vivien were talking about building AD in from the beginning, partly from a financial perspective, but also from a creative perspective, I’ve noticed over the years when I work closely with filmmakers, it’s in both directions. So, they’re learning about AD, I’m learning about their film, and it really can change their process approaching it next time around to the point that maybe they’re gonna name their characters earlier. You know, the audio describers among you or audio description users would know that you can go halfway or even most of the way through a film without one of the main characters ever being properly named. And then the describer’s got the dilemma whether to keep calling them, you know, “The man with short black hair” or just giving them the name that hasn’t been given in the script. So, little things like that can be changed.
But I’ve also noticed with since audio description’s been on TV in Australia, some of the programs that have really embraced it have built it into their scripts. Like, one of the, there’s a program called Gardening Australia, and now a lot of the presenters will, they’ll talk about a plant, but they’ll say, you know, “This beautiful yellow daisy, it’s about two meters high. It comes up to my knee,” kind of thing.
THOMAS: Nice.
FRANCES: Or, you know, obviously, not a two-meter-high knee person, but along those lines, just building in little extra comments that do a lot of the description within the program just because they now know it’s being added later, and there’s some of this they can do themselves. So, I think that’s really wonderful to have that engagement actually meaning that more audio description is built into programs and also that the people, the creators of TV and film, have a little bit more creative control over the audio description because they realize it’s this extra layer of interpretation that’s gonna be added onto their baby, so to speak. And so, they can get more involved in creating, in making it more in line with their vision. And I think that’s wonderful.
And as someone else mentioned, it might mean having a voiceover read out a title card at the beginning or the end where it may otherwise have been silent or getting actors themselves involved. I think, Thomas, you just mentioned that can be in a pre-show for theater, but I know in the UK, ITV has audio introductions now that are accessible online. And it’s sometimes the actors from the particular series. The recent one was Trigger Point, and the actors themselves get on there saying, “I play whoever. This is a bit about my character. This is what she likes to wear. This is the kind of house she lives in.”
NEFERTITI: Oh, that’s brilliant.
THOMAS: Exactly.
FRANCES: Yeah.
THOMAS: Exactly.
FRANCES: It has a spoiler, a spoiler element as well, as someone objected to before, knowing things before they happen. There is a big element of that in pre-show AD or audio introductions.
THOMAS: There doesn’t have to be, though. There doesn’t have to be.
FRANCES: No. I guess in the case of the gecko woman, if you had that as part of the introduction, it would spoil the joke, but it would also explain the joke that they may get in the program. Oh, and if I can mention one more example, it’s an oldie but goodie of integrated audio description working really well. It’s the Stevie Wonder music video, So What the Fuss, and the describer is rapping along in beat, in time with the music. It’s really well done. It’s beautiful.
THOMAS: Yes. Yeah. Busta Rhymes was the, is the narrator.
FRANCES: Totally.
NEFERTITI: Describer of that one, yeah.
THOMAS: Yep, yep.
NEFERTITI: That is a beautiful example. Well, thank you, Frances. I’m so glad we were able to hear you.
FRANCES: Thank you! [giggles]
THOMAS: Thank you, Frances. And come back!
NEFERTITI: Always, always, all of you! We have such great speakers.
THOMAS: I have separation issues. [laughs] I’m telling everybody, “Come back! I have separation issues, y’all.” You know, right now as a filmmaker, wherever you are in your process is probably the best place to start, right? And that’s the beginning. If you’re still sort of working out your film, this is the perfect place. But if you’re in the middle, yeah, that’s cool. Think about it. Start talking about it. Talk to some of the experts to bring in somebody who you want to describe your film and have some of these conversations. It’s the perfect time, wherever you are. But again, the best, the absolute best, is at the beginning. With whatever you’re doing, keep in mind that you’re gonna have to leave in some time for describing. And so, Cheryl, you have experience with this. I don’t know if you wanna talk a bit, but the B-roll. Can you talk a little bit about B-roll and getting more B-roll?

CHERYL: Sure. The daily life footage or the B-roll or the establishing shots, you can add more of those in and hold them longer. Make a slower pace. It’s not that somebody has to then describe every aspect of whatever that shot was. You know, you’ve got “waves crashing on a rocky shore.” You don’t have to go into great detail if you use that shot, if you hold it five, ten seconds longer to give a little space to describe what’s coming up next, not in terms of spoilers, of course, or to describe something that just happened or to get some of those speaker IDs read.
A lot of times in documentary when you’re cutting between some footage of people doing whatever the action is, and then you cut back to the talking head and back to the action, what gets lost is that opportunity to read out the name and the other speaker ID stuff that’s on the screen. And so, with that constant talking head voice that turns into voiceover, I think you need to look at how you’re considering those edits and maybe add in that extra B-roll shot before this person comes on so that their name and their credentials and affiliation can be read first. I’ve done several films where all I can say sometimes is just the first name of somebody, and they’ve got like three lines of credentials. And if you’re using the AD, you might never know where this person works and what their degrees are and all the other stuff that’s so handily provided in the visual format. So, think about the way that you can take advantage of a slower pace between, between events or between stories.
THOMAS: Excellent. Cool. Very cool. And, you know, kind of in there, you even, in your example of the waves, so you kind of talked about the next thing that I was gonna mention, and we mentioned it, just the idea of using, ways to use audio and other elements. Filmmakers could think about some of that stuff as well.
CHERYL: Yeah! Well, yeah, you know, if you can hear the waves crashing on the rocky shore, you don’t have to say, “Waves crashing on the rocky shore.” That already is done, so you can use that time then to give the name of the next speaker who’s gonna come up or what they’re about to do. Really just, and I mean, yes, I’m with you. I wanna see the film with the Greek chorus as audio description, but it doesn’t have to be that dramatic or creative. Bringing in those sound effects or the natural sound and then using that time to describe something that we can’t hear is great.
THOMAS: Absolutely. And again, one we didn’t talk about, we talked a little bit about it, but always kind of be thinking about considering cultural representation. And so, whatever that is, if your film is about or of a certain culture, then you probably want your audio description narrated to represent that. Because again, you don’t want someone to be disrupted while they’re watching your film, and someone can be when the person is not of the culture. It can definitely disrupt. Whether that be if, even if you’re not of that culture, you might feel like, “Ah! This doesn’t, something about this doesn’t feel right or it just doesn’t flow right to me.”
NEFERTITI: Uh-huh.
THOMAS: And so, something to definitely take into consideration at any point, whatever point you’re in there.
NEFERTITI: This is a super important point. I just want to share a little story here, which is there was a show that I became aware of recently, and just based on the name of the show, I was like, “Oh, man, I’m there.” And then I heard the narrator, and it made me, it made me sick. Literally made me sick. I could not, I cannot watch the show. And that’s a shame, don’t you think? That I have to go without watching something that I was super excited about. Just the name of the show had me pumped.
THOMAS: Yeah.
NEFERTITI: And then I realized who was matched with it, and I couldn’t do it. Have not been able to do it. And I think that’s the last thing that a creative filmmaker, producer, whatever you may be, wants to have said or thought of about their show or their content.
CHERYL: That’s what happens when you, Nef, were not considered as a potential audience member. This is what happens when you go the compliant route and, “Quick, we gotta slap this AD on, and here’s a person with good credentials and a nice voice. Let’s go.” And if you stop to consider who is your target audience for your film and then who is your target audience for your audio description, you have to think about culture in both of those, both of those audiences, because there are audio description users in every culture and subculture. And so, the audio description users are part of your audience, filmmakers. Caption users are part of your audience. And so, that care you put into representing the culture in that film that Nefertiti couldn’t watch, the audio description should have matched the film with the same cultural consideration.
NEFERTITI: 100%.
THOMAS: Yeah. And I was just gonna mention that that person, Nef, that you mentioned was doing it, you know that that person is not of that culture, which is why you saying that you could not watch it. Is that correct?
NEFERTITI: Absolutely.
THOMAS: Okay.
NEFERTITI: That is 100% correct.
THOMAS: Yeah.
NEFERTITI: Yeah. Meanwhile, there are, I am noticing, if anybody wants some recommendations on HBO, old-timey shows-well, old-timey shows, but shows from like the ’90s-say, like Martin and Family Matters, shows that are, I mean, I consider them to be Black shows. Anybody can watch them, obviously, but they are a predominantly Black cast. And I’m delighted to say that the wonderful April Watts, who I believe is a Black woman herself, is doing a fantastic job describing those shows! And that is as it should be. That is as it should be. I’m very, very happy to have found that the last couple of days.
THOMAS: Absolutely.
NEFERTITI: Yes.
THOMAS: So, another point to consider is involve blind people.
NEFERTITI: Absolutely. Nothing about us without us, folks.
THOMAS: Yeah!
NEFERTITI: How are you going to know that something is making sense to us, that it’s-your audience, as Cheryl said, you know, blind people as your audience-how are you going to know that this is what we want, what we need, what we expect, what is good, unless we’re part of it?
THOMAS: That’s right. That’s right.
NEFERTITI: Yeah.
THOMAS: I’d also like to hear from filmmakers in terms of how would you want us to continue this conversation? What are some other things that you might want to dive into that would be of help? How can we help you make sure that your film represents you properly and is accessible with audio description?
NEFERTITI: Yeah. How can we help you help us gain more access? How about that?
THOMAS: Well, how can we help you help us help you help you help us?
NEFERTITI and THOMAS: [laugh]
NEFERTITI: Yes! Let’s just keep helping each other.
NEFERTITI and THOMAS: [laugh]
NEFERTITI: Yeah, that’s a great question. And I, again, wanna say that we are available. LinkedIn, Twitter, you know, there’s a LinkedIn group all about audio description. There’s a Twitter community all about audio description. There are Facebook groups about audio description. So, please join the conversation. You can hit us up because we are running low on time here, but we don’t want this to end. We don’t want this to be a box you checked, right?
THOMAS: That’s right. That’s right. One of the ideas that we’re thinking about, folks-and this could be for anyone, but what we’re specifically targeting, we’re looking at blind consumers of audio description, but it would be cool for others as well-what we wanted to do is to maybe put out a film, a project, whatever that has AD that is available to all to watch, and hopefully we can find something that is available, and maybe it doesn’t have to just be on Netflix, but we want it to be the most accessible. And we talk about it. We talk about it from the perspective of what did you like about the AD? What didn’t you like? So, in a sense, we QC it together. And I know there are a lot of people who are interested in quality control and getting into that and offering such a service and doing that for films. Maybe we could start to do that together and pick out points. Because I think with multiple ears on it, [laughs] multiple ears on it, it will be interesting to see what folks kind of pick out and maybe say they like and don’t like. And again, it could be, you know, whatever. Hopefully, it won’t be something too long, but maybe like a project is under an hour or maybe an hour and a half or something that we all would be interested in watching and talk about it together. So, that’s one of the things we’re thinking about doing.
NEFERTITI: We are. And we’re thinking about doing it on Clubhouse, folks. So, if you’re already on Clubhouse, that’s amazing. If you’re not, get familiar. It has a very nice sort of let’s just hang out on a Friday night type vibe. That’s what we’re going for ’cause, yeah, we wanna make this fun. We wanna make this educational. We wanna make it all of the things, most importantly, that people go away having learned something and having built community.
THOMAS: Yeah. And Nef said she was gonna bake the snacks, right? Didn’t you say you’re gonna bake a cake?
NEFERTITI: Oh, sure.
THOMAS: Cool.
NEFERTITI: Yeah, yeah. Some brownies. Some blondies, you know.
THOMAS: Nice, nice. Uh-oh! What kind of brownies?!
NEFERTITI and THOMAS: [laugh]
NEFERTITI: Well, maybe for the afterparty.
NEFERTITI and THOMAS: [laugh]
THOMAS: Excellent!
NEFERTITI: Funny.
THOMAS: So, this was cool, y’all. I thought this was pretty cool.
NEFERTITI: I think so, too. This was a great gathering. Again, thank you all so much for making it. And for you listening later through the replay, thank you. Yeah. Remember, this will be on Thomas’s podcast, Reid My Mind Radio in a few weeks, right?
CHERYL: And I wanna put another plug in for Reid My Mind Radio, for filmmakers to check out the Flipping the Script on Audio Description series that you can find on Reid My Mind Radio. Because, as Thomas was saying, involve blind people. This is a place where you can go read the transcript, listen to the audio, hear both from audio describers and from audio description users. I mean, just subscribe to the podcast and listen to the whole thing. [chuckles]
NEFERTITI: It’s gold, gold.
CHERYL: It’s gold, and I feel like it’s like this form of, you know, community access and continuing education that can’t be beat. And yeah, subscribe twice! [laughs]
NEFERTITI: Yeah!
THOMAS: Aw! OR you know what? Maybe they wanna subscribe three times! [De La Soul’s version of The Magic Number plays]
NEFERTITI: [delighted laugh]
THOMAS: You know?
NEFERTITI: All right.
DE LA SOUL: [singing] Three. That’s the magic number. [music stops abruptly]
THOMAS: There we go.
CHERYL: Yes, it is!
NEFERTITI: Thank you so much for joining us, everyone. We hope you join us again for the next chat. Stay tuned to our social media spaces for that announcement. And yeah, watch the Oscars. It’ll have description. [laughs]
THOMAS: There you go. With Nefertiti Matos Olivares.
NEFERTITI: Whoo! And two other folks too. Not just me, you guys, not just me! [laughs] Shout out to Erin Agee and Joe Amodio, I believe, is how it is pronounced.
THOMAS: Cool.
NEFERTITI: All right. Thanks, everybody.

Energetic outro music

THOMAS: Cool. Well, that concludes this week’s conversation. Why don’t y’all keep the conversation going on social media.
CHERYL: Use #ADFUBU, for us by us, #DescribeEverything, and #AudioDescription.
NEFERTITI: And hey, you know we’re out here, right? Mmhmm! Gathered and galvanized y’all. If you haven’t joined us yet, what are you waiting for?! You can find us in the LinkedIn Audio Description group and the AD Twitter community. We know that your participation will only make these spaces better.
Music fades out!

Hide the transcript

Blind Centered Audio Description Chat: – When AI Comes for the Blind

Wednesday, March 8th, 2023

While all the world is talking about AI, Artificial Intelligence, the Blind community has been dealing with what appears to be the eminent take over for the past few years. That’s the adoption of AI and Text to Speech in Audio Description.

In this last BCAD Chat of 2022 we wanted to discuss the pros and cons of AI and TTS voices narrating Audio Description.

Use this letter as a template to personalize and express your concerns about TTS in AD.

Shout out to Scott Blanks & Nefertiti Matos Olivares for the draft.

Join Us Live

The BCAD Live Chats can take place on a variety of platforms including Twitter and Linked In.

To stay up to date with the latest information and join us live follow:
* Nefertiti Matos Olivares
* [Cheryl Green]*(https://twitter.com/whoamitostopit)
* Thomas Reid](https://twitter.com/tsreid)

Listen

Transcript – Created By Cheryl Green

Show the transcript

Music begins
THOMAS: Welcome to the Blind-Centered Audio Description Chats. These are the edited recordings of the Blind-Centered Audio Description Live Chats!
CHERYL: The live is the most fun part! We get together, we start with a question, and then we invite up anybody from the audience who wants to come and chat with us, agree, disagree, shed light on something that we hadn’t thought about before, which is Nefertiti’s favorite. [electric whoosh]
NEFERTITI: I’m Nefertiti Matos Olivares, and I’m a bilingual professional voiceover artist who specializes in audio description narration! I’m also a fervent cultural access advocate and a community organizer.
CHERYL: I’m Cheryl Green, an access artist, audio describer and captioner.
THOMAS: And I’m Thomas Reid, host and producer Reid My Mind Radio, voice artist, audio description narrator, consultant, and advocate.
SCOTT B: Hi, I’m Scott Blanks. I’m a passionate advocate for the highest quality audio description in all of the arts. I’m the co-founder of the LinkedIn Audio Description Group and the Twitter AD community.
SCOTT N: Scott Nixon here. I’m an audio description consumer and advocate, hoping to be an audio description narrator very, very soon. [electronic whoosh]
THOMAS: Hey, Nef, why don’t you tell people how they could join the live recording?
NEFERTITI: That’s really simple. Just follow us on social media to keep up with important details, such as dates, times, and what platform will be using. On Twitter, I’m @NefMatOli. Cheryl?
CHERYL: I’m @WhoAmIToStopIt.
THOMAS: I’m @TSRied, you know, R to the E I D.
NEFERTITI: How about you, Scott?
SCOTT B: I’m @BlindConfucius. That’s Blind Confucius.
SCOTT N: And you can catch me on my social media, Twitter only. That’s @MisterBrokenEyes, Capital M r Capital Broken Capital E y e s.
[smartphone selection beeps]
CHERYL: Recording now!

NEFERTITI: Welcome, welcome. Welcome. And welcome, everyone! Tell a friend if you haven’t already. This is a conversation all about TTS, text to speech, and audio description. Place, the place for TTS in audio description. Is there one? What is it? Do you hate it? Do you love it? If you love it, we are particularly interested in hearing from you tonight. I’d love to hear from people who might change my mind or might make me think a little differently about this topic, because, frankly, I am strongly against TTS.
THOMAS: So, the conversation is all about AI and TTS, mainly TTS. But I figure we should have a little conversation about both, because they’re sort of used together. And I think there is a little bit of a difference when folks talk about AI, or artificial intelligence, in the audio description space and then TTS or text to speech. And so, a little bit of the difference: the AI, artificial intelligence, that usually refers to, so, that is computers sort of learning on their own and adjusting, making changes, and doing the things that humans would usually have to program. But the artificial intelligence and TTS sort of amounts to, if you, which I’m pretty sure everyone here has probably heard audio description when the speech comes in, and then the sound is ducked, well, that’s the artificial thing that’s happening right there. There’s sometimes when it’s done via AI. It’s not a human who’s actually sort of mixing the sound. The artificial intelligence is saying, “Okay, I’m gonna put it here. I’m gonna duck this down, go back up when the speech is finished. I’m gonna duck now. The speech is coming in, so I’m gonna duck the track.” And then you’re gonna hear mainly the speech. “And then when it’s finished saying the audio description, I’m gonna go back up with the track.” And so, the film itself will start playing louder. It’s not clean. It’s sort of a jumpy thing, kind of takes you out. And it’s kind of annoying. It’s kind of annoying. So, that’s part of the artificial intelligence.
There’s some AI that I think they’re also working on when it comes to, I don’t know if anyone’s doing that right now, but actually writing the audio description, as far as I heard. I think that might be in the works if it’s not actually out there. If someone knows if it’s been done, you tell me. But then the TTS part is what we all know as the text to speech or the synthesized speech. That’s the computer who is taking the job of the narrator. And I just mean that on that particular film. I’m not making a blanket statement about these things taking jobs from narrators, but, you know, in a way it’s happening. [laughs] So, yeah.
And so, the questions that we usually get into, the discussion usually is sort of like pro or con. Do you like it? Do you not? Are you okay with it? So, we can start off there. But that’s really, I don’t think that’s really where wanna to stay, because right now, whether we’re pro or con, I think we need to think about that the industry and those who are really offering this and pushing this well, they’re very pro. And they’re pro, we know, because not because of the artistic value of synthetic speech, but they’re pro because they wanna save some money, and as I like to say, so Jeff Bezos can go to space and whatever else he wants to do with all that money. That’s a whole nother conversation. I don’t know what you can do with all that money, but whoo. Anyway. But apparently what you cannot do is provide good audio description! [laughs] I said it!
I wanted to frame the conversation, but Neff and everyone else, Cheryl, Scotts, I’d say the two Scotts, if y’all wanna talk about pro/con, because I think the thing that would be interesting, maybe we can make the argument, maybe we can even invite some folks up to take a side of pro and con first and just to sort of get that to hear why people might actually be pro and hear what their arguments are, because it’s always good to hear from folks.
CHERYL: Cheryl here, and I will say that I’m con. I’m firmly on the con side that Thomas laid out. But I wanna be clear that that is not because I’m a professional audio describer, and I am sad that a computer is taking my job. And I could be, but I feel like, as in the sighted describer community, the narrator community, voice talent community, we need to be careful that our main argument against it isn’t, “I might lose my job.” It is awful to lose the job, but the point that is important to me is that my job is about creating audio description for the audience to have a wonderful, immersive experience. So, it’s the audio description and the user’s perspective, I think, that really should be paramount here when we discuss it. I think it’s fine to have a conversation about jobs, but that might be a different space because these conversations are blind-centered audio description conversations. So, I would ask that if there’s voice talent in here, that we keep it centered on what is the experience the audience is getting? And I just don’t feel like TTS offers, and especially the AI-written stuff, it doesn’t offer the nuance. I’ve seen things where the description is focused just on that moment between dialogue, but there was no opportunity to hear a description about anything that happened before the dialogue. There’s no context. These lines sort of float in space and don’t seem to connect and make a cohesive whole. So, I’ll stop there and hand it over to anybody else. Thanks.
NEFERTITI: How about you, Scott Blanks?
SCOTT B: I am one who is against TTS in the vast majority of the media that is currently being audio described. Let me elaborate. So, when I think about the arts or entertainment broadly writ, I’m thinking about film, TV, stage, other creative presentations, art, artistic exhibits, things like that. I feel in those spaces that as things currently stand that TTS, as has already been mentioned by a few people, is, it is not what is going to make the experience a quality one, and it doesn’t make it an accessible one. The point of audio description is accessibility, and audio description can also be considered an art form. But even if you just consider it on the accessibility side, if the accessibility tool is a synthetic voice that is mispronouncing words, that is, as has been mentioned, there’s an odd rhythm or arrhythmia to it that takes you out of the experience, then your experience is not only not as immersive, it’s not as accessible. And that’s the point of audio description in all of the contexts that we know it right now, and in a lot of the context where we don’t know it.
And I would say if I were, if I were to be pro audio description through TTS narration, it might be in some of those spaces where there is no option right now. If there was a way to access information that scrolled on a TV screen, real-time, newsworthy information, that might be something that I could see because having the quickest access possible to that information is really critical. And I don’t think it would be feasible to think that we could have a human standing by 24/7 on literally thousands of different networks, TV stations, feeds, whatever to provide that. But I think we have to kind of keep our focus. Most of the professionals here, the professionals on this panel that I’m fortunate to be alongside here are audio describing or writing for audio description or providing other contributions to the audio description field through arts and entertainment. And in that space, I don’t see that TTS has a place in the provision of audio description in 2022.
NEFERTITI: Beautifully said. I could not agree more. All right, Scott Nixon, let’s hear from you!
SCOTT N: All right. I would like to conduct a small thought exercise for the sighted people in the audience today. You’re at an art museum. You’re, well, you’re at the Louvre. Okay. You’re standing in front of the Mona Lisa itself, its glory, its majesty, its beauty. You’re drinking it in with your eyes. Imagine for a moment you couldn’t actually see the painting. You couldn’t experience it the way everybody else experiences it, so you have an audio description device plugged into your ear. Would you prefer a member of the artistic community talking passionately about the magnificent painting you’re seeing before you, [imitates stiff robotic voice] or would you like a robotic voice explaining to you what it looks like? [back to regular voice] That is what we’re talking about with TTS.
I myself am vehemently anti-TTS for audio description because it robs something you’re watching of its soul, okay? I have watched sitcoms and movies and various other forms of media with TTS audio description, as, you know, as a curiosity over the years, and it really does take something away from the experience. Why should we as a blind community have to have a lesser experience than everyone else just because a company wants to save a couple of thousand bucks? It is literally a matter of a couple of thousand bucks between bad TTS and even minimally good audio description. So, why not do it? The simple answer is they don’t think we matter enough.
So, at the end of the day, this is something I always say when I’m talking to people about accessibility, audio description, accessible websites, all that sort of stuff, “You are a company. You are ostensibly here to make money. If you make a quality product and an accessible product that vision-impaired and blind people will enjoy, we talk. We talk to each other. We tell people when something is good. If you build it, we will send you sack loads of money. So, why are you sitting on your butts doing something that you shouldn’t be doing?” And that’s me done for now.
THOMAS as Audio Editor:

THOMAS as Audio Editor:
Hey Y’all, I just need to interrupt for a moment.
During this live conversation, we had a challenge getting our technology to work. Well, that we is really me.
We wanted to play a clip in order to have a sample to discuss.

Mmy technology is working today so even though we didn’t have the chance to discuss it, you can have a chance to hear the sample.

Check this out!

Downton Abbey clip:

Test to Speech Audio Description Narrator:
In the English countryside, a turn of the century train barrels past the lake

it rumbles by dead leaves and bare branch trees. puffs of white steam ripple out from its engine and below on to the rolling green hills.

On board a large black haired man in his late 40s peers out his window. Steam envelops the wires of utility poles.

In a village, a wire travels between quaint stone houses to a telegraph office.

NEFERTITI: Amazon Prime is where you can find this example. It’s a show that was hugely popular called Downton Abbey from our British neighbors over there across the pond. What isn’t beautiful about this experience is that as majestic as the show is, it has TTS. And the TTS says a lot of the things or is guilty of a lot of the things that Scott Blanks mentioned: mispronouncing names, misnaming names. So, in addition to the audio description script being kind of crappy, then on top of that, you have this robotic voice who, for those of you who are blind and in the audience who use a screen reader, it’s worse than like the Eloquence screen reader. Eloquence, for those who are not aware, is the most popular, widely used screen reader that blind people use to get around on the Internet, on PCs, on Windows machines. So, I mean, it’s just super distracting, really kind of offensive, and just not at all in keeping with the content, which is very dramatic and passionate! But then you have this [imitates robotic voice] TTS voice: The train rides down the rails. You know, it’s just, it’s, and not for nothing, but I sound great compared to the TTS just now. So, it’s just, it’s just so inappropriate.
SCOTT B: It’s Scott Blanks just to jump in. And if you’ve not ever enabled audio description on Prime video, you can do that once you start playback of an item. There should be an audio and subtitles option on your playback screen that you can access, and in there, you would wanna choose, in the case of Downton Abbey, English audio description.
SCOTT N: Just as an example of bad versus good, the American sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, huge hit in its day. Audio description turned up on Amazon Prime here in Australia about a year ago, and I was all gung-ho and ready to listen to it. I put on the first episode, bang. TTS. Completely robbed the show of its humor and its charm. I gave up after two episodes. Now, this year, HBO Max in America have apparently provided a human-narrated audio description track, and I was played a brief sample of it: 12,000% improvement. It gave the humor of the show. The audio description narrator was playing along with the jokes, smiling at the right times, frowning at the right times with his voice and all that sort of stuff. And it really did enhance the experience. So, the difference between TTS and human AD is like night and day. It’s just really a really important thing. And like I said, it helped to bring the soul of the show alive to the people who can’t see the soul that they put up on the screen. And that’s me.
THOMAS: In this conversation, TTS is sort of the demon. It’s the bad guy. But, you know, the technology’s not the bad guy. Like, we use TTS as blind people, as people with disabilities in general. We use TTS. TTS can, I love my screen reader. It gives me access. The screen reader is my input. It’s the way that I take in information. That is, that’s my access. The screen reader, that’s my guy! [laughs] Like, you know what I mean? Because he’s helping me out all the time. And then in order for me to have digital output, screen reader’s my guy. Like, I need him or her or them, right? And so, it shouldn’t necessarily be demonized. And I think that sometimes there are other people with other disabilities that make use of access technology, of TTS as well. So, Cheryl, you wanna talk about that?
CHERYL: Thanks, Thomas. I feel like you’ve framed it up so beautifully. The point that I wanted to make is that I have listened to different panels and read things and heard people arguing against TTS, which again, to reiterate, [chortles] I am not for TTS, especially as the Scotts pointed out, in a museum or a work of, a film, an art piece, an art film. But what troubles me is sometimes the reasons given end up incorporating a lot of ableist slurs and a lot of really harsh language, which I’ve heard none of tonight. But what I want us to be careful is, like Thomas said, to not demonize the technology. And for those folks who have a lot of communication through one of these systems where they’re typing or selecting images and some kind, a synthesized voice comes out, that’s communication. And so, it’s not the voice that’s “awful and soulless and inhuman.” I just want us to be careful. And when you leave this session and you go out and you promote or you speak about the harms and the problems with TTS, that you be careful to not be too ableist and throw augmentative and alternative communication users under the bus while insulting the sounds of these voices. It’s not the sound of the voice, it’s the application. And like Thomas was talking about, when the AI adjusts the volume of the soundtrack for this TTS to come in, it is like my head starts spinning. It’s just so jumpy. It’s so, it’s not artistic, and it doesn’t fit the vision of the film or the show. So, I’ll pause there.
THOMAS: And I also wanted to jump in with two podcasts ‘cause I think Cheryl, you had a podcast with a AAC user, and I think, so, if folks wanna kind of get to see how people use these devices and how it’s so intertwined with their life, that’s one. So, what’s the name of that podcast, Cheryl? I think it’s called Pigeonhole.
CHERYL: Oh, my! No, no. People should go to endever’s podcast. AAC Town is the podcast that endever* and their comrade, Sam, run. They’re both AAC users full-time or nearly full-time, and they have a podcast. It’s all transcribed. But yes, I did have endever* on my show, Pigeonhole, one time.
THOMAS: That’s what I was talking about.
CHERYL: Yeah.
THOMAS: You had them on your show.
CHERYL: But it was to talk about—
THOMAS: Let me do what I gotta do, Cheryl! [laughs]
CHERYL: OK! [laughs]
THOMAS: You always shout out my podcast, and so I wanna shout out yours. But mainly because it applies, right? I don’t wanna just shout, you know, I’m not just randomly shouting out podcasts. Although I do that around here. Every two hours I open up my window and I shout it out, “Pigeonhole!”
BOTH: [guffaw]
The other one is I was gonna say, now I am gonna do a promo of mine, is because I had a conversation with Lateef McLeod. And Lateef McLeod is a AAC user. And in that episode, we really go into some of the other issues around TTS that never necessarily get talked about. Lateef McLeod is an African American, and the voices that he had all his lives don’t really represent him until he got a voice that was a synthesized voice of a Black man. And so, you know, these issues are big, right? We always talk about it, like, these issues are really big. And so, and in that, Nefertiti was actually in that episode, too, where we did a little bit of a little skit about TTS that touches on a bunch of these things. So, anyway, it was a cool episode, I think. And so, both of those, check it out, and we get into these conversations as well. That’s it. I’m Thomas. I’m done.
NEFERTITI: Yeah. So, I think the summary here is let’s express ourselves, but be mindful to not sort of turn around while advocating for one accessibility, mm, putting down another, you know, or minimizing, punching down on another. So, I think that’s a great point. And we had a great clip to show you related to that, where human narration meets TTS and how it was used judiciously, minimally, but in a way that really drove home the point of where maybe it’s appropriate.
Scream Trailer from Social Audio Description Collective

AD Narrator – Nefertiti Matos Olivares:
The lights are on In a white suburban house at night. A silver cordless landline rings with the ID, Unknown Name.

In the kitchen, Tara pushes reject on the cordless while holding her smartphone. She is a thin light skinned Latina teen with long wavy dark hair pulled back in a ponytail.

She’s just texted

TTS Receiving Text Message:
Mom’s out of town again you should come over here. Free dinner, Many binge watch options.
AD Narrator – Nefertiti Matos Olivares:
Amber responds.
TTS Sending Text Message:
Have to do better.

TTS Receiving Text Message:
Unlock liquor cabinet.

— Landline phone rings

TTS Receiving Text Message:
You should answer it

TTS Sending Text Message:
How did you know my landline was ringing?
Amber?

TTS Receiving Text Message:
This isn’t Amber.

Tara speaking on landline:
This isn’t funny amber

Deep Menacing Voice over landline:
Would you like to play a game? Tara?

Suspenseful Crescendo closes the scene.

THOMAS: That had some really different reactions that I wonder where people stand with.
NEFERTITI: First, I wanna say that this is for a Scream trailer that the Social Audio Description Collective described. It’s a bit of a hacker horror type film. And we had a human narrating the audio description, but there was a scene between somebody who was on camera and somebody who was off camera, and they were texting one another. And so, we decided, full disclosure, I’m part of the Social Audio Description Collective, we decided that why not use a synth to say what those lines of texts were rather than having the human describer say them? Just like we blind people experience TTS all the time with our screen readers, etc., why not just put one of those voices to those text messages? And it was a very brief exchange but still sort of drove home the point.
CHERYL: It worked so beautifully because I’m watching the screen, and I’m seeing basically a computer screen, words pop up on a computer screen. So, hearing that screen reader voice read it was really cool. And it really uplifts, in my mind, the ingenuity and creativity of disability community. Like, who would’ve thought to do that besides people who interact with these voices all the time? I thought it was such an add to the, it elevated the art, I thought.
THOMAS: Yeah, and I think I remember that there were some comments from folks who I don’t think were blind who were very negative toward that text to speech being included in there. And it was like, wow, like this is totally my experience. This is a text message. That was what a text message sounds like to us.
NEFERTITI: Mmhmm.
THOMAS: You know? And so, again, to me, highlighting that no, audio description should always center blind people. And so, blind people need to be a part of this, and blind people need to be a part of that conversation, which is part of my issue personally with, and so, advancing this a little bit, is the framing of this conversation of audio description and the way it’s been framed within the community by those outside of the community, those creating it, the corporations, right? Is that hey, TTS is good because you will get more. So, it’s either, if you want more audio description, then you take TTS. And that, framing TTS that way, is the biggest problem that I have with this entire subject is because we are being told we are being given options, and it’s two options, and we have never been consulted. And if they tell me that, “Oh, no, you were consulted as a community because we issued a survey that some folks got to fill out,” I don’t care about that. Because the thing is, is that it’s still based on that option that you give me. So, a lot of people would say, “Well, if these are my only two options, TTS or no audio description,” I can see why a lot of people would go that route.
NEFERTITI: Mmhmm.
THOMAS: But that’s not the route, that’s not the choice that we should be given. Why are you giving us those two choices? Those aren’t really even choices. And so, that’s my, really, my biggest problem with this whole conversation. I think history sort of says that when large corporations get their hands on something and have it in their cold hands and their cold hearts [chuckles] to do something and to get it done and to save a penny or two, they’re gonna do it. It’s gonna happen. And so, right now, my concern is that is this conversation about pro or con, does it even matter at this point? Is this inevitable?
And so, should the conversation actually move into something else like, “Hey, Amazon, hey, you corporations, why don’t you, you should, you need to be including us in this conversation”? Because like Scott, I think Scott B., you mentioned some other opportunities where, you know, okay, wait. Text to speech, I’ll take it here. This would work. This would help my life here in this particular case. And I’m wondering if there are other examples of that, that apply to film. Can we talk about either this framing of no, of more AD with text to speech or not, but also, is this inevitable? Do y’all think it’s inevitable? Do we still have a chance to say no? Or should we be talking about, hey, let’s come to the “negotiation table” and have these conversations and find out where the blind community says, “Okay, this would work for us”? I wanna throw that out there.
NEFERTITI: Mmhmm. And the blind community and our allies. Let’s never underestimate the power of allyship and togetherness. You know, this is accessibility.
THOMAS: Absolutely.
NEFERTITI: But it’s not to exclude our sighted allies. We center blind people here, but we are here, and we want to be part of the conversation just as much as our sighted allies have been already.
But I would like to hear a little bit from Scott Blanks about this idea that I’m sure is not exclusively something that, you know, just sort of a light bulb went off in his head, but something that he has taken and done something about. And it’s all about advocacy and a campaign of sorts. Because, Thomas, what you were saying about so, what are our choices? No description or TTS? And is this sort of the end of the road? Do we just let them do them being the cold-hearted, cold-handed, as you put it, companies out there to save a penny go the way of TTS, or do we do something about it? Can we do something about it? And I think that Scott has come up with a way that we can, if people get behind it. Scott Blanks, do you wanna talk a little bit about that?
SCOTT B: I have found that there are a lot of different ways to engage with companies, not just talking about audio description, but in so many different things. And particularly if you’re a person with a disability and unfortunately, you have to fight for a lot of stuff, small things, large things. Sometimes small things feel big. And there’s more of that than there should be. That’s a different topic, though. But I find that engaging with companies, it’s very easy to do that in places like social media and in sort of those public spaces. But what tends to be a little bit more of a lift for us, but also, I think has more impact on these companies, is when you start writing to them directly and when they start hearing from people in numbers.
So, one of the things that I did a few months ago was I took a run at a very basic, it’s sort of a template of sorts, a very, very rudimentary template that someone can take and use however they would like to reach out to, if they know of an entity who is providing TTS audio description, and they would like to talk about why they feel like that company should look at doing it a different way. This is a, it’s in a Google document that anyone can access. I would say the best thing you can do is connect to the LinkedIn audio description group, the Twitter community, or you can come find me on LinkedIn or anyone here really would probably be able to get you access to that link. It’s a public link, and it is available for anyone to view, copy, and do with as you see fit. But I believe it’s important. If companies don’t hear from us, and they’re doing a thing, then they think they’re doing that thing correctly. They believe that that’s how it should be done unless they start hearing from people.
And listen, I’m not under any sort of illusion that writing a bunch of letters is guaranteed to make a change. But I don’t like the idea of something becoming so rooted in, and the expectation is that this will be the way things are for now and evermore and thinking that we didn’t try hard enough. And I believe that part of advocacy is it’s not as flashy, but it’s getting those letters written. It’s getting that contact to these companies. And all of these c
THOMAS: Cool. Well, that concludes this week’s conversation. Why don’t y’all keep the conversation going on social media.
CHERYL: Use #ADFUBU, for us by us, #DescribeEverything, and #AudioDescription.
NEFERTITI: And hey, you know we’re out here, right? Mmhmm! Gathered and galvanized y’all. If you haven’t joined us yet, what are you waiting for?! You can find us in the LinkedIn Audio Description group and the AD Twitter community. We know that your participation will only make these spaces better.
Music fades out!

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