Posts Tagged ‘Conference’

Audio Description: More than Movies Television and Theater

Wednesday, August 28th, 2019

Most people familiar with Audio Description or Descriptive Video have probably experienced the art access through movies, television or live theater. Today we hear about other applications where the art form provides access.

Headshot of Kat Germain
Kat Germain, a Describer from Toronto Canada tells us about providing description during conferences, sporting events and more. Plus we hear how she is training future describers on more than narration and post production.




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What’s up family. Reid My Mind Radio family!

You know, we’re growing. That means, our message is spreading to more people. Slowly we’re changing what people think about blindness. With every episode we’re challenging the perceptions of what it means to be blind.

Unfortunately, some people think it means life is over. They no longer see the life as being filled with opportunity. I get it, remember I’ve been there and felt that. But today I can definitely tell you there’s lots of opportunity if you’re willing to see them as such.

If you’re listening that means you are. And I got you.

If you want to assist in getting this message out especially to those newly impacted by blindness, low vision disability; tell a friend, to tell a friend…

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro Music

today, we’re continuing with our look at the opportunities available through Audio Description. Both from the consumer perspective as in additional applications and production.

To do this, we’re going North.


My name is Kat Germain and I am an Audio Describer based in Toronto Canada.

[TR in conversation with KG:]
So let’s start with the definition of Audio Description as described on your website You mentioned talking pictorially.


We’re trying to use dynamic language. language that is descriptive , multi textured and vibrant. Painting a picture with words and filling in information in ways that is not going to distract from that which we’re describing but is going to add to it and help the understanding of the listener.


A multi textured vibrant painting with words.

That’s a cool definition of Audio Description or AD. If you’re a regular here you’re probably already familiar with AD.

I’m pretty confident however that you’re less familiar with description in the settings Kat tends to apply her artistic skills.

Like conferences and workshops.


If there’s a presenter they’ve got a Power point presentation, video clips associated with that, they’ve got photographs, whatever it is and my job is to describe those things to the listener. There’s also often a lot of signage around, people places, the size of the room, where the washrooms are all of those things to help the listener be as A., independent as they choose to be and then B., to give them information.


I know what you’re thinking. Wow, Canada. First health care and now this. Well it’s not yet as common as you may think.


I have sort of two or three people who are from the Blind partially sighted and low vision community and when they go to conferences they specifically ask for the accommodation of Audio Description and so I’m called for that. I have a close relationship with those people and so I know the kinds of things that they want and I also adjust it to what their needs are.

[ and so for example a lot of them are going to conferences where there’s a large number of people who are disability identified or parts of the conference are specifically geared towards or celebrating people with lived experience of disability or people who are working with those communities. And so they often want to know what people look like. If the person who is speaking about a lived experience actually potentially has a lived experience. And those kinds of questions are potentially a little bit politically incorrect. I wouldn’t announce that over a system with a large number of listeners but if it’s one person I’m always very happy to answer a question. And likewise even if it’s a lot of people after the show or the event or whatever it is if they want to ask me a question about perceived cultural background of a character or a person I’m happy to do that as well.

[TR in conversation with KG:]

So can you describe how it actually works because if you’re there for one person I’m sort of imagining that you’re sitting right next to the person but my understanding is that’s not the way you do it.


That’s not the way I do it but it is a possibility. Generally speaking I am a little further back and away from the crowd and mostly that has to do with so other people are not distracted by me speaking because while I’m trying not to speak on top of the words of the person whose presenting as best as I can because it’s going to be improvised, it still can be a little distracting for people that are around. So I separate myself from the group and I speak through a little microphone and then the person has a receiver that’s about the size of a fold up wallet and they listen through a single ear piece.

[TR in conversation with KG:]
So then in that case it’s a one way communication?



[TR in conversation with KG:]

Ok. So those questions they would ask you later on. They wouldn’t necessarily get the opportunity to ask you right there unless they’re texting you.


Which as happened as well. Yes.

[TR in conversation with KG:]

Ah, ok!


While these accommodations are often for individuals, Kat requests that the service is advertised so others can also benefit. Just in case, she’s prepared with multiple receivers.

So is this available here in the states?


I’m not familiar with anybody who does conferences in the states but I am familiar with lots of Describers down there.

[TR in conversation with KG:]
Ok, so for our purposes if you do want it you have to call Kat Germain. How about that! Laughs…


Laughs… Yes that is exactly the rule.


I mean it makes sense! Not only does she have the experience, but there’s a knowledge of best practices for the describer. And, she also has great suggestions for presenters.


Accessibility doesn’t have to always be on the describer. We can be a little bit more interdependent and a little bit more inclusive. For example the presenters can talk a little bit about their video themselves. They can introduce themselves and what they’re wearing that day.


And what about group or panel discussions where multiple people are contributing.

Whether you are participating in the discussion or in the audience, from a blindness perspective, it can get tricky.


Often people who rely on visual cues can tell that somebody has sat back in their chair, they put their hands down and are looking around , there’s a visual cue that they’ve stopped speaking. But if you’re not accessing things visually, if you’re not accessing them in the same way visually then you don’t have that cue and so the person if they say that’s the end of my thought then the person knows ok maybe I can put up my hand now , I can say something, I can interject without interrupting them etc.


What are some of the other applications for Audio Description that you may have not experienced or considered.


I love my theater, I love my conferences, I love my Descriptive Video, but sports.

Audio: Play by Play from the NBA 2019 Championship … Toronto Raptors Win!


Yes, there’s the play by play, but have you ever wondered what you’re missing especially when attending a live game? Like when Kat described a game of Wheelchair Basketball.


I worked with a colleague and he has the sports commentary background and I have the Audio Description background. And we worked in tandem. The way that we presented what we were doing is a little bit more of a hybrid. We did do the straight up description, but then also we did a little bit more commentating as well; what does team Canada need to do to catch up? How is so and so playing in this game? We made that decision to do it that way and the people who listened enjoyed it.


I think what makes this exciting is how the description goes beyond the action on the court.


In more detail than you would hear for example on a radio broadcast. Additionally though, I was describing what was happening in the stadium. I was talking about the antics of the mascot and where the t-shirt cannon was pointing. What the half time dancers were doing and what the logos look like that were all around the stadium. What was happening on the Video-Tron because they had a bunch of gag things. A kiss camera where they put a heart around you and filmed you when you were about to kiss. A bongo camera where they super impost bongos in front of a person who was on screen and they had to move their hands up and down as if they were playing the bongos.


Now, I’m not the biggest sports fan, but I do enjoy the energy of a live game. So I was immediately interested when Kat mentioned that they’re looking into describing a baseball game.


I’m really hopeful we’re going to sometime in the near future get a baseball game. We’d ask the arena to offer us a box and then invite folks in the community to come and we’d do the description in the box with them there. I promise to invite you.

[TR in conversation with KG:]
Oh yeh, please do!


Just when you thought you knew what to expect from Audio Description. Someone pushes the boundary a bit further because they believe in access.


I’m doing a sketch show right now because I have a comedy background. I did the Second City Conservatory. I love comedy and want very, very much to support it and for the audience to get the jokes and hopefully get the jokes as close as possible to the same time as the rest of the audience.


AD in this particular application gives Kat a bit more room to use techniques that she would otherwise forgo.


I do feel to support the work and to support the people listening presumably who are there at the show because they want to laugh with everybody else that I felt like it was a little bit of nudge was needed for a couple of spaces. Not throughout the whole thing. For example there’s a witch scene. A witch does a spell and the lights and flicker. And there’s another one… flash and flicker and the third one, she does her spell and, …. nothing. So I can do a little bit of that inflection. A little bit of pause so it’s that comedic timing within the Audio Description itself without being comedic myself.


A sense of humor is important in live events, you never know what you may have to describe.


One of the men gets completely naked we had a long description of what the average size of a man’s…

Audio: Ahem, Ahem, Got Damn! “Let Me Clear My Throat”, DJ Cool


With such vast experience, Kat’s recently started her latest role in Audio Description; training future describers.


I’ve trained ten people to be Descriptive Video Specialists. It was a three day workshop and there is another one planned for the very near future


Kat couldn’t devote time to teaching voice work, so she sought students with a background in either acting or voice over. Additionally she wanted those interested in writing description.


Post production as well. Editing the voice recording, getting it all up to spec, mixing it etc. Sending it off to the broadcasters.


Creating AD is more than technical.


Identity is a huge topic here, particularly in Toronto. It’s my understanding that we have the most diverse city in the entire world. We have the most number of languages spoken here, the most number of countries represented here. It’s a thing!


It’s a thing that finally we’re talking more about.

Respecting cultural differences through inclusion and representation. From all perspectives including the consumer, and creators.


It’s a pretty challenging balance. What would fly in Toronto is not necessarily going to fly in a teeny tiny town on the northern east coast. [of Canada]


Similar to the U.S. Canada is trying to figure this out. Currently there aren’t any rules just some generic guidelines recommended by Accessible Media Inc.


Describing a person’s race or ethnicity or disability is not necessary unless its perceived to be relevant to a plot or character development.

To me the question is who’s doing the perceiving.

The majority of describers in Canada are generally speaking white people, probably sis gender. There is not a huge ton of diversity with the describers and I don’t think that matters in and of itself but I think it would be fantastic if we had a little bit more diversity. And certainly with my Descriptive Video students I actively went and sought out actors of color that I knew and thought might be interested.


While she follows the guidelines, she does have a particular point of view when it comes to diversity.


I feel that it’s always relevant who is and who is not represented on a stage or a screen. I work in inner city schools with a huge group of diverse kids and I want those kids to see themselves reflected on stages or screens. Or again, know that currently they are not. I want my students to have heroes and people to look up to and if they don’t know there’s a Blind person on a stage or a person who’s Japanese on stage then to me I feel it’s not doing them or the play a service.


During a recent live theater performance, one of the actors was Blind. In no way was this relevant to the role.


I had the chance to speak with the actor himself and he said yes he would like them to know that he’s on the stage and he’s Blind.

[TR in conversation with KG:]

how did you get into Audio Description from the jump? What made you interested in it?


Representation and equity and access has basically been a part of my life’s work. It started when I was two years old and I went with my Nana to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. They had a residence there. We would go shopping, grocery shopping for the residence. That was the environment I grew up in with a grandmother who’s very interested in volunteerism and working to support communities who are traditionally marginalized. Growing up in downtown Toronto we got all kinds of beautiful skin colors and hair textures and heights and shapes and everything. My friends and my family were not being represented on stages or screens in this extremely diverse city.

Which put a bee in my bonnet.


My apologies for that rough language!
Too often when we hear the term diversity, it doesn’t always include all marginalized groups.


Cultural heritage, physical, neuro, gender fluidity, so diversity in its full spectrum.

Eventually Kat began working with Picasso Pro. An organization providing training and workshops to artists with disabilities who were not being represented on stage.


They were the ones who applied for funding and got a grant to bring a woman up from California, Deb Lewis. She was the one person who essentially seeded Canada with Audio Description. She taught the group on the west coast in Vancouver, 8 of us in Toronto, and then there’s also Stratford Ontario and they have the Stratford Festival. Since then Steph, who is the woman on the west coast trained some other people around the country but it’s still only like four or five groups of us in Canada.


I asked Kat to identify some opportunities for Blind and Low Vision people to participate in the creation of Audio Description. She’s actually seeking funding to develop such a practice.


The easiest one would be straight up the narration part of Audio Description. I also feel that there is room for people if they are interested in doing the post production for Audio Description as well. They would edit the sound files and mix it and make sure it’s up to broadcast specs. Leading teams who are providing the service in sort of management positions as well.


Of course, there’s quality control consultants. Not only do they provide feedback on the actual description


Every time I’m hired to do a workshop I always bring a community consultant with me. I don’t feel like it’s appropriate for me to be teaching any skills about community when there’s no body from the community there. They’re going to know better what their needs are.


Not everyone involved with AD is familiar with people who are Blind and Low Vision. There’s a lot of power in personal interaction.


I also think probably it makes everything more immediate and more meaningful for the learners as well.

Kind of the concept of nothing about us without us.


That’s the perfect way to wrap up these last two episodes around Audio description

I challenge those in the business of AD and in fact, I’ll take this even further, any business that serves the disability community, if the community isn’t participating in that business in a non-consumer role, it’s time you ask yourself why. And it’s crucial you question any response that ultimately keeps a member of the community from doing so.

A big shout out to Kat Germain

[TR in conversation with KG:]

Now where can folks learn more about Kat Germain and what you do, your trainings and possibly contact you to get you to describe a conference?


Hint, hint! Or sports!

My website is www. That’s (spelled out) Kat There’s no E on the end of Germain.


She can be reached by email as well


At Kat

You can also contact me in Toronto as well. My area code is 647-292-3359.


Instagram and Twitter?




You can find links to Kat, transcripts to each episode and more on

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Reid My Mind Radio – Are Blind Conferences Fantasy

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

Back from another Pennsylvania Council of the Blind Conference. This is not a recap.

After all of these years, this was the first time I recall hearing that such conferences  have been described as fantasy. Fantastic! Yes, but I never heard them described as being a fantasy.

Unicorn with Sunglasses

You could say this is my opinion on  the idea or you could just say it’s what was on my mind!

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Just about two weeks ago now, I attended my 11th conference of the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind.

My first conference was in 2006. I attended with a group representing the newly formed Monroe County  Council of the Blind or as we called it MCCB. We were considered a young, energetic  and extremely enthusiastic bunch of new comers to the organization.

Most of the group were newly adjusting to blindness. The MCCB itself was formed after we met at a local support group and decided we wanted to do more with our energy than talk about the issues.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for talking and sharing our stories to help one another better manage the experience, but for many of us we were used to doing more and had a need to put our energy to good use.

I’m sure each of us who attended that first conference had our own expectations. I don’t fully remember what I expected, but I know I was open to learning. I can definitely recall trying to process so many different emotions throughout the weekend and during the first few weeks to follow.

Even today some things really stand out from the experience.

Like when one of our members Mary Ann,  was given a Braille menu at an Olive Garden during dinner on our first night at the conference.

Her excitement was infectious! It was just a menu! In fact, it was just Olive Garden – no shots, I enjoy the breadsticks and salad!

As the only proficient Braille reader in the group, Mary Ann immediately designated herself as the official menu reader for the rest of the group who did not read Braille, but even for those who could read print.
And the group honored that request, not as though they had a choice!

As a new advocate at the time, I was both excited for her but yet upset that she was still so surprised by the availability of the menu. Obviously something she did not experience often.

The next morning, I got my first glimpse of an accessible tour of what I recall was a train museum.

The tour guides used descriptive language as opposed to assuming everyone could see and recognize various features about the characteristics of these historic trains.

Some of the materials were available in alternative formats to standard print including Braille and large print for those with low vision

This may not seem like a big deal for those in the know, but when you’re new to blindness and beginning to believe you have to get used to just missing out on certain things;
observing that it doesn’t really take that much effort to be included, well it’s a real awakening.

I recently heard these types of tours and activities or even the conferences themselves  described  as fantasy.
The idea is that this is not and will never be the real world. The real world I guess in the minds of those who believe this is fantasy will always  exclusively cater only to those with sight and forever exclude people with vision loss.

At various times  throughout my journey with vision loss I came close to believing things can’t change. My struggle with cynicism was only made worse  with the random encounters with those who remind me that they see me first as a blind man and their definition of that goes beyond my inability to see.
For them it’s the subconscious stereotypes and misperceptions that create their image of who I am. the things I do or don’t do are viewed through a lens painted with layers of misinformation that so much of society has been lead to believe about blindness and disability.

Being conscious of that  comes with a price.
I can sometimes put more pressure on myself to   do something “right” believing that if I veer off course or make a simple mistake I may confirmed a false truth about blindness.

The fantasy world of blind conferences or conventions actually provided me a place to practice all of my blindness skills in a friendly atmosphere.
These conferences also  offered me a chance to relieve myself of the burden of believing I had to represent every blind person in the world.

There are times when I can get up from my chair during a conference  and almost perfectly walk out of the room using my white cane and easily navigate my way to my destination.

Then there are the other times when I get a little side tracked for various reasons.

These conferences have over the years taught me that both results are okay.
There’s no perfection.
People with all levels of  Orientation and mobility skills have and do both.  People with 20/20 vision do both.

it’s not my responsibility to explain how my cane tapping against  a planter or some obstacle in the middle of the room is not a sign that I am lost, but rather me gaining access to that information to determine which is the best course to avoid that obstacle.

I can’t change what someone else sees. This is determined by their experience and knowledge , not me. I know there are those who will lump all people who are blind together.
We share the experience of blindness, but for many that’s it! We’re different in so many ways.

Maybe these conferences are considered fantasy based on the cooperation and the way people tend to work together.

Since that first conference, I watched how people with all different levels of vision loss could help one another.

The person in the elevator who has low vision searching for the right button extends their gratitude to the person with no sight whatsoever who quickly identifies the button using Braille.

the teamwork of one gentleman using his white cane while  supporting a man with both vision loss and mobility challenges , slowly losing his strength, make his way to his hotel room.

Throughout the weekend, I witnessed people  all in support of one another. I saw more to blindness than I did prior to the conference. It confirmed that  not only was I right in thinking my vision loss didn’t have to mean more than I can’t see. It didn’t reduce who I am as a person. it didn’t put me in another class of people. It didn’t in any way impact my competence, my manhood my spirit. It simply means my eyes no longer work and I need to figure out other ways to get the information that I need to do certain things.

Since 2007 I’ve been a part of the conference planning team and I have been the coordinator  since about 2010 . My hope each year is that those newly adjusting to blindness will walk away from the conference  believing  that what some see as a fantasy is really inevitable.

There are changing demographics that make accessibility  a much more mainstream term today than even in 2004 when I was first introduced to that word.

Companies like Apple have committed to accessibility  making so many things usable for people with disabilities.
Smart phones and their apps
Television and movies along with audio description
indoor navigation which basically brings  GPS inside.

All of this progress is real!
We can touch it,  put it to use today and measure its effectiveness.

However, we’re not able to count the degree in which the attitudes are changing.

For many people the last few years have been an awakening to things that have existed since this country’s beginning.

The police brutality against people of color
Law enforcement’s corruption and cover ups of these incidents
Racist ideologies and behavior throughout society.

Camera’s and demagogues like Trump bring all of this to the forefront for all to see and confront.

Meanwhile those in the communities effected have been raising their voices in protest forever. The larger society not wanting to believe it or refusing to believe this could be true simply lowered the volume control and went on with their lives.

Blindness according to multiple surveys is ranked as America’s greatest fear… even more than death.

Some of these surveys are as recent as August 2016.

We know that people fear what they don’t know or understand.

This level of ignorance in 2016 is not surprising  but also not excusable.

The other side of this ignorance are those who are overly amazed by blind people living their lives every day.

Successfully living lives shouldn’t be considered amazing.

Maybe then we raise the bar for what we expect from people with vision loss and others with disabilities. And there’s no doubt that these expectations would be met.

In no way will I frame my perspective as a fantasy. It’s in progress. The more access gained the more people will have a chance to hear our voices, learn of our stories and rid themselves of their fears. It’s happening, just watch!