Posts Tagged ‘Low Vision’

Welcome to The Art of Adjustment

Wednesday, January 24th, 2024

We’re beginning 2024 with the essence of what this podcast is all about.

From it’s inception, this podcast always wanted to be a way not only to share our stories and experiences of blindness and disability in general, but also a way to provide some encouragement to those adjusting to a new way of life.

It just so happens that this year makes ten years of producing this podcast. Take a listen to what’s in store for this first season of 2024.



Show the transcript


Happy New Year Reid My Mind Radio Family!
I’ve missed Y’all.

I know that may sound weird because I don’t personally know everyone who listens and or or reads the podcast.
Yeh, I said reads, shout out to all of those who consume the podcast transcripts.
Access is dope.

Even though I don’t personally know everyone consuming the podcast, knowing that you do rock with Reid My Mind Radio means we share something.
There’s an exchange of energy taking place.

When I get close to shutting the doors on this thing, something keeps me motivated to rock on!
Y’all are a big part of that.
Thank you!

Twenty twenty four will make 10 years that I’ve been producing audio as Reid My Mind Radio.
It’s also twenty years of becoming Blind.
It’s why I knew I needed to spend some time focusing on what I personally think is the best thing about this podcast – the people.
I want to produce more of the episodes that really dive into our experiences.

I want to focus on adjustment and how art can aid in the process.
I sort of see adjusting as an art form.
There’s no one way to do it.
However, there’s so much creativity involved that I thought it’s worth exploring.

Ten years of podcasting, twenty years of adjusting to blindness … oh and here’s the big one,
Music begins: “Five, Ten, Fifteen Twenty…” The Presidents


The one I’m the most proud of, y’all ready… thirty years as a husband to my wife Marlett.

— Reid My Mind Radio Intro Music

Five years ago, I did something I could have never imagined doing when I was a young kid.

In fact, even as an adult, I would have never thought it would be something I’d do.

In 2019, I celebrated 15 years of being Blind!

“Hold Up, Hold Up. Hold up! Say What? “The voice of a small child.


Celebrating life, my family, clarity of blindness.
When have you heard that phrase before? Clarity of blindness?
It’s true.

Five years ago and still today, I’m aware that my response to becoming Blind could have been the beginning of a lifetime of running.
Running from blindness that is.
A never ending marathon of doing everything possible to try and escape it.
That sounds exhausting.
But there’s lots of people needlessly sweating, breathing hard attempting to get away.

Meanwhile, it’s always there whether they acknowledge it or not.

But this isn’t really about them.
Well, not really.

This podcast has allowed me to paint profiles of people I find compelling.
It’s also one of the ways I explore aspects of disability.
My way of not running but rather embracing disability in a way that makes sense for me.

This season, I’m challenging myself to create a sort of self-portrait.
That’s not to say I’m doing a whole season on my personal experiences even though some suggested they’d be interested in that.

Over the years of speaking with various people on and off the podcast about disability, I realized that although we differ demographically, we can see some aspect of ourselves in each other.
More than often we share the emotions that come out of similar experiences.
Sometimes, we may see things in others that we don’t like or fear in ourselves.

In this season called The Art of Adjustment, I’m speaking with four individuals all with their own stories of adjustment.
Every episode this season, featuring a guest, will be followed up with a continuation of this self-portrait episode.
To be honest, I have no idea what that will be.
I’m not producing the self-portraits in that straight forward way.
Rather, I’m confident that the experience of adjusting to disability inevitably connects us and
therefore I’m sure there will be elements of our conversation that run parallel to my life.

As I record this episode, I’m thinking I’ll use sound bytes of a guest in the self-portrait episode or maybe it’s something else.
I really don’t know, we’ll find out together.

For the record, this is not about motivation or inspiration.
I’m not someone interested in motivational speaking.
In fact, I don’t really even know what that means.

Clip from Saturday Night Live:
“My name is Matt Foley. And I am a motivational speaker.
(Laughs from audience)
Now let’s get started by letting me give you a little bit of a scenario of what my life is all about.
First off I am 35 years old . I am divorced and I live in a van down by the river.
(Applause and laughs from audience)
Now you kids are probably saying to yourselves (yelling) hey I’m going to go out and get the world by the tail and wrap it around and pull it down and put it in my pocket. Well I’m here to tell you that you’re probably gonna find out as you go out there that you’re not going to amount to jack squat.”
(Laughs and applause from audience fades out)

I know there are lots of people with that in their linked in profile and claim to inspire, but what exactly do they do?
Ableism just totally messed up the word inspirational for me. I know many of you know exactly what I’m talking about.
You’ve probably been called inspirational for taking a walk, shopping, brushing your own teeth.
Inspiring for actually doing something, perhaps? Maybe it’s just my own issue.

I do want this podcast to encourage those adjusting to disability.
Even though circumstances and details are different, I think those adjusting to any situation can be encouraged.
But, my main concern are those with disabilities.

There’s an alternative to running away from disability.
Stop, turn around and confront it head on.
See what’s there.

I’m not here to tell anyone how to be Blind, how to be disabled.
But I am here to tell you that there’s real value in examining what it means to you.

So I’ll examine in real time

In this season, I’m speaking with those who in their own way have a variety of outlets that allow them to embrace and explore their disability to determine what it means to them.

Whether through artistic endeavors like writing or film making, social entrepreneurship, sports and more, all of my guest joining me this season have so much to offer the world, their communities and you.

?- Music Begins: a heavy synth opens into a driving drum beat.

For those new to disability, no matter what that is, my wish is to be a part of you regaining your ability to imagine your future.

Recently a Reid My Mind Radio Family member reminded me of a time in my life when I couldn’t see myself in the future.
I may have mentioned it here before.
I compare it to being in a hallway with no doors.
Before blindness that hallway for me had lots of doors.
Each was an opportunity, a place for me to explore if I so chose.
Even the doors that were closed were in my mind never locked.
Being in that hallway, stuck with no doors or opportunities was I guess my feeling despair.
It was awful.
I don’t want that for you.
I don’t feel that way anymore and you won’t either.

rock with me and the rest of the Reid My Mind Radio family and I know one day you’ll realize your doors have returned.

In this season, I’m going to bring you what you’re used to from this podcast ; compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability in general.
Then in a continuous episode I’m calling my self-portrait, I’ll tie some aspect of the conversation with my awesome guests to my 20 years of blindness

If you know of anyone you think can benefit or appreciate what we’re doing here on R double M Radio, please let them know.
We’ll be back publishing episodes at 8 PM on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month
Tell them they should come rock with Reid My Mind Radio available wherever you get podcasts.
We have transcripts and more at
Just remember, that’s R to the E I D!
— Sample: (“D! And that’s me in the place to be.
” Slick Rick)
Like my last name!
— Reid My Mind Radio outro

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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 We’ll add you to our notification list.


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 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?”
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?
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.
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.”
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?
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.
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.
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]
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.
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?
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?
THOMAS: So, yeah, I would add that into the mix. Those things together I think would work well.
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.
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!
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]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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. (Cut 01:21:49 – 01:21:57) BlindCenteredAD, I was just about to say, all one word (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, 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!

Hide the transcript

FTS Bonus – Collin van Uchelen’s Finger Works for Fireworks

Wednesday, August 9th, 2023

In this bonus episode, one of the raw conversations used in Flipping the Script on Audio Description: What We See I speak with Collin van Uchelen. A community psychologist out of Vancouver Canada, Collin talks about his experience with Scintillating Photopsia, his work defining a means of effectively describing fireworks as well as his own journey becoming a Pyrotechnician. Hear the story behind “Burning Tears” & more!



Show the transcript


Greetings Reid My Mind Radio family.

It’s me, Thomas, this week bringing you another bonus episode as promised.

In case you’re new here, this episode isn’t representative of the way I drop interviews. This is pretty raw, where I usually organize, chop out selected sections I think best support the narrative,
add some thoughts to move it all along and then add some sound design and music for a bit of flavor!

In an earlier episode titled, Flipping the Script on Audio Description: What We See, I used segments from multiple interviews with three individuals; Carmen Papalia, Collin van Uchelen and Andrew Slater.
I thought each of those interviews alone were too valuable to let sit on the cutting room floor or whatever the digital version of that is today.

If you haven’t checked out that episode, please give it a listen. I think you’ll dig it!

For now, enjoy this conversation.

— Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music

My name is Collin van Uchelen. I am a community psychologist and Pyro technician in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. I am white with gray green eyes and light brown hair. He him his

TR in Conversation with Collin:
Tell me a little bit about what you were doing before blindness.

My sight loss has been incremental. And while I found out that I was 20, I was in university at the time and I went through university and I entered a program in clinical community psychology, a doctoral program, loved swimming, the outdoors, fireworks, my sight loss was incremental. As I lost eyesight, the kinds of activities that I would do would change gradually over time as well.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
But you were in pursuit of your doctorate and it sounds like you achieve that?

That’s right. Yeah, I was in at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign, and it was in a clinical and community psychology training program. And so I was there for quite some time and then came out, returned to British Columbia, I was born here, to pursue my clinical psychology internship at the University Hospital out here in Vancouver, have been here ever since.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
So I want to talk about the visual hallucinations, or I believe you call them scintillating photo Sia. Did I remember that correctly.

Yeah, that’s right scintillating Photopsia . (Pronounced Fo-tope-sia) what I was told, it’s an interesting phenomena, it started to occur as my sight loss was decreasing. What it essentially is, is that I see visual phenomena, day and night, and whether my eyes are open or closed. And so they’re somewhat like, hallucinations, I guess. But I really wouldn’t call it a hallucination in that strict sense of the meaning. Let me describe what I see. It is a continual flickering and flashing of light across my whole visual field, it reminds me a little bit of, for those who are sighted, what it looks like when the sun is low on the horizon. And it’s setting over a big lake or the ocean or a body of water with all kinds of little waves. And so you just get this sea of little flashes and flickers of light, it’s a little bit like that not quite as bright as it is with the sunlight. But that’s what I see 24/7 Now in my visual fields, and then on top of that, I have some moving kind of images and shapes that occur. And that vary a little bit from time to time. One of them is a little bit like a slowly rotating propeller blade like a propeller from a ship, or like the old sweep of radar that goes around in a circle and leaves a little trail wave of light that ripples out behind it. And these things rotate about one rotation per second, and I’ll see it rotate 567 times, and then it almost comes flying off its axis as if the propeller has just become dislodged, and then it disappears off in the distance, most of time they’re rotating clockwise. And, and I, I can’t do anything, really to create them or to make them stop. Another effect I have is also something that moves across my visual field. And I describe it a little bit like a gummy worm. It’s a band of light that’s somewhat curved. It’s usually kind of a bright purple, kind of a whitish purple, and it’s very, very bright. And so I have these band, it’s almost like in a couple of arches that that move across my visual field, sometimes left to right, sometimes bottom to top or top to bottom, and it just kind of sweeps across my, my visual field.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
Do you think that’s similar to the floaters? I know folks describe floaters. I had that long time ago. floaters.

Yes. Yeah, very, very much. Because as I try to focus on one of these things, and and like try to track it, then it keeps moving, you know, outside of my visual field, just just at the edge of what I would be able to see. And it’s interesting because I really see almost nothing. Now, I can tell you know, whether there’s light or dark, a little bit of light perception, but most of my functional eye sight has deteriorated. I think in terms of this, this phenomena one of the most interesting things that I see often occurs early in the morning if I wake up from a dream or wake up in the middle of the night. It’s almost as if I’m looking at how it looks when if you look at a dry bottom of a lake bed or a stream bed where the water has receded in the sun has dried everything out. And then you have these little cracks that separate these little clumps of land, you know, they’re like little islands. And what I see is these kinds of little islands, but they’re all illuminated, and they’re kind of a bright greenish color. And then around them it is just black. And these little greenish islands have all these little scintillating, or they’re flickering, sometimes with these kind of purple sparkles in them. And these islands seem to grow in size, or divide in size and get smaller, and then sometimes clustered together. And sometimes these big clusters will form in kind of a purply. Color in it’s beautiful to look at. And it kind of reminds me a little bit of film, I used to see when I would see lava as a kid on TV, and I would see a lava flow that had sort of a crust of rock on the surface or, you know, hardened lava on the surface. And you would see in the cracks, you know, the bright orange glow below and just had that same kind of movement and, and breaking and coming together and splitting apart.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
Wow, that’s cool. Like yours sound like it has a little bit more texture than mine. And what I noticed is the movement, I don’t have movement, like the floating that does not occur for me. So that’s really that’s really interesting.

Yeah, yeah, yeah,

TR in Conversation with Collin:
yeah. What do you feel about this phenomenon? Do you think there’s anything to it? Or is it just random? Do you make any connections ever?

You know, I think there is a lot to it. But that’s just because I have a from my training in psychology and understand a bit about, you know, how vision works in the brain. And our sensory information is kind of combined in through the photoreceptors of our retina. But I think for me, and in terms of other kinds of meaning that it has, I don’t mind it, in some ways. I describe it a little bit like ringing in the years, you know, if you’ve been to something that’s been quite loud, or you know, for folks who have some hearing loss or whatever, like that, it’s constantly going, it’s difficult to escape from, but it’s not unpleasant. For me, it’s just part of the background of my day to day life. And I find it somewhat interesting, insofar as it also reminds me a little bit of fireworks. As a pyro technician, and training fireworks is an art form that I’ve always loved long before I knew I was losing my eyesight, and I still like it, the flickering of it, the brightness of it, the high contrast of it. And that is an effect that you wouldn’t otherwise see every day. I think in terms of meaning, it’s kind of about that. And sometimes it just makes me smile. If it’s, you know, particularly vivid, like sometimes I’m just like, Wow, it’s amazing that I’m able to see this in the context of not being able to see much of what’s around me anymore due to my sight loss. And then sometimes if if I sneeze, it’s almost like they’re activated, or the intensity or speed or brightness is, is increased. And so I’ll get these earlier, I described these these, like worms that will move, you know, across my visual field, like moving arches, and they will sometimes, you know, repeat one after the other 1 2 3 4. And they’re all rising up in succession, and they’re quite bright. I think there might be something just a reflection of the physical stimulation that’s going on at that moment.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
I didn’t even think about the fact that you were a psychologist, because when I was thinking about these visions, I start to sometimes look at at the shapes and stuff. What is that called the Rorschach, the Rorschach test with the ink blocks,

and the Rorschach inkblot.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
Yeah. And I started to like, try to figure out okay, what am I, what am I seeing in this shape? And I’m not gonna get into what I see.

That’s called a projective test, because you’re projecting into the image you’re looking at, you know, whether their interpretation, and it’s supposedly reveals a lot about your inner work.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
Yeah, that’s why I’m not gonna say what I see.

Fair enough.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
But it sounds like scientifically that there’s probably no because like you said his project. I mean, you could project on anything. .

Sure. Yeah. I don’t think so. It has, you know, particular specific meaning. And so in that regard, I think it is somewhat random kind of activation of, you know, our nervous system to fill in, fill in the space that’s left behind with the degeneration of the photoreceptor cells,

TR in Conversation with Collin:
but it’s kind of fun. I sometimes wonder, is it related to something that I’m feeling is it related to you know, anything about my life? Is this something that I’m not consciously thinking about? I guess scientifically, that’s probably not the case. But, you know, I kind of still like to hold on to it like and wonder.

Sounds like a whole line of psychological research that we could get into. Very interesting.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
Has your feeling changed about these. The way you feel today? Was that the same way you felt in the beginning?

No, I think at the beginning, it was a bit more of an annoyance. It was almost like a see through a screen that was between me and the outer world that I was still able to see at that point, you know, so I could see mountains and trees and faces of people. And then I would have this sort of display in the foreground, over the top of it have this constant shimmering and flicking and whatnot. So it was a little bit more annoying at that point, because it couldn’t shut off. But now as the rest of my visual field, my capacity to see what’s out and around me has diminished. This has become more of okay, well, this is what I have available for me to see now. It’s really not an annoyance. It’s just feel so familiar. It’s always there. There’s really never a moment when it when it stops.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
If you woke up and they were gone. Would you miss them?

I would think oh, I’m in trouble. (Laughing) Right? Am I alive? Yeah, like that might not be a good sign. Would I miss them? I don’t know. That’s an interesting question. Because it would be I imagined, like quite dark. Or maybe not. Maybe everything would appear kind of white or light gray or who knows.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
So you mentioned you are a pyrotechnic in training. So let’s talk a little bit of fireworks. What’s your earliest memory of enjoying fireworks?

It’s kind of neat. It’s one of my earlier visual memories. I was about four. And I was living in Portland, Oregon at the time, and they had an aerial fireworks display. This was the first time that I remember ever having seen anything like that, where there were all these colored points of light that were gorgeous, red, and green, and silver and in gold. That’s my first experience. And I was hooked. From that moment on Yeah, I didn’t have much occasion to see them frequently based on where I live. But I do remember, you know, having the experience at Disney Land. And then when I came to back to Vancouver here for my internship work. It just so happened that every summer in Vancouver, there was an event where three nights in the end of July and beginning of August, they would have a 20 to 25 minute Pyro techniques display where the fireworks were all synchronized to music. And they are launched from a couple of barges that are anchored out in the English Bay Harbor here in Vancouver, which is a gorgeous location and it’s rimmed with beaches all along and you would get two to 300,000 people come out and sit on the beach, you know, in the evening, watch the sunset and take in the fireworks display. In the center of it, they would even have a big PA system where the music was broadcast out on the beach. And then people who were farther away could tune in using their radios. And this was all simulcast then, and so they could see how the music was represented in the form of light during these displays, and it was just fantastic. And I remember the first one I saw, that’s when I returned here in 92. And I was I was, I was blown away. I’d never seen anything so impactful and so huge and so engaging as that because it’s not just the music. It’s not just the light of fireworks, but it’s also that the sound of the firework and the echo of that sound and how it kind of bounces around you. And the sort of immersive quality of the whole experience was was tremendous.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
Have you ever experienced fireworks on television where you don’t hear the actual explosions? You just see the fireworks and the accompanying music. Does that have the same effect on you? Oh, no,

no, no, not so much. You know? And it reminds me actually of the little blurb that they had at the end of the you know, the Disney show way way back. Oh, yeah. They’re really young kid, you know, like, yeah, the fireworks going off around the council. It’s pretty to look at that the immersive nature of that multi sensory engagement is something that I really experienced when I’m close, as close as possible both to the firework display and to the music system. Here in Vancouver when these events occur, you know, there’s a one kind of it’s sort of like the quote front and center place, you know, at English Bay where English Bay Beach where You would go down and the crowd is very, very full there. So when the beach is full, you were sitting knee to knee on the beach 10s of 1000s of people all in close proximity, you know, would be very difficult even to walk around on the beach, you know, right prior to the display, because it is so full. People are all there for the same purpose, you know, to kind of experience this particular event. That’s pretty incredible.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
Yeah, so you can smell the gunpowder at that point.

Sometimes you can, you can smell the smoke. Yeah, it depends on the direction of the wind, you know, and, but it’s really, it’s, it’s kind of that that Sonic engagement. And, and I tell you, there’s another part of this that that I think is really interesting, because it’s it’s a feeling sensation to. And that’s, it’s about what I call resonance. And I think it’s these are these moments when the artistry of what I’m beholding or witnessing touches me in a way that it just gives me goosebumps. If I can tell you just a bit of a story about how this occurred to me once here that just really got me to pay attention. I was at English Bay I was with a close friend and fireworks describer, Brad and you know, with 200,000 people on the beach all around you. You know, there’s a lot of chatter and conversation that goes on during these firework shows. But there was a moment when the music was kind of quiet. And the fireworks are kind of quiet to kind of muffled, sizzling sound and muffled kind of the the sound of the shell breaks as they were breaking in the air. And the crowd grew entirely silent. I had this feeling like that something amazing was going on. And nobody was saying a word. And so I leaned over to my friend Brad and I whisper and I said, Brad , like what’s happening? And he leaned back into me, and he said, it’s burning tears. It’s thousands of burning tears just slowly dripping down from the sky. Ma Yeah. Do you feel that? Yeah, yeah, yeah. So that that feeling I have, and I have it now just saying the story again, of that, that kind of tingles that went cascading through, through my spine, you know, and over the surface of my body. It’s that kind of experience that I love. That’s the kind of experience that I have often in, in the moments of tremendous beauty in like in the presence of art, whether it be music, or a fireworks effects, such as this one, which was these kind of long, orange, reddish tendrils of light that were just dripping down, all through the sky. I call that resonance because I think there’s something out there that is touching something inside of me. And I feel this kind of moment of connection and communion with it. And I think these experiences are heightened when we’re in the presence of other people who are witnessing the same or experiencing the same kind of moment together with us. And I think there’s this kind of transpersonal energy field that’s created by it. For me, I love it. So I will seek out experiences where this is likely to occur, going to performance, so one of my favorite musical, you know, groups or go into the fireworks or whatever, you know, communal shared, singing, you know, choir, that kind of thing. It’s about feeling a, it’s a feeling we, that gets activated in us. And so it’s, it’s not just the what’s happening out there. It’s about sort of our, my own sort of connection to it that I love in so I think that’s one of the big drivers. For me, one of the reasons that I love this art form is I often get that feeling.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
Wow. You know, it’s funny, because I think that answers this next question in a way, what led you to believe that you can enjoy fireworks without sight? And so the fact that you can feel it? And you still get that feeling? Sounds like it but yeah, what led you initially, to think that

I was involved with an organization here in Vancouver called Vocal Eye Descriptive Arts, and they describe artistic and cultural events usually like performance art, to make it more accessible to people from the blind and low vision community. Primary for them was describing theatrical performances, which would be great because folks with sight loss would be in the audience and have a little headset on and would hear audio description of the action that was occurring on stage that was important, but that they might not be able to see with a describer, you know, near event as the action unfolded. So I approached the executive director, Steph Kirkland, and I said, Hey, Stef, would you be willing to come down and describe the fireworks and she was up to the challenge and she’s, you know, we of course, talked about how this was an unusual thing, but she did a bit of study about it. And by this time in my life, I had also assembled a bit of a vocabulary list and a glossary of terms. And so I would coach describers, who were going to describe for me what the different shapes and names were of specific effect types. There’s one that’s called the chrysanthemum. And that is a spherical effect where you see little trails of light behind the stars, as they move out from the center point, a little bit like a dandelion that’s gone to seed, if you’ve ever seen one of those, there are other effects that are more like a shooting star, you know, with a long trail of sparkling light. And these are called comets, and some are called willows, because they look a little bit like a weeping willow tree, or a palm tree. And so each of these characteristic effects has a unique label and or term that kind of refers to the form or shape that the firework takes in the sky, you know, albeit quite briefly. So coming back to Stef, so she came down to the beach to work with me, and she was describing the effects. And she was using the vocabulary that, you know, we both understood and describing the color and the changes of color, and these things are all very dynamic, right and changing quite quickly over the course of a display. I often use a metaphor, it’s like describing a flower bouquet, where the flowers are constantly changing size and form and shape and color and arrangement. It’s impossibly difficult to do in words, but just even focusing on one flower, or one particular kind of arrangement is is worth it if you’re losing your eyesight. And I think for me, I was yearning to stay connected with this art form that I so appreciated, but was losing touch with just because of the ongoing demise of my eyesight. And so there was this one moment on that that evening that Steph was describing kind of a little cluster or clump of stars that seemed to be slowly drifting down. And I was trying to kind of comprehend well, okay, how quickly is that moving in the sky, and I asked her to trace it out on my skin using her fingers. And so she traced it out on my forearm, the speed of this descent to this cluster of stars. And just her doing that gave me goosebumps at that moment, because I thought, This is how to do it. Because with that tactile gesture, she could convey the movement and the speed and somewhat of the character of the light in ways that words were unable to capture. And we spoke about that. And she too, had a comprehension of that. It’s just through that physical gesture of the movement that there was some potential to explore. And so over the course of the next year, she explored that, you know, in collaboration with me, and that was the genesis of the description technique that subsequently became known as finger works for fireworks. And they would use their fingertips to trace out the trajectory of the fireworks patterns on our back, and then use words to describe the characteristic colors changes and colors, or particularly interesting patterns and shapes, the words would kind of fill in the space between the gestures, between the two of them, hearing the words, feeling the tactile description on my back, and then hearing the effects of the fireworks themselves in the sky. Coupled with the music, the soundtrack for it, it was a really nice way it kind of started to reconnect me with the art form, in ways that were helping to compensate for my sight loss. They didn’t replace vision. Yeah, I would prefer to see it. But it was a way to stay connected. And so that’s become a foundation for my continued exploration in what I call cross sensory translation. It’s like how can we translate something from the visual modality into non visual modality so that we kind of stay connected with it and maybe brings a new perspective on it and new way of engaging with it as someone who’s such as myself, who is now blind,

TR in Conversation with Collin:
with the finger works, would a describer reflect intensity with the weight of their fingers on your hand? Or are you getting intensity from the sound of the explosions,

the sound of the explosion doesn’t necessarily map on to the intensity of how bright the effect is, you know, and unless it’s like what’s called a salute, which is just like a big bang, you know, like those are the and those often occur at the finale of the show. But with the intensity of the touch of your fingers. Yes, you can convey that the brilliance, the brightness of it.

I once had a pianist, a classic, coldly trained professional pianist, do this kind of description with me. She was married to one of the pirate technicians who was helped setting up the display at this mall. moment, I didn’t have a describer with me and I said, Hey, Jen, would you be willing to do this? And she said, Well, how and so what let your fingers be the conduit of the energy of the light. And she was great at it. Even without using words, she was able to convey, convey so much of the character and the color and the emotion of that display, based on her touch and the elegance with which he was able to use her fingers in their movement, and that the delicacy of the touch at moments that were really kind of delicate in terms of the the effects, you can convey so much in that way. Yeah, that’s a good question.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
The way you sort of approach this, you tell me, it doesn’t sound like you were ever seeking a replacement. It sounds like you were clear that you were not going to replace that. But there was something that you were looking for to gain from the fireworks.

It was reaching for anything to to enable me to stay connected with the art form. And so that that morphed over time, you know, so it just started with friends who are giving sort of the verbal description, you know, and at that time, I was still able to see the colors, but couldn’t really distinguish some of the shapes of the dimmer a fact teaching the vocabulary, and then kind of that description got more and more involved than bringing, you know, Vocal Eye on, the tactile gestures. And then, when Brett had that phrase, burning, tears dripping down, that just really opened up the window to kind of also comprehend what is possible with evocative description, you know, that’s almost like poetic in that way, that can still sort of activate my own sense of my own resonance with the art, it was always sort of reaching for and then doing work to kind of CO create the access tools that were necessary for me to continue my engagement with this artform and I’m continuing to do it to this day.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
How important would you say that is this whole thing was in terms of your adjustment to blindness?

Well, it’s, I, I think what it reveals, to me most clearly, is the value in having some agency about developing an approach to do stuff that I want to do that might not be already existing out there in the world. As far as I know, no one was into describing fireworks for the benefit of people who are blind at that moment. And rather than me like wishing and hoping that someone would invent this kind of thing, to say, Hey, this is what I’m imagining, this is what I would like to do, Hey, would you trace that out on on the surface of my skin, and it’s through those kind of moments that are really quite generative. Little did I know, where it would lead that one experience where that could possibly go, and that it would have interest for other people too, in terms of my own adjustment to blindness, I think this is one of the ways that works for me. and blindness is terribly inconvenient. And I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone, it slows me down it, there’s a lot of stuff I don’t do and can’t do and I don’t want to spend the time to do. But this is one of the things where you know, I still have that, that desire that I’m going to work at this, you know, and I’m going to do whatever I can to stay connected with this art form.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
I’m hanging on to that word agency. (Overly exaggerated and sarcastic) )What in the world Collin makes you think you can move from being a consumer of fireworks, you know, just enjoying them into actually creating them? What gives you the nerve to do that?

(Laughing) That was actually a really nice question. And in what I’m doing is really quite unreasonable. I am a Pyro technician, I am learning about not just like how fireworks look and how they function, but actually how they’re constructed, what the components are, how they are assembled, all that the technical details of the art form, and I’m not doing it because I’m blind or like, Hey, I’m blind, like, you know, like, I’m gonna do something crazy. I’m doing it because it’s just, it’s a natural reflection of my curiosity, in interest in this particular field, and I just keep learning more and it was really at the beginning of the Torah COVID lockdowns that a chunk of time freed up in my life that it was no longer you know, getting dressed and going to the office and with transit and this that and the other thing, you know, it’s like, oh, my gosh, I have a little bit of time. And there was an encounter with a an artist at one of these events at English Bay when fireworks were being described with this technique and Carmen Papalia. He said, calling you you should really do Something with your interest in Fireworks is because he said what you’re doing here is amazing. And he said, it really sort of changes the discourse about accessibility as kind of a quote service or a one size fits all type of thing into a more relational realm where this is kind of negotiated between someone who is not using their eyes to perceive the world, you know, and someone who is able to be a guide or interpret the visual world with us and where we have some agency about how that works. And so I, I do that with my own describers. Now to like, if I’m with fireworks, and they’re giving me too much words, that’s okay, you know, less less words, or slow down on what you’re doing in terms of your tactile gestures, simplified, but just show me one thing, clearly, I want to be a little bit in the driver’s seat about how that description works. And I think it’s that same kind of desire, that is informing my own training within the pyrotechnics, as an art form. So I’m learning and I’m seeking out to work with people who are experienced and who understand way more. And the more I learned, the more I realize how little I actually know about the complexity of this. It’s a combination of physics and mathematics and chemistry. And then there’s a little bit of artistic creativity and in the fall tend, in all this, you know, to be combined in the tablet synchronized to music, and be Arial and all the random factors that affect it, such as the wind and humidity, and, you know, whatever else might be on the go the variability from one shell to the next. It’s just incredible that any of this works, let alone to have it work in such a way that gives the viewer goosebumps is just astounding, and I want to learn how to do that. And I want to learn to be part of that. And I want to co create that. And of course, I can’t do what I can’t do. And I’m not trying to do what’s impossible. But I’m trying to do what’s within my realm of possibility where I do have some agency on designing something. And so that’s my current ambition is to design a pyro musical display, from my standpoint, as someone who has sight loss is ridiculous, but but I’m loving it.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
This might sound like a weird question, but I’ll relate it, who gave you or who can give you permission to do this?

Yeah, who gave me permission to do this? I tell you how this came about. First of all, no one gave me permission, per se, I do do the proper certification to understand safety and legal considerations. And that was a chunk of work to make that happen. But in terms of the kind of permission to pursue this as an area of interest. It was a conversation I had with a pyro technician here in British Columbia, Bill Reynolds, it was at this moment that, you know, I spoke with Carmen, he said you want to do something with your interest in pyrotechnics. And I was, you know, looking for somebody who had a bit of a proper Vocabulary List of fireworks effects that went along with, you know, images of what those look like that I could use for training purposes. And I managed to be referred to Bill and I spoke with them. And we had this conversation and I said this is what I’m looking for, you know, for what I’m doing with description of fireworks, you know, to make them more accessible as viewers to people who are blind. And then at the end of the conversation like, oh, by the way, I just thought I should mention, you know that I have this like crazy ambition that one day, I want to design a firework display of my own to a pyro musical to my favorite song. He heard that and I felt like oh, god, he’s gonna hang up on me or laugh or whatever. And he said, Well, do you want to fail at that? And I thought, Well, no, no, no, no, no, I don’t know, I actually kind of think it’d be really cool to do. And he said, Well, Collin, then you have to do it. Because if you don’t do it, you will most certainly fail. And you told me you don’t want to fail. So there’s one option, and that’s to do it. And he said, and I suggest you do it now. And it was one of those moments that just gave me goosebumps, you know, and it just my heart started to panic. And I started to kind of get sweaty and I thought like, and I just knew like, he’s right. You know, like, he’s right. If I’m going to do anything with this crazy dream, which have been floating around my head for years, you know, like, oh, one day wouldn’t it be cool if ya da da da da, in the meantime I’m going blind and it’s this kind of lovely fantasy, kind of a bucket list type of thing but never really, really seriously thought, yeah, I can actually didn’t really believe in myself that I could do this. Yeah. And I think it was him that kind of kick started me into seeing. Okay, well, what would it take to make this happen? And so I wrote some grant proposals with the assistance from people who knew way more about the arts field. And as Carmen told me, he said Collin you’re an artist. And your biggest problem is that you don’t know that, you know, and I kept thinking, Yeah, I thought I was a psychologist. And he said, You need to just embrace your artistic side. And he said, and I think you can go somewhere with this. And so I wrote some grant proposals, and lo and behold, they were funded. And each step of the way that I talk, doing the next kind of unreasonably ambitious thing, the door would open up for me, and step by step, person by person, contact by contact, communication, but communication, I’ve just been led forward, going deeper and deeper into the heart of the very thing that I want to have come together in my life. I’m in the midst of it now. And it’s, it’s just amazing. And it still feels completely unreasonable to be doing what I’m doing. I’m not doing anything unsafe, but it’s just like having that agency about, okay, what can I imagine in terms of translating music into light? And then the challenges? How can I translate that to my sighted coworkers, who will be working with me who are going to help me navigate what specific firework effect would create that kind of a pattern of stars or that kind of feeling or that color of sparkle without, you know, delay and or the length of time it stays visible in the sky? And that’s where I’m relying on on people who have that kind of wisdom of experience and knowledge to work with.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
You mentioned you had to get some sort of certification in terms of safety. Outside of that, is there any other certification any other governing body that’s getting in your way of trying to do what you’re doing?

No, no, the reason I did it, it for my own knowledge and credibility.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
Right now in audio description. There are people out here who really frown upon, and who doubt the abilities of blind people to participate in audio description, in many ways. But the most obvious and the most thing that gets a lot of conversation is about blind folks who want to write audio discretion. And they question their abilities. And they question the fact that they have accommodations. And part of those accommodations are specifically you need someone to give you some of that initial description. And then they form sentences instruction all that time. But the main point around that is that there’s a big restriction on right now it’s we’re talking about audio description, but this same thing happened for blind folks who, who teach O & M (Orientation & Mobility) instruction, people doubting our abilities.
That’s right.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
And that’s what it comes down to. Any thoughts on that?

Many, many, because I do think that that doubt, in our own ability and our own agency, to make choices about how we want to engage with the world around us what we want to teach what we want to do how we want to have access to information or experiences in our life. Yeah, I think we’re often looked to as sort of an independent position or role, I still experience it today. If I go somewhere, and I’m with a sighted person, the handler, the ticket taker, the gate agent, whatever, whoever they talk with, they talk with a sighted person, even if it’s about me and my own access needs, I think people just default to talking with an able bodied person, because we’re they’re accustomed to us needing to be managed and handled and taken care of in some way to keep us safe or out of trouble or whatever it might be that they think. I think that’s a large part of the context. And I think some people just aren’t even aware of how much they do that on a day to day basis. And I think they may even believe that they’re being respectful, you know, by talking to the person with eyesight about our needs, you know, so it was not to, quote offend us, or whatever it might be that they’re imagining. For me. I think with the work I’ve done both with the initial description work, and with a subsequent development of my own interest in the pyrotechnical arts, it really was about charging forward and doing something that I thought worked for me fundamentally, and it has the added benefit of networking for some of my peers as well. Even with the description work that I do with Vocal Eye Descriptive Arts here in Vancouver and the Finger Works for Fireworks technique, when there was interest in it from The media, they would always go immediately to Vocal Eye about sort of as the source as the genesis for this word. And I was the one who said, Hey, how about describing fireworks? Hey, how about tracing this out on my arm. And so how quickly we forget about that kind of narrative in the surface of other people helping the blind to see and not to discount the huge benefit and import and and gift that that is that there are people who will describe for me and with my peers and for my peers and, and you know, bend over backwards to open up experiences and possibilities to us that we would otherwise miss. I think it’s lovely. I do. And I think that there are ways that we, ourselves also can have agency in navigating what that can look like. For me. I just started to develop what I was doing. And with fireworks, I started to experiment with how can these things be represented in tactile three dimensional models? And I found volunteer to work with and say, Okay, I have a blocked Styrofoam here, we have a bunch of pipe cleaners and these little sticks and plants and whatever to represent shapes are different fireworks, and what can we do to represent the shape of effects so that they work for me, and that might work for other people in terms of telling people how to recognize one firework from another? I think it comes down to agency, you know? Yeah. And that sometimes we just have to do it and, and people will like, Hey, wait, wait, you can’t go there. Watch me go. Here I go.

TR in Conversation with Collin:
Yeah, we go. How can folks watch you go? How can we stay in touch and stay in tune with what you’re doing and learn more and follow along and all of that,

while I do a tremendous amount on my own, one of the things I haven’t really well developed, is any kind of a presence on social media or the like, my hope is one day that will come together.

The display I’m working on will be called awaken in light. Awaken is the name of the piece of music. It’s by the progressive rock group, “Yes”, written in 1977 in light comes about because of their representation of this music in the form of light. It’s not going to be your ordinary, short, top 40 piece of music. It’s a long song. It’s complex, has many different movements and many emotions to it. I would say when this is taken shape, it’ll be awakened in light as what you’ll need to look for.

I do have a website which is called Burning tears dot C A

This is a website where we talk about the power of words to describe dynamic art, such as fireworks in my exploration of it and a project that I’ve been working on over the past year and a half


Thanks for listening!

Remember, there’s lots of episodes in the archive. Personally, I think anyone new to disability, especially blindness or low vision, will really appreciate you letting them know about this podcast. So if you’re a real friend or family, you need to stop everything and let them know how they can follow the show.

Reid My Mind Radio is available wherever you get podcasts.
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that’s R to the E I D!
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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


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.

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
JOHN: So, that was a cool experience for me. But in general, first of all, the question is, can I understand it?
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?
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?
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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—
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.
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.
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.
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. My website is 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.
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!
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 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]

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]*(
* Thomas Reid](


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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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?
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?
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.
THOMAS: I don’t necessarily consider myself new to film. I was watching before I lost my sight, but I watch differently now.
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.
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.
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.
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.
SCOTT: I don’t think it’s arguable that that’s the case. So, I would do it by default with everything.
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.
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.

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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.
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