Welcome to a demo of VITAC’s podcast transcription services. The audio below was taken from a webinar and transcribed to show just how easy it is to use VITAC to make podcasts more inclusive and accessible to a larger audience.
Our interactive transcript provides a time-synchronized solution that highlights the words as they are being spoken in a podcast, enabling users to more easily follow along and, also, navigate to an exact point by clicking on any word.
Our standard transcript provides the text of the podcast with no time codes. It’s a great way to provide access to all who stream or download a podcast.
Voiceover: Welcome to a demo of VITAC’s podcast transcription services. The following audio was created from a webinar and transcribed to show just how easy it is to use VITAC to make podcasts more inclusive and accessible to a larger audience.
Jesse McFarland: Good afternoon or I think good morning if you’re on a Pacific Time or further west. Thank you all for taking time out of your busy day for a VITAC webinar. My name is Jesse McFarland and I’ll be your host today. Our webinar is titled Audio Description on the Rise: Why Everyone is Doing it and You Should, too! Now, we chose this topic because it’s a trending one and we’ve gotten a lot of requests about audio description. And I’m happy to say that we landed two excellent speakers to help us better grasp audio description and what it is and why we need it, how it’s created and why it’s growing in popularity. So, before we get started, just some housekeeping items. The presentation will be about 45 minutes or up to 45 minutes. We’ll have a Q&A session after the presentation there, so make sure you stay till then. The webinar is being recorded. We will send a recording in a follow-up email to everyone who registered within a couple of days after the webinar. And then, please ask questions. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to hear you though. So, to ask a question, you’ll have to click on a Q&A box which is at the bottom of your screen. Just type it in at any time and then we’ll be sure to answer those questions during the Q&A session. OK. So, I’m going to start and then I’ll talk about Carl and then Joel. But I’m going to try to audio describe myself. Again, I’m Jesse McFarland. I’m tall. I’m a white male with blue eyes and a bald head. Pretty much sums it up. So, honestly, I don’t know —
Carl Richardson: And, you know, I pictured you with a full head of hair.
Jesse McFarland: Oh, I used to have a full, beautiful head of hair, Carl, at one point. But totally bald now.
Joel Snyder: Jesse’s seated so we can’t really tell how tall he is.
Jesse McFarland: That’s a good point.
Joel Snyder: But we’ll take his word for it.
Jesse McFarland: Yeah, you’ll just have to – whatever tall means, I think I’m that, so. But, yeah. So, again, I don’t know a whole lot about audio description so — but that’s why we brought in the big guns, Carl and Joel. So, I’m just going to give your guys’ bio here. So, I’ll start with Carl. Carl identifies himself as deaf-blind and serves as the ADA Coordinator and Diversity Officer for the Massachusetts State House. Carl works with the governor and in the executive branch, as well as with members of legislature and leadership from state agencies to help serve individuals with disabilities across the Commonwealth, ensuring that the State House is accessible, inclusive and a welcoming environment. Carl is also the chair of Audio Description Project’s Media subcommittee and has served as the FCC’s Disability Advisory Committee. Now, Dr. Joel, can I call you Dr. Joel or can I just call you Joel?
Joel Snyder: Please. Joel is fine.
Jesse McFarland: Perfect. I’m so official over here. So, Joel is known internationally as one of the world’s first audio describers and a pioneer in the field of audio description. And since 1981, he has introduced audio-description techniques in more than 40 states and 64 countries and has made thousands of live events and media projects and museums all accessible. So, Joel is the president of Audio Description Associates LLC and serves as the founder/senior consultant of the Audio Description Project of the American Council of the Blind. So, hopefully I got that right.
Joel Snyder: You did.
Jesse McFarland: Perfect. Perfect. The first thing I’m going to do here before we – Carl starts talking and
then Joel is we’re going to show just an example of what audio description is. It’s just a quick video. It’s one minute. Don’t go anywhere. And I’m going to go ahead and click Play right now.
Seen from behind, a girl and a dog stare out a frosty window. She strolls into a living room area where a Christmas tree is decorated. A woman speaks at a Surface tablet.
They’re speaking to Mom in Japanese and Mom hears them in English.
Absolutely. We can put a plan —
The girl stares into a snow globe. She manipulates two stuffed animals in a conversation.
Later at the window, the dog barks. The girl runs into the living room and pulls the display from the Surface keyboard, dons her shoes and scurries outside in a jacket and knit cap. Pacing slowly across a firm sheet of snow, mouth agape and holding the Surface, she approaches two reindeer with tall antlers.
Can you understand me? [Beep][Reindeer Grunting]
Yes. I can understand you.
OK. I have a lot of questions. How do you guys fly? What does Santa do in the summer? What’s a sleigh made out of?
Happy holidays in 60-plus languages. Reindeer isn’t one of them. Yet —
Can you roller skate or ice skate?
Jesse McFarland: All right. So, a great, pretty simple —
Joel Snyder: And that was done for VITAC, for Microsoft, by my little company.
Jesse McFarland: Excellent. Excellent. Yeah, no, it’s great. I love it. It’s very cute, too. I’m about to hand this over to you, Carl. Carl, you’re going to talk about the need of audio description from the point of view of the consumer. I believe there’s no one better to explain this than you, Carl. So, Carl, the mike is yours.
Carl Richardson: All right. Well, thank you. I guess if we’re self-audio describing, I am a middle-aged white male with black – I guess salt-and-pepper hair from what my wife tells me at this point. And for those of you with eyesight, with a reference, I guess I look a lot like Nathan Lane, people tell me. So, there we go. I am the co-chair of the Audio Description Project for the American Council of the Blind. And I just want to give a quick plug to the Audio Description Project website because on there is a lot of information, what is audio description, where it’s available, how it’s created including a list of all the companies including VITAC, who create audio descriptions. It’s a valuable resource. It’s acb.org. No. Wait a minute. I’m sorry. Let me change that. It’s ADP for Audio Description Project, adp.acb.org. And that’ll even tell you if you want to watch TV tonight and know what’s on television tonight, you can – to learn more about audio description, it’ll tell you what’s on TV. So that’s one thing. The point of view from a consumer of audio description – for the need for audio description. So, I’ve actually gone the spectrum from a person who was born with 20/20 vision to a person who then had low vision and still could see the movies a little bit to a person now who is almost completely blind. And I was born hard of hearing so I always had the hearing loss. So at a very young age, I became extremely visual and got into film and became a film buff. And I had the film cameras and then later on the camcorders. And I even went to film school and got a degree in film and television. And I even drove out to L.A. and I worked on a number of movies. So, film and television were my first love. Don’t tell my wife but it was. And one day, I was working on a movie set and I was starting to go blind, but I wasn’t open about it. I knew it. I wasn’t open about it. I hadn’t told the producers. I hadn’t even really told my friends. They just all thought I was a klutz. And I was wiring the lights for a particular shot and I knocked down the heavy lights and destroyed the set and got fired. And I also gave up driving. So I quit. I left L.A. I came back home. I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t really doing anything with my life. I was still working but entry-level jobs, just trying to figure out what to do. And I kind of stopped watching television and films because I was losing my sight and I didn’t feel connected. And I started doing research and I found out about this company called the Media Access Group at WGBH that did closed captioning and audio – what they called at the time video description services, video description for the blind. And I thought, “Perfect. I’m both hard of hearing and I’m blind. Why don’t I see what’s going on?” So, I called them up and said, “I want to come in and talk to you guys.” And at first, they said no but I was persistent and I kept calling them up. And then finally, I did an informational interview with a guy by the name of Larry Goldberg who was the head of the Media Access Group and NCAM, the National Center for Accessible Media. And at the time, video description was only on PBS, public television, and not quite in the movie theaters or just starting to show up in the movie theater. And he did an informational interview. And then later on, I went and became a marketing person. But all the same, what audio description did for me – and I was starting to date my wife at that time, too. So, what audio description did for me is simply gave me my love of film and television back when I had lost it. I was able to once again watch TV. I was able to go out on a date with my wife. And I had seen the difference between going on a date to a movie that didn’t have audio descriptions versus watching one with my wife who’s a very sensitive, kind, caring woman. And she would take – put so much pressure to make sure I enjoyed the movie so she would take herself out of it and not even remember what the show or film was about because she was trying so hard to make sure I was enjoying it. Audio description simply allows me to be a peer, go out on a date with my wife. Every Friday night or Saturday night, we watch TV on the streaming services. We can watch a show. We watch different things but we can pick a show. It allows me to relate to my peers, you know? I was actually able to, the next day, after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the live Oscars, which VITAC audio described, I was able to be a part of that conversation because I had watched it like everybody else. To tell you the truth, I wouldn’t have watched the Oscars. I am now at the point in my life where I will not watch something if it is not audio-described. And what audio describes — I know you saw a little clip but what it does is it describes the key visual elements such as time, place, location, costume, facial expressions. And it does not overlap the dialogue. I want to make sure that the people that are here understand it will not take away from your story. It will only add to your story so that the blind and low vision and I believe other users of audio description will be able to follow along and enjoy and enhance your artistic endeavors. And that’s important to say. It does not take away from it. And I’ll give a quick example. I don’t know if most of you have seen the movie Up which is a Pixar animated film. And there’s about a three-minute montage at the beginning of the movie with this guy named Carl who is – so, I actually relate to Carl quite a bit in this movie because his name is Carl. He’s hard of hearing. He has a redheaded wife as do I. And they don’t have children as my wife and I don’t. And it shows a three-minute montage of their life together and it’s 100% silent in that – it has a soundtrack but it’s showing them throughout the course from courtship to marriage to when his wife dies. And that’s important to who Carl is during the movie, once you watch the movie and understand why he and a boy befriend each other and go on a journey. And you need to know the background story. And without it, I wouldn’t know the background story. I wouldn’t know how the — and I will tell you, every time I watch Up with that montage being audio-described, I cry like a baby. So, it’s important. It’s — you know. And what are some of the things that’s important to me as a consumer to enjoy audio description? And Joel will talk more about this but I just wanted to say a few things that are important. Good writing. Good voicing. Narration of the narrator. And this would apply both to live and prepackaged because one of the things I noticed on the attendee list is that we have churches, sporting teams, event venues and television broadcasters so a wide range which means I am thrilled, first of all, because all of you are getting excited about wanting to learn more about this. So, you need writing, voicing, the narration and editing if it’s not live. But even if it is live, you need to know when it’s appropriate to jump in and give the appropriate narration and when it’s not. So those are the three components. And the thing about audio description is good audio description can make a product that is OK to watch, good to watch. Bad audio description, even if it’s Casablanca or Lawrence of Arabia, can make a movie hard to watch. So, it really does make a difference. And the other thing is sound quality is important. Nothing is more frustrating to many of us in the blind community. We invest a lot of money in the surround-sound systems and things because sound to us is very important and it also enhances how the story is being told, particularly with Dolby Atmos or surround sound. That way, we know what things are coming around and what direction and where they’re coming from. But when audio description is done in stereo or an inferior mix, there are those in the blind community who feel like it is separate but equal or discriminatory. Not all of us. I don’t want to say I’m speaking on behalf of all blind individuals, but there are some of us who feel that way. And I know that many of you are exploring text-to-speech as a viable alternative. I will tell you, I personally don’t feel text-to-speech is there yet. And the other thing is I do text-to-speech all day long as a person who has to write emails, write proposals, correspond with people, read books. That’s how I do it. So, when I’m sitting down to watch entertainment, I want to be entertained and not be taken out of the experience. And at this point in time, I believe text-to-speech – now, again, I’m not speaking on behalf and I do think text-to-speech may have its place for some things such as – you know, Joel and I might disagree – such as small industrial videos, educational, you know, maybe a three-minute video or something like that. But long-form entertainment — but, so – and we’ll talk more about this in our final segment. But audio description is where I think closed captioning was 20 years ago. We’re starting to see an increase. It’s starting to expand. And the one thing — the younger generation, those in their 20s or younger, do not know a world without audio description so they almost consider it a civil right. So, when they come across something without audio description, they don’t understand why, unlike my generation who grew up without it first and then got it through the advocacy of the blind community. So, there’s a big difference between how I as an older person approach audio description and a younger person approaches audio description. They definitely expect it and understand it and use it to help them along in their lives. So, I know that was very generic but I will just tell you I love audio description. And I just watched something last night, the new Obi-Wan series on Disney-Plus. Some of the best audio description I’ve ever seen. Also, if ever you want to learn about audio description, again, go to the Audio Description Project website or turn on your television, it’s there. It’s on the four broadcast networks and the five top cable rated networks. They all carry almost 90 hours a quarter. So almost every night of the week, you can find audio description on ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, TLC, History, The Learning Channel, Hallmark and I know I’m for – Discovery I think it is. And all the major streaming services have it and most of the releases by the major DVD distribution services now have it. It is becoming more and more prevalent and more and more expected by those of us in the visually impaired community. I want to leave some time for Joel. Thank you.
Jesse McFarland: Yeah. Thanks, Carl. So, Joel, we’re going to go ahead and jump to this next section real quick, Creating the Audio Description. And Carl definitely put it through in some best practices in there, too. I’m sure you can extend on that.
Joel Snyder: Oh, yeah.
Jesse McFarland: So, on you, Joel.
Joel Snyder: You bet! Well, let me — speaking of audio description, let me audio describe the virtual background that is behind Carl and behind yours truly. It is a — actually it’s a black box, a rectangle situated horizontally, within which is a blank white television screen. And then, within that television screen, there are two letters in bold, black type, an “A” and a “D.” The “A” is tilted — that left side of the ”A” is tilted just a bit to the right. And to the right of the curve in the “D,” three curved lines. Period! Why do I say that? Because sometimes audio describers, beginning folks will maybe go on and add something like, “Oh, they represent sound waves.” True enough, but there’s nothing on screen that says that for the sighted audience. Why would you add that information for an audience of people who are blind? No, they grow up in the world. Even someone who’s congenitally blind might very well know what sound waves look like. No, at best, it’s unnecessary. At worst, it could even seem condescending or patronizing. We describe. We don’t explain. We show. We don’t tell. Those are some fundamentals for you of audio description and a little bit about our audience, too. Speaking of self-description, I’m another middle-aged white guy. I’m wearing glasses. Yeah. I have a receding hairline. All right, all right, Jesse! All right, fine! It has receded to the back of my head and it – there’s a fringe of gray and white that reaches around down past my ears and into a full beard and mustache, which covers my multitude of chins. Anyway, that’s my self-description for you. A couple of things. I always like to begin with the consumers of description. Audio description came from blind people and involves blind people. And that’s why it’s so cool to have Carl here. You know, a blind fellow was once in a museum with some friends. This is a true story. And a sighted woman had the temerity to approach him and say, “Excuse me, but why are you here? You’re blind. You can’t see any of the exhibits.” Well, he was a little taken aback but he responded, ”I’m here for the same reason anybody goes to a museum. I want to learn. I want to know. I want to be a part of our culture.” His inability to see shouldn’t exclude him from culture. That’s everyone’s right. What it comes down to is there’s just no reason why a person with a physical disability must also be culturally disadvantaged. No, no. I believe in the social model of disability which dictates that if a building is created with only steps, then a person who uses a wheelchair is disabled. They’re out of luck. Once there’s a ramp there, the disability goes away. The issue is disability is more about how society accommodates all kinds of people. And if they do that, well, the disabilities go away. With respect to audio description, Carl and I talked about the three-legged stool of audio-description production, the writing, the voicing and the audio editing of it. And I do training worldwide. And part of the Audio Description Project, I do two Audio Description Institutes each year which focuses on primarily the writing and the vocal skills as well, not so much the audio editing. But with respect to the writing, I like to mention the four fundamentals that I started with, basically outlined many years ago, observation, editing or identifying the key visual elements, language where we spend most of our time and vocal skills. So, just to give you a thumbnail overview, observation. The great American philosopher Yogi Berra once said, ”You can see a lot just by lookin’.” How true. We have to, as describers, learn how to see the world anew, notice everything, see in an active way, not passively. The best describers truly notice all the visual elements that make up an event. Just like — you may remember Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, the play. The character of Emily passes away. She looks back from the grave and she sees for the first time. She says, “I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Clocks ticking, Mama’s sunflowers, food, coffee, new ironed dresses, hot baths. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it every, every minute?” And the stage manager responds, “No. The saints and poets do. Eh, some.” And I would add to that, of course, audio describers. They have to. They have to notice everything. And then, as John Ruskin said, “We must seize what we see.” Helen Keller, of all people, said, ”Those who have never suffered impairment of sight or hearing seldom make the fullest use of these blessed faculties. Their eyes and ears take in all sights and sounds hazily, without concentration and with little appreciation.” We can’t do that as audio describers. But the irony is, of course, that once we see everything, the second fundamental, identifying the key visual aspects, we get rid of most of what we see. Description is oftentimes about what not to describe. We have to ask ourselves, what is most critical to an understanding, he points to his head, and an appreciation, his hand is on his heart, of the visual image? And focus on those elements. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “The great struggle of art is to leave out all but the essential.” And that’s what we do with audio description. Now, we use words to convey it all so the third fundamental is language. And we use language that is vivid, that is imaginative, that is objective to convey that image. We’re translating really from the visual to words. And to do that imaginatively takes some practice and some skill. ”Vision sometimes is the art of seeing things invisible.” Jonathan Swift said that. So, if you wiggle your finger like a worm, that’s a description of what I’m doing right now, but there’s no worm there. You have to see what’s not there and invoke it to give someone a feeling for what it is that is there using words, using language, and doing it objectively. If I say that Carl is crying, he’s so sad – oh, no, no, no, no, no, no. He’s not sad at all. He’s crying but he just won the Massachusetts lottery. He’s happy. We don’t convey our subjective interpretation. We try to be as objective as possible. And we try to do it, in my humble opinion, with as few words as possible. And finally, vocal skills. We study speech skills, articulation, enunciation, pronunciation, breath control and oral interpretation skills because we make meaning with our voice. One quick example. The phrase “Woman without her man is a savage.” Oh, my goodness. That couldn’t be true. Well, if you don’t think it’s true, say those words aloud back to me and don’t change any. Don’t take any away. Don’t rearrange them. Just say them with your voice, make it mean the opposite. Yeah. “Woman. Without her, man is a savage.” We make meaning with our voice. And then there’s audio editing as I mentioned. I do want to emphasize though in conclusion that people who are blind — this started with people who are blind and people who are blind must be involved in the creation of description. Nothing about us without us. People who are blind make excellent advocates, like Carl, excellent writers of description, commenting on getting the quality control of the writing. Does it really convey what’s on the screen? Does it give you a good sense of it? Excellent audio — voice talents are people who are blind. And I know some of the best audio editors in the world are people who are blind. So, so much more about this. I’m going to mention again the website of the Audio Description Project, https://adp.acb.org. There you go, Jesse.
Jesse McFarland: Excellent. Excellent. Thank you very much, Joel.
Joel Snyder: Sure.
Jesse McFarland: And then, we’ll definitely include those links in a follow-up email so everyone has that information. OK. So, last segment here and then we’ll go to Q&A. So, the last session is actually for both of you guys, Carl and Joel. This is for both of you. Again, going back to the title of this webinar is Audio Description on the Rise and Why Everyone is Doing it and You Should, too! So, I think, Carl, you were starting to get into this, too, so you can — this should be easy for you.
Carl Richardson: Yeah.
Jesse McFarland: But both of you guys, feel free to kind of run away with this. Think of this as why is audio description growing with popularity and how it’s valuable in media and so forth.
Carl Richardson: So, Joel, do you mind if I start?
Joel Snyder: Please, please.
Carl Richardson: So, one, I do think it’s because of the advocacy of the blind and visually impaired community. But before we go too far, I actually think that audio description can be used by those on the spectrum, by maybe people who are aging into disability such as confusion and dementia in the case of my mother. You know, so I think audio description has many purposes and can be used just like closed captioning is now used for those who are ESL speakers and, you know, for many purposes. So, that’s one thing to consider when you’re creating. But one of the reasons I think it’s also increasing is because we do have some laws and mandates in place, the first one being the 21st Telecommunications and Video Accessibility Act which was signed by President Obama in 2010 which mandated that the four broadcast caption networks and the five top cable rated networks do 87 1/2 hours per quarter which is about seven hours a week which isn’t a lot but it’s something. And it did — seeing consistent audio description on a basis led to other things which I’ll get into in a second. CBS, about two months ago, just announced that they are now going to do 100% of audio descriptions for all of their prime-time programming unless it’s, what do they call it, reality TV, non-scripted. But if it’s scripted, they’re going to do 100% of their prime-time programming. So, the — many of the streaming services from Amazon Prime to Apple to — Apple audio describes every one of their shows in nine different languages. Netflix was the first one. Disney-Plus, Hulu, HBO and I don’t want to forget anybody which I know I am, Paramount-Plus. So, they are all doing it and most of them are doing it voluntarily, which tells you that there is a need and there is a demand for it. And, you know, a couple of them did do it through structured negotiations with the American Council of the Blind, but most of them are doing it voluntarily. So, it’s possible now for me to go to the movies and see a movie in the movie — and that’s the other thing. The Department of Justice mandated that all movie theaters have the equipment to play titles with audio description and closed captioning. So, they don’t necessarily have to have the titles, but all movie theaters, because of the conversion to digital format, the only exception is drive-in theaters, have to have the equipment to play it. So now, I can go to a movie theater and see most of the movies that are playing at my local cineplex and see a movie with audio description. So, it’s possible now for me to follow the movie from the movie theater to video-on-demand to DVD to streaming to television broadcast which is amazing. So, we are seeing an explosion. I also, for those, I know there were many entertainment venues in here, I also go to the live theater regularly and see audio description. I just recently saw two shows. I’m trying to remember what they were. One was the show about the Temptations which I enjoyed and that was great. And the other show I think was — oh, 177 — no, not the – what’s the famous show? Not Hamilton. What’s the one about Hamilton’s life? The famous one? Anyway, I just saw two shows with audio descriptions and they were great. And so, we are seeing audio – and the local museum around the corner from me, the Museum of Science, has over Zoom now does audio description of many of their exhibits for those of us who can’t necessarily — so, one of the things that Zoom has done has allowed many of the small nonprofits to record or do live audio description over Zoom so that we can access things in their collections in a way that we never could before. So, I think it’s a combination of advocacy, mandates and expectations and the demand. I don’t think all of these companies would be doing it if there wasn’t a demand for it. So, we are starting to see an explosion. And I recently spoke to an executive from one of the major television networks and he thinks it’s about to even increase exponentially even more. So, I cannot wait. And just by the fact that we have a wide range of participants from a wide range of service providers on this call tells me that that’s going to happen. And I’m very excited. Joel?
Joel Snyder: Yeah. Yeah. That’s great. That’s great. You know, I want to harken back to the social model of disability and what Carl said about the Department of Justice under the Americans with Disabilities Act saying the movie theaters must be accessible. Yeah, if there’s no ramp, then the person in a wheelchair has a disability. But if the place is not programmatically accessible, if a person who’s deaf, a person who’s blind can’t access the film inside the theater, well, what good is it, right? So, there again, the social model of disability dictates that society has accommodated more people. And speaking of more people, there are, according to the American Foundation for the Blind, there are over 31 million people in America alone, 31 million Americans who are either blind or have trouble seeing even with correction, low vision essentially. That’s 8% of the population. Add to that their friends, their families. Add to that, as Carl mentioned, people on the autism spectrum, people with learning disabilities, people who are learning language or perhaps just interested in building literacy because you hear synonyms, you hear increased vocabulary, you hear similes and such. And you know what? Audio description is for everyone. Just like captioning, it became very clear that, “Oh, yeah, I know what captions are. They’re on the television in the bar when I go out for a few drinks. That’s why they’re there, right?” Or, you know, or they’re on the television screen while you’re at the gym. They’re for people who are deaf but they have become ubiquitous. And audio description, you know, if Jesse, he’s a sighted guy. If he’s in the kitchen making a sandwich, he’ll know what’s going on, on his television in the living room if the description is on because he will hear what he can’t see. Not because he’s blind. He’s just in the wrong room, right? And as far as the rise of audio description and what’s coming up, you know, I think on the horizon, we will see more and more audio movies. In other words, the soundtrack of a feature film taken from the movie, just the audio, combined with the audio description. You have an audio movie that sighted people can enjoy when they’re on a long drive or a commute or what have you. Or they’re at the gym and they’re listening to their favorite movie. This began in Canada in the late 1980s, early ’90s actually. And it didn’t work out well because it was on audio cassettes. Remember them? Yeah. And it wasn’t marketed well. But I think that’s on the horizon. Another example of something that’s coming with regard to audio description is access through your own – I’m holding up my smartphone here. There’s some description for you. Access through your own smartphone. We’ll come to a time when virtually, everyone will have a smartphone. And right now in America, there is an app. There’s similar apps around the world. But in America, there’s one called Spectrum Access. You download the app to your smartphone. And then, you know, “I’m going to go see that movie that Carl recommended. You know, it’s really wonderful. I want to go see Up.” You know, well, you go to the Spectrum Access website, download the audio-description track for Up to your phone. And then when you’re in the movie theater or maybe it’s playing at home on your own television, your DVD or your streaming, whatever, you turn the app on, the app listens to the movie and automatically syncs the description with the audio from the movie. It allows you independently to experience audio description at home. Perhaps your friends and family have had enough of it, right? They don’t want to hear it. They don’t have to. You’re going to hear it through your own headpiece, your own earbuds and your own smartphone. And that goes for movie theaters, too. You know, these times of COVID, how many headsets do you want to put on your ears and handle things that umpteen other people have been handling, right? Wouldn’t it be great to be able to use audio description through your own smartphone? Now, those movie theaters will still need to maintain equipment because not everybody has a smartphone. And accessibility in the ADA is not dependent on somebody having a smartphone, not at all. So, I think those are some things that are on the horizon. We are a growth industry. It is just — no question about it. And by the way, writers of description who I train around the world, they can work on audio-description writing anywhere. They simply download the film. They have a word processor. They’re good to go. As long as they have an Internet collection, they can download the film. They can send it to whoever’s hiring them like my own company, Audio Description Associates. But there are half a dozen others that do a great deal of description around the world, around – well, in this country in particular. I will pick up the challenge of noting text-to-speech, as Carl mentioned. Like I said, vocal skills are one of the four fundamentals of quality audio description. Carl mentioned it earlier. You know, you could have wonderful description written and the voice talent will ruin it. Or you could have mediocre description and a voice talent can make it work, you know? I don’t know of a text-to-speech engine to date that can provide the nuance, the kind of subtlety that a human being does with their voice. And not just — it’s not just the voice, it’s understanding what’s happening on the screen and the context where there’s foreshadowing or not. That’s all going to influence how one voices the description. So, my thing about text-to-speech is that it’s not appropriate for feature films or dramas, for live performances, for museums. People who are blind get text-to-speech all day long on their emails and other mechanized kinds of informational settings. That’s OK. That’s fine. That’s great. And I welcome that advance. But for text-to-speech on dramas, on films, feature films, we’re certainly not there yet. And I’m not sure that it makes sense to try to go there and replace not only people who earn their living as voice talents, people who are sighted. But as I mentioned earlier, if text-to-speech becomes ubiquitous, a lot of blind people who do voicing are going to be out of work. And I just don’t think we want to go there. So, that’s what I wanted to say.
Carl Richardson: I just want to say one more 30-second thing because I know we’re on a timeline. But whenever you’re doing live audio description or pre-produced audio description, keep in mind that you want to make it easy and usable for the person to access. Because if blind people have a negative experience, chances are they may not want to do it again. So, just keep that as you’re developing and creating the audio description. For instance, if you’re creating a video, are the player controls accessible and usable by people with disabilities to go with a screen reader? If you’re doing a live performance, when you go in the door, is it easy to get the equipment and turn it on? You know, that sort of thing. So, I just want to say, whatever path you’re taking to do audio description, try to keep in mind the end-user experience so that we will come back. And if you do a good job, we will come back. Trust me. So, that’s all I want to say. Thank you.
Jesse McFarland: Excellent. Thank you both. That was great. We’re going to go to the Q&A session. Lots of questions coming in, so this should be fun. And then feel free, if you’re out there, if you have a question, just go ahead and keep typing them in. We’ll try to get to as many as we can. So, first question – or actually, first I’ll mention some people have been asking the cost of audio description. I’ve marked your questions. We’ll definitely reach out to you guys and give you some material on that. But first, let’s go ahead and let’s start with some questions. And again, Carl, Joel, whoever jumps on it first, go ahead and take it away. So, there was a question I think – I believe it was during when we were showing the video. ”Does this feature sound kind of like you’re reading a script?” I thought it was a good question so I kept it.
Joel Snyder: Yeah.
Jesse McFarland: Any thoughts there? Feedback there?
Joel Snyder: Yeah, I actually responded to that one in the chat. And someone else did as well. The whole point of the voicing of audio description, it shouldn’t sound read. Absolutely, it’s a script. You bet. But it should be voiced as though you’re talking to somebody, a friend, and you’re describing it to them, keeping in mind all the fundamentals of oral interpretation and speech skills, that sort of thing. When audio description first began, and I wrote and voiced some of the — three of the pilots that WGBH did in the ’80s, the feeling was this idea of objectivity was so paramount that they felt the audio describer should sound like — the voice talent rather should sound like a golf announcer. ”Now he goes here. Now he goes there.”
Carl Richardson: Whispering Larry.
Joel Snyder: Whispering Larry, right. And no, I think we’ve grown past that. And I teach the concept of consonance. The voice talent must – the tone of the voice must match what’s happening on screen. And it must be conversational. If there’s a happy scene, there’s a lilt. If it’s a sad scene, there’s a sober quality. This golf-announcer thing, no, I think that takes people out of the experience. So, it should not sound read.
Carl Richardson: I’ll just say real quick, think of voice narration as you would a musical score that accompanies a film.
Joel Snyder: Good.
Carl Richardson: You don’t want it to overwhelm the film and take away from what you’re watching or hearing on the film, but you want it to accompany it and be a part of it. So, you don’t really want to notice the film score too much, but you want to notice it enough that it adds to it. I don’t know if that makes sense but that — I don’t know.
Joel Snyder: That’s great, Carl. We are not in the movie. We are of the movie.
Carl Richardson: Right. And I don’t, I don’t – if the audio description is distracting me from watching the movie, there’s a problem.
Joel Snyder: Yeah.
Carl Richardson: So, you know, there’s another guy by the name of Roy Samuelson who also teaches voice narration. And he says a narrator should be around a five or a six, meaning in terms of their tone of voice. You don’t want it to be a 10 because that will be overwhelming. You don’t want it to be a one because you’re not going to follow it.
Joel Snyder: Yeah.
Carl Richardson: Around a five or six in terms of tone and inclination, just enough to be a part of the movie. But you want the people to still make the decision on their own how they feel about the movie, the action, the visuals, just like a sighted viewer.
Joel Snyder: The best compliment a performing-arts describer can get, because in performing arts, oftentimes the person developing the description is the voice talent, the best compliment they can get from a person who’s blind that experienced the audio description is, “Wow. I got everything. And I forgot you were there.”
Carl Richardson: Yeah.
Joel Snyder: They forget you’re there. You are invisible, so to speak.
Jesse McFarland: Perfect. Next question and I believe we kind of answered this, but I think you could add more to it. ”In speaking of blind representation within the audio-descriptive creative community, would you say the industry does a good job of recruiting from that community?” So, I remember you saying that was important, but does the industry do a good job recruiting?
Carl Richardson: Including those in the blind community? Is that —
Jesse McFarland: Yes.
Carl Richardson: — in terms of —
Joel Snyder: Not good enough. Not good enough.
Carl Richardson: I would say some do better than others and some don’t. So, it depends on the — it’s like any company. Some companies do a good job with diversity and some do not. So, it depends on the company.
Joel Snyder: It comes down to economics oftentimes as everything does. In Germany, my good friend Bernd Benecke who produces most of the description on German television, every script he produces, it’s built in to the process. He has an audio-description consumer consultant, a quality control expert who consults on the writing of the script. And he looks at voice talents who are blind. He looks at audio editors who are blind. So, there needs to be far — much more of it.
Jesse McFarland: Is there – and there’s a second part of this question and I think the — it’s kind of obvious. ”Is there anything that can be done to include more people to get more attraction in that community?”
Joel Snyder: We need to get the word out. You know —
Jesse McFarland: Just the word out.
Joel Snyder: — it’s like when I do an audio-described tour in a museum and the tour is done, it’s been recorded, it’s ready to go and I tell the folks, “You’re half done. You’re half done because now, you need to go out to the community.” Hopefully it was tested with people from the community who are blind. ”And get out there. Let them know that the facility is now accessible.” People who are blind don’t have a rich history of going to museums, for obvious reasons, you know? Everything says, “Do not touch.” No audio description. No, when you make it accessible, go out there and get the word out and bring them in and make them – let them see how important a museum can be to their cultural life if it’s accessible.
Jesse McFarland: Perfect. Great. This question I’m definitely curious about, too, is, “How difficult do you find audio description when there are a few pauses between the recorded audio and/or live addresses?”
Joel Snyder: Yeah. There are two challenges. There are two challenges in audio description. And that’s when you have talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk a mile a minute. When you get into this though, sometimes in a split second, you can insert a word or two words, a phrase that provides some critical information about the visual. The other challenge is when, and I love this challenge, is when you have minutes go by in a film with no dialogue, just the music score. And Carl and I was talking about this earlier. I think more and more films nowadays are more visual. They want to just sort of languish in the images and let folks experience the images without the distraction of words, of dialogue. Well, then you have lots of time, but it’s not a license to go on at the mouth. As few words as possible. And let the music score be there. They paid John Williams a lot of money, you know, that kind of thing. So, two kinds of challenges. And, yes, when there’s a lot of talking, it’s tough.
Carl Richardson: So, there is a difference between audio description for live and, you know, pre-produced audio description. You know, you have time-code with the pre-produced audio description for media and so you know exactly how much time you have and how to get it in there. And you won’t — and if you do it right, you’re not going to overlap the primary audio of the actors and that sort of thing and other sound effects that are crucial to the telling of the story. With live, it’s a little more difficult. With live theater though, if there’s more than one show, what the audio describer usually does is go and watches a couple of performances so they learn the timing and they learn the story. And they may even videotape it and watch that multiple times so they learn not to step on the actors’ lines. With a live event like the Oscars or the Olympics which was audio-described this past summer, it’s a lot harder. And you need narrators who are both writing and voicing extemporaneously.
Joel Snyder: Exactly. Exactly.
Carl Richardson: And so they need to do a lot of research ahead of time. If you’re doing say the gymnastics, they got to learn all the terminology and stuff ahead of time. But they have to be careful and they have to listen to the pacing and the voicing of the color announcer and the, you know, primary announcer.
Joel Snyder: Yeah.
Carl Richardson: Or even the Academy Awards. It’s hard to say, “So-and-so is doing this,” and not step on it. So, in my opinion, live description is, and Joel can correct me if I’m wrong, live description is much more of a challenge and I have nothing but respect for people that do it.
Joel Snyder: Well, yeah. And what I’d say, Carl, is I make a distinction between a live describer say at a theater who has notes or, in my humble opinion, preferably a script, half an eye on that script and one-and-a-half eyes on the stage. That’s live. You’re doing it live. But what we’re speaking of regarding – I did three inaugurations, the audio description for ABC. And that was extemporaneous. No script.
Carl Richardson: OK. You’re right.
Joel Snyder: Absolutely.
Carl Richardson: There’s a difference between written live audio description —
Joel Snyder: That’s right. Off the top of your head. But Carl’s right, an enormous amount of preparation. You can’t preview an inauguration really, you know, but you can get the order of events. You can get pronunciations. You can do research. So, I want to mention, too, another advance that I think will come with performing-arts description. Typically, performing-arts description is offered at maybe two performances of a six-week run at a theater-producing entity. That’s not acceptable. I think audio description should be developed throughout a rehearsal period by somebody who is like a cast member basically, working with the scenic designer, the director, the costume designer, and get that script available at the very first performance. And then unlike a cast member, they don’t have to stick around at every performance if there’s no one there to use the description. But it should be available at every performance.
Jesse McFarland: Excellent. Excellent. Great job. And there was actually a couple questions related to that, so thanks for diving into that one. Again, that was my biggest question, too, so great answers, guys. Let’s see here. And this one has — this one’s kind of related but I think they mention transcription. So, let’s see if we can answer this one. ”What is the intersection between audio description and transcription? Is there an opportunity for an increased use of description in transcription, especially in cases where an audio track has little space for that description to be voiced?”
Carl Richardson: Trans —
Joel Snyder: Hmm.
Carl Richardson: Transcription of the audio description?
Jesse McFarland: I believe so, yeah. Yeah.
Carl Richardson: Well, I’ve heard two things, now. I heard about the — and I know that Netflix has started experimenting with releasing their scripts particularly for those who are deaf-blind, that they can maybe read them on a Braille display or something like that. I also — the end of the question, it sounds like they were talking a little bit about extended audio description. For instance, if you’re watching a musical, there’s no room – because I want to hear the lyrics as much as I do because that’s part of the – there’s no room for audio description. So, can you do like an extended video where you pack them in about the settings and the costumes? So, I’m not sure what —
Joel Snyder: Or a website.
Carl Richardson: Yeah.
Joel Snyder: Yeah.
Carl Richardson: Go on the website or whatever. So, there hasn’t been a lot of use of transcription. I mean, I suppose from a technical point of view, you could use it to be searchable and things like that, you know. But that’s not something that’s been done a lot of yet but that’s something [inaudible].
Joel Snyder: It’s called audio description because 99% of the time, it’s voiced. But I have done description for a film that was not voiced. It was written out along with the script of the film, all in Braille, so that a deaf-blind person in the audience or a blind person in the audience, they don’t have a headset but they’re reading the script as it goes along like they’re reading the captions and reading the description with their fingers. So, that does happen. As Carl says, it’s not common.
Carl Richardson: Well, and the speed of the person reading the Braille has to be phenomenal.
Joel Snyder: You bet.
Carl Richardson: I’m not sure many people can do that.
Joel Snyder: You bet.
Carl Richardson: Not many.
Joel Snyder: You bet.
Jesse McFarland: Perfect. All right, so I have one more question here.
Carl Richardson: I don’t know that we answered that question but —
Jesse McFarland: I think from the way I translated it, I think you guys did, so.
Carl Richardson: OK.
Jesse McFarland: Yeah. So, one more question and then we’ll wrap up here. And if we didn’t answer all your questions, we’ll definitely save all of these and then we’ll send them out via email.
Joel Snyder: Put our email addresses up there. Go ahead.
Jesse McFarland: Yeah. Yeah. So, this one I think is important to answer. Perfect last question here. ”Are there any resources out there for people interested in learning more about audio description or what types of programs are described?” I know you guys mentioned some links there. You can readdress those again and then add anything else.
Carl Richardson: So, I’ll just quick and then Joel I know will have many more resources because he’s connected all over the world. I will mention the Audio Description Project. On there, you can see what museums and places, state by state, have audio and live performances have audio description. You can see what’s available on all the broadcast networks and cable networks that have it and what’s available on all the streaming services that have it. So, I just looked at the list right now. I think we’re up over 7,000 titles or something like that, I mean.
Joel Snyder: Yup.
Carl Richardson: And, you know, Prime Video has over 2,000. Netflix has 1,700. Disney has a thousand. And then all the — you know, CBS has like 30 shows that currently air with audio description. So, I would go to the Audio Description Project website at adp.acb.org. And Joel, you can mention some other resources.
Joel Snyder: Well, I will mention just two things and with respect to the website. You know, as Carl mentioned, live broadcast television is described really at only a minimal amount. Captioning is 100%. We’re not even at 1% yet. So, we want to increase that. And you can go to our website and find out what’s on television right now, what channel, with description. Because it’s not a whole lot but you can find out what’s there and try to tap into it. The other thing is simply that twice a year, the Audio Description Project sponsors the Audio Description Institute. And our next one is our 20th Audio Description Institute. If you did not enjoy this last hour with me, with Carl, you definitely will not enjoy five days with me in August. Our next one will be virtual, August 8 through August 12. There will be an announcement on the website. So, it will be virtual. You can join us from anywhere in the world. Look forward to having some of you with us.
Jesse McFarland: Excellent. Thank you very much. Thank you, Joel. Thank you, Carl. Thanks to the captioner who’s able to caption this live. And then, thanks the person behind the screen for helping me host this. This was awesome. Again, we’ll have a recording. We’ll definitely pretty it up a little bit. So, give us a couple days and we’ll send out that recording to everyone that registered. Again, thank you, all. This was a lot of fun. Hope to do it again soon.
Joel Snyder: Thanks, Jesse.
Carl Richardson: Thank you, everybody.
Jesse McFarland: Thanks, guys.
Carl Richardson: Have a good day.
Joel Snyder: Bye.
Jesse McFarland: You too.