What's new and improved in audio description?

A Connect magazine article from Issue 5 published July 2016

There are many gadgets and services which can make the lives of blind and partially sighted people a little easier. Audio description provides a cultural connection for so many of us.

 

For the first time in 20 years, some of the top names in audio description got together to discuss the future at the Audio Description Association (ADA) conference in Birmingham. Anne Hornsby from Mind’s Eye Arts organised this year’s conference.

 
“The Audio Description Association has been going since 1997. We are a registered charity and all contributors work voluntarily. The challenge is to discuss good practice in terms of attracting audiences.”
 

RNIB Trustee and RNIB Connect Communications Panel member Vidar Hjardeng, who chaired the conference, told us more.

 
“Audio description is really useful if you’re blind or partially sighted – it describes the overtly visual dimension of a TV programme, theatre production, ballet or other arts event. So it’s hugely important and it helps all of us who have sight loss to keep up with the story.
 
Audio description has revolutionised my own enjoyment and appreciation of the arts. In particular the theatre, which is my own preferred artistic form – from plays, musicals or opera, or even ballet, which was something I thought I wouldn’t necessarily appreciate, other than the music.
 
High quality audio description is crucial. It requires carefully prepared, skilfully timed scripts that are delivered by professional audio describers who can weave in and out of the language, lyrics and dialogue. They provide descriptions of things that fellow sighted members of the audience would see, appreciate and be able to admire or applaud, that blind and partially sighted people simply wouldn’t be able to without that spoken description.”
 

New technology was discussed, including how it can help improve accessibility for blind and partially sighted people in arts venues and theatres. Anna Jones from RNIB was a contributor.

 
“We discussed how low energy Bluetooth beacons, which speak to the Bluetooth on a smart device, could help people get around inside a venue. Descriptive material could also be included, which would give a description of objects or paintings in front of the user.
 
This aids navigation, especially in complicated buildings. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London was mentioned, which has 18 split floors. These would be a problem for anyone.”
 

Service users also contributed to the discussion around developing audio description, including Sally Nigel-White.

 
“There are, of course, some issues with audio description. For example, the headsets can vary – some are more comfortable than others. I found that in ballet, I had to turn the volume up to hear the audio description and then, with the volume turned up, the description was disturbing the people around me.
 
I’m delighted that audio description is available, because I loved coming to the theatre as a sighted person. I came to the theatre as my sight deteriorated, but at last I came to a production where I missed the salient points of the final act. 
 
It was then I decided I had to investigate attending an audio-described performance and having somebody describe to me what is going on.”
 

Find out more 

To find out more, speak with audio description services in your area, call RNIB’s Helpline on 0303 123 9999, or contact your local cinema, theatre, museum or art gallery.

For the first time in 20 years, some of the top names in audio description got together to discuss the future at the Audio Description Association (ADA) conference in Birmingham. Anne Hornsby from Mind’s Eye Arts organised this year’s conference.
 

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