2002 Audio Description International Conference Proceedings

Presented by Audio Description International and The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
March 23 – 24, 2002
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC

Proceedings prepared by Joel Snyder, PhD, President, Audio Description Associates, LLC

This summary document is available in Braille, on audiocassette, and in large print, by request. It has also been posted on the website of the American Council of the Blind’s Audio Description Project at: https://adp.acb.org. Contact Joel Snyder at 301 920-0218 or by e-mail at [email protected] for more information.

Saturday, March 23 – Educational Resource Center

9:00 am – Welcome

Following brief introductory comments, Betty Siegel, Director of Access for the Kennedy Center, asked Joel Snyder, Chair of the ADI Conference Planning Committee, to welcome conference participants. Joel noted that what began as a relatively small gathering of folks interested in Audio Description (AD) in 1994 in Tempe, AZ has mushroomed to this event: almost 100 registrants from 18 states and the District of Columbia, four countries (the United States, Canada, England, and Scotland), with interest expressed from individuals in more than half of the 50 states and four additional countries.

He stressed that AD is no longer in its infancy. It is beginning to grow and grow up becoming more sophisticated, and in greater demand all over the world. New applications continue to emerge in building literacy, with long-distance learning efforts, in offices and at conferences, as part of interactive computer games, on web sites, and as part of theatrical productions (as demonstrated by the New York City-based troupe Theater by the Blind). He also referenced new federal provisions in the United States, in particular Section 508 regarding government-produced media, and recently implemented Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules that could affect all involved with AD.

He emphasized that the continued development of AD warrants a viable support entity, an organization that can regularly keep us abreast of issues, legislation, services, and funding available for AD, and can advocate for the field of audio description and the necessary accessibility it provides for people who are blind or have low vision and wish to participate more fully in their nation’s culture.

He acknowledged the work of other Conference Planning Committee members (Betty Siegel, Jesse Minkert, Mari Griffin, and Conference facilitator Craig Dreeszen) and thanked all of the speakers/moderators the keynote speakers, Anne Hornsby and Charlie Crawford, in particular.

Betty Siegel took the podium and offered her hope for the Conference as a vehicle for the coming together of myriad describers and users of description. All in attendance can be seen as founding members of a new, revitalized Audio Description International. She encouraged all to participate actively and be an important part of an organization that could affect access issues internationally.

9:30 am – Panel on Standards, Training, and Certification

Craig Dreeszen, Arts Extension Service-facilitator

Speakers: Anne Hornsby, Secretary, Audio Description Association, England; Dr. Marc Rosen, Director, AudioVision Canada; Ermyn King, Coordinator of the Arts and Health Outreach Initiative, Pennsylvania State University; Kim Charlson, Audio Description Coordinator for the Bay State Council of the Blind

Anne Hornsby: AD began in England in 1986. The Royal National Institute for the Blind has always been a great advocate of AD. Indeed, in 1992 the RNIB set up AUDEST to develop standards of excellence in AD by establishing a basic training course for describers and courses for trainers. However, by 1997, when the Audio Description Association held its first meeting in England, an inconsistency in standards had been noticed across England and it was felt that an accredited training course was needed. In 1999, the association began the development of such a course in association with the Open College Network. Aims, learning outcomes, and assessment criteria were developed along with a sample course syllabus, the entry requirements, and an outline of a prior learning certification. The aim of the course is to equip individuals with the basic knowledge and skills to describe theater, cinema, television, and other art forms; to provide a quality service for visually impaired people, and to make an informed contribution to other aspects of AD. A Level III course (designed for people 18 years of age and older), it runs for 60 hoursfive days teaching time as well as home study. An audition is required for acceptance to training that assesses language skills, teamwork, and commitment to the principles of access. Two trainers along with a visually impaired advisor lead the course. Further, an external moderator from the Open College Network attends in order to ensure consistency and quality. All trainers receive training and must be certified in assessment of students according to specific learning outcomescurrently, there are eight trained trainers in England and Scotland. (A list of AD learning outcomes is available.)

All AD trainees must accomplish eight tasks including writing and delivery of an introduction to a theater production which includes a description of the set, costumes, and characters; and the delivery of a live, prepared AD for a video excerpt (20 minutes). Two tasks involve access issues and the British Disability Discrimination Act, and others focus on use of AD equipment. Finally, trainees must exhibit an awareness of staff responsibilities within the theatre where they will be working which affect AD.

The AD course is intensive, run over 3 weekends, and involves a fair amount of paperwork in order to document and record trainee achievements. Samples of course work, assessment sheets and learner feedback are sent to a number of individuals including another trained Audio Description trainer and a representative of the Open College Network. The course sessions themselves are monitored to ensure that decisions on whether or not a learner had achieved the necessary level were fair, rigorous, transparent and in keeping with those made by other trainers on other courses.

A training weekend for describers was recently held for individuals who wish to be certified as describers based their prior experience in the field. At this weekend describers were assessed on a piece of description and an introduction. It is hoped that in England and Scotland training courses will use the accredited model resulting in more accredited describers and an increase in standards. The goal is an assurance that wherever you go in the UK, the standard of the audio description service you receive will be equally high and equally professional, whether delivered by paid or non-paid describers.

Marc Rosen: Marc spoke of the respect he has for describers of live events, coming from a firm that focuses on AD for television. He did note that AudioVision Canada once prepared an audio tour of the Canada Pavilion at the Expo in Lisbon and relayed the traffic flow concerns and other logistical particulars that made the effort a challenge to provide access for people who are vision impaired. Indeed, Marc pointed out that he uses the phrase vision impaired to refer to AD users as opposed to visually impaired which means, you dont look good.

AV Canada uses describers based all over Canada who develop descriptions at home. Consequently, a describer training program was developed in 1996 that individuals can complete at home. It has ten lessons and takes about 40 hours. It culminates in three description exercisesthe development of description for three different movie excerpts. These descriptions are then submitted for evaluation. Essentially, describers are asked to think about what to describe, how to describe it, and then consider word allowance issues.

Marc then offered some guidelines for good describing:

  • Understand what someone who cant see needs to know to understand and appreciate the show. Its a knack to be able to unsee or dispel assumptions based on what has been seen in order to appreciate what an AD user needs, i.e., the ability to leave out things that are unnecessary and include things that may be obvious but can be easily overlooked.
  • Understand and appreciate the show. Describe in a way that makes the significance of whats being described apparent to the AD user.
  • Be the best audience this show could hope for. Avoid any hint of personal opinion regarding the show being described.
  • Observe closely and accurately. You cant describe something well if you havent done that. Were too used to taking a lot of information with our eyes without noticing it carefully.
  • Write simply, clearly, and concisely. What is said must be comprehended the first time its heard. Almost any description is better than nothing, the exception being description thats confusing. The better the description, the simpler and more obvious it is.
  • Respect the audio. Dont describe things that are apparent from the soundtrack and avoid talking over dialogue or sound effects unless absolutely necessary to convey essential information.
  • Disappear. Good description directs attention to the show, not to itself.
  • Harmonize vocal delivery with the emotional content of the show. If the narrator describes a love scene and sounds just the same as when describing a bloody massacre, it reduces audience enjoyment.

Ermyn King: Ermyn pointed out that the AD service she works with is different than the ones that Marc and Anne detailed. View via Headphones is based in a community of 90,000 and at a land grant universityPennsylvania State University. Its not a national service but rather focused on one community, integrating AD within a community context. She emphasized mechanisms for sustaining quality in AD services within a community.

The program is in the geographic center of Pennsylvania and the university serves 42,000 students. Quality in AD is not simply a matter of adhering to standardsit also involves building a climate in the community for buy in of the program. Five theaters are on campus in addition to others in the surrounding area and all located nearby. Ermyn distributed a handout that detailed background on the service so focused her remarks on how the service grew in quality and related to existing AD services. First, Margaret and Cody Pfanstiehl from Washington, DC gave a public presentation on AD, as did John McEwen from New Jersey. Next, a call for auditions for describers was sent out highlighting particular qualities: easily understood speaking capabilities, the capacity to provide vivid descriptions, anticipated residency in the community for at least two years, a love of the arts, a desire to provide community service, and attendance at a weekend of AD training provided by Alan Woods and Nancy Van Voorhis of Ohio. Over 30 people auditioned; 12 trainees were accepted.

Training was held and Penn State provided Continuing Education credits and certificates for successful completion of the 18-hour training. The training was formally described as:

“Participants will receive instruction and be individually critiqued, including by consultants with sight loss, in Audio Description, a communication art whereby persons use a small transmitter to describe visual elements of theater, dance, film, museum presentations, and other events to individuals with sight loss wearing earphones attached to palm-sized receivers. The history of AD, its relation to the Americans with Disabilities Act, and national and international examples of its application will be discussed. Principles related to description of realistic and stylized theater and dance performance will be emphasized and practiced. Attendance at a professionally audio described performance with review of the equipment utilized and follow-up analysis of AD techniques employed will also be a key instructional component of the training.

An important asset in the community is an active social service agencythe Sight Loss Support Group of Central Pennsylvania. This group provided audition space and has been the administrative home of the AD service. Consequently, we were linked from the beginning to an organized community of potential AD users.

Following an initial described event, post-event telephone interviews with AD consumers were conducted. Questions asked included: How helpful were the program notes provided before each act or scene in enhancing your appreciation or understanding of the performance? How closely did each describers voice conform to the ideal of being comfortably and emotionally in tune with the scenes? How helpful was each describer in providing vivid, objective details of the colors, characters, body language, lighting, scenery, etc.? Did each describer refrain from describing what was aurally obvious or talking over the actors lines? How effective was each describer in allowing you to be a participant in the unfolding drama performance? In terms of timing and content, was information revealed so as not to give away too much too fast? And at any point in your experience, did the describers work flow so seamlessly into the play that you were almost unaware of it?

The program was launched with a production of the musical Camelot, and the availability of AD was well publicized in appropriate newsletters and web sites. An equipment register is kept in a log book and attendants record comments that are received from clients.

The service is also linked to the museums on campus. Programs are offered at the Palmer Museum of Art and the service is also a part of Festival Eyes, a Sight Loss Center program that trains sighted guides in multi-sensory techniques for consumers at visual arts and other events. Joel Snyder of Washington, DC was a speaker to the describers at one of these Festival Eyes events.

The program has a steering committee of over 25 members formed in establishing the service. Meetings are held regularly. Members include representatives from support organizations, the theater companies, AD consumers and many others. In the first year, AD was provided for 45 cultural events and 346 users were served. Appeals are made to professionals in vision care in the community and others to contribute financially to the support of the service and the cost of tickets to events. Listings of supporters appear in the programs of the Universitys Center for the Performing Arts.

Professional development is ongoing. Initially, describers met every month to build skills using DVS tapes and non-described versions; a coordinator of professional development leads these sessions. Formal sessions are now conducted three or four times a year and feature specialized discussions on AD for particular art forms such as dance or visual arts. A video loan library of DVS tapes is maintained, coupled with the non-described version.

Normally two describers work at a given event, one as a back up. A guide has been developed to clearly outline what is done logistically upon arriving at a theater for a described performance. Each describer wears special tee shirts and name badges; describers are also introduced to ushers and other theater personnel. A video overview of the service, funded by VSA arts, and articles in the news media also contribute to the services visibility. The Center for the Performing Arts has produced a brochure that further publicizes the service. The service was recently awarded one of 12 Keystones of Accessibility awards in the state of Pennsylvania.

Finally, the program is interested in sponsoring a national training for audio describers with academic credit provided by the University.

Kim Charlson: Kim provided some background on AD in the Boston area, the home of WGBH and DVS. Blind people in Massachusetts have spent 16 years helping WGBH evolve description. In doing so, the community of AD users developed a certain sophistication about AD and what they wanted from it. In 1992, the first theater in Massachusetts to offer live AD was the Wheelock Family Theater and since that time theyve provided AD for every one of their productions. Since then, various other theaters have come on board.

The Bay State Council of the Blind (BSCB) has helped to boost and respond to demand for AD with the goal being that every show in Massachusetts will offer AD and AD users will no longer have to pick and choose among limited offerings. Initially, theaters argued that providing AD would be too expensive. So the BSCB approached the Wang Center for the Performing Arts in Boston and proposed a grant for the purchase of AD equipment if the Wang Center would maintain the equipment and loan it to other theaters.

BSCB has always used scripted AD. Its believed that the crafting of AD is an art and that describers are skilled professionals in the field who should be paid. [applause] A secondary describer offers a pre-show introduction, consisting principally of descriptions of sets and costumes. A primary describer delivers descriptions for the show as it runs. A team of consultants (other describers and experienced AD users/blindness consultants) attends a dress rehearsal of the description to provide feedback to the describers prior to his/her actual performance. Its important for AD users providing feedback do so in a constructively critical manner rather than simply thanking the describer and praising his/her work.

Its important to note that blind people represent a whole section of the community thats been marginalized with respect to theater. Consequently, everyone involved with AD must be creative about encouraging blind people to take advantage of the service. Its also important to ensure that theater staff has experienced access trainingan usher who pushes a blind person in his or her seat can undermine the best description in the world.

BSCB has partnered with the Cultural Access Consortium in Boston and VSA arts of Massachusetts in order to stretch resources. Two years ago BSCB received a grant from VSA arts to provide full training in description for 16 new describers. Joel Snyder of Audio Description Associates conducted the training along with one of the regions most experienced describers, Andrea Doane. BSCB and the Consortium have set up a database of describers in the region to coordinate the assignment of describers for particular shows.

Eventually, four peopleKim, Judy Berk of the Consortium, Andrea Doane, and Valerie Ching, one of our newly trained describersfelt the need to write down much of what had been developed. The ideas, the background, the processthe how and the why of our AD programbecame the foundation of a publication on AD. Its called Making Theater Accessible: A Guidebook to Audio Description in the Performing Arts and discusses AD from a variety of perspectives: a theater producer, an education/outreach coordinator, a blind person, and a describer. It includes a step-by-step planning guide to help other communities set up an AD program. [copies available for purchase]

Lastly, one concern raised by theaters has been the availability of a description booth. BSCB is now seeking funding to buy a portable, soundproof booth for AD. Its easily set up and BSCB looks forward to being able to loan it out to theaters that lack an appropriate area for describing.

Questions and Answers / Discussion:

Betty Siegel asked how many people think that there should be standards for AD? 75 people raised their hands3/4 of the room. She then asked if someone from the opposing group could make a statement as to why they would not want standards.

Bob Sutter replied that you couldnt teach somebody to do something like this, someone who doesnt have the talent to do it in the first place. Craig Dreeszen (facilitator) noted that theres usually an audition process that screens out folks who might not benefit from training. Madelyn Dovano is not opposed to standards or certification but feels that the AD community is not yet ready for it. Who will train the trainers or decide on the standards?

Margaret Pfanstiehl asked whos going to pay for it and whos going to run it and control it? She believes that you cant tell theaters what they can and cannot afford until there are more AD consumers. For instance, a volunteer describer might find it financially burdensome to come to Pennsylvania and pay to participate in a formal training course. Its a matter of being practical and focusing on goals that are achievable now.

Jesse Minkert suggested that ADI could support and nurture AD services or it could become the AD Police. The latter suggests the sign interpretation world where there are rigorous standards. If we try to follow that model at this stage, well probably cause AD to cease to exist in some areas. Certifying people as describers should not be our first consideration at this stage. We should try to serve the needs of membership rather than view ourselves as some kind of governing body.

Elizabeth Kahn said that she couldnt go to a community that doesnt have AD and tell them that this is the way it should be done and these are the standards. The local community should have a certain amount of control over the procedures. If we are too rigid about standards, we will frighten some communities.

Audley Blackburn noted that standards often justify payment for services. There should be enough room for organizations that have volunteers and those who use paid describers. A one size fits all mentality makes as much sense as people who are blind arguing over which is bettera guide dog or a cane. We cannot impose one way of doing things across the country.

Craig Dreeszen noted that while the show of hands indicated a majority of people in favor of standards, comments have suggested some caution. Adam Westlund is for standards. His experience with other organizations is that those national or international organizations all have standards that will indicate that everyone has a particular level of training. Having those standards, having certification enables a trainer to go into a community and effectively customize training to that community and still meet a basic level of competence. We as an organization need to set those standards, those minimum levels.

Fred Brack made a distinction between standards and guidelines. A governing body approves standards; guidelines are a set of best principles that are generally accepted. That might address the concern about flexibility. This organization should focus on generally accepted guidelines and then, perhaps, consider the development of standards.

James OHara pointed out that all of the comments have related to live AD. AD for film and video also needs standards and he urged that ADI consider film and television needs. Brad Klein noted that potential employers of describers might find it useful to know that an individual has some sort of certification. A determination of the level of quality would not be necessary.

Claude Steinberg posed the analogy to drivingmany people get drivers licenses but not everyones a racecar driver. Those who do not meet a high level of proficiency may only be appropriate as volunteers in the field. Standards might be helpful to them as a guide to getting better. But an accreditation program is only as good as the guidelines on which theyre based. The primary question is where the guidelines come from and whether or not the issues involved are important to the consumers. For instance, describe colors vividly may not be of importance to someone whos never seen color. Many AD consumers need to be consulted to determine whats best.

Clare Stewart reminded all that the issue of standards is about the AD user and the assurance that the AD user has the best possible AD experience. That puts demands on an individual describer but the focus must be on the quality of the experience for the AD user, especially a users first experience with AD. That should say, Yes, that works and Im going to tell my friends about it.

Joel Snyder emphasized that in his experience the only thing worse than no AD is bad AD. The comments hes received from dozens of users and even from folks who have been users and are no longer support this notion. Perhaps they were exposed to AD in a theater or on a video or with broadcast television or in a museum tour but poor AD detracted from the cultural experience. If the experience is not a positive one, it does no service to the cause of AD. Most people who could benefit from AD have not been made to feel welcome in arts settingsthey deserve a high quality experience. Standards should be set by AD users who are experienced with AD, and seasoned describers or administrators of AD programs.

While he would agree that this minute is not the right time to put something out thereno one wants AD Police and the Registry of Interpreters of the Deaf does not police its members. But the registry does simply certify that someone has received a certain degree of training, has reached at least that minimal level of competence and, perhaps, issues some kind of certificate. Yes, it is the community that decides if they desire and can support certified describers or do they prefer other who are volunteers or paid. Ultimately, if this field wants to be considered a professional one, we need to head in the direction of establishing standards and certification.

David Baquis brought up the subject of technology remembering that his first experience with AD was with an excellent describer who he couldnt hear because the system was not working properly. Guidelines should be established for the technology as well as the technique of AD. He also promoted research in AD to prove that certain technologies or strategies are the most effective.

Ermyn King wondered if an ADI function could be to identify organizations and individuals who would benefit from an initial exposure to AD in order to stimulate interest and build new AD programs.

Kim Charlson asked that ADI consider seriously the development of guidelines for quality AD. She believes that if ADI doesnt do it, it will be done by others for us by the broadcast television or film industries. We need to be seen as the leaders not the followers in this effort.

Marc Rosen seconded Kims remarks and encouraged movement forward on guidelines. Drawing on his experience in Canada, he noted that broadcasters will want to do AD as inexpensively as possible so it behooves us to establish just what is good describing. An unidentified speaker agreed that in the absence of standards the television industry may well end up providing bad AD and turn people away from AD.

James OHara mentioned that his company provides 35 hours of AD per week in the U.K. and confirmed that the broadcasters consider providing AD to be a burden. Unfortunately, the appalling problem in the U.K. has to do with reception equipment so that in the 2 and a half years that AD on TV has been available, there are only 45 households equipped to receive the signal.

Margaret Hardy asked about people doing description currently for film and televisionwho do they work for? Who trained them? How much are they getting paid?

David Berkenbilt suggested developing guidelines from a survey of people who have experienced AD. He also noted that whenever AD is done, its valuable to get feedback from other, more experienced describers, perhaps finding that certain elements in an event are best left for program notes.

Margaret Pfanstiehl announced that parties to the lawsuit challenging the FCC rule on AD for television filed in court just yesterday a request for a stay of the implementation of the FCCs rule. [Note: The request was denied and the rule went into effect on April 1, 2002. The lawsuit challenging the rule is still pending with opening arguments scheduled for the fall. JS] In the meantime, the rule requires 50 hours of AD per quarter so some of the affected broadcasters may wait until the end of the quarter to comply.

Three companies currently providing AD for television include WGBH, the National Captioning Institute (only recently), and the Narrative Television Network. She noted that WGBH and NTN have been providing the best descriptions that they know how to provide, adding that Jim Stovall of NTN is blind. All have produced work that reflects high standards.

The final decision on the legal battle wont be known until the fall. The main arguments against the rule are that the FCC doesnt have the authority to govern this area, and that AD is a form of compelled speech and is therefore unconstitutional. The American Council of the Blind has been very helpful in generating a lot of mail in support of the rule and were hoping that you will send supportive mail to the FCC.

Bill Clancy commented that without standards things are bleak. He worries about the torture that VIPs might be put through otherwise. Hes experienced tremendously enthusiastic but completely inept describers who over-described, under-described, and destroyed the text. Standards are essential to the future of the AD profession.

Diana DiSalvo agreed that the more organized we are the more likely we are to be respected and used. Whatever you call itstandards or guidelineswe need to find one common goal.

Craig Dreeszen summarized the discussion by noting a need for quality AD based on users needs. Improvement is desired but there is need for flexibility because the field is evolving. A good distinction was made between guidelines and standardsone as a goal based on persuasion vs. standards which imply something that is enforced and there may be a continuum between those two. There was the issue of who sets the standards and who would enforce them but if the field doesnt take the lead, it might be done for you. So the momentum generated by broadcasters needing to implement AD now for patience while the field evolves counters the argument. Technology is part of the conversation as well for live events and for broadcast. As they are developed, standards should be built into both training and ongoing professional development. Research was mentioned as needed to evaluate what actually does work or not.

11:30 am Lunch with Speaker-Anne Hornsby, Secretary, Audio Description Association of England; Director, Minds Eye Professional Description Service

Anne Hornsby is introduced by Joel Snyder.

Anne Hornsby: Hello, thank you for inviting me. Its been 20 years since I was in America. I came over when I was still a little drama student and AD was just beginning. I’m still little, but AD has come a long way since then! I am going to talk to you about the Audio Description scene in England and Scotland, but I_ll begin with a little history of my own.

Back in l988 I was Head of Marketing at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton, a medium sized repertory theatre seating around 400, situated about 20 miles north of Manchester. One of our regular customers was a blind lady, Sheila Birketton, who found she was missing out on her full enjoyment of theatre through not being able to see. Now Sheila had heard of something called audio description which was happening in the States and her attitude was that if it could happen in America, then why couldnt it happen in Bolton? With Sheilas help and the assistance of our Chief Electrician and a bit more research, we set up a rather clumsy system and started putting an audio description service together. Initially the customers had to wear large cumbersome headphones that made them feel rather conspicuous and somewhat alienated. However with the development of technology and the installation of an infra-red system, headsets became smaller and more discreet. Initially I was one of a team of volunteers who would in theory deliver the description. But as it turned out the others never seemed to be available on the night and so I started to describe on a regular basis, still working closely with Sheila and other listeners to improve the quality of the descriptions. In the early days, on a couple of occasions the director of the show would deliver a description. But we soon found out that that wasnt ideal as they invariably told us not just what was happening but why it was happeningthey couldnt just say he grips the back of the chair, they had to say showing his inner turmoil as he wrestles with the decision facing him. They couldn_t just say she opens the cupboard door and swiftly hides the case inside. They would add, So that it is there for the next entrance, etc.

I carried on describing regularly for the Octagon Theatre. After a couple of years I did try to get on an AUDEST training course but I was told that I was too experienced. I then tried to get on the advanced course, but was told that I needed to have taken the regular course first! However the tutor did allow me to sit in on the advanced course and to my relief I discovered that I was doing most of the right things and following the prescribed guidelines.

On several occasions at the Octagon customers would say to me Oh I wish you did this in Liverpool or Manchester. So in 1995 I launched Mind_s Eye Professional Description Service providing freelance audio description for theatres and other arts organizations and have been extremely busy ever sinceworking with around eight theatres on a regular basis, both big commercial theatres and smaller subsidized theatres, working on touring shows and home produced shows. I describe on average 45 productions a year.

Shows described over the years range from Alan Bennett_s monologues to Les Miserables; from full-blown Shakespeare to minimalist Godot; from lavish panto to bleak kitchen sink drama, with many stops in between. I have also produced audio guides for art galleries and I have audio described films.

In 1999 I became one of Vocaleyes principal describers. Vocaleyes is an organization that exists to provide audio description for touring and other productions. It receives funding from the Arts Council of England and its Director is here – Claire Stewart. Also in 1999 I was elected onto the Steering Group of what was to become the Audio Description Association. Our priority was to put together a Constitution and become a Registered Charity. This took up much of our time in the early days, as did planning our first Annual Meeting and Conference held in Stratford upon Avon at which both Joel and Mari were distinguished speakers. Our mission is to raise the standard and profile of AD nationwide, supporting audio describers and facilitating a quality service for blind and partially sighted people.

The Executive then took on the responsibility for setting up an accredited training course, about which I spoke earlier. The Audio Description Associations aim is that whenever new describers are now trained, the accredited course will be used resulting in uniformity of standards and much higher consistent quality of audio description services. We are also about to launch into Accreditation of Prior Learning and will next week be running a training course for AD users to teach them about the sort of standards they should expect from AD.

Other achievements of ADA England are:

  • the distribution of a logo for audio described performances nationally;
  • the production of a regular newsletter for members;
  • the attracting of patrons – we now have Sir Alan Ayckbourn, the famous playwright, Sue Arnold, prestigious journalist, Sir William Lawrence, Chair of the Heart of England Tourist Board and highly regarded actors Michael Maloney and Sir Jeremy Isaacs endorsing our work;
  • a second Annual Meeting, this time held in Coventry with workshops on equipment, training, and audience developmentusers views and needs.

We have also been putting together a funding application to seek funding to further our work. ADA is at the stage where in order to develop it needs to have a paid Administrator and Development Officer. The organization has in the past had the running costs of the Executive meetings met by the RNIB [Royal National Institute for the Blind] who have also helped toward training and Conference expenses, as has the charity Action for Blind People. The RNIB in England is very supportive of the organization and of the cause of audio description generally and recently published the results of a survey into description over the Christmas period last year. I have a copy with me if anybody would like to take a look later. The ADA Executive is very aware that this source of income from the RNIB can no longer be relied upon and that in order to fulfill the aims of the Association a paid worker is now essential to develop and expand and further raise the profile of audio description.

Particular projects in the wings include the establishing of the mystery shopper campaign. It will work in a similar way to the Scottish model providing a quality control operation for theatres and customers, employing an experienced describer who can attend described productions unannounced and offer constructive criticism; working more closely with museums and galleries; and we need to set up a web site urgently. Other big issues facing us are equipment and audience development.

ADA England has around 70 individual and 17 corporate members of whom about 10 are visually impaired, so there is definitely room for growth. There are around 80 theatres offering audio description in the UK, although some of these are on an occasional basis only. In most of these theatres description is carried out by teams of volunteers, some of whom have been trained and others not. Professional describers are in the minority in England whilst in Scotland describers are almost exclusively volunteers. Audio description in film is in its infancy and although television programmes are having audio description produced for them, the technology for people to receive the description is still being developed and very expensive.

Looking back we have come a long way since 1988 when the Octagon was the second theatre in the country to introduce audio description for its audiences, but we still have a long way to go. The recent Disability Discrimination Act declared that service industries must take reasonable steps to ensure that disabled customers were not discriminated against and that the use of auxiliary aids, like AD was to be recommended. We are still waiting for a test case involving audio description–we havent had one yet, but when the Empire Theatre, a large commercial theatre in Liverpool, was complaining that they didnt have the funds to continue operating its AD service, my blind friends rang up to complain and happened to mention the DDA. A couple of weeks later the theatre rang me to book a season of dates for forthcoming shows.

People often ask me what I do for a living. When I am sitting scribbling in the dark in an auditorium, they ask if I am a critic. When I explain to them what I do they are always fascinated and often very envious. I don’t need to tell you it is a great job and I usually feel very honoured to see so many great shows and to spend my time developing descriptions that will enhance the enjoyment and the overall theatre experience of blind and partially sighted customers. People also say to me – it must be very rewarding, and it certainly is. One of my favourite moments was after the pantomime in Liverpool when a young lad, aged around 8, clasped my sleeve on the way out of the theatre and said, That was boss, that Anne. Other memorable times include other pantomimes when the whole school for the blind has been watching and listening, with so many of them that there is a swell of laughter just from them whenever I describe anything funny. Or watching a young girls face as she joined in the song from the song sheet, her parents watching her, wide-eyed.

But there have also been the down sides, which I can also share with you because I know you will understand–the frustration of finding out at the interval that you have been speaking to yourself for the whole of the first half because nobody has actually turned up for the performance, or the even worse frustration of finding out that the equipment hasnt been working and that you have delivered your description to a dead microphone; there are the times when you prepare beautifully and then the actors speed the timing up so much, usually at a matinee, so you cant get a word in edgeways, or the times when you give a description of a main character: Mary Magdalen is a lithe, curvaceous young black woman, whose thick curly dark hair tumbles down to her shoulders, and whose red dress has a plunging neckline revealing her cleavage…she has wide dark eyes with a high forehead, neat nose and wide mouth with full sensuous lips, only to find that the understudy is on, nobody has told you and she is played by a skinny white skinned girl with flat chest, cropped blonde hair and blue eyes.

Thank you for your attention, and Ill try to answer any questions you may have. I will be back later joining in the panel on Audience Development. If you find youve had too much of me I give you permission to fall asleep. I sometimes wonder if thats what people mean when they tell me I have a soothing voice.

Thank you, again.

1:00 pm Panel on Audience Development (Concurrent Session)

Jesse Minkert, Arts and Visually Impaired Audiences-facilitator

Speakers: Margaret Hardy, President, AudioVision; Audley Blackburn, Board Member, Access Arts Austin; Anne Hornsby, Secretary, Audio Description Association, England

Jesse Minkert: Jesse detailed a project that his organization, Arts and Visually Impaired Audiences in Seattle, developed and maintains: The Package. Its a group of services that includes AD, transportation, tickets, and on-site, sighted coordinators at theaters. He finds that combining these services lowers barriers so that more people attend live performances. It began in 1995 as a way to address the myriad issues involved in encouraging blind people to take advantage of AD offered at live performances. With the support of the Paul G. Allen Foundation, six plays were part of the original effort. After initial success, the project faltered until a series of focus groups arranged by VSA Arts of Washington, the Seattle Arts Commission, and various organizations that serve people with disabilities. A document, Arts Enabled, was produced and it highlighted transportation, cost, and the need for a sighted guide as major barriers to attendance among other concerns. The gist of the report is that the availability of AD alone is not enough of a reason for people who are blind to overcome other barriers and attend performances.

Jesse was able to raise new funds from the Allen Foundation and the Washington Council for the Blind to offer The Package on a monthly basis at a variety of Seattle theaters, the Seattle Symphony, and the Pacific Northwest Ballet (along with backstage tours after performances of The Nutcracker). Jesse outlined the results of two years experience with this new package:

  • 36 shows described over twelve months; 12 as part of The Package
  • Total attendance for non-Package shows: 46 (24 shows) aver. per show – 1.92
  • Total attendance for Package shows: 128 (12 shows) aver. per show – 10.5
  • # of zero attendance days, non-Package shows: 9
  • # of zero attendance days, Package shows: 0

Jesses conclusion is that true access involves more than simply offering AD; it must include other kinds of access techniques in order to be successful, including access to information about the service in appropriate formats. He noted that many of the people using the service are elderly, live on fixed incomes, have mobility impairments, and lack individual transportation options.

Jesse noted the difficulties involved with providing transportation. Public transportation services proved to be inadequate and now Jesse hires more expensive commercial carriers equipped to handle wheelchairs. These costs, combined with the cost of tickets, are formidable but Jesse has had success in raising funds to cover these expenses by demonstrating the clear need and a clear solution to that need.

The Package now has a solid, repeating client base and renewed funding.

Audley Blackburn: Access Arts Austin, now known as VSA arts of Texas, serves the entire state. The Austin program began in 1995 with the vision of three people to make live performance and movies accessible to people who are blind.

With respect to audience development, Audley emphasized that the blind community has not been encouraged to participate in live performances as audience or participants. Initially, the group saw its mission as providing the AD service without focusing on transportation issues, due to insurance concerns and other issues. Recalling Jesses remarks, he confirmed that in Austin public transportation was also less than adequate in ensuring timely arrival for performances.

Audley said, Part of audience development is understanding your audience. Audience feedback and receptivity to patrons desires is important.

Audleys group has found that movies are quite popular and a movie is described each month. Usually it occurs on the 2nd Saturday of each month and the word gets out via email, voice mail recordings, quarterly newsletters and a monthly calendar with two months of listings. He noted that movies cost less and that that point is critical for a population that has over 70% unemployment.

Audley called on Brenda Shirk to provide some statistics regarding AD use in Austin:

  • all describers in Austin are trained volunteers
  • in 1999, 2000, and 2001, 160, 397, and 395 patrons served, respectively
  • in 2000 and 2001, 1058 and 1278 volunteer hours were involved, respectively
  • in 2002 to date, 116 patrons have been served with 269 volunteer hours
  • both planned and by request events are accommodated, if possible
  • as many as 3 movies per month have been described

Audley stressed working closely with organizations of people who are blind or visually impaired. Beyond feedback on efforts, often these organizations can provide financial support and volunteers to support AD activity. He also noted his groups work with the Texas School for the Blind as well as public schools to encourage performing arts attendance by young people.

Margaret Hardy: In the four years that Margaret led the AD program for the American Musical Theater of San Jose, it went from serving three people to providing AD for between six and 24 patrons per production at six performances per production in a program that kept 25 describers busy.

She became interested in AD when she responded to a notice about the late Gregory Fraziers AD course at San Francisco State University. The first show she had described was the 1993 production of The Wiz for which Gregory brought in describers. The first performance was for students and included people from the California School for the Blind. After the show, the performers met with the AD patrons and Margaret agreed with Audley that outreach to children is critical. She made inroads with teen-oriented social groups, encouraging them to have outings at the theater. She also prepared study guides for students attending described final dress rehearsals at reduced rates.

She contacted agencies, made speaking engagements, and produced a video on AD with special funding. On the video, one silent scene from a production of Phantom is particularly illustrative of the power of AD and has been an important aide in building funding and audiences for AD.

The AMTSJ produces its own shows and that allows for greater AD preparation and opportunities for AD patron involvement on stage and backstage. The company also makes pre-show announcements regarding the availability of AD to build general awareness of the service and at the end of each show, performers acknowledge the describers as they might recognize an orchestra conductor. Prominent signs in the lobby announce the service and the programs and season brochures feature AD availability. A range of performance dates with AD is offered increasing availability for AD patrons. Margaret also encouraged the inclusion of AD information in media advertisements for each show.

In 1998, Margaret became President of the Bay Area-based AD service provider AudioVision, founded by Gregory Frazier. AudioVision provides AD for the professional theaters in San Francisco, often offering AD at only one performance and averaging 20 patrons in attendance.

The San Francisco Arts Commission has contracted with AudioVision to record descriptions of art exhibits at the San Francisco Airport and other public art exhibitions throughout the city.

Anne Hornsby: Anne offered a range of suggestions for marketing AD services. Recalling Jesses comments, she emphasized going beyond simply doing the AD. She mentioned Braille programs and schedules, large print and audiotaped information, touch-tours, and even dog-sitting services during performances.

As Audley did, she also emphasized feedback from users as an extremely important in providing what your customers want. This will guide you in selecting the shows that your patrons want to see and describing them on the days and times desired.

With respect to discounts on tickets, Anne suggested that they be offered to sighted companions as well. Also, noting mobility issues, Anne discussed how people are informed about access information and highlighted possible particular needs: Do you need white strips on your stairs, or across glass panels? Do you have a tactile plan of your building? Do customers know where to park, where the cafe and toilets are?

She noted that most AD problems arise from the equipment. Somebody must take responsibility for checking receivers before, and ideally during, the performance. Be clear about where customers will collect it from and make sure your staff knows how it works.

Anne focused also on the needs of the describers: scripts, access to shows, equipment, etc. and suggested that a contract with the describer, detailing responsibilities is a good idea.

Theater staff must also be trained in the area of access awareness. Have you challenged any prejudices or preconceptions your staff might have?

She then outlined a promotion or marketing plan beginning with the establishment of specific objectives: Are they to improve the quality of an existing service? To launch a new service? To increase numbers? To attract new people? Lapsed attendees? Are you seeking to raise the profile of the service? Are you trying to attract funding?

In considering all of this, she stressed the inclusion of the blind or visually impaired person and his/her companion too.

Anne described how to then focus on target markets, such as blind/visually impaired individuals, groups of blind/visually impaired people, organizations for blind/visually impaired people, the mainstream sighted audience as a conduit for information, the press and other media, and funding decision makers.

In considering marketing tools, Anne reminded that most conventional methods are only accessible for sighted, and usually only well-sighted people. Consequently, each means of communication must be considered according to each target group.

She suggested including audio described dates on posters, leaflets, (consider whether or not to have a separate access leaflet), advertisements, and direct mail. Sighted people can pass the information on and some visually impaired people can read type if it is in a large or clear enough font. Use photo opportunities of patrons doing a touch tour, or people with guide dogs in the theater. Use quotes from people who have used the service to help sell it to others. Build a database of local, regional and national contacts and stay in touch with the organizations that serve people who are blind or visually impaired. Similarly, of course, build a database of attendees, as this can be one of your most valuable marketing tools. Use it and the phone to build personal contact with your patrons.

As Margaret Hardy discussed, its important to go out and talk about the service to schools and groups and have a display created that will inform people about the service. This applies to the use of new technologies as well–web sites and e-mail.

Finally, Anne emphasized the monitoring of your AD service: Keep a record of how many people are using the service and who they are; Have some kind of show report which highlights successes and problems; Talk to users to ensure feed-back and market research; Establish a user group of advisers. Users of the service will tell you how to improve your service and how to find more people like them.

Questions and Answers / Discussion;

Audley Blackburn emphasized the work that is being done in Austin with young people. Jesse Minkert noted his work with the Seattle Childrens Theater and AD provided for schooltime performances, often with the cost of tickets and bus transportation covered by state agencies.

Richard Harris about the availability of more information on equipment and its uses in different settings. Jesse Minkert noted that equipment advances are occurring rapidly, e.g., portable systems using digital signals, and sympathized with the notion that users who have equipment difficulties may be unlikely to try AD another time. He suggested having backup systems available at all times. Adam Westlund offered that his organization has had good results with the use of two Williamssound transmitters and tunable receivers that can be set to either of two different channels. Audley Blackburns organization has volunteers who focus their service on work with equipment, checking the equipment at each theater. Betty Siegel of the Kennedy Center has a brochure available that provides information and lists the various manufacturers of FM and infrared audio transmission equipment. She informed the group that the equipment was originally developed for classroom use and transmission over relatively short distances. Jesse Minkert suggested that ADI maintain this sort of information on its web site.

Michael Mooney emphasized the value of information in lobbies, printed programs, and in mailings that can ultimately build AD use via friends and family of AD users. He also noted the Paper Mill Theaters membership in the New Jersey Theater Alliance and its guide to accessible theater and its assistance to New Jersey theaters who are grantees of the New Jersey State Arts Council and are required to be accessible.

Vince Lombardi prefers an FM system avoiding the line of sight requirements of infrared system. As far as involving the theaters where AD is offered, Vince suggested announcements from the stage as a valuable technique, mentions in the playbills with a description of AD and bios of the describers, and use of radio reading services as an outreach vehicle. On-air interviews with cast members, theater personnel, and the describers are useful publicity methods. He also highlighted the value of tactile tours, especially for young audiences. An unidentified speaker suggested using a music CD or audiocassette to help users know if a receiver is functioning when they first turn it on.

Mary Knapp told of her theaters collaboration with local therapeutic recreation departments, eager for activities for their low vision clients. She also spoke of her work with a local girl scout troupe that includes hearing impaired and visually impaired students who work as volunteers in the theater. An unidentified speaker asked if a list of organizations offering AD and contact information/web sites is available. Barry Levine mentioned that that would be a quite natural aspect of the ADI website under development.

Clare Stewart noted that it seemed as though the responsibility for audience development most often rests with the organization providing the description service. She offered that it really should be part of the theaters work in building its audiences generally. David Baquis reminded the group that AD can be applied to a range of business settings and reach beyond theaters, e.g., on web sites, in particular, as required of government agencies by Title 508 regulations.

Jesse Minkert maintained that individual theaters are often uninterested in marketing access services, so constant reminders are required. Audley Blackburn suggested links to individual websites on the ADI website, as well as descriptions of the various AD providers around the world. Valerie Ching emphasized that website information must be accessible to people who use screen readers or speaking browsers.

Another speaker noted the hiring of a grant-funded marketing person whose position specifically requires research involving outreach to people with disabilities. Eileen Bagnell spoke of a quarterly, statewide newsletter/calendar focused on arts access and personal visits to retirement communities and service organizations along with demonstrations of equipment. Fred Brack told of a public art project that is accessible, i.e., tactile and has sound elements, etc. He also spoke of distribution lists, newsletters, a website, personal visits, and the organization of a support group of people who are blind. Frank Hernandez told of working with the state talking book library to publicize AD events.

1:00 pm Discussion on the Business of Video Description (Concurrent Session)

Craig Dreeszen-facilitator

A group of about 20 individuals gathered separately to share information and discuss concerns specifically focused on description for video and television. A list of the issues raised follows:

  • The recently implemented FCC rule and the logistics of getting AD to users
  • Consistency of AD offerings
  • How to begin providing AD for film and video
  • AD for DVDs and the possibility of providing pre-show information therein
  • Cost/benefit ratios for recorded vs. live AD
  • How programs to be described are chosenbased on general popularity
  • Department of Education funds had been driving production / now costs and choices will rest with commercial broadcasters
  • AD users should make desires knowncurrently pop programming and documentaries are most desired
  • A reliance on the SAP (Secondary Audio Program) channel could result in competition with foreign language usethis will change with advent of digital TV
  • In US, the three leading national service organizations for people who are blind do not speak with the same voice complicating advocacy for AD
  • Use of AD on the web and within Internet applications should be explored
  • AD for public domain movies could be explored with funds raised through the sale of advertisements
  • AD vs CaptioningAD is more expensive, less needed by blind than captioning by deaf ?
  • As producers assume costs, quality will be a greater concernAD could become a profit center as population ages, appropriate sponsors could be contracted
  • Benefits also go to the sighted: spouses, commuters, streamed audio audience
  • Ideally, AD should be built in early in productionless costly and more easily accomplisheda universal design issueAD could be anticipated by screenwriters and integrated within the work as an aesthetic innovation
  • Professionalism in AD will require standardsTV producers will look to ADI for guidance in this area as well as with information about description providers, training, and other contacts
  • Broadcasters should be encouraged to maintain focus groups of AD users
  • Is redundancy of AD on film an issue, i.e., same film being described by various providers of description? Does this raise the possibility of shared AD scripts?
  • Live description for live televised events or for first-run films in the movie theatersoon AD users will carry pocket receivers for ongoing transmission of AD track in a movie theaterallows AD users to be participate in pop culture
  • British use of AD on web servers eliminating paper scripts and saving on mixing costsless alteration to original material could result in less resistance from producers
  • Greater professionalism in AD may increase in proportion to payment for descriptionproducers must build in AD costs from the beginning and consider sponsorships to cover expensesfree AD does not prepare organizations to bear the costs at a later dateADI can help grow the profession by informing the field on these issues

4:00 pm ADI Organizational Meeting #1

Craig Dreeszen-facilitator

This portion of the meeting was reserved for the nomination of board members and officers of the newly revitalized Audio Description International. As to officers, there were nominees for President and Secretary but none for Vice President and Treasurer.

Audley Blackburn announced that he had decided to withdraw as a candidate for President due to prior commitments and would instead stand for election to the office of Vice President.

Jesse Minkert provided an outline of the history of ADI. Media describers were always a presence at the various meetings of people interested in AD over the last ten years or so. Various issues were discussed at these meetings including scripted vs. extemporaneous descriptions, standards and certification. In Columbus, OH, about four years ago, a set of bylaws and articles of incorporation were adopted for ADI and an original board and officers were elected and board committees were established. Alan Woods of Ohio State University was elected President, Leah Vickery from Ball State University was elected Vice President, Jesse was elected Secretary, and Patsy Smith of Bloomington, IN was elected Treasurer. There ensued a long period of inactivity while the process of incorporation was pursued by volunteer lawyers and little communication transpired between the officers or board members. Dues were not collected and memberships were not pursued or renewed. Eventually, the terms of board members lapsed.

However, the AD listserv maintained by Ohio State University sparked interest anew. While that listserv no longer exists, Barry Levine established another under the title of AD International. The Kennedy Center stepped forward with its willingness to sponsor another meeting for the reinvigoration of ADI, and a planning committee was formed led by Joel Snyder along with Jesse, Mari Griffin, Damian Pickering and Betty Siegel. The Conference was originally planned for last Septemberits postponement was made necessary by the attack on the World Trade Center.

Craig Dreeszen then read aloud the purpose of ADI as stipulated in the current articles of incorporation: To promote Audio Description services in various settings through shared information and referral, education, advocacy, and fostering the implementation and development of Audio Description.

Craig then opened the floor to additional nominations (in addition to those already made in advance of the Conferencebios in Conference packets) for the Board and/or Officers of ADI. The bylaws state that the organization may have as few as 12 or as many as 21 board members, five of whom should be users of AD.

The existing nominees were announced:

  • Audley Blackburn
  • David Baquis
  • Kim Charlson
  • Mari Griffin
  • Margaret Hardy
  • Frank Hernandez
  • Mary Knapp
  • Barry Levine
  • Deb Lewis
  • Michael Mooney
  • Eric Peterson
  • Ken Rodgers
  • Hal Safron
  • Joel Snyder
  • Janet Zoebeck Dickson
  • Rick Boggs
  • Elizabeth Kahn
  • Michael Watson
  • Jolie Mason

New nominations:

  • Teddy Primack nominated Barry Levine for President
  • Madelyn Dovano nominated Marc Rosen
  • Clare Stewart nominated Frances Clark
  • Joel Snyder nominated Anne Hornsby for Vice President
  • Margaret Hardy nominated Diane DiSalvo
  • Clare Stewart nominated James OHara
  • An unidentified speaker nominated Jean Marie Moore
  • An unidentified speaker nominated Adam Westlund

Craig noted that per the bylaws a vote of 50% of those voting (plus proxies) PLUS ONE is required for action, therefore that would be threshold required for election. Members may vote for any number of board members, from one to 21.

Teddy Primack requested a clarification regarding the nomination of co-presidents, noting no reference to co-office holders in the bylaws. Betty Siegel, on behalf of the Kennedy Center and in the absence of an actual board, offered that the Kennedy Center as host of the meeting would allow a co-presidency to be considered. Mary Knapp noted that the bylaws allow for the election of other officers as deemed necessary.

Nominations were then closed.

A question was asked regarding who among the nominees were AD users. Betty Siegel suggested that nominees may self identify if they desire and that otherwise members may search out nominees before voting.

Clarification in the form of a vote by the membership was requested on the issue of co-presidents being allowed on the ballot. By a vote of 29-28, it was decided to allow the nomination of co-presidents as a unit.

The balance of the meeting was allotted to a listing of items for the newly elected boards first agenda:

  • Define what committees to establish and solicit membership
  • How to promote AD within the general population
  • Creation of a website listing describers and other information including examples of AD
  • Consideration of the role of volunteer describers
  • Directory of where AD is available
  • A mechanism for producers to solicit description
  • Evaluation of AD
  • Technology and Equipment issues and evaluation
  • Acknowledgement of AD as a profession and description as an act that should be compensated
  • Focus on International issues (next year: London?) including multilingualism
  • Focus on accessible materials
  • Scripting or delivery forum on website
  • Use of email for feedback on board activity
  • Filing for 501c3 status
  • Focus on advocacy for AD in media programmatically and technologically (and the degree to which ADI can advocate on issues and remain a non-profit)
  • How ADI will organize its operation and how it will communicate to membership
  • Membership development and its entitlements
  • Staff? Office? An address?
  • Pursue a sponsor/host for next years meeting

7:00 pm Informal Audio Description Critique

No notes available.

Sunday March 24 Educational Resource Center

9:00 am Open Sharing: Discussion of issues in the field and the quality/quantity of AD around the world (Concurrent Session)

Craig Dreeszen-facilitator

Nine Points on Reorganization of ADI:

  1. Basic Organizational Structure: establishing Committees, recruiting Treasurer, determining sequence/nature of Board meetings
  2. Communications: Board, membership
  3. Web Site: listing describers, venues, demos, scripts/shows that have been described, technology forum, focus on international nature of organization
  4. Advocacy: FCC ruling, public education
  5. Legal issues: filing of annual reports, obtain fiscal agent, file for non-profit status
  6. Funding: contributed and earned
  7. Membership: renewals, recruitment
  8. Annual Meeting: when, where, who would host, how would it be funded, planning
  9. Forums for Issues

Craig asked for a listing of issues for a broader discussion of AD. They included:

  • Ways of getting feedback from users (focus groups, formal evaluation/research)
  • AD beyond performing arts
  • Obtaining scripts and videos from producing organizations for AD preparation
  • Getting venues to use AD
  • Becoming a describercan anyone do it? / qualifications
  • Specific AD issues outside the US?
  • ADA/508 and AD
  • Technology and web site support

Madelyn Dovano uses a feedback survey in accessible formats including a question about enjoyment of a particular event in general and she also receives feedback via a web site, an 800 number, lobby personnel, and a Hotline that takes messages. Anne Hornsby spoke of user groups (with and without describers present) that meet at the end of each season to discuss experiences with AD and telephone surveys.

James OHara works with description of television in England and uses videos sent out to users who then respond with comments in writing or via email. Current users of broadcast AD provide comments via telephone. One woman called to say AD had helped her backpreviously she would watch TV while on the floor leaning forward close to the screen in order to perceive the images. Now she can sit back and enjoy! James also noted that most of his describers voice their own work. Adam Westlund has a calling committee that contacts users for feedback and special requests and to provide information.

Anne Hornsby told us that users receive an audiocassette with program notes and are invited to record their own comments on that cassette and mail it back. She also spoke of a recently completed survey of 250 users regarding AD for visual art galleries and museums. Joel Snyder recommended that all review the research conducted by Jaclyn Packer and Corrine Kirchner on users of AD on television, published by the American Foundation for the BlindWhos Watching. He has also discussed with Dr. Packer the possibility of formal research on the effectiveness of various AD techniques. Anne Hornsby also suggested a survey on AD in live performing arts conducted by the RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind).

Madelyn Dovano told of describing a one-performance only circus and flying to the prior city on the tour to preview the event, the Christmas in the Park exhibit in San Jose, and political events and meetings. David Baquis suggested a research subcommittee of the ADI Board. He also believes that AD will have a large application in non-arts settings. Robert Sutter focused on description for painting and architecture that he provides for a radio reading service in Massachusetts.

Frank Hernandez is an AD user and emphasized asking users what they want described. He spoke of a rodeo parade and an air and space museum for which AD is used and AD that is provided for him when he attends meetings. He wants AD to be in his life for all manner of activity, like his cane, not just for the arts, e.g., how much hair does Joel have now as opposed to when he was at the AD meeting in Tempe. He stated, If I had a kid who was blind, Id want him to know about the guy in the back whos falling asleep and is drooling. Audio Description is more personal it has to do with how I want to lead my life.

James OHara then described the fact that Joel Snyder had offered his bald head to Frank for a tactile examination. He then spoke of successful AD for sports, including live tennis, on television. Brenda Shirk mentioned that her organization schedules AD according to requests from users and Access Arts Austins development of training videotapes on AD.

Mary Knapp noted that sports have essentially been audio described on radio for many years. She also stressed that the availability of AD in some settings could serve basic safety needs. Elizabeth Kahn spoke of AD in classrooms that have proved quite helpful. Clare Stewart noted that the results of the British survey on art galleries and museums would be posted on the Vocal Eyes web site. Audley Blackburn emphasized the need for AD within multimedia applications in schools. Margaret Hardy offered information regarding AudioVisions research on AD in educational settings.

Eileen Bagnell told of how describers are assigned to productions at local producing organizations and have access to rehearsals and other elements of the production process. Kim Charlson elaborated on the distinctions between working on AD for presenters and producersthe former venues cannot provide access to rehearsals or material to support the describer other than attendance before the description is offered, if there is more than one performance.

Mary Knapp asked whether describers could work with sign interpreters in getting access to advance material. Judy Berk spoke of getting waivers on Actors Equity Association rules limiting videotape availability in the case of resident productions. She has had more difficulty getting tapes from touring shows. Margaret Hardy hopes that ADI may eventually be able to assist in this regard. Michael Mooney told that videos are verboten in his experience working with an Equity production company although audiotapes have been used by interpreters and describers. He cautioned against reliance on videotapes for AD preparation. Audley Blackburn related this issue to those opposing the FCC rules on AD for broadcast television and spoke of difficulty obtaining advance information from producing theaters or presenters.

Joel Snyder suggested that the two arenas have separate issues, i.e., Actors Equity Association is not opposed to the FCC ruling. He also noted that exceptions to Equitys rules are made citing the archives of videotapes made of shows on Broadway and productions in the DC area. He also suggested that ADI could eventually go to Equity to ask for an additional exception for describers, particularly for touring shows where one AD script could be prepared from that tape and tour with that show thus eliminating the need for AD preparation in every city to which the show tours.

Clare Stewart told of an agreement in England that allows videotaping of final dress rehearsals. Judy Robinet spoke as a film producer and stressed the need for training and professionalism in the field of description. Anne Hornsby works with two theaters who illegally provide her with videotapes that she uses in-house only in AD preparation. Audley Blackburn again noted a link between the FCC issue and live description concerns citing Disney as a film and theater producer. Madelyn Dovano recommended that producers be approached by ADI in a formal manner that understands and respects their concerns. Mary Knapp spoke as a theater producer who framed the issue in economic terms for her colleagues, i.e., there is a population that will not attend unless description can be facilitated. Judy Berk also suggested that presenters proactively support this effort by requiring videos contractually.

Allye Kranish noted that her concern has been with theaters not providing good seats for previews. Madelyn Dovano felt that that should be a matter of contract with the theater and that offering a primer on AD to theater staff could strengthen the relationship with the theater. David Baquis suggested that the economic argument could be bolstered by noting ADs benefit for people other than those with vision loss such as people with Attention Deficit Disorder and others.

Clare Stewart emphasized that many of the issues being discussed apply to both England and the United States. David Baquis encouraged ADI to view the ADA/508 issues and international concerns as coming under the heading of Public Policy. James OHara noted that in England the legislation requiring AD is in place but that the country lacks the technology to facilitate AD reception on television by larger numbers of users.

Michael Mooney noted that New Jersey State Council on the Arts grantees must develop an ADA compliance plan. Elizabeth Kahn expressed concern regarding theaters that are disinterested. She asked when its time to sue? Rhonda Hornbacher emphasized the rights of individuals with disabilities to receive services that create access, letting people know that its a right and that they can ask for such access, and suggested developing relationships with individuals who are responsible for enforcing compliance with ADA and other requirements. David Baquis noted the IDEA program at the Department of Education for services to children as an example of a program thats already in place and could be better utilized in building AD efforts.

Madelyn Dovano worries about a stamp of approval for describers when many have been doing description for years. As a first step, she thought that ADI could list describers that have been through some sort of training. Kathy Blackburn emphasized that description requires skill and training and is not something anyone can do.

Joel Snyder agreed enthusiastically with Kathy. He noted that ADI should provide information but expressed concern about lists of individuals as opposed to organizations and could only be appropriate with a disclaimer regarding any perceived endorsement. He emphasized that even people who have had some training can be poor describershe knows of an individual who had a day of training and then understood himself to be able to train other describers. He supported earlier comments from Judy and Kathy regarding quality in description and stressed that the establishment of standards is not intended to intimidate or to encourage payment for describers, noting that there are many excellent volunteer describers.

Elizabeth Kahn belongs to the American Translators Association that has a multi-tiered membership structure requiring examinations. She suggested that the issue of training and certification is critical particularly when more organizations are being asked to pay for description services.

Renee Cummins mentioned that she expects competence in descriptions she uses and would welcome some sort of certifying method. James OHara spoke as a describer and employer of describers and noted that his employees must meet certain levels of competence and standards. Mary Knapp feels that eventually the field will need to establish standards and certifications so that those providing access to theater are on the same professional level as the actors the theater employs. She further allowed that certifications may eventually need to be discipline specific noting the differences inherent in developing description for media vs. live performing arts.

Audley Blackburn asked for clarification regarding comparisons between American Sign Language and AD. Rhonda Hornbacher replied that both have to do with equal communication access. Ken Rodgers sees a clear parallel in that AD provides the same sort of access for him that ASL provides for someone who is deaf and that AD users can follow the coattails that ASL users have created. Michael Mooney noted that many theatrical sign interpreters have certification in that area specifically. It doesnt prohibit him for hiring a different interpreter but his board does require that the Registry of Interpreters certify all interpreters for the Deaf (RID).

Renee Cummins suggested that people not be confused by ASL being a separate language and that the most appropriate parallel simply be with respect to providing access. An RID for describers would let users know what level of proficiency in description to expect.

Ralph Welsh asked about ADA requirements and the proficiency of interpreters that might be provided. To the general public, it may seem that anyone can be a describer and that perception could result in misrepresentation, e.g., a theater manager requiring an usher to be the describer at a given performance. Ken Rodgers noted that Minnesota state law requires interpreters to have minimal competence because some who only knew finger spelling had been being hired as interpreters in schools. Rhonda Hornbacher said that ADA requires a qualified interpreter.

Mary Knapp believes that ADI will need to educate people as to the skills needed to provide description. She also noted that Virginia recently required a certain level of competence for interpreters in schools. Elizabeth Kahn expressed the concern that beginning describers are the rule at this point and that that reality must be considered.

Robert Sutter asked if speech recognition software is used in developing AD, i.e., recorded notes being transferred to print. James OHara replied that a similar technique is used for captioning in England. One group is researching how often phrases recur in description. David Baquis, listing myriad topics, suggested that a separate committee of the ADI Board consider the issue of AD technology. Fred Brack mentioned the public web site that he maintains on behalf of Arts Access of Raleigh but emphasized a separate web site for describers that has been extremely useful in sharing information. Adam Westlund asked about use of the SAP channel on televisions. Joel Snyder offered a four-page listing of resources for describers and people interested in description.

9:00 am Informal Audio Description Critique (Concurrent Session)

No notes available.

11:15 am ADI Organizational Meeting #2

Craig Dreeszen-facilitator

Election of officers and board members for Audio Description International

Craig reiterated the ADI bylaws stipulating a board size of between 12 and 21, five of whom are AD users. Election to the board requires a vote of 50% plus one of those voting. Everyone who has registered and paid for the Conference is an ADI member and there are five proxy votes. 45 votes in favor will result in election to the board.

A question was asked about term length and Craig suggested that the Board might need to consider the possibility of staggered terms.

Craig offered advice concerning qualities to be considered in choosing board members. He suggested that in the absence of staff, ADI board members will both govern and operate the organization although board members can enlist others to help. He stated that board members could be expected to:

  • Develop plans to re-build ADI organizational capacity
  • Have national and global vision of the role that ADI can play in the community
  • Raise funds for ADI
  • Attend ADI events
  • Be a paid member of ADI
  • Participate in board and committee meetings (these may be virtual or face-to-face)
  • Travel to ADI board meetings, which may be held in Washington D.C. (at board members’ own expense unless funds are raised to meet these costs)
  • Represent the interests of ADI on behalf of all audio describers and users (given that describers are colleagues and sometimes competitors, ADI board members must take care to avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest)
  • Lead ADI to provide information, education, referrals and advocacy to advance the mission to “promote audio description services etc.

A question was asked regarding financial commitments and the only requirement is membership in ADI. Fred Brack noted that many of the candidates have executive backgrounds and may be accustomed to delegating responsibility. He suggested that this board would need to actually do the work of the organization.

Each board candidate was invited to stand and comment briefly on background and qualifications for board membership. (Reference the list of nominees detailed earlier.)

Betty Siegel clarified the voting procedures and distributed ballots. The results of the board election are included in the minutes of the first board meeting. A record of the minutes document is at the end of this Conference Proceedings document.

12:30 pm Lunch with Speaker-Charlie Crawford, Executive Director, American Council of the Blind

Charlie Crawford is introduced by Joel Snyder.

Charlie Crawford: Its Sunday and theres a podium, oh boy!

What he forgot to say is, A handsome man approaches the podiumfollowed by a little black dog eating crumbs off the floor. [laughter]

Thank you so much for inviting me to join with you this afternoon and do a little bit of talking about the art of Audio Description. Clearly, its something that has taken root in our country and in the world and slowly but surely is not only being appreciated by folks with the inability to see whats going on but also, I think, becoming somewhat of an expectation. I think thats the issue that we want to talk about this afternoon: the notion of what constitutes an expectation of Audio Description.

Maybe a way of introducing that is to tell you that last night my wife Sue and I were home and we decided that after listening to Garrison Keillor (because every blind person in the world has to listen to Garrison Keillor) wed watch a little TV. I turned on something that was one of these modern stories that was too graphic and stark for me so I sort of melted into American Movie Classics. The point there is that we could not necessarily make a totally informed choice between which TV program to watch only because we had to guess at what was going on the screen.

Now, that may be a bit academic in talking with a bunch of people who are familiar with Audio Description for the blind but it clearly is the nub of the issue. The choices that we have in life are limited by those facilities around us which either hinder or help us expedite around own choices. If we are to make those choices in a way which is honest, in a way which is informed, and a fully voluntary choice, then we have to do that with the information we need to make a good decision.

The only way were going to get there is Audio Description when it comes to television, when it comes to art, when it comes to museums, when it comes to any number of the activities that all people in this society take for grantedyet blind people are chronically left to guess whats in our environment rather than mastering the environment we live in.

Thats a heavy burden for us as a community to bear and a heavy responsibility for those of you who have taken on the challenge of developing video description or audio description as a way of servicing our community. Believe me, we appreciate it. [applause]

It all started a long time ago. A dark and stormy night, remember that? [laughter] I was talking to Cindyshes my assistantbefore I came here, it was on Thursday, I guess, and I said, Yknow, theyve got me down here from 12:30 to 1:45. I better start when I was a baby because I dont have that much to say. But thank God you guys were a little late. The other good thing is that its just after lunch, everybody had their cookies and in about ten minutes, everybodyll be asleep anyway, right?

The fact of the matter is that video description started a long time ago and Margaret can tell you that. She certainly pioneered the whole effort. When I was Commissioner in Massachusetts in 1985, a guy by the name of Barry Cronin came to visit. Barry said, Well, lets go have some lunch. Sure, Ill take a free lunch. (Dont tell the Ethics Commission that.) So we went to Brighams. Brighams in Massachusetts is kind of a Friendlys, yknow. You cant get caught on an ethics charge at Brighams, Ill tell ya that.

So we sat down and we were talking and he said, I had this concept to introduce you to and its called video description or described video. And he then explained what it was all about. And I said Yknow, thats one of the best ideas Ive ever heard of. And it was so simple. And yet only until only at 1985 were we really at a point in the history of the development of the technology so that we could deliver a service such as that through the Secondary Audio Programming channel on television.

Barry Cronin was a man of vision. He really had it in his heart not only to promote this intellectually novel idea but also to forward that idea through the process of making it something that was a nationally recognized art form so that people who are blind would be able to enjoy television. In the early days, it was very difficult to convince anybody that this was something new. I mean, this was something good because most of them saw it as something of an oddityTake your Daughter Out to Lunch Once A Year, still in that category, if not, Feed the Goldfish.

At any rate, as time went by, Barry was very successful with the assistance of the Commission for the Blind in Massachusetts and others in garnering a group of more and more people who were willing to go out and to be advocates, to actually talk about it in a positive fashionAudio Description. To make it something that was not only respectable, but something desired. To make it something beyond the ideology of a kook into the reality of television. He, and others such as those like Margaret here in Washington, the American Foundation for the Blind, the Blinded Veterans Administration and on and on and onall those efforts began to crystallize in the idea that maybe we could make this really work.

We began with public television. Now, public television. Everybody knows aboutyknow, who watches public television? Alright, cmon, cmon I talked to a guy I met a guy here in Washington a year and a half ago and I introduced myself and he said Well, Im so and so from public television. And I said, Oh, yknow, I love NOVA. And he said, You say that, but nobody ever watches it. So I decided that before I came here, today, I needed to watch something on public television. Esoteric as it is, my wife and I finished our carrots and celery and our finest wine, sat down before the television, and immediately turned on the only channel on our television which is public TV. Audio describers, listen up. Heres what I heard about, and I challenge you to describe it: The scene was a Far East country named Thailand and the subject was the sex life of moths. [laughter] You take it from there. [laughter] It was great. I thought to myself, Theyll love this tomorrow. [laughter] But anyway, youll be glad to know that the female moththe perfume that they producecan go miles and attract any male moth in the area. Even, I guess they even get around the flames to get to her. Anyway, enough of that.

The point is it started in public television because that was probably the most receptive area we were going to find to be able to use audio description in a broadcast model. Fortunately, there are great numbers of people in public TV who actually do believe that the audience is important enough to make sure that whatever it is theyre presenting to them they fully have options to understand and to utilize in their lives. So public TV was the pioneer for video description. And we watched and watched and watched. We watched American Playhouse. We watched Masterpiece Theater. We watched NOVA. God, we became educated, Ill tell ya. But the reality is that that was a great set of programs. As time went on, audio or video description moved out to the actual videocassettes and movies. Yknow, there was a time when one or two movies a year would be produced with video description. Today, its looking more like one or two movies a month. Within a couple of years, I would say that the majority of movies will be video described. I didnt necessarily say worth watching, but video described. [applause]

Thats a great accomplishment, it really is. But all along the way we knew that there was going to be a problem. The problem was as long as something is voluntaryif something is the right thing to dothe people who need to benefit from something are always going to be relying on somebodys sense of decency to do it. Now, thats a powerful motivator. But its not enough. Its not enough when the industry responsible for providing the audio description or video description is an industry that counts the money first and audience second. Its not enough when an industry which is so embroiled in the notion of glamour, youth, and utmost physical capacity has to think about blind people? And its not enough when an industry that is so large so as to count its money in the millions has to think about the notion of spending more money on something that they dont see as necessarily producing them the kind of money theyre used to earning. On the way in here, I tried to think of an analogy and you know what came to me? Bill Gates complaining at the gas station about the price of a gallon of gas. I mean, to him? Heh! But to the guy who pumps the gas, its important. To us, description is access. To the movies, its a somewhat interesting but irrelevant phenomenon. You can see from that that these polarities needed to be bridged.

Now, the American Council of the Blind, as early as 1995, passed a resolution95-01see that, Kim, I rememberin which we as an organization said that the movies have to become accessible. They have to have video description or audio description as soon as that can happen. Its a package. Its TV, its movies, its theater, its all those places where people congregate to enjoy art and have a right to appreciate what art there is. For all its worth. So we came together with other groups, such as Margarets group, The Washington Ear, such as the American Foundation for the Blind, such as the Blinded Veterans Administration, WGBH/NCAM.

We came together with all the groupsyou guys tooand decided that we needed to develop a way to get video description recognized in the public discourse so that the policy of the United States would support it. It was not going to be an easy task and those of veterans here like Margaret, for example, will tell you that because theyve been through it. It was not an easy task. It was constantly getting in touch with Congress people to try and get them to recognize the value of video description. We didnt get a mandate in the sense of an expressed mandate, which lawyers love to hearthats expressed, its right there in the law. We got an implicit mandate. It said we need to study the viability of video description.

Now, there is a difference between an expressed and an implied mandate. It said we need to see if its viable. Then there is an inherent expectation that if it is, were going to do something positive about it. Otherwise, I wouldve never asked you to do it in the first place. The FCC took that rationale, coupled it with a demonstration of the need as produced by many organizations including ACB, and said we need to propose a rule that there will be at least some significant amount of television which is video described.

They proposed a rule. Oh my God. You shouldve seen the industry. It was like somebody told them that they were orphans. Suddenly, what? Video description? We cant afford that. Its the price of a coffee break at your movie production. What? Video Description. You cant do that, FCC, its outside of your legal mandate. After all, you only have authority with respect to telecommunications in the public interest. God knows, the public interest is not served by having video description for blind people. Cant do it! Cant do it. You dont have the authority, its not there in the law, theres no expressed mandate.

And if thats not enough, youre compelling people to say things theyre not meaning to say! Theyre not meaning to say. If I write a poemlets write a poem. Um I have a white tooth, I love you, Ruth. Thats my daughter. Okay? Now–isnt it wonderful? I should publish it, right? [laughter] But anyway, we write this poem and somebody takes it and writes it down on paper. Now, tell meI told you this in an audible format. What business is it of theirs to put it down on paper? It alters the passage of what Im saying, it changes the meaning. Its now something you can read instead of hear. Wait, theres more. (Sounds like one of those commercialsWait! Theres more! SaladMaster! ) Anyway Well enlarge the print. Well make it big. And if we make it big, people with low vision can read it. You cant do that. Not only did I just say the poem, I didnt write it down. Now, youre taking what you wrote down and making it into big print! Those people out there will never understand that poem. Come on. Get real. I think theyve been in Hollywood too long. Is truth just what you ant it to be? Or is truth a matter of recognizing that when someone presents you with a logical argument that if you cant see the screen, itd be helpful for somebody to describe whats going on, why dont you just believe it?!

Cant do that, we make too much money. If you started recognizing the truth, you might make less money. So theres the notion of compelled speech.

And theres the notion of its outside the scope of your authority as a government agency to order. Anything else? Well, unfortunately, yes. [Sigh] Be diplomatic, Charlie, its Palm Sunday. If I have a way of believing things, say I believe that all persons with dark brown hair have more intelligence than everyone else. And then I get a magazine. In that magazine, there are blondes, there are brunettesmy God, redheads! All kinds of different people there. And yet, maybe two or three of them have this dark brown hair. I found them! They will be the leaders of tomorrow! Even if one of them is a dog. [laughter]

Now, you read through the magazine, lots of different stories, lots of different points of view, lots of contributions to society and on and on and on. You realize that its a pretty silly ideology to think that somebody with dark brown hair is more superior to other people in terms of intelligence. And yet, if I hold to my credo, I hold to my ideologythe world will someday understand. Heh, sure. Thats okay. Thats just being crazy. But what happens when I take that point of view and I actually put it on paper and send it to the FCC. And worse yetwhen I lose at the FCC, I put it on paper and send it to the court. Send it to the court. The Motion Picture Association of America in its complaint to the court appealing the FCC order says blind people dont want it anyway. Because this organization, dah, dah, dah, you can figure it out, says we dont need this. Weve got our imaginations.

Well, hot damn. [laughter] I tell ya, with my imagination, I could really figure out that Sherlock Holmes movie that they showed on the GBH radio. We dont need it! Not only do we have imaginations, but thats entertainment. We dont want entertainment, we want news! Oh my God. Imagine thatnew junkies, 24 hours a day. What an organization! They get up in the morning and turn on news radio, cant live without it. Turn on the TVwhats that? Entertainment? Turn it off. I want news. I need news. Maybe this is a new addiction?

The problem there is clear. Somebody or some organization made up its mind that everyone else in the world is wrong and its right and you cant have this on TV, because after all, it corrupts the view of sighted people toward blind people. Makes us into little puppets of the universe. Always supplicant. Always looking for some kind of succor from our TV. My God, Im such a wreck! I dont know how I made it here today.

But yes, they made that argumentnot quite in those terms, thank God. They made that argument in the court. Is anybody going to pay attention to them? I doubt it. But they did make the argument and the Motion Picture Association of America along with the National Association of Broadcasters and the National Cable Television Association all said, Yup, yup, yup, theyre right. Theyre right.

So here we are. A Notice of Proposed Rule Making. And then, a Rule. And then they ask for reconsiderations, a reconsideration of a Rule. Three times it has been tested and three times the FCC has spoken. And spoken out for audio description. The last time there was any real doubt in my mind that the FCC would have a problem was in the meeting with, I think her name was Susan Ness, Commissioner Ness. I dont remember if you were in that room, Margaret, I think you were.

There was us, there was the industry, and there was the National Federation of the Blind. And I remember the discussion was kind of circular, in some ways very silly. The guy from cable TV says, This is going to cost us too much money. Oh yeah? How much? Well, I dont know. But we know theres a station out there and its going to cost them $750,000 to do this. $750,000. So we said prove it. Well, I cant do that. Well, when you can prove it, if you can prove it, maybe they can get off the hook because its an undue burden. But the rest of the stations, where its not going to cost anywhere near $750,000 can certainly comply. Well, that was the end of the cable TVs viewpoint.

The Motion Picture Association, those people who care so much about the audience There arent enough people watching it. Not worth the investment. We made the argument that this is a civil right. Its not about whether or not there are ten billion blind people out there waiting to go to your movie. Its about everybody who goes to your movie has a right to understand what it is. Thats what its about. Well, that was pretty much it for the motion picture people.

That left the National Association of Broadcasters and I frankly cant remember what they said because it really wasnt all that good. [laughter] Of course, the Federation came in and they tried to tell us that they didnt need to know. Oh, it was something about, I dont need to know about the Captain or somebody charging up to the parapet. So, I said, Well, if you knew what flag they were carrying it might help you know who won the war. [laughter / applause]

The problem is something so silly in many ways is ultimately so serious at the bottom line. Just as Friday, Im sure youve already heard that the Motion Picture Association went to court and theyre asking the court to stay the order of the FCC because the FCC has not acted upon their original request to have them stay their order. Maybe the reason they havent acted on it is because all of us in this room have been in touch with the FCC and said What?! You cant stay that order. We need it. During the week in which letters were required, ACB and our partners were able to generate 340 letters delivered to the FCC by hand. We got a receipt for it. When they couldnt find them, we said, Heres what the receipt says. Oh, we found em! Just last Friday, we delivered another 136 letters and I suspect that by the end of two weeks well be well over 500 in terms of letters to the FCC advocating for audio description and that, my friends, is in sharp contrast to a call for the same amount of letters against audio description to my knowledge never materialized. Never materialized.

The blind community of the United States wants this and we want it now. The court will have to decide along the lines of the arguments I just pointed out to you, is there really compelled speech or is that just esoteric crap? Is the FCC within its scope or authority? If they rule that the FCC is not in its scope or authority, God help us, because theres a whole lot of laws out there, a whole lot of regulations, that rely upon that ancillary authority of the FCC. And finally, does the blind community not want it? We wont even go there. And Im not going to tell you whats going to happen during the trial. Because Im not giving any tips to the other side. But you know things will happen if ACB has anything to do with it, and we will.

The next steps: Heres the question all of us love to askWhat about me? Yknow I understand all this philosophical stuff and Im glad that all blind people are happy but what about me? What am I supposed to do next? We come to this Conference, we elect a few officers, everybodys happy, we go home, do we forget about it? No. No. The real important part of todays discussion is not about what weve done in the past. Its about the fact that we have planted the seed and its taken many hands. We have nurtured the soil and its taken many tears. And we have grown the flowers that have taken us by surprise and wonderment. And now its time for the flowers to blossom. Its time for us to share audio description wherever it can be shared. To sing the song of what audio description is all about. To give blind people in our communities an opportunity to know about and use audio description in ways which will greatly enhance their lives. Most of you may have seen already the National Institutes of Health report, issued just last week, doubling the amount of blind people in the United States in the next twenty years. Doubling. Thats a lot of business, guys. Youll be talking a lot. Hope you got some mouthwash. [laughter] And for some of these TV movies, youll probably need it.

We need to figure out a strategy together that will bring audio and video description into the consciousness of people just as they think about closed captioning or they think about the public school system or they think about water coming out of the faucet. It has to be natural, it has to be real, it has to be something that people just accept as a natural order of things. Neither you nor the American Council of the Blind nor The Washington Ear, although I have great faith in Margarets powers, can make that happen alone. Because its not just something that benefits ACB, or Washington Ear, or you, its something that benefits our blindness community directly because we hear and know whats going on and it benefits our society because it elevates our thinking to a plane where we really care about what goes on outside of our own skin. And it makes the dream of an American republic in which freedom of speech, true speech, shared with everybody for the purposes of people understanding whats going on, whats being conveyed to them, it makes that dream a reality. And when we see it in that context, it becomes much more easy for us to share it with others because its not something were asking for, its something were asking to share.

Let blind people come to work in the morning and talk about the same garbage that was on the TV last night as everyone else. [laughter / applause] Let us go to the theater, whether they be amateur theater, they be the local theater, they be Broadway, they be the Kennedy Center, lets have blind people go to those theaters and think about whats being portrayed in those plays, in those productions. And to leave the theater either totally happy or depressed, as most of these things make us, but at least leave the theater having been affected by what they saw because through your voice, they saw what they saw. Thats the difference between a population of people who can only guess about its future and a population of people who knows where were going because weve had the sharing with others to see the future and to make it happen for all of us. You will have opportunities when you get back to where you came from. And the movement is growing, its not only in the US, its Canada, its Englandblind people around the world are beginning to expect more than what weve had for thousands of years. Not as something we deserve because were blind, but because we are a part of a society that we have just as much responsibility to give back to as to expect from.

I want to end this discussionsome discussion, I get to do all the talking, huh? [laughter] Thats whats my kid says: Alright, real discussion, Dad! But I want to end this with a tribute to each and every one of you from all of us at the American Council of the Blind. We have fought, and we continue to fight, and we will never give up because we believe in a vision of ourselves and our country as one. But you have helped to prove that. It gets lonely sometimes, yknow? Gets lonely when youre out there talking to a traffic engineer about accessible pedestrian signals and theyre looking at you like youve got three heads. And you say to yourself, Why am I doing this? What does it really matter? I dont cross these streets here, I live in another town. Because one blind person in that community may someday cross that street. And because that one blind person has a right to cross that street with the same information that everybody else has and cross it safely, we do it. And we will always do it because if we dont do it, we will have given up on the very premise of our legitimacy that as a society we owe it to ourselves and each other to make this country better. And when you go back to your homes and your places, you can feel the pride of knowing that you have in your own way made this not only a better country for blind people but made it a better country for everyone.

Thank you.

[a standing ovation]

Keep it up and Ill sing. [laughter]

2:00 pm Discussion on Standards, Training, and Certification

Craig Dreeszen-facilitator

Craig summarized discussion on the issue that occurred the previous day and earlier on this day.

  • Any sort of guidelines for AD should be based on user needs.
  • Quality is essential in service to AD users.
  • Guidelines vs. StandardsGuidelines are more persuasive in nature (maternal) as opposed to Standards that imply enforcement (paternal).
  • Who will set guidelines or standards? ADI seems an obvious choice and if it is not done by us it may be done to us by government or others.
  • Timingit was felt by some that this issue should not be rushed and that any sort of restrictions could inhibit AD growth. Others believed that delay could result in standards being put in place without adequate input from users or describers.
  • The standards issue can also be applied to technological aspects of AD.
  • Are there inherent qualifications for describers? Aptitude (often determined by audition), training, experience, and feedback/ongoing professional development contribute to a describers qualifications.
  • Some sponsors of AD (theaters/producers employing describers) will want standards by which to determine who to employ. Others will provide AD only as it is required and will seek the least expensive possibilitiesstandards will ensure that if AD is done inexpensively it need not be done poorly.
  • ADIs role: educational but could also function as a leader in determining what constitutes quality AD. Should ADI list describers on its website? Some saw this as a service; others viewed this as implicit endorsement that could not be made unless some evaluation/certification was in place.

Madelyn Dovano clarified that she is not against guidelines. Her concern is that if its done quickly it would be unclear who should decide whos in and whos out. She suggested the possibility of a graduated registry listing those who self-identify as describers, those who have had some training, and those who have gone before a committee of this board and had some sort of certification. She also suggested a daytime session at the next gathering where everyone would describe something of their choice. Fred Brack recommends that the word standards not be used until the ADI board and organization develops more credibility but rather focus on the establishment of guidelines. Mike Feltman asked that the Board research existing written guidelines or standards for AD. Jesse Minkert emphasized guiding generally about quality description and training of describers as a benefit to the field and supported open critique sessions. He also the differences between AD in different media or venues and asked that those distinctions be considered. Judy Berk hoped that before anything is developed that a cross-section of how AD is done worldwide would be examined. Elizabeth Kahn suggested working toward standards on the local level through peer review.

Craig asked for and received consensus on the notion that the development of guidelines was desired.

Diane DiSalvo offered that ADI should seek to solidify partnerships with the ACB and other similar organizations in support of AD.

Returning to the idea of listing names of describers on an ADI website, Audley Blackburn expressed caution and suggested that the listing of organizations that offer description was more prudent. Ralph Welsh agreed noting that in that way the local organization would be the entity certifying its own work or referral of describers. Jean Marie Moore pointed out that listing qualified describers could result in litigation by those who are not listed. Eileen Bagnells group in Arizona often acts as a clearinghouse recommending describers or interpreters but leaving specific negotiations to the individuals or organizations involved. Anne Hornsby advised that the AD association in England had considered listing individuals, with the individuals consent, but only with a disclaimer stating that no endorsement was implied. Jesse Minkert would not provide ADI with a list of describers that work for him stating that he takes responsibility for their competence and that ADI needed to establish itself and accepted guidelines before it could credibly make referrals or list individual describers. Teddy Primack would only want to be listed as an individual describer rather than as an affiliate of an organization that might receive fees for services he provides without compensating him as the service provider, i.e., he believes describers will only have credibility and be considered professionals if they are compensated for their services. Madelyn Dovano suggested that organizations would only be listed by their request and would agree to hold ADI harmless. With respect to payment, she suggested that if an individual solicits his or her own work, he or she should receive the entire fee.

Craig noted that as a practical matter ADI may wish to consider organizational memberships as well as memberships for individual describers. Joel Snyder noted that just such a distinction is already provided for in the bylaws.

Craig returned to the opportunity for the group to provide advice to its newly elected board on priorities for its first meeting. He reiterated his listing of nine points for the reorganization of ADI. Ralph Welsh expressed the desire that ADI work toward developing more access to AD on Broadway in New York. He noted that there is just one group that provides limited AD and that Broadway is a national resource and needs more AD availability. Cody Pfanstiehl remarked that Hospital Audiences in New York City is active in bringing hospital patients to Broadway productions and providing AD. Margaret Pfanstiehl noted that that organizations emphasis is on hospital patients although she has pointed out to the group that there is a much larger population that would desire AD at Broadway performances. Joel Snyder noted that he has also advised Hospital Audiences on AD services but that their mission is far larger and that perhaps ADI could encourage other New York-based organizations to provide AD more frequently. An unidentified speaker informed the group that the Theater Development Fund already provides sign interpreters for Broadway shows and he asked about AD for West End productions in London. Anne Hornsby responded that a now-defunct groupLADS (London Audio Description Service)formerly provided AD in the West End but that now Vocal Eyes may soon provide AD services there. Clare Stewart noted that the former service was supported by grants that expired but that Cameron Mackintosh was supportive of AD services at his productions. Joel Snyder expressed the hope that Mr. Mackintosh could persuade other producers in England and in New York to also support AD services. David Baquis commented on the wide availability of assistive listening devices in Broadway theaters and that that represents a foot in the door. He also suggested that ADI join CCD, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, comprised of national organizations that serve the interests of people with disabilities [www.c-c-d.org].

At this point, election results were announced (noted below).

Audley Blackburn offered a motion, seconded by Jesse Minkert, as follows:

The membership of Audio Description International authorizes its board to draft a resolution supporting the FCC ruling which requires video description for television without further delay.

The motion was accepted unanimously.

Kim Charlson and the entire membership congratulated Betty Siegel and her staff and the planning committee on the success of the Conference and, in particular, the quality and quantity of Braille materials that were made available. Barry Levine, the newly elected President of ADI, congratulated Craig Dreeszen on his facilitation of the Conference.

3:10 pm Adjourn, Full Conference


Newly elected President Barry Levine called the first meeting of the 2002 ADI Board of Directors to order at 3:25 pm, Sunday, March 24, 2002. 18 members were elected to the Board and 17 were present. Members present:

  • Audley Blackburn
  • Mary Colleen Knapp
  • David Basquis
  • Barry Levine, President
  • Kim Charlson
  • Michael Mooney
  • Janet Dickson
  • James OHara
  • Diane DiSalvo
  • Ken Rodgers
  • Margaret Hardy, Secretary
  • Marc Rosen
  • Frank Hernandez
  • Joel Snyder
  • Anne Hornsby, Vice President
  • Michael Watson
  • Elizabeth Kahn

Adam Westlund was not present as he had a flight to catch.


Through a motion made by Joel Snyder and seconded by Audley Blackburn, a motion was passed to appoint Adam as Treasurer to complete the roster of officers. Barry will contact Adam. Joel will mail all financial materials to him as Adam is authorized to open an ADI account in his local bank in order to expedite our financial transactions. His duties will include tracking of memberships and membership services.


Kim Charlson volunteered to prepare the resolution approved by the membership and submit it for reading and revision to the membership. The charge from the membership authorizes the Board to draft a resolution that supports the FCC mandate for prime time television audio description and deliver it immediately to the appropriate parties.

Referring to the recorded list of areas of interest and concern suggested by the Conference attendees, the Board developed the following:


ADI WEBSITE. The website address is www.adinternational.org. Barry will ask his colleague Cathy Anne Murtha to design the website and maintain it for its first few months. ADI will offer her a membership as a small token of thanks. The Committee Chair is Elizabeth Kahn; Audley Blackburn and Barry Levine will also serve on the Committee. The website will be available to the public and will include a Members Only link which will be the main source of communication amongst the Membership of ADI. The Committee will develop materials for posting and present them to the Board for review.

BYLAWS. This Committee will review current bylaws, and mission statement and recommend any changes, additions or deletions. Mary Knapp is Chair; Margaret Hardy and Joel Snyder are members of the Committee.

The first order of business for the Committee will be the study of Board terms as they stand currently. Due to the amount of work and effort that will be expected by active Board members, the consensus of the Board is that a one-year term is too short to make any kind of impact. The Committee will meet and discuss changes and send a recommendation to the Board for review; following that it will be sent out electronically to the membership.

ADVOCACY AND LEGISLATION. This Committee will track issues that require ADIs attention, education and/or pursuit and follow-through. The Chair is Kim Charlson; Diane DiSalvo, Marc Rosen and Anne Hornsby are Committee members. Barry will serve as ex-officio.

LEGAL MATTERS. Barry will be responsible for pursuing our IRS tax-exempt determination/non profit status. He will consult with counsel with regard to the possible implications of international status.

FUNDING. This Committee will eventually become the Fund Development Committee once ADI is eligible for grants. ADI can earn income through Conference and membership fees and sales of any materials. There is a possibility of advertising revenue through appropriate advertisements placed on the website. There was discussion on the use of a fiscal agent to process donations but the investigation has been tabled. The Committee will investigate areas of income that might be available to ADI and will do research of sources for sponsorships. Diane DiSalvo will chair the Committee and Michael Mooney and Janet Dickson will serve as members.

FINANCE. This Committee is responsible for developing an annual budget for Membership approval and for tracking income and expense throughout the year. Adam will serve as Chair; Margaret Hardy and David Baquis will serve on the Committee and meet to develop a first pass at a budget.

GUIDELINES. The Committee will first focus on recommendations that will serve description in general and send them out to the Membership for review. They will seek suggestions for specific areas of audio description as well. Janet Dickson and Anne Hornsby are Co-Chair; Diane DiSalvo, Frank Hernandez, James OHara, Ken Rodgers, Marc Rosen are Committee members.

TECHNOLOGY. This Committee will research areas for AD use and deal with and issues of equipment and technology for live and recorded descriptions. David Baquis will Chair and James OHara will sit on the Committee. Pat Feltman and Mary Watkins (Outreach Director for WBGH) will be asked to serve as well, as non-Board members.

CONFERENCE. This Committee will discuss the requirements necessary for hosting the next Conference and put the information out to the Membership to recruit locations. Mary Knapp is Chair; Ken Hernandez, Anne Hornsby, Michael Mooney and Michael Watson are the Committee members. Betty Siegel and Joel Snyder will serve as ex-officio members. Discussion of the date and place of the next Conference resulted in a postponement of that decision until all options have been considered for virtual meetings as opposed to face to face.

The meeting was adjourned at 5:15pm.

Submitted by Margaret Hardy, Secretary