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The Audio Description Project

Audio Description International Conference 2002

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

The Quality/Quantity of AD Around the World

Facilitator - Craig Dreeszen

Nine Points on Reorganization of ADI:

Craig asked for a listing of issues for a broader discussion of AD. They included: 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 O'Hara 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 back.  Previously 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 Blind:   "Who's 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, I'd want him to know about the guy in the back who's falling asleep and is drooling. Audio Description is more personal it has to do with how I want to lead my life." James O'Hara 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 Austin's 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 AudioVision's 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 producers; the 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 Equity's 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 AD's 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 O'Hara 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 it's time to sue? Rhonda Hornbacher emphasized the rights of individuals with disabilities to receive services that create access, letting people know that it's 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 that's 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 describer.  She 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 O'Hara 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 doesn't 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 O'Hara 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.

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