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Audio Description Advocates

This page was initiated in October 2009 to honor those individuals who have made contributions in various capacities to audio description.  Some are audio describers, others support audio description in other capacities.  They are all ...

AUDIO DESCRIPTION ADVOCATES

Elizabeth Kahn
Valerie Hunter
Jim Stovall
Rick Boggs
Nancy Van Voorhis
Rebecca McGinnis
Alan Woods
Jesse Minkert
Margaret Hardy

Other Advocates will be posted in the months to come.  Submit suggestions to the webmaster via the link below.

Elizabeth Kahn (June 2010)

Elizabeth KathnIn 1992 when the executive director of Arts Access of Raleigh, NC, invited Elizabeth Kahn to audition to be an audio describer, she knew this was a marriage made in heaven.  Born with a severe vision impairment - fortunately improved with several eye operations - Elizabeth grew up in New York City, the daughter of a music and arts critic.  She got to attend theater, concerts, opera and ballet for free from the best seats in the house.  Unfortunately, even in the best seats she could only take in the big picture; details, like facial expressions and props, were beyond her.

Elizabeth has been able to benefit from her broad cultural and academic background and her experience with low vision to serve both as a describer/trainer and advocate for making the arts accessible for people with blindness and low vision.  She is a musician with a Ph.D. in music history and comparative literature.  She and her husband have a program note service writing about classical music for orchestras, artists and ensembles around the country.  She is particularly interested in developing strategies and techniques for describing opera, musical theater and dance.  "There are numerous challenges when it comes to describing with music because that's what people come to hear.  No one wants a describer yakking in their ear non-stop, even when it might mean missing some visual details."  Elizabeth also wishes that Broadway touring shows would scale down the volume so that patrons can hear both the music and the description - and protect their ears.

The longest-serving member of the board of Arts Access, Elizabeth has trained several generations of local describers, as well as groups in the Carolinas and Maryland.  When the Captioned Media Program suddenly needed to include description for its K-12 videos, Elizabeth started Bill Stark and his team on its way.  She also works as a describer and sighted guide for members of the North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities.  This fall she will expand her repertory as she trains to become an audio describer/docent at the North Carolina Museum of Art.

Elizabeth Kahn
June 2010

Valerie Hunter (May 2010)

Valerie HunterValerie moved from the world of radio to audio description in 2000, when her volunteer work at the Canadian reading service Voiceprint led to non-volunteer work at their sister organization AudioVision Canada (now part of Accessible Media Inc.), the longest-running audio description producer in Canada.  Starting in production, she soon moved into voiceover and writing guided by AVC Creative Director Marc Rosen, and was also involved in the creation of The Accessible Channel, the first national digital television channel with open description as well as closed-captioning.

Leaving AVC in 2007, she decided to combine description with podcasting, and started Movies For the Blind, a free weekly audio podcast of public-domain movies with audio description.  While providing typical consumers of AD with a new outlet for entertainment, the podcast also serves to raise the profile of AD among people of all sight levels who had not known about the form before, but who listen to podcasts and like the idea of enjoying a movie like an audiobook.  She has also brought AD to the attention of some of the most influential people in social media with presentations at the conferences Podcasters Across Borders and Podcamp Toronto.

Born and raised in Northeast Ohio, Valerie splits her time between her hometown and Toronto, also providing commercial description services under the auspices of Valerie H Productions, with clients including the Described and Captioned Media Program. She continues to work to use the new forms of social media to help make AD accessible to more people than ever.

Valerie Hunter
May 2010

Jim Stovall (April 2010)

Jim StovallJim Stovall began losing his sight at age 17 and went totally blind at age 29.  In 1988, he founded the Narrative Television Network which has made thousands of hours of movies, television, and educational programming accessible for blind and visually impaired people and their families.  NTN has received an Emmy Award, an International Film and Video Award, a Media Access Award, and the top scriptwriting award from the Writers Foundation of America, among its many industry honors. 

In July of 2009, Jim was recognized at the ACB's Audio Description Project's first Conference with the Barry Levine Memorial Award for Career Achievement in Audio Description.

Jim Stovall
April 2010

Rick Boggs (March 2010)

Rick BoggsRick Boggs first became aware of audio description as a totally blind consumer in the early 1990s when he enjoyed audio description of the Tournament of Roses parade broadcast via the Los Angeles Radio Reading Service.  He began attending stage plays audio described by Audio Description Los Angeles and became a vocal advocate. 

His success as an actor and voice over artist afforded him opportunities to participate in entertainment industry events such as the 1996 Media Access Awards where he presented a significant achievement award to the WGBH Descriptive Video Service.  During the following few years, Boggs was called upon by the Descriptive Video Service to participate in media events to raise awareness about the Mopix system and audio description in movie cinemas.  In 1997, Boggs appeared along with Kathy Buckly in "Hollywood Salutes Easter Seals," a nationally broadcast television program that featured a lengthy explanation and demonstration of the Mopix Audio Description and closed captioning system for cinemas.  Years later, Boggs co-wrote and co-produced the Media Access Awards events four consecutive years.

In the early 1990s, Boggs effective advocacy opened new opportunities for blind audio engineers to work in professional environments using industry standard tools.  In 1999, he applied his extensive experience and specialized expertise as an audio engineer, Producer, and Voice Over Artist to create a new post production business called We See TV.  The company attracted a significant amount of network television work, providing audio description for FOX and ABC television as well as nationally acclaimed documentary films.  Boggs background as a visually impaired audio engineer and his continuing operation of a professional recording studio gave him the opportunity to train and employ numerous professionals with disabilities in audio description.  As We See TV employees with disabilities proved their ability to succeed in technical positions, Boggs worked with the Media Access Office in Los Angeles to train other aspiring individuals with disabilities in the art and science of audio production and audio description.

In 2003, Boggs received the California Governor's Trophy at the National Business Leadership Conference for his inclusive employment practices.  We See TV became the first audio description provider for network television to fund audio description of a television series with private sponsorship, introducing brief audio mentions of sponsors in the audio description track.  We See TV also experimented with utilizing audio effects to represent extreme visual effects on the screen. 

The progressive company closed its doors in 2006.  Boggs then headed the audio description operations for VITAC, one of the largest captioning providers for broadcast television.  Recently, Boggs has established another audio description company, Audio Eyes in Northridge, California.  Rick Boggs served on the AD Standards Committee for the California Audio Describers Alliance.  Boggs work in developing audio description standards was recognized by the American Foundation for the Blind in their publication of standards for audio description of children's educational videos in 2008.

Rick Boggs
March 2010

Nancy Van Voorhis (February 2010)

Nancy Van VoohisSince her training in audio description by Alan Woods in 1993, Nancy Van Voorhis has been attempting to refine her skills and utilize them as widely as possible, describing hundreds of live events in the visual and performing arts.  In addition to being a long-time film and theatre describer for Accessible Arts of Central Ohio, she has conducted training classes for new describers in Columbus and elsewhere.  In conjunction with Joel Snyder's Audio Description Associates, she wrote scripts for Fox TV for their described broadcasts of several movies, and even provided description on a Caribbean cruise.  She has scripted and recorded description tracks for a variety of video productions, including a web video for Ohio State University.  This past year, she was an original member of the Audio Description Project Awards Committee.

Nancy lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband, Jim Davidson, and they have two daughters, both of whom are involved in the arts.

Nancy Van Voorhis
February 2010

Rebecca McGinnis (January 2010)

Rebecca McGinnisRebecca McGinnis is Access Coordinator and Museum Educator overseeing Access Coordination at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  She and her colleagues in Access Coordination at the Metropolitan have gained recognition internationally for their pioneering programs for visitors with disabilities, and their work in the field of museum accessibility.

Rebecca has almost 20 years' experience in the field of access to museums and the arts for people with disabilities, with particular specialization in access to information and interpreting art for people who are blind and partially sighted.  She has worked with many museums in the US and the UK, training educators and docents to offer descriptive and tactile tours. She has written, evaluated, and consulted on the development of descriptive audio tours for museums.

She is co-chair of the Museum Access Consortium, a group of New York City Metro Area museum professionals, individuals with disabilities, and representatives from disability organizations.  She co-convenes with Art Education for the Blind and hosts the bi-annual international Art Beyond Sight conferences on multimodal learning, which took place in 2005, 2007, and 2009. She presents frequently at conferences all over the world.  She has published many articles on museums and accessibility, as well as a chapter entitled "Enabling Education: Including People with Disabilities in Art Museum Programming" for the 2008 NAEA publication From Periphery to Center: Art Museum Education in the 21st Century edited by Pat Villenueve, and a chapter entitled "Universal Design in US Museums: Current Challenges and Achievements", in Das barrierefreie Museum:  Theorie und Praxis einer besseren Zugänglichkeit. Ein Handbuch, edited by Patrick S. Foehl and Stefanie Erdrich and published by Transcript-Verlag in 2007.

In 2003 she co-authored, with Ileana Sánchez Art and the Alphabet:  A Tactile Experience, an innovative children's book combining introductory Braille, tactile pictures, and images of works of art from The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  A second edition of the book was published in 2009.  She was previously Director of Making Sense Access Consultancy in the UK and USA.  She has an MA in Art History from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and an MA in Museum Studies from Leicester University in the UK.  She was an Educator at the Victoria and Albert Museum and Assistant Arts Officer at the Royal National Institute for the Blind, both in London.  She is currently pursuing a PhD in Cognitive Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University, focusing on tactile perception, mental imagery, and visual impairment.

Rebecca McGinnis
January 2010

Alan Woods (December 2009)

Alan WoodsIn the mid 1980s, Alan Woods was asked to audition for a training session for something called "Audio Description" to be conducted by Dr. Margaret Pfanstiehl and her husband, Cody.  To his surprise, he was accepted, and wound up coordinating Audio Description for the Ohio Theatre Alliance for the next decade, as well as training new describers periodically (most recently in 2009 at Detroit's Matrix Theatre, where he learned that January is not the best time to visit Detroit!).

He has described for every form of live entertainment, including having described Cats at least four times more than he should have, along with occasional films and a wedding. 

Woods teaches in the Department of Theatre at Ohio State University, and works in both professional and academic theatre as a dramaturg.  He coordinates the biannual Eileen Heckart Drama for Seniors Competition (www.heckartdrama.blogspot.com), and hosts annual retreats for members of the International Centre for Women Playwrights (icwpohioretreat.blogspot.com).  He lives in Columbus, Ohio, with his wife of more than four decades, book artist Ann Alaia Woods (www.aimiaartworks.com).  His daughter, Kathryn Woods Prentice, is a member of the U.S. Navy, currently serving in Japan; and she also designs medals and coins (www.grafikato.com).

Alan Woods
December 2009

Jesse Minkert (November 2009)

Jesse MinkertJesse Minkert started studying art at twelve, two years before he became a Type-I diabetic.  A week after he completed his MA in sculpture in 1981, he moved to Seattle where diabetic retinopathy filled his eyes with blood.  Thanks to laser treatments, his vision survived. 

Minkert shifted from visual art to literature and began developing arts access programs for blind and visually impaired people.  He created the pilot project for audio description in Seattle in 1985 and founded the non-profit corporation, Arts and Visually Impaired Audiences (AVIA), in 1991.

He is an active audio describer and trainer.  Minkert has also created descriptive tours of exhibitions, including the recent tour of "Contrasts: A Glass Primer" at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington.  In an effort to provide more complete theater access, Minkert developed "The Package," an integrated access package that includes audio description, information services in accessible formats, theater tickets, transportation, and on-location support for selected performances in several Seattle theaters, including the 5th Avenue, ACT, the Paramount, the Seattle Repertory Theatre, the Seattle Symphony, and the Pacific Northwest Ballet. 

In 1997 Minkert and his wife, Joan Rabinowitz, Executive Director of Jack Straw Productions, developed the Blind Youth Audio Project, a month-long introduction to creative audio techniques for blind and visually impaired teens, which has just [2009] completed its thirteenth year.  For the project Minkert has written original short radio scripts and leads the radio theater portion.

Jesse Minkert
November 2009

Margaret Hardy (October 2009)

Margaret HardyIn 1989, I read an article about Gregory Frazier and his course at SF State in which he taught audio description.  What a great idea, right!  Who does that now?  In my position at American Musical Theatre (AMT) of San Jose I was charged with directing the training, education and outreach programs for the company.  I was immediately intrigued by Gregory's work and made contact with him and Ida Johnson.  Over the course of almost two years, we talked about starting a program at my theatre, and I then begged, pleaded and cajoled the leadership to try it out for a season. 

We invested in equipment in a non-profit Gregory had formed called AudioVision, and I went on a speaking engagement tour of the bay area agencies who worked with the blind.  We offered an incentive to get people to the theatre:  2 for 1 tickets.  We started the project in 1991 with a morning matinee of The Wizard of Oz with free tickets for the students from California School For the Blind.  These students attended with other public school students and were invited to meet the cast, still in costume, after the performance.  The result was so gratifying for all concerned, that AMT decided to make it a regular season opportunity for all the productions.  I developed a mailing list, Gregory auditioned and trained our first set of describers - two of whom remain with the program (Bob Loew and Diane DiSalvo).  The program grew to six performances of each production, Braille and large print programs, an audio tape of the newsletter giving "inside" info, and eventually the subscriber and single ticket buyer count grew to average 100 attendees at each production!

Now that Gregory has died, and I have retired from the theater, and the theater itself has gone bankrupt, Diane and I have taken over AudioVision.  We have a "stable" of about 10 describers for San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose.  Broadway San Jose has entered our arena this season, and I contacted them.  They were eager to provide the description service.  We describe around 22-26 events a year.  Wish it could be more, but we have no money for staff, and so I do all the fliers and mailings to our 500-name mailing list.  Diane contacts describers and prepares contracts for them and the venue.  I invoice them, bank the bucks, and pay our bills.  Kind of mom and pop, but with most of our money going to pay describers and the printing costs, Diane takes very little and I take nothing.  We both are advocates of the potential for audio description in all walks of life.

As for me personally, I was born and raised in North Carolina; moved around the world with my military father, mother, and two brothers; graduated from Frankfurt American High School in Germany; went to Stephens College in Missouri; transferred to Monterey, CA, when father returned from Europe; and married there.  I raised 5 kids mostly by myself while working for ridiculous wages at the theater company.  I started out as a volunteer seamstress and then volunteer office person, which eventually evolved into my final elevation to Director of the Community Development Wing.  My only talent was being able to type.  Eventually I went back to college after 42 years to San Jose State University, where the only thing between me and a degree is that bonehead math that everyone has to take!

I also have a bulldog determination when I want to do something that I believe will make people's lives better - the training classes, our summer children's programs, our classroom curriculum guides - I believed passionately in all.  And I feel the same way about audio description. 

Thanks for listening.

Margaret Hardy
October 2009