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Audio Description International Conference 2002

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


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 couldn't teach somebody to do something like this, someone who doesn't have the talent to do it in the first place. Craig Dreeszen (facilitator) noted that there's 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 who's going to pay for it and who's going to run it and control it? She believes that you can't 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. It's 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, we'll 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 couldn't go to a community that doesn't 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 better, a 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 O'Hara 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 driving:   many people get drivers licenses but not everyone's 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 they're 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 who's never seen color. Many AD consumers need to be consulted to determine what's 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 user's first experience with AD. That should say, "Yes, that works and I'm 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 he's 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 settings.  They 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 there.  No 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 couldn't 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 doesn't 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" Kim's 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 O'Hara 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 television.  Who 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, it's 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 FCC's 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 won't be known until the fall. The main arguments against the rule are that the FCC doesn't 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 we're 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. He's 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 it, standards or guidelines, we 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 standards:   one 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 doesn't 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.

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