by Joel Snyder, PhD, Director, ADP
Eleven years ago, none of us would have imagined that the American Council of the Blind’s Audio Description Project (ADP) could have accomplished so much in support of the ADP’s purpose: to boost levels of description activity and disseminate information on that work throughout the nation. Its major goal is to sponsor a broad range of activities designed to build awareness of audio description (AD) among the general public as well as its principal users, people who are blind or have low vision.
By any measure, I think we’ve met that goal and gone beyond! A recap of our activity follows but first I want to acknowledge some individuals who have done so much to make the ADP a success: Chris Gray, a past president of ACB, was especially welcoming of the idea for the ADP when it was proposed in 2009; Mitch Pomerantz continued that support and appointed Kim Charlson as the first chair of our steering committee — Kim, a long-time advocate for AD, is now the ACB’s immediate past president. Succeeding Kim as the chair of our steering committee was Dan Spoone — he established our subcommittee structure. That structure, along with Dan’s superb organizational savvy, has allowed us to do so much. Dan, of course, is now ACB’s president and Kim, along with Carl Richardson, co-chair the ADP steering committee. And, of course, Fred Brack, our top-notch webmaster — he has built our website into the go-to repository of information on all things AD.
Here’s a summary of our work since the founding of the ADP in 2009:
- The ADP Conferences: The July 2020 virtual gathering was our sixth full gathering of AD consumers, producers, advocates and many other supporters; we hold this conference every other year in conjunction with ACB’s annual conference and convention. We have hosted speakers and participants from two dozen countries over the years; and in our “off” years, we present a half-day of activities and sessions focused on areas of particular interest to AD consumers.
- The Audio Description Institutes/Describer Training: We have presented 17 of these sessions, the world’s foremost AD training programs — we do them twice a year. We missed our summer session in 2020 due to the COVID crisis, but our 18th Institute will be held virtually in March 2021. In addition, we worked with the Italy-based ADLAB PRO as a part of its evaluation committee, examining training programs for audio describers. In 2010, we produced a “guideline of guidelines” — a collection of AD best practices noted in AD guidelines produced around the world, and it’s available on our website, as is the first published paper on audio description: Gregory Frazier’s 1977 seminal “An All-Audio Narration of the Teleplay ‘The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.’” In 2021, we will lead a Microsoft-funded effort to develop an on-line Audio Description Certificate course.
- The Audio Description Achievement Awards: Each year, we recognize leaders — individuals and organizations — who exemplify excellence in audio description activity. Awards are given for achievement in Performing Arts, Media, Museums/Visual Art/Visitor Centers, International, the Dr. Margaret R. Pfanstiehl Memorial Achievement Award in Audio Description-Research and Development, and the Barry Levine Memorial Award for Career Achievement in Audio Description, as well as Special Recognition awards.
- The ADP Website — www.acb.org/adp: In addition to the international reach of our website, we have thousands of “Likes” on the ADP Facebook page and we continue to broaden the ADP reach on Twitter and via our own email-based discussion group. We provide weekly updates on audio-described DVDs and Blu-ray discs and created a master list of over 4,600 titles now available on streaming platforms. We provide a real-time, comprehensive listing of broadcast television programs with audio description and lists of theaters and museums with audio description in a state-by-state list. Each week we feature articles on all the varied aspects of audio description in this country and abroad. We continue to earn income from Amazon.com fees associated with the purchase of DVDs on the ADP website — since 2009 and the inception of the ADP we’ve earned well over $10,000.
- The “BADIE” contest: BADIE is an acronym for the Benefits of Audio Description in Education. Each year we welcome entries to this contest in the form of reviews of described videos written by blind kids, ages 7 to 21. We honor all entrants with brailled certificates, and give the top entrants in four age-based categories special prizes. The teachers of our first-place awardees also receive recognition. All of this is done in close coordination with the Described and Captioned Media Program.
- “The Visual Made Verbal: A Comprehensive Training Manual and Guide to the History and Applications of Audio Description”: In 2014, ACB published my book, the first comprehensive book on audio description. It has since been made available in screen-reader accessible formats, in braille and in two audio book versions by the Library of Congress, in Portuguese, Polish, and Russian — with a Spanish translation to be published in conjunction with the World Blind Union later in 2021. Greek and Chinese versions are planned for 2022 and a second edition will be released late in 2022.
- Work with the FCC/Advocacy:
- The ACB and the ADP have been principal advocates for AD before Congress, the FCC and the U.S. Access Board. We were active in establishing the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act in 2010 and we continue to work toward an increase in AD on broadcast and cable television. A members of the FCC/Disability Advisory Committee Video Programing subcommittee, we have stressed the need to determine the substance of visual information included with emergency announcements and how it might be described most effectively, emphasized the need for digitized information regarding broadcasts with AD, and lobbied for the establishment of multiple SAP channels as well as increases in the amount of broadcast television programming that must be described.
- The ADP Director continues to spread the word about the good work of the ADP, speak on audio description, and train describers throughout the United States and around the world; he produces monthly reports on ADP activity; annual reports presented at the conference and convention and mid-year meetings delivered verbally and in writing; has made presentations on AD and the ADP at over a dozen ACB state affiliate meetings; and has been interviewed regarding AD and the ADP on dozens of radio programs. In 2019, the ADP Director was appointed a Fulbright Scholar and conducted three weeks of AD training in Athens.
- We continue to work with the 9-11 Memorial and Museum regarding concerns with the museum’s accessibility efforts.
- We continue to work with The Broadway League regarding the possibility of AD scripts for professional touring productions, including the possibility of shows hiring a “cast” member to provide AD and tour with shows.
- We issued performing arts and museum questionnaires to ACB affiliates in an effort to build our listings of performing arts space AD offerings.
- We continue to work with ACB headquarters regarding follow-up on the ACB resolution expressing concern about the absence of our audio-described White House tour.
- Jason Strother, a blind reporter and NPR contributor based in South Korea, interviewed Joel Snyder and Denise Decker regarding AD for foreign films with subtitles.
- We are working on the development of a questionnaire regarding AD vendors to be distributed to government AD purchasers; planning sessions on AD for 508 coordinators and the federal government’s interagency forum; and developing an AD primer for government agencies.
- We work with ACB members to establish the annual fundraising effort — “The Describers” — at the Brenda Dillon Memorial Walk.
- Certification for Audio Describers and Audio Description Consumer Consultants: The ACB and the ADP have been principal participants in the development of a certification effort with the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation & Education Professionals (ACVREP). We produced a white paper on certification for distribution to the field for feedback, held two open conference calls as well as open sessions at the July 2018 ADP Conference and the August 2018 LEAD Conference, and we continue to meet weekly with other members of the Subject Matter Expert Committee on the structure of the program.
- World Blind Union: In collaboration with the World Blind Union, we produced a report based on a landmark survey of member nations regarding the state of AD in their countries. The survey was distributed in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese, and the final report was made available widely.
- Travel: We worked with United Airlines on including AD within its in-flight entertainment system and consulted with several individuals on obtaining AD for cruise vacations. We developed and distributed a white paper on the state of description/access for blind passengers and cruises.
- National Park Service: We have collaborated on AD projects with the National Park Service including, most recently, the UniDescription initiative focused on accessibility to NPS brochures and other materials.
- Video Description Leadership Network/YouDescribe: We partnered with the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute to conduct focus groups that were essential to the establishment of the Video Description Leadership Network and its landmark YouDescribe project.
- Special Projects (projects noted with an * were funded by the Aid Association for the Blind of the District of Columbia):
- The first ever audio-described tour of The White House;
- Live, extemporaneous audio description of the last two presidential inaugurations on ABC;
- Nationally broadcast audio description of the 2017 total eclipse;
- Live, extemporaneous audio description of a rodeo and fireworks for the ACB national conventions;
- * AD tour of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial and Museum;
- * AD tour of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History “Insect Zoo”;
- * Live, scripted description — available at every performance — for two productions at Arena Stage;
- * Live, scripted audio description for performances by AXIS Dance Company;
- Collaboration with VITAC to produce audio description for four public-domain Halloween-themed films;
- Production of audio description for the 30th anniversary of “The Miracle Worker” DVD;
- Production of audio description for “War Against The Weak,” a feature film presented at the “disThis” film series in New York City;
- Production of audio description for the United Nations’ International Labour Organization in Geneva — “Count Me In!”; and
Production of audio description for the Arts & Entertainment Network documentary “Barack Obama” and WETA’s “Mosque in Morgantown.”