by Joel Snyder
On Monday afternoon, August 21, at 1:27 p.m. Central time, the sun above Nashville, Tenn. disappeared from view. The sky went completely dark!
But through the use of succinct, imaginative and vivid language – audio description – the event was made accessible to the millions of people who are blind or have low vision, or anyone who wanted to experience a verbal version of the visual.
ACB’s Audio Description Project, along with the Mid-Tennessee Council of the Blind, the Tennessee School for the Blind, and the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, provided this opportunity for people who are blind world-wide to experience the total eclipse of the sun.
Between 1 and 2 p.m. Central, Dr. Joel Snyder hosted “A Total Eclipse — Audio Described!” on ACB Radio. Snyder, the director of ACB’s Audio Description Project, presented an hour of songs (Bill Withers’ “Ain’t Got No Sunshine,” The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” and Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”), and an interview with ACB board member and Nashville resident Dan Dillon — with the main event described live from the Tennessee School for the Blind between 1:15 and 1:45 p.m.
Nashville-based audio describer Julia Cawthon described the eclipse as it happened and provided a vivid “translation” of the visual event into words for the benefit of anyone who tuned in. And the reviews have been ecstatic.
“This was so awesome!!!!! I really enjoyed listening to the excellent description. What a great idea this was. Hopefully we can do it again in 2024. Thanks to all!!!!”
— Margie Donovan
(Note: The next total eclipse with totality over North America will occur on April 8, 2024.)
“Great eclipse coverage, lots of fun facts with good musical choices. I learned a new word, syzygy. Thanks so much for doing this for us!”
—Denise M. Decker, PhD
“Thank you for the audio description of the solar eclipse today! Enjoyed it immensely from Louisiana.”
— Deborah Baxley
“Julia did a great job in describing the eclipse. It was very detailed and it made me think that I was right there. Thanks to her and the rest of the AD team and to ACB Radio for bringing this event to us. Thanks much!”
— Brian Sackrider
“Bravo! That was a very nicely done presentation. I’ll admit I was initially a bit skeptical on the idea of having something like an eclipse described. The excellent presentation changed my skepticism to thinking how good it is that the ADP project has branched out into a wide variety of types of description.”
— Bob Hachey
If you missed the event when it was broadcast live, no worries; it’s available for all to hear on ACB Radio at acbradio.org/sites/default/files/archives/eclipse/solar-eclipse2017.mp3.
Audio description of the eclipse was also available in St. Louis from describers trained by the Audio Description Project’s Audio Description Institute.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that, “With the help of memories, imagination and narration, the visually impaired enjoy the eclipse. …” Bill Wilcox, a volunteer with MindsEye, described the eclipse at the Missouri Council of the Blind in south St. Louis.
“An hour before totality, Naomi Soule arrived at the eclipse party Monday with the help of her dog, Farbee. Soule, 61, was ready to experience the eclipse, although she would not be able to see it. Instead, she would join about 25 other visually impaired and blind people for a ‘watch and listen’ party. The majority of those attending wore headsets as Wilcox shared trivia about the eclipse, then did a play-by-play of the action in the sky.
“‘The moon is continuing to slide across the sun,’ Wilcox said, standing on the council’s small asphalt parking lot, his voice streaming through MindsEye’s website and live on Facebook. ‘It's now a fairly small crescent. Still kind of an orange and peachy color.’ …”
Listeners were delighted with what they heard. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that “‘The description was perfect,’ said Janet Shobe, as she and others ate Ted Drewes custard as an after-eclipse dessert. ‘It was amazing!’
“As totality neared, Soule said she could feel the change in the air. ‘I could tell the temperature dropped a little bit, the heat of the sun disappeared and I could hear the cicadas getting louder and louder,’ Soule said. Soule’s husband, Terry Moses, who is sighted, joined her for the event. … He wanted to be by his wife as she experienced the eclipse.”
More information about ACB’s Audio Description Project is available at www.acb.org/adp; the website for the MindsEye Radio program in St. Louis is www.mindseyeradio.org/.