by Ashley Alvey
I have been blind since birth due to retinopathy of prematurity. Before audio description, I could follow along with most TV shows or movies. Based on the dialogue, as a scene would play out, I would imagine what they might be setting on a table, or based on sound such as being outside, I would imagine what the nature must look like. If birds were chirping, for example, I would imagine that there is sun in the film. When audio description came, those days of guessing were finally over, and just like my sighted friends I truly got to know what was going on. Knowing what was happening when there was no dialogue brought such joy for me. Instead of making things up and constantly wondering what really was going on, now I finally can know and not have to ask a sighted friend. Audio description allows me to be included.
So now it’s your turn. Imagine what it would be like watching a movie without vision. Imagine you are watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It’s night time on Privet Drive. You scramble to envision the details. What characters are present? What are they doing? Audio description details, “A great horned owl perches on top of a sign that reads: Privet Drive.” A cat with striped markings watches Dumbledore as he makes the lights in the lamps go out. Dumbledore is described as having long white hair and a long beard that goes to his waist and he is wearing a tall pointed hat. Without audio description at the opening of the movie, you would not know what is going on because there is not any dialogue.
Audio description also allows me to be able to talk about the visual parts of a movie with friends like anyone else would. Just because I am blind does not mean that I am not interested in the visual details of Diagon Alley or in the Muggle world. Everyone else gets to delight in the visuals of Diagon Alley. I want to know everything about this magical world as well. Hagrid and Harry enter Diagon Alley by going through an opening in bricks from a courtyard outside of a pub called The Leaky Cauldron. Diagon Alley is where Harry collects all of the supplies needed to start his
journey at Hogwarts, School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. As Harry approaches Ollivander’s, the wand shop, to buy his wand, the audio describer narrates the following, “Ollivander’s, makers of fine wands since 382 BC. Inside the shop, hundreds of tall narrow boxes line the shelves. The wand is about a foot long with a simple handle at its base.” The description of the shop lets me know that it is antique and small. With the first wand that Harry takes, a flowerpot is shattered. From that description, I know that the first wand that he chooses is not the right wand for Harry. Although the sound effects are vivid, a listener who is blind would not be able to predict or detect the exact details of what is happening.
Audio description is essentially what makes movies and TV shows inclusive for people who are blind and perhaps even others just like textbased captioning is inclusive for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. By providing audio description, a listener can learn about details that they are not able to visually observe. In the same way, audio description may even be helpful to some people with typical vision who have trouble following all of the details in action scenes. Offering audio description and captioning is an important step in creating a hospitable world for everyone.
As interpreters and translators, you are in a position to empower people like me with information. Whether it’s a magical experience like the Harry Potter series or perhaps a formal demonstration of an activity at a conference please remember the importance of providing visual details to persons who are blind or visually impaired. Also, consider that the English language learners you are serving may benefit from clarification of concepts they may not be familiar with. In this way, the details that audio description provides actually serve multiple audiences.
So, the next time you are at a theatre or watching a movie, I encourage you to explore the settings or check the availability of audio description headphones and give audio description a try. In fact, you can explore a new show without using your vision for ten minutes and then go back and review the show with audio description. This activity may help you remember the importance of audio description for those of us who cannot access those visual details.
Also, when you access the audio description, I think you will find that you may have missed some details! I am so grateful that audio description exists and that inclusion is being made for everyone in the world. As an aspiring interpreter, I look forward to supporting inclusion within the field.