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What is Audio Description?

In this video you will hear from Joanna Wood, Chair of VocalEyes as she explains what Audio Description is and what it means to her.
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Future Learn and Royal Holloway University presents– What is audio description?
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Hi, I’m Joanna Wood and I’m the chair of VocalEyes. I’m a white woman in her mid-30s, I’m wearing a pink top, and sitting in a garden, and I have brown hair in a long bob. VocalEyes is a charity. It provides access to the arts for blind and visually impaired people across arts, culture, and heritage. And we do that through providing audio description. Audio description is a verbal description of the visual content that’s going on– that non-blind viewers would be able to experience. So that can be anything from who’s come on stage, or who’s come on the TV in a scene, to what somebody is doing. So visual humour, physical comedy, or “he’s just scored that goal.”
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And it’s delivered in between dialogue, so it doesn’t interfere with whatever. Whether it’s a theatre performance, a museum opening, or the television show, you’re just getting something in between the bits of silence that you have between dialogue. But it’s also broader than that. So it can be pre-recorded, such as TV and film. But it can also be delivered live. So that often happens in theatres and museums. And it often includes other aspects. So an audio-described theatre performance or museum tour will often include a touch tour where you can handle the props, or handle some of the exhibits from a museum, and it might also include other aspects that make it a multi-sensory experience.
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My first experience of AD was in April of 2017. This was a year after I’d significantly lost my sight. And my sister had found out that Shakespeare’s Globe did audio-described performances. And I love Shakespeare. I love theatre. We’d not managed to get me to a show successfully since I lost my sight. She booked us tickets, gave it to me for Christmas, and we went up in the spring of 2017. And it’s really hard to capture what that first encounter with AD was like. So it just starts from the moment you walk through the door. It sounds really banal.
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But I’d gone from since I’d lost my sight, and was wearing dark sunglasses, and was walking with a long cane, I just experienced these constant questions. Should you be here? Where’s your carer? Why don’t you have a dog? Are you really sure– why are you bothering going to a theatre? You won’t be able to see anything. But you turn up on audio description day and you’re greeted as if everyone’s expecting to see you there. They know what to do. They’ve had the visual awareness training. And so it’s just an instant welcome, and instant inclusion, and it just really went on from that. I came away from that, and it was a completely transformative experience.
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The words I use for it is redemptive. Because I went into the theatre as somebody who still had really small goals. They came– I inherited my goals from rehab. They were really basic things, practical things– like getting up and moving, finding a job, getting to my job, learning how to cook, really basic stuff since I lost my sight. And this was the first time that I’d had something really big, really inspiring, something that everyone else got to do, and it just reminded me who I used to be. And so I walked in a fairly– probably fairly– cowed person, even though I didn’t think of myself like that. And I walked out myself again– head held high.
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And I just haven’t looked back. And I’ve gone to as much audio description since then as humanly possible. I’ve become a complete addict. Audio description means everything to me. It’s the access to arts and culture, and the lift and the inspiration that they give you. And it’s the chance to do those with family and friends. But more than that, It’s the fact that it’s a guaranteed accessible space– where for a period of time, I get to just be myself, not disabled, not visually impaired, not not fitting. And that provides me the energy to keep going in the other areas of life that aren’t inclusive and aren’t accessible.
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I rely on it, and I depend on it, and I’d be completely lost without it. Royal Holloway University. Supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and VocalEyes.
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