American Council of the Blind Announces Audio Description Awards

For Immediate Release
Contact: Joel Snyder, PhD, Director, Audio Description Project, ACB
(202) 467-5083

WASHINGTON, July 15, 2019 - The American Council of the Blind (ACB) proudly announces the 2019 Achievement Awards in Audio Description, an initiative of the Council’s Audio Description Project (ADP).  

In conjunction with ACB’s 58th annual conference and convention in Rochester, N.Y., the awards were presented at a plenary session of the conference before over 1,000 people who are blind. The awards included:

  • Achievement in Audio Description – Performing Arts: Hunter Gullickson of The Guthrie Theater is a nationally known leader in the Arts Access field. Guthrie Theater has a strong tradition of providing access services and the offerings have expanded and become more effective under Hunter’s supervision to nearly 50 performances every season that are each audio described and interpreted in American Sign Language. Hunter manages an equipment loan program in which organizations can borrow Audio Description equipment. More than 50 different organizations across the state use Guthrie’s equipment annually. Free sensory tours are provided for all main stage plays, and Hunter also produces large print programs, and materials for people taking classes who need alternate formats.
  • Special Recognition Achievement in Audio Description — Performing ArtsMontclair State University - A group of nine students in the Spanish Translation Program at Montclair State University work in a groundbreaking project dealing with accessibility in the performing arts and Spanish. These students wrote the audio description script in Spanish for the play El coronel no tiene quien le escriba by Gabriel García Márquez for the low vision Hispanic community in New York and New Jersey. The script was voiced over by one of these students too: Vanessa Carrillo. It was the first time live audio description in Spanish was offered in a theater venue in New York. There was a pre-show experience organized by the students as well where low vision audience could touch a miniature stage and key objects of the performance to give them a holistic experience of the artistic and literary component of the play.
  • Achievement in Audio Description – Media: Microsoft/Xbox - Only rarely has audio description been used during live events that are broadcast on television or streamed over the Internet. Microsoft and Xbox have taken the initiative to make its live, large-scale “Inside Xbox” events accessible in real time so that gamers worldwide who are blind or have low vision can participate along with the millions of other Xbox lovers.  Gaming events are inherently visual in nature. Audio description is designed to provide a media experience for people who are blind or have low vision in ways that are comparable to the experience of sighted people. Inside Xbox − a live broadcast that highlights gaming system news, updates, and breaking announcements − broadcast its first episode with live audio description on November 2018, and has continued to include it in all major live Xbox programming. The live broadcast was set amongst Xbox fans in Mexico City, and viewed by a global audience of more than 28 million.
  • Achievement in Audio Description – Visual Art/Museums/Visitor Centers: Hannah Goodwin/Museum of Fine Arts-Boston –Hannah Goodwin and her team at the Museum of Fine Arts provide outstanding audio description throughout the museum’s extensive permanent collection, as well as in its special exhibitions. Hannah and her team have trained over 50 volunteers on best practices related to audio description which includes ample opportunities to practice in the galleries with one another and to receive feedback from individuals who are blind. In particular, the guides describe the museum’s collection in ways that allow for the visitor’s own interpretation and connection with the work.
  • Achievement in Audio Description – International: Vera Arma – Vera demonstrates a strong commitment to the use of audio description throughout Italy, both for television broadcasts and in the cinema, especially through the MovieReading app.  The Artis-Project Group has collaborated with public institutions and private associations to get the approval of the 2017 law under which all Italian movies shall be accessible.  Between 2017 and 2019, Artis-Project audio described 500 movies, including titles made accessible on a voluntary basis.  She has contributed to widening the research on audio description in Italy, still very scarce, and holds the first Italian PhD on the language of filmic audio description. 
  • Dr. Margaret R. Pfanstiehl Memorial Achievement Award in Audio Description – Research and Development: Dr. Brett Oppegaard - When Dr. Brett Oppegaard received a box containing 400 U.S. National Park Service brochures in 2014, it came with a challenge from the U.S. government: make these visually oriented pieces of paper – brochures handed out at every NPS visitor center in the country – accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. Reading a park brochure is the most common activity at NPS sites, for good reason. In response to the challenge, Dr. Oppegaard and his research team launched The UniDescription Project, Over the past five years, they have built the critical information infrastructure, media production, and dissemination tools necessary to develop audio description for national park brochures. Since 2014, the UniD team, under Dr. Oppegaard’s direction, has supported the creation of new audio description for over 60 National Park Service sites via the free UniD mobile app, or on NPS websites.
  • Barry Levine Memorial Award for Career Achievement in Audio Description: Jon P. Skaalen – Jon’s passionate advocacy to making the arts accessible through audio description in Minnesota is exemplary — he is considered the most important person in Audio Description in the State of Minnesota and has been for over 20 years. He crafted the Accessible Arts Calendar that is an invaluable tool and relied upon by people who are blind throughout the state and beyond. For those without email access, he voices this list on a dedicated phone line.  On numerous occasions, he has arranged for interpreters for the deaf-blind so they could attend events that would otherwise be closed to them and he provides transportation to out-of-town events for many who would otherwise have no way to attend. In addition, Jon makes funding available to organizations wishing to offer audio description and offers training opportunities for audio describers. He has been a consistent champion for patrons and artists with disabilities, a tireless advocate for the provision of greater access to the arts. He has made the Minneapolis community a better, more inclusive place.

The Achievement Awards are made to individuals and/or organizations for outstanding contributions to the establishment and/or continued development of significant audio description programs.  The Barry Levine Memorial Award for Career Achievement in Audio Description recognizes an individual for outstanding contributions to the field of audio description over an extended period of time, leading, inspiring or providing significant service to others.

Additional information about ACB’s Audio Description Project is available at


About the American Council of the Blind

The American Council of the Blind is a national grassroots consumer organization representing Americans who are blind and visually impaired. With 70 affiliates, ACB strives to increase the independence, security, equality of opportunity, and to improve quality of life for all blind and visually impaired people. Together, we make a bright future. Learn more by visiting