Travelling for the holidays, or need some personal time away from the family? The ACB Advocacy Update has you covered! On this podcast, Claire and Clark discuss all things audio description with Dr. Joel Snyder and Carl Richardson. We highlight the great work of the Audio Description Project, including the Benefits of Audio Description in Education Contest, as well as the 16th Audio Description Institute, and the rapidly evolving landscape of streaming services providing accessible user interfaces and audio described programming.
Register for the 2020 BADIE Contest and submit an audio description review before Dec. 6, 2019, by visiting: https://www.acb.org/adp/articles/badie2020.html.
To learn more about the ADP Audio Description Institute, visit: https://acb.org/2020-audio-description-institute
Intro: You are listening to the ACB Advocacy Update.
Claire Stanley: Hey everybody. Welcome back to another episode of ACB Advocacy Update. This is Claire Stanley, the Advocacy and Outreach Specialist here at the American Council of the Blind. Sitting next to me is
Clark Rachfal: Clark Rachfal, Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs for ACB. Thank you to everyone joining us over and listening on ACB Radio as well as those who have downloaded and are listening or streaming via their favorite podcast player
Claire Stanley: And we should say happy Thanksgiving. I was going to try to make a Turkey noise but that's not going to happen so happy Thanksgiving!
Clark Rachfal: Today we have a great episode for everyone. Hopefully you are either at your destination or traveling safely this holiday season, spending time with family and friends, but if you're listening to us because you need a little downtime and time to yourselves, this episode is all about audio description and we are fortunate to be joined by the founding director of the Audio Description project as well as author of "the Visual Made Verbal", Mr. Joel Snyder.
Joel Snyder: That's Dr. Joel Snyder to you fella. [laughter]
Claire Stanley: That's right!
Clark Rachfal: Very good sir.
Joel Snyder: Let me help Claire out for a minute here. Okay... [turkey noises] How's that?
Claire Stanley: Thank you Joel we appreciate that.
Clark Rachfal: Can you also do stuffing and mashed potato sounds?
Joel Snyder: Ooh, I don't know what, woo, I'm not sure what I would do with that.
Claire Stanley: Well, Joel, let's start at the very, very basic level. So I know a lot of our listeners are audio description users, but say just hypothetically that someone who's listening has never used audio description before. What is audio description?
Joel Snyder: Great question. And something that I endeavor to address often when I do workshops and speak all around the world actually, because it still is some under known as an assistive technology as opposed to captions for instance. Or sign language interpretation, assistive technologies for people who are deaf or have or are, are hard of hearing. You see those captions, you know, the general public sees the captions, sees the sign language interpreter, but the audio describer is invisible. Interestingly enough no one sees that happening. The person that benefits will hear the audio descriptions, the audio describers work in theater in, in all other kinds of performing arts in film and television. It's really, as the title of my book implies a way to make the visual verbal. We simply use words to describe action images that occur during a play or media for instance. So we use the pauses between critical pieces of dialogue or other sound elements that we want people to hear, of course. But there are oftentimes pauses, even if it's just a second or two, it's time enough to provide a bit of description that will help convey the way I say it is the under, an understanding - he points to his head, and an appreciation - his hand is on his heart, of the image.
Clark Rachfal: So Joel film and TV as well as the theater. They already have the audio components. They have dialogue, you know, they have exploding helicopters.
Claire Stanley: What shows are you watching?
Clark Rachfal: All the best ones. I'm sure somewhere there's a Lethal Weapon or Die Hard marathon. Why is audio description needed? If in film and theater already have audio elements.
Joel Snyder: Yeah, yeah. No, listen, some years back I described the classic for nationwide television, the classic Tom Hanks movie. Oh, why am I blanking out of the war movie? Not Cast Away of course, but boy I thought to bring it up and now I can't conjure the name of the movie, but...
Claire Stanley: Saving Private Ryan?
Joel Snyder: Private Ryan, Saving Private Ryan. Exactly. Thank you Claire. Lots of shooting and fighting and lots of sound throughout. But that's the thing. It's sound. It's not necessarily dialogue. In fact, I think the best movies really rely on visual image and cinematography to communicate what the film is about. That's lovely. It's wonderful. I'm a sighted guy. I'm one of those disabled sighted guys. I depend on light. I'm light dependent, you know lights go out, man. I want to be with Clark or Claire, you know. So, but I, but I can use my eyes to see those images. People who are blind or have low vision cannot. And that's what we're trying to fill in. Sometimes there's, yeah, there's dialogue, there's sound, but how does it all fit together, you know? And, and that's what we try to provide.
Clark Rachfal: That's great. And the way I like to think of it is when you're reading a book, you have the, the character dialogue in the book, but you also have the narration, you know, the author's notes and descriptions of what the characters are doing as well. And that's kind of what audio description is. It helps fill in those gaps between dialogue in between hearing the explosion of the helicopter.
Joel Snyder: You know, that's a great analogy, Clark, the, if you read a novel but somebody, you know, took a pair of scissors and cut out all of the descriptive elements I don't think there'd be much left at all and certainly not anything that'd be very interesting to read.
Clark Rachfal: Yeah. So ACB has been involved in the, the audio description landscape or field for quite some time, and that has taken the shape of the Audio Description Project. So will you talk with us a little bit about that?
Joel Snyder: Absolutely. This is something kind of a brainchild of, of myself along with Chris Gray and Mitch Pomeranz. Kim Charlson as well I should mention, a good 10, 11 years ago. All former former presidents of ACB. ACB though has been involved with audio description as you mentioned, it's landscape, even before then. I mean back into the I would say even into the late eighties and early nineties, when it was just beginning to percolate on television. ACB members have been real fans of audio description, supporters of the idea of the technique. And that's really a wonderful thing. And back in 2009 we had this idea for an initiative that would promote audio description. Again, it's under known. It's it's under known even by folks listening to this podcast. I bet at least to some extent people who are potential consumers of audio description.
Joel Snyder: So we put together this project that we do audio description for certain kinds of special events. Your listeners may know about the eclipse project when we described the solar eclipse on ACB Radio. We did the description for the White House, the first ever audio described tour of the White House. But principally we're about promoting description. One of the most visible, if you will, elements of the Audio Description Project is our, our website. So I want to mention that first and foremost, make sure that people know they can find out just about anything they would ever want to know about audio description by going to acb.org/adp for Audio Description Project. Ably supervised, web mastered if you, will by Fred Brack in North Carolina. And it's a, it's a real wealth, a huge repository of information. It is, it is the go to site. I'd say worldwide for information about audio description.
Clark Rachfal: Absolutely. And the, the passage of the 21st Century Communication Video Accessibility Act reinstated the audio description regulations within the Federal Communications Commission, FCC. And since then there's been tremendous growth in audio described content on TV. With the, with the increase in demand for audio describers to create that described content, what is the role of the Audio Description Project in I guess helping fill that void supplying trained describers?
Joel Snyder: Absolutely. Well, we're, we are a really, quite a seminal element in the building of talent for audio description. I do want to mention though that ACB was in, I think without ACB, there would not have been a 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. It really was the, the hard work of people like our current Executive Director Eric Bridges of course, and others, who really made that happen. And what that did was require, right now, we're at a mandate for at least seven hours of description each week for each of the top nine broadcasters, the four terrestrial broadcasters, we call them ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX. And then the top five cable providers, USA, HGTV, TBS, Discovery and History. They all need to provide at least seven hours per week of description and some do more then that.
Joel Snyder: And then there's, there's description on PBS and that's not a requirement, that kind of thing. But all of that, you're right. Clark, that means there's been a cottage industry that has grown up oftentimes with the captioning companies. Around the, the country, these folks already have contracts with the networks to provide captions and it was only natural for them to broaden into audio description. Indeed, I founded and directed the Describe Media Program for the National Captioning Institute back in the early 2000's and directed that program, for six years. We described Sesame Street. We described many feature films as well and, but the ADP is, has really taken the lead we have produced presented if you will, to audio description institutes each year. They, they each occur with the in conjunction with either the President's Meeting in February or the annual conference in July, and we have done close to 20 of them now, almost 20.
Joel Snyder: I think we're on our 18th or the 19th. We'll come up in February in the Washington DC area in conjunction with the President's Meeting. That'll be February 22nd through the 24th in Alexandria, Virginia. And each Institute has anywhere from 15 to 25 eager participants, people who are looking to become professional describers and many of them do. I'll also hasten to add that each Institute, we have the involvement of at least one or two people who are consumers of description, people who are blind, who know description, who really love it, are advocates for description. They know what's good and what's not so good about description and they're invaluable contributors to each of our audio description institutes. We'll have an announcement on the website, excuse me, either late this month or early in December for folks who are interested in registering for the late February Institute.
Clark Rachfal: What a great plug. And as always, it always comes back to the website, acb.org/adp for Audio Description Project. Joel, before we let you go here, there's a another bit of news and information that's on the ADP website and that's the 2020 BADIE awards.
Joel Snyder: That's right. Who you calling bad. What did he say? BADIE, I'm so glad you mentioned it Clark, BADIE is an acronym for benefits of audio description in education. And it is a reincarnated version of a contest that we came up with I think back in, in 2010 or 2011. We want to involve kids in audio description. You know, kids love movies. All kids love movies, but kids who are blind or, or have low vision, you know, are not going to get the same effect if, if the video, they're watching the film they're watching doesn't have audio description and, we want to get them involved. So we give prizes to kids ages seven to 21 for reviews in braille, in audio, in writing, however they want to do it, reviews, all of the audio description of whatever film or whatever video they might want to tell us about.
Joel Snyder: We do all of this in conjunction with our good friends, partners, at the Described and Captioned Media Program, a great program for adding description and captions to educational video. And there's thousands of videos they have on their website, dcmp.org. So with them, we have this contest and we have been getting Oh, upwards of 25 or 30, at least entries each year. We already have eight entries in this year with over just, yeah, two weeks to go before this week's deadline Friday, December 6th. And I would ask that your listeners, anybody interested in that go to the Audio Description Project website, certainly. Or more specifically to register and enter the contest. We have a URL which is simply listening, is listeningislearning.org/badie.html. And that goes right to the Described and Captioned Media Program site for entering the contest. And we look, we love reading these reviews from kids. It's clear that the kids love the description and, and they're critical though too. They know what's good. Well, that didn't really help me that much or this or that. They're great. And we have we give the grand prize winner, an iPad mini and we give out iTunes gift certificates, $100, $50, and such to the kids that win and to the teachers of the first prize winners. They get $100 amazon.com gift cards too. So it's great.
Claire Stanley: Let's get more submissions this year. You guys.
Joel Snyder: Yes, yes, absolutely.
Claire Stanley: Those of you who are teachers or work with kids or have kids who are blind or have low vision. Let's, let's get more kids involved. Everybody.
Clark Rachfal: And so the deadline is Friday, December 6th, and we will include the the link to register and send in your reviews within the liner notes for this podcast.
Joel Snyder: Excellent.
Clark Rachfal: Joel, we just want to say thank you so much for joining us today. Sharing a little bit about the history of audio description as well as the Audio Description Project and also the BADIE awards. And because you mentioned iTunes, our next guest, we'll talk a little bit more about that. All of the described content that is available online in the marketplace today and via new streaming services.
Joel Snyder: Carl Richardson is a great fount of knowledge. Carl and Kim Charlson are the co-chairs now of the steering project, steering committee, for the Audio Description Project.
Claire Stanley: Great. Thanks. Thanks for that plug.
Joel Snyder: Yeah!
Clark Rachfal: Everyone stay tuned for part two.
Claire Stanley: Hey everybody. Welcome back to the second portion of our podcast today on audio description. We just had a really great conversation with Joel Snyder, the director of the Audio Description Project here at ACB and now we're really excited to talk to one of our very own members. Carl Richardson and talk about all the involvement he has with the Audio Description Project as well as his own perspective as a blind individual who uses audio description. Carl, do you want to go ahead and introduce yourself?
Carl Richardson: Hi my name is Carl Richardson and I am co-chair of the Audio Description Project along with Kim Charlson, and I am very excited to be here to talk about one of my true passions.
Claire Stanley: Great. Well thank you for being here.
Carl Richardson: Thank you for having me.
Clark Rachfal: So Carl share with us a little bit more about your role as a co-chair of the Audio Description Project as well as the work of the various subcommittees of the Audio Description Project.
Carl Richardson: Great. Yeah, so the Audio Description Project is a committee within the American Council of the Blind and we are an organization that advocates for audio description in all areas, whether it be theater, performing art museum, movie, television.
Carl Richardson: Anything to do with audio description and our committee is broken into four sub-committees. One is BADIE, which I believe Joel Snyder discussed earlier, which is the benefit of audio description in education, where we want to encourage young people to learn about audio description and we have them write essays on the benefits of audio description have a contest winner at the annual convention in July. Another one is the media subcommittee, which I am also the chair of, which has to do with television, film streaming services. And right now that's where we're seeing an explosion in audio description. The next is Section 508 committee, which has to do with audio description and government produced videos. And the next one is the performing arts subcommittee, which has to do with theater, museums, parks, that sort of thing. And all four committees are very active. And driving to increase audio transcription wherever we can.
Claire Stanley: That last subcommittee I think is really exciting to hear about. Carl, because in our last section, we talked a lot about the 21st Century Telecommunications Bill and how it impacts TV and what we see on television, but the fact that we're doing more audio description within museums and performing arts theaters and things like that on Broadway, that's really exciting to hear that we're getting audio description and other places as well.
Carl Richardson: Yeah. The CVA was a momentous occasion when it was passed 10 years ago and it has greatly increased the use of audio description on television, which I think cause the other areas to expand based on the fact that they see if being widely used on television.
Claire Stanley: Yeah.
Clark Rachfal: Yeah. And the, the FCC plays an important role here as well. Will you talk about the work that they do and your involvement with the disability advisory committee?
Carl Richardson: Yeah. So the FCC oversees the 21st Telecommunications and Video Accessibility Act, otherwise knows as the CVAA, which mandates that 87 & 1/2 hours a quarter for the four broadcast networks, ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and the top five rated cable network have 87 & 1/2 hours of audio description either through prime time or childrens television programming. And, and they have a disability advisory committee made up technology, industry, and consumers. So folks like Apple, Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and consumers such as myself sit on that. And we recently just passed the recommendation where it's great to have this audio description, but if we don't know where it is, how can we find it? So we passed the recommendation. Encourage them, the broadcast entity to make it easier for us to find listings of the shows that are audio described so that we know what's on television, when and where.
Clark Rachfal: Yeah, it's always fascinating for us here at ACB. When we hear from TV broadcasters or cable companies that they go to the ADP website to find out what programming are on their own networks. That audio described because it's, it's the most reliable source out there and Carl, will you talk a little bit about that and how,
Carl Richardson: Yeah. The ADP website is actually quite a valuable resource and I use it every Friday night after the end of a long work week to see what I'm going to watch tonight, but it has a lot of information on it. From what's currently playing in the movie theater if you want to go out to the movie with audio description, to what's on television, what night of the week and where, to what DVDs are coming out with audio description to an accurate listing of all the streaming services that have audio description, to what theaters and what dates provide audio description. To how was audio description created, to a list of the vendors that create the audio description, so it's a very valuable resource. My favorite thing to do with the website is, I subscribe to a number of streaming services. So I use the website to go on and look at what I'm going to watch.
Claire Stanley: So that's a perfect segue. Carl, you're talking about the streaming services, which is kind of the new frontier. I know we've joked a lot here in the office that just about everything is starting a streaming service now. So what does that look like? It's obviously a little bit different than the traditional television we've all known for so long. How does audio description work in the streaming service world?
Carl Richardson: While the CVAA is a good law, the one thing it did not do is cover streaming services. Unlike the deaf and hard of hearing community where they set up a [inaudable] within caption for broadcast. When it goes over to streaming, it has to be captioned. The blindness community did not get that in the CVAA. So we have to advocate for streaming services. And with the help of the Audio Description Project, we've made a lot of headway there. There's iTunes which currently has over 1300 titles, which is a service where you can rent or buy title of movies and television show. There's Amazon Prime, which also was a place where you can rent them buy, or if you are an Amazon prime member, you can watch some of their titles. They currently have over 1300 titles. There's Netflix, which is actually the first streaming service to do it.
Carl Richardson: And they did it first with Daredevil a number of years ago. And they now do all original content plus film and shows that they acquire from other distributions services. If they have audio description, they ask for those files. They now have over a thousand titles. There's Apple + which just launched, Oh, about four weeks ago, I think, which has about nine or 10 shows and that has, and all their content is currently audio described. And the fascinating thing about that is they described it in nine different languages. That's kind of, I don't understand any of the other languages, but I was playing with it the other night just to hear what audio description in Portuguese sounded like. [laughter]
Carl Richardson: And then we have...
Clark Rachfal: That's fascinating because it also doesn't, it doesn't matter where you live, wherever you are, whatever region you're in, you can access those different languages.
Carl Richardson: Right they did not lock it down. So if you, you know, lived in a house with a person who spoke different languages, you could, and they also captioned it in 40 different languages. And the cool thing about the Apple TV, I have the Apple TV, if you have a refreshable braille display, voiceover will actually read the caption. So if you're deaf blind, that's a nice benefit there. Then we have Hulu, which is new to the game and currently under structured negotiation, but they currently have over 60 titles and that will be growing. And right now, to my knowledge, it's only available on Apple iOS platform, but they have until January 1, which is only a little over a month away to make it accessible on other platforms, to make the website screen reader friendly, to make the player controls accessible and to allow you to search and filter by audio description title.
Carl Richardson: So stay tuned for that. And then, Disney+ just launched two weeks ago and already has more than 250 titles, audio described along with all the original content and that's kind of cool, because I played with that on my real cool Apple Fire TV, and X1 box and it works, audio description works on all of them. And then last but not least, I don't have any detail but stay tuned, HBO Max, HBO Now, and HBO Go, all the entities under Warner Media are in structured negotiation with ACB. So hopefully we'll be hearing something soon on audio description potentially in the next few years being available on that platform as well.
Clark Rachfal: And that's exciting because I know a lot of us who subscribe to HBO through either our telecommunications company or through our cable package. We love the programs we would, we would love them even more if they were audio described as well.
Carl Richardson: Game of Thrones, right?
Clark Rachfal: Right. I know, watching game of Thrones with my wife, I had to try to figure out what was going on when I hear her, just like, "Ah! Oh my goodness! No they didn't!" And I'm just like, what just happened?
Carl Richardson: Yeah, my wife who's fully sighted, loves watching a show with me that's audio described because it takes the pressure off of her to make sure that I understand and am enjoying and now she can just relax. And it's like going out on a date again where we're both on equal footing.
Claire Stanley: That's great.
Clark Rachfal: So, and Carl, you mentioned a bunch of different streaming boxes or devices where you can access all of these over the top or internet video services. So the Apple TV, Roku the Xboxe, the Fire Stick or Fire TV. How do you find the, the accessible user interfaces of these devices and are there any that you think work better than others for streaming content with audio description?
Carl Richardson: So the two best ones are, well, first obviously the Apple TV because you can go into accessibility and turn on audio description. So often then when you play an app that has a title, it's automatically turned on, not in all cases but often. So the Apple TV is, I find the most friendly for apps and screen reader friendly with voiceover. So that's probably the one I use the most. I use the Fire TV next the most because that's also friendly with the work of what Amazon is doing and Peter Korn. And that has benefits too like in terms of I have more flexibility what I can do with the screen reader so as someone with hearing loss, I may not always tell the difference in a word between P and a T. To me they both sound alike so I can then break it down and spell the word by character, you know what I mean? That sort of thing. So that's kind of fun. And Amazon's doing a good, not all the apps work all the time, but they're doing a good job enough that I enjoy the Fire TV quite a bit as well.
Carl Richardson: Next I have a Roku. That has a screen reader on it, it's not the friendliest in terms of accessibility, but the reason why I have the Roku is because they have the most channels and streaming stuff and they have the most content. And if you're a film and television buff like I, you know, back when I had sight, I was, I majored in film and television and worked in the Hollywood film industry, and that's why audio description has been a saving grace because they gave me my love of watching movies back. So I have the Roku, it works at times but it needs improvement. The X Box I haven't played with a lot, but it does have narrator built into it and I, I'm just learning how to use that. It is there and it just something to be aware of that Microsoft is working on. Like I said, Disney+ did work with audio description on it, so that was nice to see. So that, so my preference is the Apple TV and the Fire TV, as the two most accessible devices. All the other devices do have screen readers built in. And that's another portion of the CVAA, that all streaming devices must have a screen reader built in so that you can access the software and content on the streaming device.
Clark Rachfal: So Carl, I know that the ADP website has already released a preliminary review of the over 250 titles available on Disney+ and I'm sure you guys will be updating the website as more content is released and more information becomes available, will you also have information and reviews about the streaming devices as well as services available on the website?
Carl Richardson: So, you know, that's a good suggestion and I will certainly share that with the media community and look into that. What we do have right now. Well first of all, thank you. I should have mentioned earlier that the six streaming service, I mentioned, iTunes, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Hulu, and Apple TV+. We have relationship, with all those companies. And we do have an accurate and full listing of all the shows that are audio described. So it's up-to-date. We update it twice a week on Tuesdays Fridays so they're fully up to date. We do on the website have a section on strategies for cord cutting and what type of devices, accessible devices, are being used for cord cutting and right now we have one using the Amazon recast, which allows you to use as a DVR, but also use it to watch live content and you can access the SAP channel with an over the air antenna to access audio description. And the other one is using the channel's app, which is an iOS app, and you connect to the HDHomeRun to your computer and you can access over the air channels that way using audio description. It's probably a good idea to do a review about the streaming devices and I will look into that.
Clark Rachfal: Well I certainly need to learn more about the ADP website and find out how to cut the cord and keep accessible user interfaces and audio description. Thank you so much for sharing that information with us today, Carl. And since this podcast is going to air on Thanksgiving, are there any audio described movies that you are looking forward to listening to and watching for the holidays?
Carl Richardson: Well, traditionally NBC plays one of my favorite movies of all times. "It's a Wonderful Life".
Claire Stanley: Aw, classic.
Carl Richardson: Yeah, 1946. Jimmy Stewart. So I will tune into that and we will, and I also want to catch up on "The Crown". They just released, Netflix just released season three of "The Crown". So I"m probably going to binge watch "The Crown". And I know from, I heard a rumor that Disney+ is going to release two episodes of Mandalorian next week, and I'm addicted to that show already. So that's going to be my viewing, Oh, and "The Irishman", which is a new movie coming out on Netflix. Are you ready for this? It has Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci all in one movie.
Claire Stanley: Nice!
Clark Rachfal: Giddy up.
Carl Richardson: Yeah. So I'm sorry, I'm very passionate about film.
Claire Stanley: I love it. Well, thank you so much Carl. This has been really informative and I know I've learned a lot. So thank you for just sharing your knowledge about what's going on right now in the audio description world and the streaming world. We're really excited to have you. And we are excited that everybody gets to learn all about this on Thanksgiving. And I feel like I now need to go out and watch a whole lot more television, so thank you.
Carl Richardson: Thank you
Clark Rachfal: Right, everyone. And as we always say at the end of our podcast...
Claire & Clark: Keep advocating!