by Kim Charlson, ADP Steering Committee Co-Chair
ACB’s Audio Description Project (ADP) is a multi-faceted program covering all aspects of audio description advocacy work including greater availability, promotion, production initiatives, and quality issues across all possible venues.
One important part of the ADP involves the recognition of outstanding contributions to the field of audio description. This is done through the annual presentation of the Audio Description Project Achievement Awards. These awards are given to individuals and/or organizations for outstanding contributions to the establishment or continued development of significant audio description programs. The organizations and individuals honored with these awards are among the leaders in description. For 2022, the ADP had an abundance of highly qualified nominations for our eight different awards. Listed below are the categories and this year’s recipients.
Achievement in Audio Description — Media/Individuals:
Norma Jean Wick and Tony Ambrosio
Descriptive Video Works, Ontario, Canada
Norma and Tony worked as a united team on behalf of Descriptive Video Works as audio describers, providing almost 500 broadcast hours of live described content for NBC’s coverage of the Tokyo and Beijing Olympics and Paralympics, which was unprecedented coverage for accessibility in live sports. Their work required extensive research into the athletes and the terminology for over 68 different sporting events covered during the summer and winter Games, culminating in an amazing demonstration of creativity and skill with live description, and balancing what and when to describe and working alongside other broadcast team members. They often worked through the night to accommodate the time zones of the Olympics, and they provided an invaluable service in bringing depth and enjoyment to the televised experience for blind and low vision audiences.
In addition to their lengthy careers in sports broadcasting in Canada, each has maintained a long-standing commitment to accessibility. Norma has deep ties to audio description and has worked on each of the Olympics since London 2012, while also working as a freelance audio description writer and narrator. Tony has been describing events since the 2016 Olympics in Rio, and has provided live description for Toronto Blue Jays baseball games.
Achievement in Audio Description — Performing Arts/Individual:
Maryfrances Evans, Executive Director
Iowa Radio Reading Information Service (IRIS), Des Moines, IA
As executive director of Iowa Radio Reading Information Service, Maryfrances developed Iowa’s first audio description team, Sensation, and has cultivated its growth over the past decade. IRIS first considered audio description services in 2012. Within months, Maryfrances secured $10,000 for training and equipment, assembled 25 narrators, and brought Dr. Joel Snyder to Iowa to train those volunteers. She collaborated with the staff of Des Moines Performing Arts, who agreed to install necessary equipment and work with Sensation. On Oct. 7, 2012, Sensation made history in Iowa! Blind Iowans experienced live audio description of the production, “Les Miserables.” A decade later, an expanded Sensation team continues providing quality audio description for various events in several performing arts venues under Maryfrances’ leadership. Beyond theatrical performances, from “A Puppet Parody” to the acclaimed “Hamilton,” Sensation describes both Des Moines Opera and Des Moines Ballet presentations. Theater, dance, music — Sensation describes it all!
When volunteers are unavailable, Maryfrances narrates, often on evenings and weekends. A visionary, she finds novel ways to expose the public to audio description including opportunities for open description to the entire audience. Her enthusiasm and commitment to assuring that blind and low vision Iowans fully experience the magic of live events and theater has spurred the program’s growth. Maryfrances and the IRIS team have assured a fuller, more meaningful experience to blind and low vision audience members in Iowa.
Achievement in Audio Description — Performing Arts/Organization:
Prime Stage Theatre with Nathan Ruggles, Audio Describer
Prime Stage Theatre and Nathan Ruggles were honored for their collective accomplishments and dedication to providing audio description experiences for audiences. When Prime Stage began the process of presenting audio-described performances in 2017, they knew Nathan Ruggles was the perfect person for this role, with his interests and connections in the blindness community. His descriptions made all the difference for blind and low-vision individuals to enjoy live performance to its fullest potential. While he has been providing audio description services for Prime Stage Theatre since 2017, he officially joined the staff in 2021. This commitment has vastly increased Prime Stage’s ability to effect change and make improvements to their audio description program. Ruggles brought more than audio description to Prime Stage and their patrons. He suggested adding Actor Voice ID and “Touch Tour” workshops before the performances to provide a better understanding of the overall production. Large print and braille programs are also provided.
The recent pandemic challenged Prime Stage to re-imagine how they produce theatre with the creation of live and recorded streamed performances. While many theatres present audio description for live performances, the commitment of Ruggles and Prime Stage expanded to a new height ensuring all audiences would have access to performances live on stage, and with recordings of live and on-demand streamed performances with audio description. Reaching a wider domestic and international audience, Prime Stage has made their performances closed captioned in several languages as well.
Dr. Margaret R. Pfanstiehl Memorial Achievement Award for Research and Development:
Dr. Elisa Perego and Dr. Christopher Taylor
University of Trieste, Trieste, Italy
Dr. Chris Taylor and Dr. Elisa Perego, based in Trieste, Italy, were recognized for their contribution to the field of audiovisual translation and, more specifically, all who study, produce, and appreciate audio description. They are the editors of the recently released book, “The Routledge Handbook of Audio Description.” The handbook provides a comprehensive overview of the expanding field of audio description, the practice of rendering the visual elements of a multimodal product such as a film, painting, or live performance with vivid language description for the benefit of the blind community. This volume brings together scholars, researchers, practitioners and service providers, such as broadcasters from all over the world, to cover as thoroughly as possible all the theoretical and practical aspects of the audio description field.
In 38 chapters, the authors chart how the discipline has become established both as an important professional service and as a valid academic subject, how it has evolved and how it has come to play such an important role in accessibility. From the early history of the subject to the challenges represented by ever-changing technology, the handbook covers the approaches and methodologies adopted to analyze the visual to best select the words to most clearly provide meaningful audio description. It is the essential guide and companion for advanced students, researchers and audio description professionals within the more general spheres of translation studies and media accessibility. The chapters include important essays such as a profile of audio description end-users, linguistic needs and inclusivity; linguistic and textual aspects of audio description; and audio description and culture-specific elements. Chapters also contain information about the use of audio description in opera and dance, as well as how it is being used in the United States.
Achievement in Audio Description — Visual Art/Museums/Visitor Centers/Organization:
Wright Brothers National Memorial
Kill Devil Hills, NC
The Wright Brothers National Museum was recognized for its extraordinarily accessible and inclusive visitor center experience for blind and low vision guests. The comprehensive audio-described tour is provided by a peripheral device and headphones, and is expertly synchronized to guide the user throughout the visitor center in sequential order. At each panel of written information, the audio-described tour narrates the entire panel and highlights any visual information such as photos, illustrations, paintings and videos. The audio tour provides the user with clear and accurate directions to navigate the Wright Brothers’ story throughout the visitors’ center. In addition to the audio descriptions of the visual information, the audio tour describes the tactile and experiential exhibits. The aspect of the audio tour that is most impressive is the system’s ability to synchronize the listening device with the wall of video monitors showing momentous events in aviation history. While the videos are playing, the listening device is designed to synchronize audio description for the otherwise silent videos.
Staff at the visitors’ center are always friendly and knowledgeable and take every opportunity to inform guests of the accommodations available. Visitors can also gain access to additional described content for the Memorial by using the National Park Service (NPS) smartphone app. The NPS app provides image descriptions for landmarks around the Memorial, such as the statue denoting where the flights began and the granite markers identifying where each of the four first flights landed, including the engravings on the markers.
Achievement in Audio Description — Visual Art/Museums/Visitor Centers/Individual:
Holly Griesemer, Management and Program Analyst, National Park Service Midwest Region/Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance and Accessibility Programs, Omaha, NE
Holly Griesemer is the Management and Program Analyst for the National Park Service Midwest Region, based in Omaha, Neb. She has worked with the National Park Service for almost 15 years. She started out as a student in the Safety program, then joined the Concessions Program upon graduation, and currently serves in two programs, the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance (RTCA) Program and the Accessibility Program. She is passionate about making the National Parks and our communities more accessible and creating local outdoor recreation and conservation opportunities for all. Her work with the RTCA program ensures that everyone has safe and equitable access to close-to-home outdoor places and experiences. RTCA assists communities and public land managers in developing or restoring parks, conservation areas, rivers, and wildlife habitats as well as creating outdoor recreation opportunities and programs that engage future generations in the outdoors. Holly’s Midwest Region encompasses Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. She worked with ACB and the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Headquarters in Omaha in preparation for ACB’s 2022 convention to create additional accessible materials and experiences for the tour of the Lewis and Clark Visitors’ Center. She also coordinated NPS staff to distribute free America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Passes for ACB convention participants.
Holly also works with the NPS Midwest Region (MWR) Accessibility Program and ACB to increase access and equality for people who are blind or have low vision and their families. She works with the University of Hawai’i, NPS, ACB, volunteers and other partners from around North America on increasing accessibility of park brochures for visitors who are blind or have low vision as part of the UniDescription (UniD) Project. This project provides audio-described versions of brochures that are made widely available through the free UniD app for both Android and Apple smartphones. Over 100 NPS park brochures are available and about 30 more are in the pipeline.
Achievement in Audio Description — Public Sector:
Centers for Disease Control, Accessibility Program and Office of the Associate Director for Communications, Atlanta, GA
The Centers for Disease Control Accessibility Program and Office of the Associate Director for Communications was recognized as the recipient of the first ADP Public Sector Award for their diligent and professional work promoting access to all media during the recent pandemic. The CDC has placed special emphasis on providing audio description for its videos so that all audiences, especially the blind community, are afforded equivalent access to information and services provided to the general public without disabilities. In addition, they have mentored numerous agencies on best practices on how to implement audio description within the federal sector.
Barry Levine Memorial Career Achievement Award:
Mark Turits is Vice President of Captioning and Audio Description/Access Services for Paramount Global (formerly ViacomCBS). He joined CBS as Director of Captioning in 1996. He has a B.F.A. from The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. He was an appointed member of the FCC’s Video Programming Accessibility Advisory Committee (VPAAC) and the FCC’s Disability Advisory Committee (DAC) working group on Audio Description Quality (ADQ). For the past 40+ years since its inception, he has overseen and grown accessibility at CBS, pay cable TV, and now streaming with Paramount+.
In March, CBS Television Network, under the leadership of Turits, significantly increased the amount of programming available with Audio Description. CBS added AD to seven primetime series: “Bull,” “Ghosts,” “United States of Al,” “S.W.A.T.,” “Good Sam,” “Magnum P.I.,” and “Undercover Boss.” With these additions, CBS now offers audio description with nearly all of its regularly scheduled scripted primetime programs. CBS has consistently exceeded the government-mandated hourly requirement for AD programming over the past 20 years, maintaining its commitment to audio description even though the courts ruled the FCC exceeded its authority in this area in 2002.
Quoted in a recent ACB release, Turits stated: “CBS is proud to provide audio description to audiences of nearly our entire primetime lineup, and we will continue to work to expand this important access for fans of our shows. It reflects many of Paramount Global’s core values including inclusivity, collaboration, determination, agility and adaptability.” With these expanded AD offerings, CBS and Mark Turits continue to demonstrate leadership in the provision of accessible media for blind and low vision television viewers.
Achievement in Audio Description — International:
World Blind Union
The World Blind Union (WBU) represents the estimated 253 million people who are blind or partially sighted worldwide. Members are organizations of and for the blind in 190 countries, as well as international organizations working in the field of vision loss.
WBU’s long-term, 20-year vision is: “A world in which we, as blind or partially sighted people, can participate fully in any aspect of life we choose.” And that includes involvement with every nation’s cultural life. WBU views audio description as an essential part of ensuring access to a nation’s cultural activities. In 2018, the World Blind Union collaborated with ACB on a worldwide survey of audio description activity. The survey of 69 countries found that:
- 67% of respondents said that audio description was available in the respondent’s country; cinema, television, live performing arts, and DVDs top the list of the type of audio description experiences available, followed by museums, the Internet, smartphones, educational settings, and in visitors’ centers;
- Almost 45% indicated that audio description is required by law (64% of those respondents reported that it was required for broadcast television); and
- 99% of respondents said that they believe audio description should be available or more available.
In 2021, the WBU and ACB once again collaborated to produce a Spanish translation of the ACB-published title “The Visual Made Verbal: A Training Manual and Guide to the History and Applications of Audio Description” by Dr. Joel Snyder.