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Audio Describer as Cast Member: Audio Description at Every Performance

Joel Snyder

Date: April 25, 2023

Lecture: 11:20am-11:35am

Q&A: 11:35am-11:45am


The current practice of offering audio description at only one or two performances in the run of a theatrical production was established over 40 years ago; it has never represented equity for people who are blind and should no longer be tolerated. The belief, often stated by the founders of the first audio description service was that the service must be offered to theaters for free or at absolutely minimal expense – if not, the theaters simply won’t offer the service. My assertion is that access is not an add-on—it is a requirement and a necessary cost of doing business—and must be practiced by professionals who are every bit as committed to the success of every performance as every formal cast member.

How can the audio description be integrated within the production? Will the production add a “narrator” character that propels the action and provides cleverly crafted description of visual elements? Perhaps the script can be modified to include descriptive elements spoken by the various characters? In this way, the audio description becomes part of an inclusive process, part of a universal design concept, helpful and aesthetically viable for all audience members.

The arrangement allows time for the describer to carefully observe the theatrical process and construct descriptive language that is more thorough and considered. And, of course, people desiring the service can attend any performance with no advance notice and be assured of access to the visual aspects of the production. Read more: DOC | PDF | Plain text

Presentation materials: PPT | PDF | Video | “Storm Reading” with a bit of audio description

Theatre Breaking Through Barriers (formerly Theatre By The Blind)

About the Speaker

Joel Snyder

Dr. Joel Snyder, theater/media artist and arts administrator, is known internationally as one of the world’s first “audio describers,” a pioneer in the field of Audio Description. Since 1981, he has introduced audio description techniques in over 40 states and 64 countries and has made thousands of live events, media projects, and museums accessible for people who are blind or have low vision. Most recently, Dr. Snyder was named a Fulbright Scholar to train audio describers in Greece over a four-week period in 2019. In 2014, the American Council of the Blind published Dr. Snyder’s book in English, The Visual Made Verbal – A Comprehensive Training Manual and Guide to the History and Applications of Audio Description. It is available in Braille, as an audiobook, and in Spanish (with the World Blind Union), Portuguese, Polish, Russian, and Chinese; an Italian edition will be released in mid-2023.

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