ATU312 – Audio describing with liz thomson

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Show notes:
Audio describing with liz thomson, PhD student at UIC
abc.org/adp
Chicagoculturalaccess.org
Sanctuary Art Project:  genderandsexuality.uic.edu
——————————
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——-transcript follows ——

 

LIZ THOMSON:  Hi, this is Elizabeth Thomson, and I’m a PhD candidate in disability studies at the University of Illinois Chicago. I would describe myself as a five foot two, dark skinned, disabled, Vietnamese female adoptee with straight black hair and black glasses. I use they/them/their as pronouns. And this is your Assistive Technology Update.

WADE WINGLER:  Hi, this is Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals crossroads in Indiana with your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Welcome to episode number 312 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on May 19, 2017.

Today I spend the entire show having a conversation with a new friend of mine Liz Thomson who is a graduate student, a PhD student at the University of Illinois Chicago. This is going to spend some time explaining to us how audio description works. We are not going to talk so much about the technology about audio description but about the science and the art of how audio discussion works.

We hope you’ll check out our website at www.eastersealstech.com, give us a call on our listener line at 317-721-7124, or interact with us on twitter. We spent some time over there at INDATA Project.

LIZ THOMSON: Hi, this is Elizabeth Thomson, and I’m a PhD candidate in disability studies at the University of Illinois Chicago. I would describe myself as a five foot two, dark skinned, disabled, Vietnamese female adoptee with straight black hair and black glasses. I use they/them/their as pronouns. And this is your Assistive Technology Update.
WADE WINGLER: Hi, this is Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals crossroads in Indiana with your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.
Welcome to episode number 312 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on May 19, 2017.
Today I spend the entire show having a conversation with a new friend of mine Liz Thomson who is a graduate student, a PhD student at the University of Illinois Chicago. This is going to spend some time explaining to us how audio description works. We are not going to talk so much about the technology about audio description but about the science and the art of how audio discussion works.
We hope you’ll check out our website at www.eastersealstech.com, give us a call on our listener line at 317-721-7124, or interact with us on twitter. We spent some time over there at INDATA Project.
***
There’s been a lot in the press lately about accessibility, especially when it comes to described video services, audio description, and that kind of thing. I remember it’s probably been a year or so ago on this show we played a snippet of the Daredevil movie which had some interesting described video. It’s been a while but I remember it vividly. I learned recently about Liz Thompson who is someone who has experience in this area, and I couldn’t resist inviting us to the show.
Thank you for being with us and welcome. If you think you.
WADE WINGLER: In the introduction, you give us a bit of a description of yourself, but I’d like to know a little bit about you, your background and your professional interest and why you became interested in audio description.
LIZ THOMSON: I wanted to describe myself in my introduction just because I’m really trying to put what I am advocating for in my own practice and make it standard. A little bit about myself is that I work predominantly in higher education, specifically in cultural and diversity offices as well as teaching women’s studies. I am a third-year PhD candidate in disability studies at UIC. While I’ve always definitely been a social justice educator and advocate, really thinking about accessibility and the very diverse disability communities didn’t happen to me until the past three years when I was looking for a career change and thinking more about diversity and cultural inclusion. Disability studies is a pretty big program here at UIC.
WADE WINGLER: How did that land where you are in a situation where you are interested in audio description? Maybe first, what is audio description for folks in the audience who might not know? How did you first and up there?
LIZ THOMSON: Definitely there are lots of different names for it. I will use the term audio description for consistency. Audio description is basically verbal visual description. It is describing, verbally, what anyone might see, the photograph, a sculpture, even a meeting or keynote address, a presentation, ceremony. Also the descriptive text would also be that text where you would want to put in a website or a blog or Facebook so that it is accessible primarily for people who are blind or low vision, but also as I think we will talk about later that the description of text and/or audio description can be used and be beneficial for a variety of different communities.
WADE WINGLER: As I think about my audience, it’s a no-brainer. I think most people know this. Why is this important? Why do we care about this?
LIZ THOMSON: Also to answer your question about how I got involved: I’ve never heard about audio description until about two years ago when I went to a disability cultural program here in Chicago at Access Living, one of the centers for independent living. There was the program, and they were telling the audience about the different accessibility and accommodations that they offered. One was audio description. I was with a friend who has low vision, and he was going to get a headset. I wanted to get a headset too and experience this for myself. I found it really interesting, also helpful, and I also felt like I was more in a community. After that experience, I read up, also did the audio description Institute with Joel Snyder. I think it’s important because it’s definitely another way to be accessible. Also, I’ve been a documentary photographer ever since I was a kid. I would do newspaper photojournalism. When you don’t have that descriptive text available, that audio description available, you are leaving out an important part of our community. If I truly feel that art and culture, especially the video arts, are important, then I think it’s my own moral imperative to make that be accessible to everyone.
WADE WINGLER: When we were doing our pre-interview discussion, we talked about the fact that today’s focus really isn’t on the technical aspects of audio description and text alternatives and those kinds of things. Really it’s more about the process or perhaps the art of description. Is that a fair way to say it?
LIZ THOMSON: When I’ve done a few test pilots with letting folks know about audio description, I definitely say it’s a skilled practice and art. Everyone could look at an image and probably describe it a little bit differently. My confidence and expertise is definitely not in the assistive technology; however, I would want to remind folks that it’s an important part of it because if I write the descriptive text, and I voice it on a certain platform, and that platform doesn’t work technology-wise, then all of that is to waste.
In disability studies, a really good theory is the theory of interdependence. I know I cannot do this by myself. I can give an example of how I’ve also collaborated with other folks who inserted their experience and skill on more of the technical side.
WADE WINGLER: Sure. Let’s hear about that.
LIZ THOMSON: About two years ago, I was really pumped up and excited to practice this skill and art of audio description. For me here at the University of Illinois at Chicago, we have a couple of different cultural centers that have art galleries. They are free, open the public. They change throughout the academic year. Individually for the first year, I approached some folks, “I really would like to help make your exhibit more accessible. This is what I can do.” It was more of a coordination relationship. They gave me access to the art. I did let them look at the script to see if I did anything wrong. But for the most part, it really was all on me. For that first year, it was really labor-intensive. Also as practice, it was lonely. I didn’t feel like I was having a good relationship with the gallery person.
The second year I was able to connect with another gallery. I said, “Hey, I really want to do this, but I would like for it to be more collaborative for me in the exhibit folks and also more collaborative with the artists that are debating.” That’s where I landed at the gender and sexuality center at the University of Illinois Chicago. In the fall, I worked with a graduate student named Jonathan Kelly who is a Masters student in the Museum and Exhibition Studies program. The two of us got to know each other. He let me know about Museum studies; I let him know about audio description and disability studies. I found a really great partner with him to do this the first semester. It went pretty well. He had been familiar with soundcloud.com, so ultimately we posted the audio description files on sound cloud.
The second semester we definitely wanted to do some things better and really improve the end product as well as our own process. The second semester, which I mean this spring of 2017, we started way ahead of time, even before the cull of artist for the exhibit. We also wanted to not think about accessibility as an afterthought – which we didn’t do in the first, but that’s a real challenge for people. They do an event or exhibit and all of a sudden they think about accessibility as everything is done. It’s much harder to do that. With this exhibit, it’s called “Sanctuary”. It’s posted at GenderandSexuality.UIC.edu.
We collaborated with the artists themselves. The cool and exciting thing that I think about this collaboration was also some of the challenges with audio description is you don’t want to interpret – the philosophy is you are this neutral, unbiased observer. Which is really hard because we are all human. Also it can be pretty labor-intensive for even 10 or 15 art pieces. With this exhibit, we gave the artists a little history and why audio description is needed, and we had them draft the text. We also did work with them. Sometimes with an audience, I said, “You forgot to describe the main person’s dress,” and she was like, “Oh, yeah, thanks,” and she described it. We found it very collaborative. We also asked the artist to voice the text that they were able to just on their smart phone. It was easy technology.
WADE WINGLER: How do you approach a visual scene from the perspective of an audio describe her? What are you looking at and what goes through your thought process?
LIZ THOMSON: Initially I do try to prioritize. You don’t want the listener to spend five or 10 minutes on a piece. It can increase fatigue and they can get bored. I look at who, what, when, and where, and if I’m able to from the piece prioritize what’s the main object or person and then think about background and frame. In the art context, let’s say if the whole exhibit is all black and white photographs, you can say that in the very beginning so you don’t have to say that for every individual piece.
I also have been trying to be more mindful and intentional about people’s race, ethnicity, gender identity, and gender expression. What I’ve experienced and heard from even a lot of some of the other shows that have been described is that there is not or hardly anything about the people’s or character’s race and ethnicity, skin color. While in some of the literature they definitely talk about whiteness shouldn’t be used as the default. If you’re going to describe people’s race, ethnicity, skin color and other personal characteristics, you need to do that for everyone and not just a person of color. However, even with that, I still have not heard from some of the TV and films that I’ve experienced with audio description that the even do anything like that. I think that’s a really important part. If I would be able to sit down with folks even in TV or Netflix or other producers, I would really encourage them and advise them and advocate that they need to think more critically about race and gender.
WADE WINGLER: I have encountered situations in my life where that gets overlooked as well. It’s interesting the biases we bring to a situation.
How do you learn to do this audio describing?
LIZ THOMSON: I don’t know about other folks, but I literally fell into it because of my friend and that exposure to the skilled practice and art of audio description. After my first experience, I did go up to the audio describer after the event and introduce myself. We talked a few times. He also fell into it by accident as well. I don’t know if that’s a thing and what happens, but I did then find – right now I think the only book or training manual is Joel Snyder’s training manual for audio description. I believe he was the first person to write the dissertation on audio description. From buying that book initially, then I did the audio description three-day institute that is associated with the American Council of the Blind. They gave me three days a very intensive practice. Halfway in we started doing audio description mostly for film and TV.
Other than that, unlike American Sign Language, or live captioning, there is no certification process or training. It’s not at that level of certification.
WADE WINGLER: I think it may still be a – it’s been happening for a long time but I’m starting to see in more in legislation and more in the media. Perhaps the industry is maturing to the point where that is something that will come up. Maybe that’s your next project.
LIZ THOMSON: Tell that to my advisor.
WADE WINGLER: It’s as if grad school is not enough. I know with museum exhibits, it may not be as much of a limiter, but definitely with film and stage plays there is a time element that you have to deal with. What do you do when there are too many visuals and too little audio space to do description? How do you work through that?
LIZ THOMSON: That’s a great question and a hard one. I think that maybe one of the reasons why, at least for me as a novice describer, I’ve honed in on the still art cultural pieces and not film and video, not live shows, definitely anything with the script. You don’t talk over anybody. The sound of people’s voices definitely takes precedent in priority. I think you have to find your spaces to interject. I’ve also heard people describe even a few seconds at a time because they know there’s going to be talking, so they might describe something a few seconds ahead to get it in. I’ve also seen in this one video where they freeze-framed the image. Again, I think something like that takes much earlier thought in the process and in the production. I think that would work a lot with other accessibility issues to think about this at a time. I think some of the moves I’ve seen and heard. I watched and listened to Rogue One, the latest Star Wars film, with audio description. That was actually really good because most of the scenes were action-packed. You didn’t have to compete with the audio description and people talking because it was a lot of blowing ships up and other action.
It is hard, but I think there might also be some education with the film students and TV students that, as a social justice issue, if you truly want to be accessible to everyone, you need to think of these as you are producing the piece.
WADE WINGLER: It’s easier to build in the accessibility upfront than to bolt it on later.
LIZ THOMSON: Definitely. The one we are running short on time so I’m not going to get to all of my questions. I have a couple that I can’t let go. One of them is, I recently interviewed a person with autism, Kat Muir, in a series called insiders guide to autism. As someone on the autism spectrum, one of her life hacks is that she uses described video because it helps her to decide what’s important in a scene as she is sorting out the visual clutter of a busy movie show or TV show. I wonder if you had heard of that before. Is that something common that you have experienced?
LIZ THOMSON: Yeah. I think that people see and write and talk about additional benefits to additional communities, I think that’s going to be the big gain for audio description. Unfortunately there is not a lot of academic peer-reviewed research on this, but there are a few articles that talk about how audio description can be used not only for people who are blind or low vision but also for folks with ADHD, autism, even kids, people where English as their second language. The idea that it gives attention to detail, also helps people focus, and also can increase one’s language vocabulary. While you still want the audio description to be in plain and accessible language, they can also be sometimes – and when I write it, I always have thesaurus.com open on my laptop. This is how I do it first, and then I go back and see what I missed. On the third draft, I say are there any words that I might be able to say a different word but still have it be understood and comprehended. I think attention to detail, focus, and increased language vocabulary can all be things that can be beneficial to everyone.
WADE WINGLER: I’m going to ask you to look into your crystal ball a little bit. Either for you personally and your journey related to audio description or the industry, what’s in the future for this whole situation?
LIZ THOMSON: If I could look into the future, I would say for everyone we will see the industry implementing and doing audio description for their TV and film shows a lot more than just what Netflix originals and their series. I think it’s hopefully going to be common standard practice.
For art and other cultural events, I also hope that it’ll become common standard practice. I also hope as a novice practitioner that there will be some additional professionalization. I don’t want it to become financially inaccessible. Then all of a sudden to be a professional audio describer you have to pay thousands of dollars in order to do that. That is not what I want to see. But I still think there could be some benefits for folks who want to hone their skill and are of audio description to come together in a way and be able to talk about things like race and ethnicity and gender expression so that we have some commonalities of how to do this.
Lastly, I think it’s going to be when you go to an art exhibit or to a movie that it could already be out there. You don’t need to ask for a separate headset. You don’t need to ask for captions to be on. I would hope that it could be a given. There are some settings where people, when they do the open audio description which is that for everyone, for folks who aren’t blind or low vision, I think they find that after a few minutes, and good practice, it becomes part of the background and they almost forget it’s there.
WADE WINGLER: Towards that whole goal of universal design, I think audio description fits nicely. As we are wrapping up, if people wanted to learn more about audio description or what’s going on with you in this, is there information you’d like to provide?
LIZ THOMSON: I would offer three websites. One is ACB.org/ADP. That’s the American Council for the Blind’s Audio Description Project. Also ChicagoCulturalAccess.org. And then the example I gave earlier about the sanctuary art exhibit at UIC, is GenderandSexuality.UIC.edu. From there you should be able to get to the page and ultimately could soundcloud.com link that would have the audio files of what we did.
WADE WINGLER: Liz Thomson is a graduate student at University of Illinois Chicago and has been talking with us today about audio description. You’ve been delightful. Thank you so much for being our show today.
LIZ THOMSON: Thanks so much. I really appreciate it.
WADE WINGLER: Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? Call our listener line at 317-721-7124, shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. Looking for a transcript or show notes from today’s show? Head on over to www.EasterSealstech.com. Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. Find more shows like this plus much more over at AccessibilityChannel.com. That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana.

***

There’s been a lot in the press lately about accessibility, especially when it comes to described video services, audio description, and that kind of thing. I remember it’s probably been a year or so ago on this show we played a snippet of the Daredevil movie which had some interesting described video. It’s been a while but I remember it vividly. I learned recently about Liz Thompson who is someone who has experience in this area, and I couldn’t resist inviting us to the show.

Thank you for being with us and welcome. If you think you.

WADE WINGLER:  In the introduction, you give us a bit of a description of yourself, but I’d like to know a little bit about you, your background and your professional interest and why you became interested in audio description.

LIZ THOMSON:  I wanted to describe myself in my introduction just because I’m really trying to put what I am advocating for in my own practice and make it standard. A little bit about myself is that I work predominantly in higher education, specifically in cultural and diversity offices as well as teaching women’s studies. I am a third-year PhD candidate in disability studies at UIC. While I’ve always definitely been a social justice educator and advocate, really thinking about accessibility and the very diverse disability communities didn’t happen to me until the past three years when I was looking for a career change and thinking more about diversity and cultural inclusion. Disability studies is a pretty big program here at UIC.

WADE WINGLER:  How did that land where you are in a situation where you are interested in audio description?  Maybe first, what is audio description for folks in the audience who might not know?  How did you first and up there?

LIZ THOMSON:  Definitely there are lots of different names for it. I will use the term audio description for consistency. Audio description is basically verbal visual description. It is describing, verbally, what anyone might see, the photograph, a sculpture, even a meeting or keynote address, a presentation, ceremony. Also the descriptive text would also be that text where you would want to put in a website or a blog or Facebook so that it is accessible primarily for people who are blind or low vision, but also as I think we will talk about later that the description of text and/or audio description can be used and be beneficial for a variety of different communities.

WADE WINGLER:  As I think about my audience, it’s a no-brainer. I think most people know this. Why is this important?  Why do we care about this?

LIZ THOMSON:  Also to answer your question about how I got involved:  I’ve never heard about audio description until about two years ago when I went to a disability cultural program here in Chicago at Access Living, one of the centers for independent living. There was the program, and they were telling the audience about the different accessibility and accommodations that they offered. One was audio description. I was with a friend who has low vision, and he was going to get a headset. I wanted to get a headset too and experience this for myself. I found it really interesting, also helpful, and I also felt like I was more in a community. After that experience, I read up, also did the audio description Institute with Joel Snyder. I think it’s important because it’s definitely another way to be accessible. Also, I’ve been a documentary photographer ever since I was a kid. I would do newspaper photojournalism. When you don’t have that descriptive text available, that audio description available, you are leaving out an important part of our community. If I truly feel that art and culture, especially the video arts, are important, then I think it’s my own moral imperative to make that be accessible to everyone.

WADE WINGLER:  When we were doing our pre-interview discussion, we talked about the fact that today’s focus really isn’t on the technical aspects of audio description and text alternatives and those kinds of things. Really it’s more about the process or perhaps the art of description. Is that a fair way to say it?

LIZ THOMSON:  When I’ve done a few test pilots with letting folks know about audio description, I definitely say it’s a skilled practice and art. Everyone could look at an image and probably describe it a little bit differently. My confidence and expertise is definitely not in the assistive technology; however, I would want to remind folks that it’s an important part of it because if I write the descriptive text, and I voice it on a certain platform, and that platform doesn’t work technology-wise, then all of that is to waste.

In disability studies, a really good theory is the theory of interdependence. I know I cannot do this by myself. I can give an example of how I’ve also collaborated with other folks who inserted their experience and skill on more of the technical side.

WADE WINGLER:  Sure. Let’s hear about that.

LIZ THOMSON:  About two years ago, I was really pumped up and excited to practice this skill and art of audio description. For me here at the University of Illinois at Chicago, we have a couple of different cultural centers that have art galleries. They are free, open the public. They change throughout the academic year. Individually for the first year, I approached some folks, “I really would like to help make your exhibit more accessible. This is what I can do.” It was more of a coordination relationship. They gave me access to the art. I did let them look at the script to see if I did anything wrong. But for the most part, it really was all on me. For that first year, it was really labor-intensive. Also as practice, it was lonely. I didn’t feel like I was having a good relationship with the gallery person.

The second year I was able to connect with another gallery. I said, “Hey, I really want to do this, but I would like for it to be more collaborative for me in the exhibit folks and also more collaborative with the artists that are debating.” That’s where I landed at the gender and sexuality center at the University of Illinois Chicago. In the fall, I worked with a graduate student named Jonathan Kelly who is a Masters student in the Museum and Exhibition Studies program. The two of us got to know each other. He let me know about Museum studies; I let him know about audio description and disability studies. I found a really great partner with him to do this the first semester. It went pretty well. He had been familiar with soundcloud.com, so ultimately we posted the audio description files on sound cloud.

The second semester we definitely wanted to do some things better and really improve the end product as well as our own process. The second semester, which I mean this spring of 2017, we started way ahead of time, even before the cull of artist for the exhibit. We also wanted to not think about accessibility as an afterthought – which we didn’t do in the first, but that’s a real challenge for people. They do an event or exhibit and all of a sudden they think about accessibility as everything is done. It’s much harder to do that. With this exhibit, it’s called “Sanctuary”. It’s posted at GenderandSexuality.UIC.edu.

We collaborated with the artists themselves. The cool and exciting thing that I think about this collaboration was also some of the challenges with audio description is you don’t want to interpret – the philosophy is you are this neutral, unbiased observer. Which is really hard because we are all human. Also it can be pretty labor-intensive for even 10 or 15 art pieces. With this exhibit, we gave the artists a little history and why audio description is needed, and we had them draft the text. We also did work with them. Sometimes with an audience, I said, “You forgot to describe the main person’s dress,” and she was like, “Oh, yeah, thanks,” and she described it. We found it very collaborative. We also asked the artist to voice the text that they were able to just on their smart phone. It was easy technology.

WADE WINGLER:  How do you approach a visual scene from the perspective of an audio describe her?  What are you looking at and what goes through your thought process?

LIZ THOMSON: Initially I do try to prioritize. You don’t want the listener to spend five or 10 minutes on a piece. It can increase fatigue and they can get bored. I look at who, what, when, and where, and if I’m able to from the piece prioritize what’s the main object or person and then think about background and frame. In the art context, let’s say if the whole exhibit is all black and white photographs, you can say that in the very beginning so you don’t have to say that for every individual piece.

I also have been trying to be more mindful and intentional about people’s race, ethnicity, gender identity, and gender expression. What I’ve experienced and heard from even a lot of some of the other shows that have been described is that there is not or hardly anything about the people’s or character’s race and ethnicity, skin color. While in some of the literature they definitely talk about whiteness shouldn’t be used as the default. If you’re going to describe people’s race, ethnicity, skin color and other personal characteristics, you need to do that for everyone and not just a person of color. However, even with that, I still have not heard from some of the TV and films that I’ve experienced with audio description that the even do anything like that. I think that’s a really important part. If I would be able to sit down with folks even in TV or Netflix or other producers, I would really encourage them and advise them and advocate that they need to think more critically about race and gender.

WADE WINGLER:  I have encountered situations in my life where that gets overlooked as well. It’s interesting the biases we bring to a situation.

How do you learn to do this audio describing?

LIZ THOMSON:  I don’t know about other folks, but I literally fell into it because of my friend and that exposure to the skilled practice and art of audio description. After my first experience, I did go up to the audio describer after the event and introduce myself. We talked a few times. He also fell into it by accident as well. I don’t know if that’s a thing and what happens, but I did then find – right now I think the only book or training manual is Joel Snyder’s training manual for audio description. I believe he was the first person to write the dissertation on audio description. From buying that book initially, then I did the audio description three-day institute that is associated with the American Council of the Blind. They gave me three days a very intensive practice. Halfway in we started doing audio description mostly for film and TV.

Other than that, unlike American Sign Language, or live captioning, there is no certification process or training. It’s not at that level of certification.

WADE WINGLER:  I think it may still be a – it’s been happening for a long time but I’m starting to see in more in legislation and more in the media. Perhaps the industry is maturing to the point where that is something that will come up. Maybe that’s your next project.

LIZ THOMSON:  Tell that to my advisor.

WADE WINGLER:  It’s as if grad school is not enough. I know with museum exhibits, it may not be as much of a limiter, but definitely with film and stage plays there is a time element that you have to deal with. What do you do when there are too many visuals and too little audio space to do description?  How do you work through that?

LIZ THOMSON:  That’s a great question and a hard one. I think that maybe one of the reasons why, at least for me as a novice describer, I’ve honed in on the still art cultural pieces and not film and video, not live shows, definitely anything with the script. You don’t talk over anybody. The sound of people’s voices definitely takes precedent in priority. I think you have to find your spaces to interject. I’ve also heard people describe even a few seconds at a time because they know there’s going to be talking, so they might describe something a few seconds ahead to get it in. I’ve also seen in this one video where they freeze-framed the image. Again, I think something like that takes much earlier thought in the process and in the production. I think that would work a lot with other accessibility issues to think about this at a time. I think some of the moves I’ve seen and heard. I watched and listened to Rogue One, the latest Star Wars film, with audio description. That was actually really good because most of the scenes were action-packed. You didn’t have to compete with the audio description and people talking because it was a lot of blowing ships up and other action.

It is hard, but I think there might also be some education with the film students and TV students that, as a social justice issue, if you truly want to be accessible to everyone, you need to think of these as you are producing the piece.

WADE WINGLER:  It’s easier to build in the accessibility upfront than to bolt it on later.

LIZ THOMSON:  Definitely. The one we are running short on time so I’m not going to get to all of my questions. I have a couple that I can’t let go. One of them is, I recently interviewed a person with autism, Kat Muir, in a series called insiders guide to autism. As someone on the autism spectrum, one of her life hacks is that she uses described video because it helps her to decide what’s important in a scene as she is sorting out the visual clutter of a busy movie show or TV show. I wonder if you had heard of that before. Is that something common that you have experienced?

LIZ THOMSON:  Yeah. I think that people see and write and talk about additional benefits to additional communities, I think that’s going to be the big gain for audio description. Unfortunately there is not a lot of academic peer-reviewed research on this, but there are a few articles that talk about how audio description can be used not only for people who are blind or low vision but also for folks with ADHD, autism, even kids, people where English as their second language. The idea that it gives attention to detail, also helps people focus, and also can increase one’s language vocabulary. While you still want the audio description to be in plain and accessible language, they can also be sometimes – and when I write it, I always have thesaurus.com open on my laptop. This is how I do it first, and then I go back and see what I missed. On the third draft, I say are there any words that I might be able to say a different word but still have it be understood and comprehended. I think attention to detail, focus, and increased language vocabulary can all be things that can be beneficial to everyone.

WADE WINGLER:  I’m going to ask you to look into your crystal ball a little bit. Either for you personally and your journey related to audio description or the industry, what’s in the future for this whole situation?

LIZ THOMSON:  If I could look into the future, I would say for everyone we will see the industry implementing and doing audio description for their TV and film shows a lot more than just what Netflix originals and their series. I think it’s hopefully going to be common standard practice.

For art and other cultural events, I also hope that it’ll become common standard practice. I also hope as a novice practitioner that there will be some additional professionalization. I don’t want it to become financially inaccessible. Then all of a sudden to be a professional audio describer you have to pay thousands of dollars in order to do that. That is not what I want to see. But I still think there could be some benefits for folks who want to hone their skill and are of audio description to come together in a way and be able to talk about things like race and ethnicity and gender expression so that we have some commonalities of how to do this.

Lastly, I think it’s going to be when you go to an art exhibit or to a movie that it could already be out there. You don’t need to ask for a separate headset. You don’t need to ask for captions to be on. I would hope that it could be a given. There are some settings where people, when they do the open audio description which is that for everyone, for folks who aren’t blind or low vision, I think they find that after a few minutes, and good practice, it becomes part of the background and they almost forget it’s there.

WADE WINGLER:  Towards that whole goal of universal design, I think audio description fits nicely. As we are wrapping up, if people wanted to learn more about audio description or what’s going on with you in this, is there information you’d like to provide?

LIZ THOMSON:  I would offer three websites. One is ACB.org/ADP. That’s the American Council for the Blind’s Audio Description Project. Also ChicagoCulturalAccess.org. And then the example I gave earlier about the sanctuary art exhibit at UIC, is GenderandSexuality.UIC.edu. From there you should be able to get to the page and ultimately could soundcloud.com link that would have the audio files of what we did.

WADE WINGLER:  Liz Thomson is a graduate student at University of Illinois Chicago and has been talking with us today about audio description. You’ve been delightful. Thank you so much for being our show today.

LIZ THOMSON:  Thanks so much. I really appreciate it.

WADE WINGLER:  Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? Call our listener line at 317-721-7124, shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. Looking for a transcript or show notes from today’s show? Head on over to www.EasterSealstech.com. Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. Find more shows like this plus much more over at AccessibilityChannel.com. That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana.