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Jonathan Mosen: I’m Jonathan Mosen. This is Mosen At Large, the show that’s got the blinds community talking. This week, more comments on Apple accessibility Bugs, is the way many TV ads speak the price of products misleading, we discuss a topic near and dear to many of us, audio description, with the legendary Joel Snyder.
Wonderful to have you back for another edition of the podcast. If this is your first time listening. Well, a special welcome to you. We have reached episode 204. This is fun because now we’re into area codes in the North American numbering framework and area code 204 belongs to see. I don’t have the budget for a proper drum roll, Manitoba in Canada.
Let’s have a big helping of maple syrup with the podcast to celebrate this, the whole province of Manitoba is covered by area code 204. Good eh? In the wintertime it can get pretty cool in that part of Canada when you are out and about.
Join me on Mushroom FM for my ABBA Special, Mosen at the Museum
Thank you to everybody who tuned in for the Beatles Revolver special. I knew that if the normal pattern was going to be followed, and it turned out that it was that the Revolver remix would drop at [1:00] AM New Zealand time and I was up to see it happen and I immediately delved into the revolver remixes and the outtakes, and we went live on Mushroom FM four hours later, a great audience comprising a significant number of Beetles geeks, which is always a challenging audience to cater to. We had a great time listening to not just the remixes, but also some of the outtakes and getting a feel for the way that these Beatles songs evolved. Next week, I am doing another musical special. It’s completely different. As you may recall, if you’ve been listening for a while, my daughter Nicola, Bonnie, and I went to the ABBA Museum in Stockholm in Sweden with my trusty Zoom F3 digital recorder clipped to my belt.
The ABBA Museum makes it really clear. We love it if you take photos, take all the photos that you want. I emailed the ABBA Museum and I said, “That’s Groovy it is about the pictures, but what about audio?” I explained that I do a podcast because initially, I thought we would do this on Mosen At Large. They contacted me and they said, “You would have to contact Universal Music. We don’t have a problem in principle, but you’d have to check with Universal Music who hold the rights to ABBA stuff about whether you can use it on a podcast because you cannot use full songs from commercial music on a podcast as a rule.”
Then I thought, Wow, we are licensed on Mushroom FM, so anything good I capture, I can just broadcast there and not be in any breach of any license. It turned out I got some great audio from the audio guide. It’s very pristine. It’s pristine. What I’ve done is created a three-hour documentary called Mosen at the Museum. Now I want to set expectations about this. If you are a major ABBA geek, you are not going to learn anything new. I’m mindful of the fact that ABBA was not as big in the United States say, and perhaps all of North America as they were pretty much everywhere else.
Australia and New Zealand were ABBA-mad. Many parts of the world were, but there are people in the US who know a few ABBA songs but perhaps didn’t get the whole phenomenon. What we have with the Mosen at the museum documentary is the four members of ABBA sitting down and talking about how the group was formed, how they met each other, their marriages and divorces, and the eventual breakup of the band. Some highlights of their time together as a group, the pressures of going on tour, particularly for Agnetha and Bjorn who had a young family. You’ll hear all of this and there are some pretty raw recollections in some parts of this. It’s all interspersed with heaps of ABBA hits, some great music in there.
Even if you are an ABBA nerd, but you haven’t been to the museum and or you haven’t heard the audio, you may find it very interesting as well. When can you hear Mosen at the museum? Actually, for this one, it’s a prerecorded documentary type thing and you have two opportunities to hear it. The first is on a Thursday afternoon at [4:00] PM US Eastern time. Now, bear in mind that if you are in Europe, the clocks are going back this weekend and that will change the relationship between US Eastern time and your time zone for a week. Because the clocks go back in Europe before they go back in North America.
Fooling around with the forces of time is a dangerous business, I tell you. I’m pretty sure that makes it [8:00] PM in the UK for next week only. What I suggest you do is that you go to the Mushroom FM schedule page @mushroomfm.com/schedule and just confirm when this is on in your own time zone because we detect the time zone you’re coming in from and show you the schedule in your time zone. That’s mushroomfm.com/schedule. The first time, [4:00] PM on Thursday, the 3rd of November, and it will repeat at [11:00] AM US Eastern time on Saturday the 5th of November. Which you see the genius of this only happens to be the anniversary of the release of ABBA’s Voyage Album.
The album many of us dreamed of, but were pretty much resigned to it never happening, and then it did, see never give up. [4:00] PM Eastern on Thursday the third repeated at [11:00] AM Eastern on Saturday the 5th, and that’ll be Mosen at the museum on Mushroom FM. I hope you enjoy it.
Trouble sending a text with iOS 16 and my Brailliant
The feedback keeps on coming in with respect to Apple issues and iOS 16, Karen McDonald starts us off. I presume it is the Karen McDonald who opened us up so spectacularly on the We’re with U Concert for Ukraine. Wow, that was amazing. Karen says, “Hello, Jonathan. I am writing concerning an issue with iOS 16 when using Braille with an uppercase B display. I use the new brilliant from human wear. This issue started when I upgraded to iOS 16.
When I am writing a text or an email, and when I execute an enter command, I am thrown into a context menu and dismissing the menu does no good. I called Apple accessibility yesterday and I was informed that this problem had been fixed in the new update. I upgraded to 16.1, and behold the problem had been fixed. The end of the story is that it hasn’t been fixed because it started happening again. I use a 13 Pro Max phone. As a side note, my husband Ed. It is The Karen McDonald that confirms it, Whoa, is upgrading to a 14 pro and he is supposed to get his phone today. It’s a big day around here for us. I hope Ed enjoys that Karen.
Any guidance or perhaps a workaround that you could provide would be much appreciated.” Thanks very much, Karen. Let’s put this one out to the knowledgeable Mosen At Large audience and see if anybody who has a Brailliant or similar device can help. I’ve got the APH Mantis and of course, that has a qwerty keyboard. I’m not seeing this. It’s aggravating, isn’t it? When you see these things that you think are fixed and then they recur and there’s no rhyme law reason for it.
I’m seeing this, by the way, with Castro. On a previous episode just before iOS 16 was released, I felt the need to warn people that for me at least, and many others who were reporting this, Mosen At Large and other Pinecast podcasts and some others as well hosted on different providers would give an error when you tried to play them with Castro and iOS 16. I’m sad about that because it’s such a good podcast app. Well, some people came back and said, “We’re not seeing this at all.” Paul Migurelli is one person who pings me on Twitter quite a bit and says, “I’m still rocking Castro with the Mosen At Large Podcast. A number of others have complained.
Then what I found was that for a while it was fixed. Then Sean contacted me when the iOS 16.1 release candidate came out and he says, “It’s fixed for me and it’s fixed for a whole lot of other people.” I checked because I was also running iOS 16.1 and it was not fixed for me. I’ve got a ping every time I tried to play a podcast and it gave a 403 error. Well, then I tried the other day again after about a week, and it’s working for me at the moment.
It’s intermittent. I suspect that for some people, those who are having success now may only have success temporarily.
I think this is going to take some fix from Castro to make it permanently go away. Even with Mosen At Large playing, and funnily enough, I don’t listen to Mosen At Large. What I found was that some other podcasts were still giving the 403, in particular a couple of podcasts that I listened to from the ABC in Australia. I’m not able to go back to Castro. What concerns me is just the lack of updates that are coming from them. There hasn’t been a Castro update for a wee while. Either they’re planning something huge that’s going to amaze us all, or perhaps it’s time for us sadly to move on.
VoiceOver causing iPhone to call the wrong person
Now, I’ve had several people contacting me this week in response to Dennis Long’s message of last week, and I won’t read them all cause they essentially say the same thing, and that same thing they say is, “We’re having this problem too.” The problem that they are referring to pertains to when you scroll through contact or some people are saying here, your recent calls list. You can imagine this happening quite a bit. You see a missed call, you go in there to return the call. Apparently what some people are seeing is that when you double tap on the name of that person who called you, it calls someone else. This is a voiceover focus issue.
Several people are feeling this pain and that could be really embarrassing for all sorts of reasons. That’s a critical bug, in my view. It’s interesting I’ve not seen it. I wonder why it’s happening for some people and not others. I have never seen this, but I do feel the pain of those who have because that’s a biggie.
App Switcher issue appears resolved
Now, Dave Carlson is here and he says that the app switcher issue that affected those using inverted colors is fixed in 16.1. He also says there’s a more efficient deletion process in text messages.
VoiceOver quiet on calls
Tom: Hello, Jonathan. This is Tom Reynolds checking in from Southern California. I wanted to offer a possible solution with regard to the audio issues that have been recently discussed in iOS. I think everything started to deteriorate with regard to the audio infrastructure within iOS as far back as possibly version 14.4 or thereabouts. When the audio destination feature stopped working, that allowed us to redirect voiceover’s output to an external speaker, if we so desired at the time.
Until recently I wasn’t able to do that on any of my devices, but with some thought, in a quiet moment I came up with what I think might be a solution that may work for those that are interested in having voice-over work this way, and it has to do with how you classify audio devices in Bluetooth settings. If you select more for a given device, you have the opportunity to designate what type of device it is. Let’s say that you install or pair up a set of headphones. That set of headphones most likely will be classified as headphones. It may be classified as a car stereo accidentally, but generally speaking, there are categories that describe what the device is.
I have found consistently that if you select other as the device type and not the type that you think it should be, then the output of voice-over will always go to that device when you pair it up with your iPhone or iPad. That has nothing to do with the phone call issue directly, but it may come in handy for those that want voice-over to always go to the device that they’re using. Now, as for the phone issue, it points out something that I’ve noticed over time, and that is, the volume that you hear from voiceover within an application is typically different from the volume that you hear when, let’s just say, you’re at the home screen.
Why that is? I’m not sure, but it is. What it suggests is that independently there are settings almost you could say for each application. Each application has its own volume setting, it appears, and you might want to try to, within the phone app as a call is in progress, see if you can adjust the volume. Sometime it won’t let you. I’ve seen that happen, but it’s a thought. I noticed it two or three years ago, even with something like Siri. The prompts or the responses from Siri sometime are louder than you would like or lower than you would like. To get them the way you want on an older iPhone, you hold the home button down and then just adjust the volume with the buttons until you get the volume level the way you want.
Jonathan: Thank you, Tom. Good to hear from you and I fully agree with your analysis. The problems kicked in when that audio destination option on the rotor went away. To be clear, it’s there. You can select it on the rotor settings, but it doesn’t appear when you rotor through the items. When I reported this issue with all the Bluetooth logs, all that kind of thing, I did report this to Apple. I said if you can just make that rotor option come back reliably, I suspect this takes care of the issue. I also agree with your workaround, if people are having this issue with Bluetooth headphones and Bluetooth devices, and in fact, I recommended exactly this to someone many episodes ago when they were having an issue I think with a device in their car that they co-owned with a partner I think, and they weren’t able to hear voice-over. When I suggested changing the setting in Bluetooth voice-over magically got loud again.
Unfortunately, that solution is not available to make for iPhone hearing aid, whereas it may be available with devices like Phonak hearing aids that actually use the Bluetooth protocol and not the MFI protocol for hearing aids. If you bring up Bluetooth settings and you’re an MFI hearing aid wearer, you will not find the hearing aid in that list of Bluetooth devices. It’s tucked away in the hearing section of accessibility, and there is no way to redefine the device.
Also, I give a shout-out to Rob Hutton who suggested what you did about the volume of the phone. It’s a good trick to know, for example, if you find that Siri is faint. When Siri is talking, if you press the volume up key on your phone, you will adjust the volume just for Siri. There are a bunch of independent volume controls. This does not resolve the issue of being quiet on a call, at least for made-for-iPhone hearing aid wearers. It may be a useful tip to pass on to others who are not using MFI hearing aids, but I think the key to getting the issue resolved for MFI hearing aid wearers is, as you say, getting that rotor option back. How hard can that be?
I hope that we get it during the 16.2 cycle where we rotate our little rotor, spin it around, and we find that the audio destination option is back. “Greetings, Jonathan,” says Marissa. I always imagine that if ever an alien lands, they will say that to me, “Greetings, Earthling.” Maybe they’ll know I’m Jonathan if they listen to Mosen At Large. I’m not sure. Anyway, Marisa says, “I wanted to chime in if I may.” Of course, you may, Marissa. She says, “I too have been affected by the voiceover volume being extremely low on a call. However, I do not use made-for-iPhone hearing aids.
Nonetheless, this issue is extremely frustrating. While I’m glad that Apple accessibility is aware of it, and I understand that different issues get fixed depending on their severity, this bug has been around for quite some time and I really would like to see it resolved. It frustrates me to no end that when you have an issue with voice-over and you are able to reproduce it and send the information to the engineering department only to be told the issue was under investigation.
I understand that things need to be investigated, but sometimes I wonder if Apple accessibility is dropping the ball and saying the issue is under investigation, but not really doing anything to fix it. They get your email, they get your logs, all that, and then just put that issue on the back burner until somebody else claims to have the issue and then they may start working on it again. I had a rather interesting issue with email in iOS 16. I’m running iOS 16.03 on my current device. However, I noticed that when doing a two-finger swipe down within certain email messages, voice-over will skip over the content of the message as if it’s invisible and it will go to the bottom of the screen where you delete reply forward, et cetera.
Sometimes I would be able to do a two-finger swipe down and voice-over would read the contents of that email perfectly fine, but maybe a few hours later, maybe I needed to reread something and I would have the issue mentioned above. I heard from an Apple advisor that the engineers are aware of it and the fix should come with a software update. I wish as you stated that more resources were available and that it was a bit more of a priority. I really feel as though Apple accessibility has been hanging from a cliff, shall we say for many years now. It’s not getting any better. Their commitment seems to have gone the way of the wind.”
Pranav has been reading the transcript and writes one, “When I am on a call and need to do anything with voiceover, it is too soft. I have reached a stage where I actively avoid having to conference in someone when I am on the phone.
My usual workaround is to take the phone away from my face and then hopefully it will switch to the phone speaker and I can hear voice-over again. I will try the suggestion of setting the voice-over volume to maximum and see what happens. This is routine on my iPhone 13, mini. Two, I am shocked by the crackling of the speaker on the iPhone SE second generation. This happened to me on the iPhone SE first generation, though it occurred after two or three years of using the phone. The same happened to an acquaintance of mine. This problem is not new.
Three, is there any way of getting the startup and shutdown sound on an iPhone 13 mini? I do not want to switch to an iPhone 14 just now.” Sadly there is no mini version of the iPhone 14. No Pranav, they didn’t sell very well, so Apple has decided to move on. Also, be aware that that startup sound is only in the iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max because it’s embedded way in the chip. At least the startup sound is. My understanding is that with iOS 16.1, the shutdown sound has come to all iPhones and that you can turn that on. Good luck with trying the 100% trick Pranav, because it’s worked for a very happy Mary Ellen Earls who says, “Thank you so much for giving us the hint to turn the volume of voiceover up to 100%. I can’t tell you how much this has helped and I was able to successfully unmute myself in a Zoom meeting recently and then leave much more quickly.
Also a stellar demonstration of the Envision glasses. Thanks again for that invaluable hint.” Good to hear from you Mary Ellen and we thank the listener who took the time to so clearly document the process. The Mosen At Large community is amazing the way we help each other out.
VoiceOver chattering when a call starts
Hello to you Richard. Thank you for writing in and he says “Steve Bauer of Wichita said that he wanted to silence voice over when he takes a call on his iPhone. Unless I am misunderstanding him, he should do a three-finger double tap. This is a quick and easy way to enable and disable voiceover speech.” Yes, thank you Richard. I guess that’s a workaround and it’s a good one, but I’m not sure if it’s the solution, is it? Because when you answer the phone, what you don’t want is voiceover yammering away so that you can’t hear who’s calling.
Sometimes you have to fake it, pretend you understand who’s calling, and hope to work it out in the context. Not a good idea actually. I’ve seen this too where when I am in a situation where I can actually hear voiceover and perhaps this is a blessing of not being able to most of the time. Voice-over is quite chatty now when you do a two-finger double tap to answer the call.
Editing text from within iPhone’s Braille Screen Input
Vicky Cardona is writing in she says, “Hi Jonathan. Firstly, thanks so much for this podcast and for all the work you’ve been doing for the blindness community over the years. I’ve been listening to you off and on for several years but this is my first public comment on this podcast.”
Yes, thank you Vicky. I’ve got the long iMessages from you so I’m glad that you’ve come out and sent in a contribution. A huge thanks also to the person who took the time to put together such a great demo of the editing feature using brail screen input. That was Matthew Horspool who did that and yes, it was a great job. I did encounter one issue when I first tried it which I would like to describe here. Initially, I found that the gestures worked with the exception of moving the cursor. To clarify, after pressing and holding the dot with my left finger, voice-over would speak each element as I swiped left and right with two fingers, but when I released the finger on my left hand, the cursor had not moved.
I tried this on two different phones with the same result. As I don’t give up easily, I played around with it a bit and discovered that after swiping down with three fingers were not in explore mode to toggle the status of the screen orientation and then swiping down again with three fingers to set the screen orientation status back to my preferred mode, resolved my issue. I wanted to send you this feedback should anyone else encounter the same problem I did when I first tried this. Simply toggle the unlocking and locking of the screen orientation and then the cursor should behave exactly as described.
Hopefully, this helps someone. Thank you very much, Vicky. Great to hear from you. You’ve got so much tech knowledge going on there. Hope that you’ll be a regular contributor.
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I’m a tech support guy in our family so I quite often get questions from family members that they want me to solve. It’s not realistic to expect them to install a specific screen reader even the demo. Before RIM came along I found myself having to try and talk them through what they needed to do. Now I can tell them to go to getrim.app. That’s G-E-T-R-I-M.app. Install a simple application on their Windows PC and just by exchanging a code word I can have a look at what’s going on. I can either run Narrator on their system or if you’re using NVDA, you don’t even have to do that. It’s an amazing tool so do check it out. RIM from Pneuma Solutions at getrim.app.
More feedback on the Envision Smart Glasses
Edward: Hello Jonathan, and everybody here on the Mosen at Large Podcast. This is Edward Alonzo from Dallas, Texas. I just wanted to talk a little bit about the last podcast on the Envision Glasses. I feel like they’re really good product. I think that you did a wonderful job doing the review. I also feel like there were a lot of questions that were answered. Before that demo came out, I think that there was a lot of things that I wondered about personally. One of the things I really enjoyed you doing was the physical description. I had the Horizon glasses with Aira and I had the ones they did before that Austria glasses.
One of the differences I noticed in the build of the glasses was the actual location of the camera. Having said that, I always felt like the camera located on the right side made me feel like I was always veering to the right with things versus the Horizon Kit, which had the camera right above the bridge of your nose. I was wondering, the feedback I got with the Horizon Kit was that everything was a fish eye thing so for instance, if you were standing in front of a stage, perhaps maybe taking a picture. I actually used some of the Horizon Kit to take pictures of my son that was young at the time and receiving awards.
What I did was I got up and walked up to the front of the stage and walked up to where the stage was and took the picture with the kit. Well, people thought I was crazy doing that because I’m just standing up there with this weird tech pair of glasses on and taking the picture. I wanted to see what you guys using the glasses thought of the camera being on the right-hand side versus in the middle. Did you find that to be a difference in the Envision Glasses versus the Horizon Kit? That’s something I was actually interested in.
The only other question I would have is you were talking specifically about the frames and lenses. Is it not just a shell of a frame? It doesn’t actually have glass in it like the Horizon Kit actually was a set of glasses with a plasticy glass in the middle. I actually liked wearing the Austria glasses better. I remember when I got the Horizon Kit and I don’t know if I even have a recording of that or not anymore, but the first thing I thought of when I put them on is these are ridiculously large feeling. I think I ended up getting used to it but I really think I like the feel of the Austria glasses better. Just my thoughts on this hope everybody else enjoyed the demo as much as I did. Thanks so much for putting it together and keep up the great work.
Jonathan: Thank you, Edward. It’s good to hear from you and I do appreciate the words of encouragement. I also had the Austria glasses and Horizon. I didn’t have the original Google glass that they went with, so I’m not sure how different their Google Glass was from the Google Glass Enterprise Edition that Envision is sending out. I was working for Aira when Horizon was being rolled out and there was a bit of pushback about the way the glasses looked. If you buy the base price of the Envision Glasses, you do just get the bear frame, you’re right, but you can pay extra and get the Smith Optics and my understanding is they are proper glasses. You can even put lenses in there if you want to. I think that probably would look a bit less geeky and fairly professional is my understanding. Perhaps somebody with the Smith Optics can comment on the visual appearance or any feedback that they’re getting on that.
As I think I did mention in the demo. Yes, the camera is to the right and that took a bit of getting used to, particularly when holding out a document. My inclination was to just hold the document right out directly in front of me. Then I just got into the habit of realizing that if you want the page to be truly centered, you’ve got to move a page to the right a little bit. Of course, when you are scanning text, you get excellent guidance from the glasses about where to move the document so that it gets a full view of the picture.
If you’re trying to take a photo with Aira, I’m not sure about the quality of that photo. With the way that the interfaces at the moment between the Envision Glasses and Aira, my sense is that for many applications at least, if you want to take a picture of something you may well be better doing that with your phone. Others are welcome to chime in and comment on that, including Aira and Envision who of course will know for sure. “Hi, Jonathan,” writes Alexander. “I just got through the great comprehensive podcast about the Envision Glasses. It seems to be a great product. Do you think you could do a comparison with the OrCam product? This would be interesting.
One of the differences seems to be that the OrCam is doing all the stuff offline, which has advantages and disadvantages. I’m not sure about the results. What seems to be a plus of the Envision product is that you can call friends to help you or use Aira as a service. This could be very interesting. Maybe you have the knowledge or find people to discuss the differences between the product and where each of them might be better.” Thanks, Alexander.
If anybody wants to comment on their OrCam experience, they’re very welcome, and I’ll reach out and tell them that I’ve done the Envision demo, that listeners found it helpful. If they want to send me a demo unit I would be pleased to do a similar demonstration of an Orcam product.
Announcer: What’s on your mind? Send an email with a recording of your voice or just write it down. Jonathan@mushroomfm.com, that’s J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N@mushroomfm.com, or phone our listener line. The number in the United States is 864-60-Mosen. That’s 864-606-6736.
Can’t read by sentence in JAWS
Jonathan: Wenwai Fisher is writing in and says, “Hello, Jonathan, I hope that you enjoyed your vacation. I’m excited to hear about it when I have time to catch up on the latest Mosen At Large episode. I’m having a huge problem reading by sentence in JAWS 2022. It doesn’t seem to work, and I can’t figure out why.” This is an excellent bug report here. Steps to reproduce, press Alt + Arrows to navigate by sentence in Microsoft Word and Microsoft Outlook.
JAWS says Alt + Up Arrow or Alt + Down Arrow. Press Alt + Arrows to navigate by sentence in Microsoft Edge. JAWS navigates to previous sentence, but not to the next sentence. Read current sentence works as expected as anyone else having this problem. Thanks in advance for opening up this question to the community. Yes, I’m having it. I must admit I don’t often navigate by sentence because I have my say-all set to navigate by sentence.
When I do a say-all, I just tap the Shift key or the Right and Left arrow keys to navigate by sentence. I typically don’t use those commands, but I verified your findings. The good news is that in JAWS 2023, it does appear to be working as expected. This might be one to draw to Freedom Scientific’s attention and see if they can fix it for a future build of JAWS 2022.
The misleading way TV ads speak prices
We’ve had some interesting discussions over the 200 episodes of this show on grammar and pet peeves and things like that.
Here’s an interesting one from David Baker and he says, “Hello, Jonathan. As accessibility is very often referred to, I would like to raise an accessibility issue that has annoyed me for some time about the accuracy of the spoken word. Who can we rely on to regulate the consistency between the written and spoken word in TV advertisements? Very often there is a displayed discrepancy in TV advertisements when the price of a product is given, just one example is when the price is written on the screen as $1,899, but spoken as 18 99.
As a visually impaired person listening to the adverts, I do assume that the product price is therefore $18.99.
The spoken price of the product should be spoken as either $18.99 or $1,899. I rely on the accuracy of the spoken information as I am unable to see the TV screen. Is there any way of correcting this type of misrepresentation by introducing a standard of presentation? Thank you, David. I must confess you’ve pricked my conscience a bit because when I worked in the assistive technology industry, I think from time to time I have been guilty of this myself.
I think I remember way back when introducing the BrailleNote mPower and saying something like it’s 59 95, what I guess most people would work out that a device like the BrailleNote mPower isn’t going to cost $59 and 95 cents, but it’s a fair point that you make. Since you are writing in from New Zealand, it might be worth raising this with the Commerce Commission here. They do take an interest in ensuring that product pricing and products, in general, are represented fairly and without ambiguity to the consumer. Various entities have been pinged for not doing that. If it’s something you feel strongly about, you may well like to contact them and sound them out and see what they say.
Alternatively, or perhaps at the same time, you could contact the entity that regulates ads in New Zealand and that is the Advertising Standards Authority. You can lodge a complaint if you think that a product is being misrepresented. You could contact one or both of those entities. If you do, I’d be interested to hear what response you get back.
All things audio description with Joel Snyder
A man sits in front of a microphone, on a desk is a mixer with many rows of buttons and dials. He has an expectant expression and reads from an electronic Braille device in front of the mixer. How am I doing, Joel? Is it okay?
Is it all right?
Joel: Not too bad.
Jonathan: Is that all right?
Joel: Not too bad. I’m wondering about that expectant expression. You know what I mean?
Jonathan: Yes, it’s a bit subjective.
Joel: Yes, what is it that you see that makes you think it’s expected? I don’t. [laughs]
Jonathan: It’s sort of perky, a sight-grin alert.
Joel: There you go.
Jonathan: Similar to the way many of us feel about audiobooks. Most blind people are passionate about audio description, and many become familiar with the voices of describers and have their favorites. We all have opinions about what makes good audio description. Joel Snyder was a key figure in audio description on TV at the very beginning. He’s also an advocate for audio description in theaters and at museums and in all walks of life really. It’s a pleasure to have Joel on the podcast to talk all things audio description. Joel, thanks so much for coming on. I really appreciate that.
Joel: Thank you so much for inviting me, Jonathan. It’s an honor to be with Jonathan Mosen himself and his famous podcast
Tell me about how you became involved with this audio description thing, because it’s a fascinating story.
Joel: Well, it goes back to the beginnings of audio description. I felt very honored to be a part of the group that pioneered it all in 1981. That gives you an idea of how old I am perhaps, but my background is in theater and voice work radio for many, many years, running theaters, working for the National Endowment for the Arts here in the States. Back in the ’70s, I founded one outlet for using my voice was being a reader at a radio reading service, which I’m sure you have in New Zealand as well and around the world, a way for folks to hear newspapers being read, short books, perhaps magazine articles.
Here in Washington D.C., it’s a group called the Metropolitan Washington Ear, and for about 10 years beginning in the early ’70s, I was the voice of the Washington Post on Sundays and other periodicals and such. I always wondered doing the Washington Post, there’s loads of images, graphics, photographs in the paper, and of course the comics. Now how do you read the comics and all those images? How do you convey that over a radio feed? We would try to provide kind of a rudimentary description, there was no such thing as audio description back in the 70s. It wasn’t formalized at all, but we did our best. Come around 1980, Margaret Fanti, a blind woman founded the Washington Ear, and Chet Avery a blind man who was working at the Department of Education happened to be on a committee at Arena Stage. A major regional theater here in the states, here in Washington, D.C., and the arena people were so excited to get this committee together. They wanted to focus on accessibility, and they were quite thrilled to have installed one of the first assisted listening systems to help people who are hard of hearing. This is a wonderful thing.
Now it’s ubiquitous. Many theaters have such a system, and Margaret, of course, were interested, but wondered, let’s see now if that’s simply a microphone in the stage signaling the sounds are transmitted through an infrared system to people wearing headphones. Why couldn’t someone hold a microphone off-stage and describe bits and pieces of action may be in the pauses between bits and pieces of dialogue or critical sound elements? Arena stage to their credit said, “Why don’t we give it a try? We’ve got the system here. We could simply hook in another microphone and do it on another channel.”
Margaret took the idea back to the Washington Ear. She corralled me and a few others. I had a background as an English teacher and in the arts and such and we began to hammer out how would we do this. What would we call it? What kind of fundamentals would we employ? Sure enough in the summer of 1981, it premiered with a production of Major Barbara at again an arena stage in Washington DC. I would be remiss to not mention a fellow named Gregory Fraser, a sighted guy in San Francisco who had a good close friend who’s blind. He used to describe images when they’d watch movies together, he remembered I was a friend of Gregory’s the late Gregory Fraser. He would talk about describing High Noon to his friend.
They began to wonder, what, why should a companion have to do this? Wouldn’t it be great if there was a recorded track that would provide those descriptions? Gregory, in the late 70s, actually wrote a master’s thesis for San Francisco State University on this idea he didn’t quite call it audio description. His master’s thesis was an all-audio adaptation of the autobiography of Ms. Jane Pittman which was a marvelous film in the 70s. Really would Gregory be credited for the first published document research on what became the art and the act of audio description?
Jonathan: Because we’ve all done it. We’ve gone into theaters as blind people and we’ve had somebody sitting next to us trying to say quietly what’s going on. Sometimes they get annoyed by being distracted from watching the movie because they have to describe it. Then at other times people around us get annoyed and they’re going shhh, because you’re getting the description. Informal audio descriptions been around for a long time but I can only imagine how incredibly uplifting it must feel to have been a pioneer in those very early days and see this little gem of an idea become a worldwide phenomenon and now standard practice.
Joel: It’s just amazing, really. You’re right description. In my book The Visual Made verbal, I go into the history of audio description and it can be traced back to Greek times ancient Greece. In the word for it was [foreign language] when descriptions written in Greek documents of a shield or armor or something like that and it was acknowledged as a kind of poetry really. Yes, that informal description has been around probably since prehistoric times. Now, forget ancient Greece, but absolutely. Now it has become codified. We’re working on building a certification effort, recognizing the professionalism of audio describers who really spend as much time and effort and energy, and expense even as sign interpreters for people who are deaf. It’s come a long ways. You’re absolutely right.
Jonathan: From the theater, it came to WGBH and that was-
Joel: That’s right.
Jonathan: -a play, a series of plays that were described initially as well.
Joel: That’s right. Barry Cronan and Lori Everett, Barry is still with us great friend. He heard about what we were doing with theater and he heard about our [laugh], ill-fated attempt to do it with television. We tried to send an audio description signal over FM radio and have people tune in their television at the same time and expect it to be synced. It doesn’t work because there’s all latency and difficulties with that. Barry was at WGBH, you’re right in Boston and he had the idea wait a second there’s a secondary audio program feature with television analog at that time.
Analog audio, a secondary audio stream that can be paired with whatever is in the mainstream. It was there to facilitate Spanish translation, and Barry had the idea, if we could use that stream, then there’s no problem with latency or getting it to sync up perfectly. He came to us actually to do the pilot. I was thrilled to actually be able to write and voice three of the first public broadcasting programs. Yes, they were the series called Mystery, and then American Playhouse, I think is the series you were speaking of and we did a number of programs for them and then Barry and his crew ran with it. They called it Descriptive Video Service, DVS, and just gangbusters. They were the first to really on an ongoing way do description for television. It grew of course from there, they were the first to put description on VHS tapes. Remember those Jonathan?
Jonathan: You Know what, when I went to the conventions in the 1990s, I would come home from the states with a suitcase full of audio-described videocassette. For my children in particular and we got a lot of kids-friendly family movies. It’s interesting I was talking to my kids the other day and they said, “When we see some of these movies now, we watch them for nostalgic purposes and we watch them on Netflix or wherever they are, iTunes, and we don’t have the audio description on.” It feels like something’s missing because we grew up with the audio-described videocassette, and there was no ability to turn them off. If you had a VCR and the video cassette with the audio description, that’s what you got. It’s funny because that’s how they remember experiencing the movies when they were kids.
Joel: That’s wonderful, and are they cited?
Jonathan: Yes, they’re all cited.
Joel: Yes. What they realize is, obviously these are dad’s versions of the movie. I guess, but they begin to realize that audio describers when they do it well, when it’s done succinctly when it’s done imaginatively vividly. It can help anyone. It’s been shown to be effective in helping people with learning disabilities, people on the autism spectrum, people learning a language. Really for anybody, it helps build their sense of literacy, a more sophisticated sense of how to use language, how to use words. You know Jonathan, goodness, I’m an old-sighted guy. I know you know that sighted people see, but they don’t observe. They don’t really notice.
Jonathan: I was observing in a very philosophical way the [laughs] other day to someone’s sight is often wasted on the cited.
Joel: Exactly. [laughs], It’s very good. Helen Keller said it. That sight and hearing those blessed faculty as she calls them really aren’t appreciated by those who can see and hear. They see things and hear things easily without concentration and with little appreciation. Audio description brings those things out for people and helps sighted people see.
Jonathan: I read an awful lot of tech press and every so often I read these life hacky type articles and they say things like, “Did you that if you’re busy making the dinner you can switch the audio description on Netflix and not have to look at the screen.” Do you think many sighted people actually do that? Do you know sighted people who do it?
Joel: They’re more and more, I oftentimes refer to audio description as being great for sighted folks who want to be in the kitchen making a sandwich while the TV’s on in the living room. You don’t miss a beat. People do use it for that. Absolutely. It’s like captions, when captions first began to come out on television in the 60s, really, it’s obviously for people who are deaf, but folks began to realize, wow, it’s great to have captions on at the bar. You don’t have to have the volume up or at the gym and curb cuts for people who use wheelchairs, it’s great for someone pushing a stroller or a bicycle rider [laughs]. In the same way audio description really is for everybody.
Jonathan: I’m curious if we listened back to those original recordings of those plays that were described in the early days of WGBH, has the art form of audio description evolved, or do you think those early descriptions would still stand up in terms of really credible examples of the craft?
Joel: I think to a certain extent they would. Absolutely. I know that there’s been– well, my own PhD is in audio description and the ins and outs and testing of what works and what doesn’t. There’s a great deal of research throughout Europe, primarily, audio description is considered a kind of audiovisual translation akin to subtitles or dubbing, for instance. There’s a whole realm of study around audiovisual translation. About 15 years ago, they began to embrace audio description as one of those kinds of audiovisual translation and much progress has been made.
Over 40 years, they’ve begun to play with what’s most effective, what works, what are different ways to do the description. One example for instance, back in the early days, there was always a focus and still today a focus in the writing of description on objectivity. If I see Jonathan Mosen and he’s crying, I would not be a very good describer if I were to say he’s sad. No, he’s crying because you just won the New Zealand lottery. Isn’t that right, Jonathan? [chuckles] Tears of joy, if you will. If I interpret your crying as you are sad, that’s a subjective interpretation. We all do that quite naturally throughout our lives.
It’s a knee-jerk reaction that we have to anything we perceive. With audio description, I believe we try to war against that a little bit. That objective idea was translated in the voicing of description so that early describers were early voice talents, I should say, who voice the description were sometimes referred to as golf announcers. Now he’s moving here. Now, he’s moving there. Now, they’re doing this, or bowling announcers at very monotone even-keeled. That has changed. What I teach description I talk of consonance that the vocal tone should be in consonance with what’s happening on stage or in the film so that if it’s a happy scene, there might be a lilt in the voice.
If it’s a sad scene the voice will seem more sober. The tone of the voice should match the tone of the piece. Now, it’s a thin line though you’re not in the play or in the movie, you are of the play or movie. You don’t want to go over that line and take focus or distract people. Audio describers need to stay in the background. The best compliment a describer can get is, “I got everything, but I forgot you were there.” You become invisible, essentially.
Jonathan: As a totally blind guy who’s never seen. I’ve become increasingly conscious of the fact that there is just so much that the eye takes in. I suspect one of the challenges for describers is that you’ve got this limited amount of time so that you don’t interfere with the dialogue to get stuff in. I often find myself frustrated with audio description. I’m particularly curious about fashion, for example, I’m not really sure why, but I often find that I don’t get enough information about what somebody is wearing because somebody has determined it’s not important enough in the wider context. How do you make a determination about what are the important things to describe in the time available?
Joel: You make a great point, Jonathan. If you talk to just any blind person and say, “Well, what would you like to know about this image?” They quite rightly might say, “Everything. What is in the image?” Well, with description in television and film and plays, that’s not possible if you’re using the pauses between bits and pieces of dialogue or critical sound elements. I refer to it as the second fundamental of audio description training. The first is observation, taking in everything, really seeing and learning how to see.
Then the second fundamental is editing, identifying the key visual elements because there is not time and because I think the best description gets to the essence of what is there. Any artist you carve away anything that’s not quite to the point, that’s not in line with the message that the filmmaker, the playwright is trying to convey. You’re carving it away and you ask yourself, “What is most critical to an understanding?” He points to his head and an appreciation. His hand is on his heart of the image and try to focus everything there.
At the same time, we realize– Even back when we were beginning all of this in the early eighties with theater, we realized that there’s a lot that really is important that you’re just not going to convey during the play. For performing arts for instance, we perfected a technique for having pre-show notes up to a full half-hour of description of scenery, costumes, maybe even reading from the printed program material that it just wouldn’t be possible to get in during the show well, and then doing it during intermission as well, perhaps for the second act. Now, with television and film, what has been done to a limited extent is to create a website or a web page that is associated with that film or television program that a person can consult before the show perhaps just like pre-show notes in a live theater setting, it means an extra step. An extra bit of work for the person who’s blind, but it can be valuable in giving you that background of fleshing out what isn’t available when there isn’t time available during the piece to provide that description.
There’s some ways around that and we call it enhanced or extended description. When we can in some way provide the information. It’s almost like an alt tag on the websites. When a screen reader comes across an image, there has to be an alt tag that describes the image or at least labels it or names it. That happens right away when the screen reader gets to an image. If there’s no alt tag, of course, as the computer goes, “Whoa, cannot compute no image.” What, what. [chuckles]
Jonathan: If you’re watching a movie on demand through many of the services, Apple TV plus, Netflix, that kind of thing, it may well be just some extra that you could elect to watch.
Joel: That’s right. Exactly. It’s akin to director’s commentaries with DVDs, which are somewhat passe now as well. The nice thing about DVDs– I loved it when you mentioned VHS tapes, you either had the description on there or you didn’t. It meant that blockbuster video or video rental stores had to have a dual inventory. If they even cared enough to have tapes with descriptions, they had to have two copies of each film at least. DVDs, you can turn it on and off, which was an important advance.
We need more of that by the way, on websites there are video players that allow you to turn on and off description, but they’re not used widely. You go to Facebook or YouTube, there’s no way to turn on and off description like there is for captioning, and that has to change. Otherwise, people are having to post a video twice. Here it is without description, here it is with description. Although, in my humble opinion, if description is done well, just post the one with open description and cited people will learn that they’re getting a lot out of it.
Another something that has developed relatively recently is we call integrated descriptions so that a play or a movie, a television program if the writers build in descriptive material right from the beginning well, then you don’t need to go through this add-on process, this post-production process. Very few films or television programs or even theater pieces do this but when they do, it’s really quite wonderful. I went to some productions at the old New York Theater Company Theater by the Blind and thought, when I discovered them, I thought, “Wow, an acting troupe of principally blind actors, they’re going to have great audio description.”
Well, they didn’t have any audio description because it was so important to them. Everything they presented, they built in a narrator character or they added lines to certain characters that helped flesh out the visual images or the action. That way every single performance was accessible to somebody who’s blind. I think that’s the way it ought to be.
Jonathan: It may seem like a non sequitur, but it really isn’t. I was involved in the 1990s with New Zealand’s Copyright Act. I was in charge of government relations for the blindness organization. New Zealand was the country that made the argument that modifying a printed work so that it was accessible was no different from modifying a building. It should be something that should happen as of right.
We were the first country in the world to get that concept enshrined in law and ultimately that led to the Marrakesh Treaty. It’s something I’m very honored to have been a part of starting. From that process, I learned that authors understandably are very protective of their intellectual property. It’s their baby. I got lobbied long and hard by authors who came in and said to me, “Jonathan, do you steal from everybody or is it only authors that you steal from, all this kind of stuff?” There has been an argument over the years, hasn’t there, that you are actually modifying someone’s work by audio describing it in a way that they may not appreciate.
Joel: Yes. That argument has been made, even with traditional audio description where it’s an add-on after the fact. It’s not incorporated into the piece, but it’s simply used by the people who desire the service. In fact, you’re very right. In the early days of description for television, actually in about the year 1999, 2000, the FCC, our Federal Communications Commission, issued some rules saying, this is something that should be available. We’ve had captioning for decades. We should have audio description for the audience of people who are blind. It was issued as a rule, and network started doing it. There was real pushback from the Motion Picture Association of America [crosstalk]
Jonathan: And NFB. Let’s not forget that. I was actually running ACB radio then, and so I was right in the thick of covering it. It was extraordinary to me that ACB had gone to all those advocacy efforts, blind people loved audio description, and there was NFB tagging along with the Motion Picture Association, getting this overturned.
Joel: Yes, and the National Association of Broadcasters. You’re absolutely right. Part of the issue that they brought up in court was it is a violation of the First Amendment, the guarantee of free speech. You are requiring us to make a speech, and that won’t hold. That is against the First Amendment. Now, that argument never really got argued or fleshed out because the suit succeeded because of a technicality really, that the FCC was not explicitly authorized to require description. They were authorized by Congress to study it. The suit actually brought down the rule.
It took 10 years till 2010 before we got the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which for the first time required description at the same levels that they’d talked about in the year 2000, about four hours per week for the top five to nine broadcasters, and only in certain areas of the country, very limited. It’s not much more than that’s required now, but it’s been embraced by movie theaters. It’s been embraced by just about every commercial film that comes out now. Digital film has an audio description track. Even on streaming services, streaming services are not required to do description at all.
It’s been embraced really so much because of the good work, Jonathan, you did back in the day that ACB, did back in the day to help people realize that this is an accommodation. That’s only a fair thing to do. The difference with captioning, when that law was introduced in the ’60s, there was built-in an increase every year that a certain percentage of television programs had to include captioning. It had to increase every year. We don’t have that with the description.
We’re hoping maybe we’ll be able to build that in at some point. It’s been embraced by some networks more than others. The ones who are required to do it will certainly at least do the minimum. There are, oh goodness, how many dozens and dozens of television broadcasters are there, and only a few are required to do it. It would be wonderful to see more and more of it, and have that built into the law.
Jonathan: It’s unfortunate because the United States, people like you started all of this off, and then because of those internal debates. It reminds me of the Life of Brian with the People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front duking it out and taking their eye off the ball. Because of those internal things, the rest of the world moved on. You have countries like the UK that have far better audio description mandates.
Joel: No question. Last I heard, it was fully 10% of all broadcasts must have description in the UK, and I think in practice about 20%. It may be higher now. You’re right, maybe we developed it in the United States, but the UK took the ball and ran with it, so they have more description. Even, it’s a country that’s what, one-fifth, one-sixth, the population of the United States. Yet they have far more description and in more formats and such. Much earlier, they embraced it for museums. It took us a little while to start having that catch on in museums and parks, visitor’s centers, and that sort of thing.
Sure, the UK ran with it. A good bit of work with the World Blind Union. They co-published with ACB, my book in the Spanish edition of my book. We did a survey with them of how much description is happening in their member nations. We came up with about 70 nations where there is some degree of description, mostly with regard to television, but a fair amount in museums as well as theater performing arts. It began with performing arts here in the States. Once it got picked up in media, that has just a broader mass appeal, and so it gets noticed more on streaming services and DVDs and et cetera in media.
Jonathan: The timing of the rollout of audio description couldn’t have been better, really, because I think what was also happening was that TV was evolving. I grew up in the ’70s, and even then we were still getting reruns and stuff from shows in the ’60s, Get Smart and Bewitched, and goodness knows what else. There were bits of those that were quite visual, but as a blind kid lying in front of the television, I could follow most of them. If you get a TV show these days without audio description, it’s really, really difficult because TV’s moved away from the idea that it is radio with pictures. It’s a completely different medium.
Joel: That’s right. I think film especially has really embraced the notion that it’s about images. You’ll have sequences of a film that go on for a couple of minutes or more that they’re luxuriating in the images. You might have a soundtrack, you might have music, you might have sound effects, but otherwise, the person who can’t see is going to be somewhat limited. You’re right. Gilligan’s Island and Get Smart, and the others, were dialogue-heavy. You could pretty much pick up what’s going on. It’s less of that is the case now in film and television that really focuses on the images. That makes audio description even more important.
Jonathan: Sorry about that, chief.
Joel: Very good.
Jonathan: You’ve got an example of this that you can play, right, in terms of the difference an audio description can make.
Joel: I can. This is an example I use oftentimes in training sessions and workshops that I do around the world. Back in the, oh golly, this has got to be in the mid-’90s, there was a film, when the film was produced, it did not have audio description for its theatrical release, it’s release in cinemas. A marvelous film called The Color of Paradise, made in Iran actually. Let me share with you one segment of this film. I want you and your listeners, it’s all radio, right? You’re going to experience this obviously without the picture. Just the soundtrack at this particular excerpt. Without audio description, what can you glean by listening only?
What did you get out of that, Jonathan? Perhaps not very much. It’s a lot of brilliance.
Jonathan: I’m wondering what’s going on. What’s going on already?
Joel: What’s going on? If you’re in the movie theater, you’re a blind guy in the movie theater, you’ve got your elbow going to the person next to you, “Hey, what’s happening? What’s happening? What’s happening?” They tell you, and they’re going to bother everybody in the whole space, et cetera, or you’d probably say after a couple of minutes, “This is ridiculous. I’m out of here. I’m not getting anything.” What happens though if we add audio description? You’re still blind, you can’t see the images, but if we add audio description, the excerpt feels a lot shorter because you have something to hold onto, and suddenly it has meaning. Let’s see by listening.
Narrator: Muhammad kneels and taps his hands through the thick round cover of brown curled leaves. A scrawny nestling struggles on the ground near Muhammad’s hand. His palm hovers above the baby bird. He lays his hand lightly over the tiny creature. Smiling, muhammad curls his fingers around the chick and scoops it into his hands. He stands and strokes its nearly featherless head with a fingertip. Muhammad spats as the bird nips his finger. He taps his finger on the chick-scaping beak. He tilts his head back, then drops it forward. Muhammad tips the chick into his front shirt pocket.
Wrapping his legs and arms around a tree trunk, Muhammad climbs. He latches onto a tangle of thin upper branches. His legs flail for a foothold. Muhammad stretches an arm between a fork in the trunk of the tree, and wedges in his head and shoulder. His shoes slip on the rough bark. He wraps his legs around the lower trunk, then uses his arms to pull himself higher. He rises into thicker foliage and holds onto tangles of smaller branches. Gaining his footing, Muhammad stands upright and cocks his head to one side. An adult bird flies from a nearby branch.
Muhammad extends his open hand. He touches a branch and runs his fingers over wide green leaves. He pats his hand down the length of the branch. His fingers trace the smooth bark of the upper branches, search the network of connecting tree limbs, and discover their joints. Above his head, Muhammad’s fingers find a dense mass of woven twigs, a bird’s nest. Smiling, he removes the chick from his shirt pocket and drops it gently into the nest beside another fledgling. He rubs the top of the chick’s head with his index finger. Muhammad wiggles his finger like a worm, and taps the chick’s open beak. Smiling, he slowly lowers his hand.
Jonathan: Brilliant. That’s the beginning of a movie. The end of the movie can also be a real bear when something like that happens. One of the examples that we used to use when we were advocating here for the introduction of audio description was the end of Fatal Attraction. As a blind person, you could follow most of it, but then you have no clue what happens at the end without audio description.
Joel: That’s right. Exactly. There’s no dialogue, there’s just some sound effects. There’s perhaps a soundtrack of an instrumental track or something. By the way, Jonathan, I should mention that in Color of Paradise, we talk about the character of Muhammad. His visit, what he looks like, that was already described earlier in the film, so you don’t hear much about it in that clip. You hear that he has a shirt on with a pocket, and he’s got shoes on, but you don’t really hear much about him. I will ask people, what’s he like? From the description, what can you tell about Muhammad?
They’ll say, he’s a young boy. He’s kind. He likes animals. He’s agile. He can climb a tree. What they don’t pick up, and what of course is available in the audio description earlier is that Muhammad is blind. Muhammad himself is blind, and he’s able to find this little nestling that fell out of the tree, climb the tree, and put the nestling back in its nest. It really is a nice clip and a nice way of pointing up the use of audio description. Yes, if you have the description, you don’t have to rely on your elbow and the person next to you, whispering.
Although, I remember I did workshops in New Zealand and Australia of course, but I did some workshops in Jakarta, in Indonesia, and I learned about their low-tech way all of this was something called Whisper Theater. Literally, once a month, theaters would do the screening of a current film, and people were invited to come. Folks who were blind with companions would come, and everybody was whispering.
Throughout the film, everybody was whispering to each other, “What’s going on? What’s going on?” [laughs]
Jonathan: There you go.
Joel: You didn’t disturb anybody that way. That was a wonderful end run around all of this, low-tech end run.
Jonathan: Transcripts of Mosen At Large are brought to you by Pneuma Solutions, a global leader in accessible cloud technologies on the web at pneumasolutions.com. That’s P-N-E-U-M-Asolutions.com.
I want to channel my inner geek here and ask a few technical questions you might be able to help me with.
Jonathan: Are there currently some technical standards or even guidelines around the audio description of movies and TV shows? We sometimes find that the describer is far too loud or far too quiet in the mix, or the audio of the show being described is ducked in this really disruptive way, this overly dramatic way. What’s up with that and what can we do to fix it?
Joel: I’ll tell you, some of that has to do with the expansion of description. When you have it getting picked up by commercial services and companies who produce description and sell it to producers and broadcasters, competition comes into play and they’re looking for ways to cut costs. I believe that that has resulted in some of the problems that you note, Jonathan. When you have software that automatically ducks the original soundtrack and brings up the description, and then when the description stops, that track is docked and the original soundtrack comes up.
When you do that with software, you can tell the difference between that and when a trained audio editor just adjusts the volume, just so much so that you hear the description and then eases it back, like crossfading if you will, lights on a stage or whatever. Any description that I produce is done with a trained audio editor who modulates all of that by hand, and. yes indeed, according to certain standards and volume levels, and such. It’s absolutely critical. By the way, our description began with a blind woman, it’s by someone who is blind initially, and for people who are blind, but now people who are blind are intimately involved.
Some of the best audio editors, the most sensitive audio editors to this mixing of the soundtracks are people who are blind. Some of the best voice talents for description are people who are blind. People who are blind can be marvelous writers, and they contribute to the drafts audio description scripts as quality control experts, if you will. That’s very welcome. It’s not done as often as it should be, but that’s part of it too. The technical thing is there on the voicing, and not just the audio editing, I’ll tell you, some are experimenting with the wider use, broader use of text-to-speech, speech synthesis.
ACB actually passed a resolution not too long ago that said, no, we’re not in favor of that, we want to hear human voices making the audio description heard in films and in television, in professional dramas. We don’t want to hear a computerized synthetic speech because there’s just nuance, there’s subtlety and there’s synergy between the voice talent and the words, the writing, that I don’t know a computer program that can match that, certainly not yet. That’s another thing there. I usually can pick out when I’m hearing a track that is a synthetic speech as opposed to something that’s voiced by a trained audio description voice talent.
Jonathan: For sure. I heard that debate, actually and it was an interesting debate because some people said, look, what would you rather have? Would you rather have no audio description, or audio description with text-to-speech? They said, I would rather have the audio description with text-to-speech than none at all.
Joel: It’s a false argument, in my way of thinking, because it comes down to money. Listen, some of these streaming services are huge companies. They are initiatives from companies that have far and away, they’re some of the largest companies in the world. To hear that, we’ll go back and do our back catalogue of titles, those old films and old TV shows, we’ll add audio description to that, but we can’t afford to do it the right way, we’re going to use text to speech for them, but for current stuff, we’ll use human voicing.
I just don’t understand that because it’s not so much money. Why is it that a current thing is more important than something that happened years ago? I don’t understand that argument. It’s a false economic argument. It’s a false argument that if we don’t use text-to-speech, you’re not going to get any description, and everybody goes, oh my goodness, we don’t want that. It’s a false argument. If you’re going to get description, it should be the highest quality.
Jonathan: It’s the kind of argument you hear quite a bit, blind people should just shut up and be grateful for whatever we get.
You get an awful lot. Should there be a prescribed standard somewhere that makes it an official audio description standard through some sort of standard-setting body?
Joel: Absolutely, and we are on our way, I say we, the American Council of the Blind in conjunction with a group here in the States called, the acronym is ACREP, the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation & Education Professionals. These are the folks that certify, for instance, O&M instructors, orientation and mobility experts. We’re working with them now, we’ve been working on it for two, three years. I think it’s going to be another year or two because it’s a painstaking process, developing the standards. There are plenty of guidelines and best practices out there.
We’ve started to base some of our certification requirements on those guidelines that exist already, and these would apply, at least initially, for the writing of description. How can you ultimately become a certified audio describer? That would ensure a level of professionalism in the writing. Listen, it’s not too many steps from that to trying to establish perhaps with the FCC, perhaps with the National Association of Broadcasters, the Motion Picture Association, what are the technical standards that audio description must meet, that it has to be at a certain level, et cetera? We’re going to get there.
By the way, another technical issue, I mentioned the secondary audio program feature, it was created for Spanish translation. It’s used for description now, except on weekends oftentimes with sporting events, you won’t hear description, you’ll hear Spanish translation, you get one or the other. This is something else that I think our FCC has to look at. In a digital environment, it’s possible to have 6, 12 separate audio streams.
Wwhy haven’t we figured out how to do that on different platforms over the ,air via cable, via satellite, et cetera? We should figure out how to do that so that you could get audio description, you can get Spanish translation, you can get audio description in Spanish, you can get audio description in you name it. That ought to be available, and that’s something I’m looking forward to.
Jonathan: That is interesting because here in New Zealand our digital platform does provide for multiple audio streams.
Joel: There you go.
Jonathan: All right now I’ve been building up to this one, Joel. This is my big pet peeve, this is the magnum opus of this interview. My big pet peeve is this, we have invested heavily in good quality equipment, home theater equipment, so that we can really enjoy our TV-watching experience, with the exception of Apple TV plus, which in my opinion is exemplary in every way with audio description. Their audio description is consistently fantastic in my experience anyway, but other providers of audio-described content sometimes forced a blind person into listening to the show in stereo when the main soundtrack is 5.1 or increasingly Dolby Atmos. I tell you, I am a major Beatles nut. I’m a huge Beatles collector.
Joel: You and me both.
Jonathan: Yes, when Get Back came out, the Peter Jackson documentary. he’s just down the road from me, by the way, and I kept going to knock on Sir Peter’s door and say, mate, let me have a listen to what you got but when it came out on Disney Plus, I had to listen to it twice because I could listen to it with audio description only in stereo or I could hear the amazing work he did in Dolby Atmos without audio description. I’m just inarticulate over this. To me, it is supremely ironic that blind people who care about their audio are being treated like second-class citizens and being forced into stereo for audio description.
Joel: It’s worse than that, Jonathan, they’re forced into mono sometimes.
Joel: Absolutely. This comes up all the time, especially with audiophiles, and many folks who are blind, really as you say, appreciate and know the ins and outs of expert audio production. As you said, Jonathan, maybe it’s a little bit of, blind people we’re giving it to you, be satisfied with–
Jonathan: Yes, somebody’s going to tweet at me with the hashtag first world problems, because I’m blathering on about this, but I don’t care, it’s really outrageous.
Joel: It really is and it’s not– I’m not a technician, I can’t say for sure that it’s a matter of cost. There’s going to be some cost, I imagine, but why not make the effort to have the sound be pristine? Have it be in Dolby Atmos, have it be in 5.1 sound rather than stereo or even mono?
Jonathan: Apple does it you see. One of our favorite shows is For all mankind, this alternative history series that they’re doing, what would have happened had Russia landed on the moon first. It’s a wonderful series. It’s all in Dolby Atmos. Of course, there are many cool space effects and rocket ships taking off. We just love watching this thing in Atmos with the audio description.
Joel: Yes, absolutely and it’s on our list of things to work toward for sure.
Jonathan: I’ve called Netflix because we watch quite a bit of Netflix to say to them, what’s up with this? But of course, it’s very hard to get past the first line of tech support people who are actually quite helpful and they say, gosh we didn’t really realize this, and this doesn’t seem right. How does it work? Why is it that Apple TV+ consistently gets it right, and other studios do not? Is it just a lack of awareness?
Joel: I don’t think it’s a lack of awareness at this point, because ACB has been very vocal. We have contacts with Netflix, with Amazon, with the various streamers, and with Apple indeed. Apple has just embraced accessibility in ways that some of these other companies just simply haven’t. When iPhones came out, people who were blind were, “Oh, my goodness. This phone can speak to me.”
That kind of speech interface was something you couldn’t find on other phones. You have it now, and you have television broadcasts and systems that allow speaking menus, but it’s relatively recent. The irony back, we’re talking about DVDs, and you could turn on and off the description, it was there. Isn’t that wonderful? In order to turn on the description, you had to navigate a visual menu.
Jonathan: That’s right.
Joel: [laughs] What good is that? That’s changing, that has changed to a great extent with television.
Jonathan: We seem to have a problem with the exporting of audio-described television. I’d like to understand this too. For example, in New Zealand, we get American and British TV shows. I can get these audio-described from the original source using a bit of naughty geo blocking stuff circumvention, but when those shows are played on New Zealand TV, they’re either not audio-described from the source or they’ve been re-described by a New Zealand source, which seems to me to be a shameful waste of resource, because if they didn’t have to re-describe them, they could be describing more local content. Why is this? When TV shows are exported, why aren’t we getting the described versions?
Joel: That’s another item that’s on our list. The notion that when a program is described in its first incarnation, this happens with captions and subtitles, when a program is described, that description track should travel with the program and be reused when it comes out on DVD. When it’s streamed, when it’s this, when it’s that. Typically, that will happen with captions and subtitles, at least far more often than it does with the audio description track. One of the reasons for that, boy, I don’t know. Back in the day when description would come out in a film that was a theatrical presentation of a film, in cinema, that was a wonderful thing.
You figured, golly, I can’t wait till the DVD comes out because then I’ll just use it. DVD comes out, it doesn’t have the description. I was always told we’re a big film company, and there’s theatrical presentation is one thing, and home video is something else. It’s as though they don’t talk to each other. [laughs] Back in those days, that’s why you didn’t have the transfer of the track. Nowadays, it may come down to, once again, going back to our FCC, in requiring that those tracks be maintained and travel from one format to the other. The problem with regulation there is that the in the states, the FCC only deals with broadcast television.
They don’t have authority over streaming or DVDs for that matter or anything like that. The only reason we have the explosion about 10 years ago of movie theaters coming up with description films being released with description, is because of our Americans with Disabilities Act requiring public spaces to be accessible. Most people think, that means you got to put a ramp in. Okay, we’ll put in a ramp. People who use wheelchairs can get in the space.
What if you’re in the space and it’s not programmatically accessible to you. You’re deaf, you’re blind. There has to be programmatic accessibility. That was raised. The movie theaters of course realized, whoa, we’re going to get stuck with lawsuits. We can’t describe in caption all these films. It went back to the film producers and they had to abide by the ADA basically and provide those audio description tracks, provide those captioning tracks so people who are deaf, people who are blind, had the same access as anyone else.
Jonathan: What impact has the ADA had on audio description? Because of course, it predates the ADA, but clearly it must have had a significant impact on its uptake.
Joel: Yes, it did, and continues to. The prime example is what I just mentioned with the addition of the audio track to motion pictures so that it’s really relatively recently that for instance, every Academy Award nominee for best picture has an audio description track. In the last five years, I think that’s been true with the exception of maybe one or two, something like that. In fact, a couple of years ago, Parasite, the Korean film, won the Academy Award for best picture. That was the one of all the nominees that did not have an audio description track. The producer just wasn’t sure how would we do this?
How would we provide a secondary audio track, describing things and voicing at the same time the English subtitles? Because it was all in Korean. That’s been done many times. Going back to a Passion of the Christ which was in Aramaic, that was produced with description. You had one voice reading subtitles and another voice doing description. Perhaps you have a super talented voice talent who can do both and make them distinct. It can be done. It was done in the UK. If you wanted experience parasite with description, you have to get hold of that DVD that was produced in the UK. There it is. It’s lots of little tricks and little problems that have to be solved.
Jonathan: I think it’s also true that sometimes you get described tracks on a DVD that don’t make it to the streaming services where you might be able to rent or buy them.
Joel: Exactly. It makes no sense to me, to advocates for description, for consumers of description. It’s the ins and outs of the broadcast industry and the filmmaking industry. There are different components talking to each other and such. Hopefully, we continue to advocate for it, and hopefully we’ll be heard and there will be some change, hopefully in the near future.
Jonathan: This all began the audio description with the theater, as you mentioned, and that’s really popular too. It’s something that here, I don’t often attend apart from maybe musicals because I wear hearing aids, and we often don’t have audio-described performances where you can get a receiver that offers a mix or a feed from the stage as well as the audio describer. Is that a market that is being well catered to in the US?
Joel: Yes and no. It just depends on the equipment being used in the theater. It can be a matter of oftentimes just one earbud in one ear, or it’s a headset that you put on, and you’re right, just the audio description track comes through. The idea is that you’re supposed to hear peripherally, the original soundtrack. I think folks are getting away from that and getting that full mix through the headset. One thing that I should mention that I think will deal with that, and deal with the fact that in movie theaters, the staff in movie theaters, I don’t know if it’s true in New Zealand or not, in the States, the turnover amongst staff in movie theaters is just, oh golly, frequent, let’s put it that way.
Jonathan: It doesn’t pay a lot, does it, so you can understand why turnover’s high.
Joel: Exactly. Those people have to be trained and retrained. What are these headsets that are laying around here? This one here will boost sound for people who are hard of hearing. This one over here, or maybe it’s a switch that has to be toggled, this one over here is for audio description. I can’t tell you how many times I hear the complaint. They say, “Joel, I have a stack of free passes to the movie theater. Free pass, a stack of them, because every time I go, the equipment isn’t maintained, it doesn’t work, or they give me a headset that’s giving me increased sound for the original soundtrack.”
Here in the middle of the movie, they’ve got to go back and complain or whatever, so they get all these free passes to come back to the movies, and it may not work again or whatever. One solution to that, which I think is brilliant, and I think is in one way the future of audio description, at home or in the movie theater is via your own smartphone. Now not everybody has a smartphone, but I think they’re becoming more and more ubiquitous. It’s becoming like a landline phone. You begin to assume everybody has a landline phone back in the day. There are probably half a dozen versions of an app that in the states, it’s called Spectrum Access, put out by Charter Communications.
You download the app to your smartphone like any other app. Then, you use it to hear the audio description track right along with the original audio of a film. It’s done by downloading to the app a track that’s in the cloud. Spectrum Access, I think, has not enough. Maybe four 400 or 500 titles available. You download the audio description track to that app. The app is able to listen to whatever is coming from the speakers in the movie theater, to whatever is coming from your speakers in your home set up, and automatically syncs the description to the sound of the original soundtrack. It really works.
It’s an amazing and marvelous thing. It allows you, Jonathan, for instance, you want to hear the description, but your family’s not interested in the description. Okay, you don’t have to turn it on for everybody else on your television at home. You can just access it through your smartphone. It can be used for alternative translations. Grandma speaks only Spanish. The whole family wants grandma to come with them to the movies. If she downloads the Spanish dub, she can enjoy the movie right along with everybody else. It’s something that I think just has to grow.
It has to catch on. It depends to some extent on the movie producers cooperating with the folks running these apps and making more and more of those audio description tracks available. Once that’s figured out, I think you’re going to see an explosion. These days of COVID and such, does everybody really want to be putting on a headset that someone else just used, and an earbud somebody else used, and whatever? Oh goodness. No, you just use your own smartphone, your own earpiece. It’s just a more satisfying experience in many, many ways.
Jonathan: This is another example of where Apple is doing some innovative things, although I think there is something similar on Disney+, but I discovered that if you use Share Play, you can actually play a movie from Apple TV+ or a TV show, and share play it to your smartphone. The smartphone can contain the audio-described version if you need it, while the version playing on your Apple TV, which is in perfect sync, does not have the audio-described soundtrack for everybody else.
Joel: That’s another way to do it. Absolutely, that would work. Another part of this too we were talking earlier about audio description is for everybody. Let me ask you this, Jonathan, in New Zealand, do you think the idea of audio films could ever play, could ever be adopted widely so that sighted people who are on a long car drive, maybe you’re at the gym, you saw this great film last week and I want to experience it again but I can’t watch a television while I’m driving my car, but if I could just play the audio track of the film with the audio description. There you go, it’s an audio film. You experience it with your imagination while you’re driving, while you’re at the gym. I think the time has come with the explosion of audiobooks, I think the times come. Do you think that could be viable in New Zealand? I think it should be.
Jonathan: It would be back to the future. I run a couple of internet radio stations, we have Mushroom FM and my colleague, Bruce Toews, runs something called Mushroom Escape, which plays old time radio and drama. We play on Mushroom Escape a show from, I don’t know, I think it started in the ’40s maybe, the Luxe Radio theater.
Joel: Radio theater.
Jonathan: They would do this, they would actually get to the actors from the big movies of the day, and they would come in and do an abridged radio version of the movie.
Joel: You’re absolutely right. Canada did it. Audio Vision Canada, it no longer exists. They did it years ago with audio cassettes. They actually released a dozen or so audio cassettes, remember those, of the soundtrack of the film with audio description but they were all public domain films. I think it comes down to legalities. It hasn’t seeped into the consciousness of the film producers in the film industry. Directors and cinematographers. They don’t learn about description in film school.
They just thought that that’s a post production thing. It comes after the film’s been made. If they understand it ahead of time, perhaps in the contracts that are made with the musicians, the actors, the sound effects people, it needs to be built into those contracts that one use of the film soundtrack could be the audio description, could be accompanying the audio description track later.
Once that happens, then I think we will have gotten past that legal hurdle, at least from what I’ve heard that prevents us from adopting this audio film idea. Sighted people could download just the audio track with the description for a dollar each. I think it could be a money-making venture, that would allow the film pro folks to embrace audio description because it’s actually making them a couple of dollars. It’s not just the service that they need to do.
Jonathan: Now I want to ask you about the jolly old elephant in the jolly old room, and this relates to this fairly new concept of visual description. It got a lot of attention when Vice President Harris described herself recently at a meeting that some blind people were in attendance. What’s interesting is that there are some blind people who absolutely deplore this practice. They say that it makes them feel uncomfortable and singled out. They feel that it’s a waste of time, so there’s no consensus about this practice in our community by any means. What is your view of this practice of visual description on Zoom calls at meetings?
Joel: It’s funny because you call it, and I’ve heard it called visual description. We refer to it in the States as self-description, you’re describing yourself, but either way. I’ve done description and produced description, or taught about description, spoken on it in 60-some countries. I’ve become very aware of cultural distinctions, cultural differences obviously between East and West, between different countries, within a country even. Certain cultures, the whole idea of talking about yourself, describing yourself is anathema. I think we all need to be sensitive to that.
Yes, Vice President Harris did her own self-description because it’s been bubbling of late that sighted people can see what I look like, I better provide a description of myself for people who are tuning into this program who are blind. To my way of thinking, I have mixed feelings about this because the blind community and people of low vision have mixed feelings about it too. I always teach in audio description that you want to focus in on elements that are most critical, I said it earlier, to an understanding and appreciation of the work being described. What’s most critical and just focus on those elements.
If you’re in a meeting and you’re talking about– it’s a business meeting, you’re talking about income and loss, profit and loss over the last quarter, whatever. You get in the meeting and everybody has to go around and describe themselves, I can imagine a lot of people thinking that’s not what this meeting is about, let’s get to the point. That’s what I hear from a number of folks who are blind. It doesn’t really matter what you look like or what you look like, I’m blind, I can deal with it. I want to get to the point of what the meeting is about. On the other hand, there are blind people who want to know a bit more about the person they’re speaking to and would appreciate some degree of description.
I think the key here is people who are going to do it should know how to do self-description. It’s very easy when you describe anything. The author, William Ivins, he wrote a book called Prints, P-R-I-N-T-S, and Visual Communication. He talks about someone trying to describe a simple object easily gets caught up in a morass of words, in a verbal rigamarole that is completely impossible to understand. That’s what happens if you’re not trained in description, if you don’t understand the fundamentals and you tried to describe something even yourself. What are the salient things?
Do you describe things that aren’t visible as in gender? Do you describe and talk about your religion? Is that part of self-description? Technically as far as people who are blind, you can’t look at somebody and say, that person’s Jewish, that person’s Protestant, whatever. What are the elements that are going to be most helpful when you do self-description? In what order and such? I think if there’s more awareness of that, and if it’s limited, if it’s done in a succinct way, I think self-description could be more valuable and perhaps better accepted. You’re right, it’s the elephant in the room. What’s the elephant look like Jonathan? You tell me.
Jonathan: I thought you were going to do the blind man and the elephant thing. It’s really good.
One of the things I really love about this podcast is we’ve got a very large audience and we have quite respectful conversations about some of these contentious issues. We’ve discussed this at length. One of the most compelling arguments I’ve heard against it was that if you are the only blind person on a Zoom call or in a meeting, and they take 10 minutes or something to go around the room and describe themselves just for you, it makes you feel really uncomfortable. Particularly if you’re not particularly interested in the information.
On the other hand, I’ve got 120 staff, I’m a CEO in my day job, and I am really interested in just what people look like. If you walk up to an individual and say, what do you look like? What are you wearing? It’s a bit creepy, right? For example, I learned just by accident about two months ago that one of the people on our senior leadership team who I’ve been working with for over three years has a beard. Now, I don’t need to know that they have a beard, but I was interested to learn that they have a beard.
Joel: Absolutely. Sometimes mixing humor in, I think, can go a long way towards relieving any feelings of uncomfortableness. I will describe myself sometimes as having a salt and pepper beard reaching from– I’ll start by saying I’m a balding middle-aged gentleman. All right, all right, all right.
Jonathan: Isn’t gentleman subjective?
Joel: Yes, that’s right. I’m a balding man. It’s all right. With a receding hairline. All right. It has receded all the way to the back of my head, and the the salt and pepper fringe of hair around my head reaches forward to a full beard and mustache. A beard which covers a multitude of chins.
If you try to just play with it a little bit, that can relieve some of the discomfort or whatever too. [laughs] There’s a way to do things that will be most effective, I think.
Jonathan: Tell me as we start to wrap, because we could talk forever about this stuff, tell me about the ACB audio description project and what that does. What’s your involvement in that?
Joel: Thank you so much, because I was going to mention it if you didn’t, so there. Now, the audio description project, I’m honored to have founded it about 12 years ago with the American Council of the Blind, it’s designed to promote audio description, to raise awareness, to disseminate information about description. That’s the thing about audio description. Ironically, yes, it’s invisible. Sighted people don’t see it in movies and on television. You have to ask for it. You have to turn it on, something like that, and have a headset or whatever. We need to increase its visibility, if you will.
That’s what the audio description project is all about, but we have many different initiatives now, over 12 years. The most visible initiative is our website, which is https://adp.acb.org. I tell you, it has become the go-to place for information about audio description, not just in the States, but around the world. Now, with respect to the States, since it’s an American project, you can go there and find out what’s on television right now with description? What’s streaming with description? Because it’s not on every program. If you live in Montana, what museums in your state have description?
You live in Illinois. I’m in Chicago. Do theaters have description? You can go to the website and find out what theaters will offer description. Hopefully they do it more than just two performances in a long run. Find a way to provide it at every performance, but that’s a whole other program, Jonathan. The website has tons of articles about how to make description, who provides it, where to get it, et cetera. The website is one thing. Twice a year, we have the Audio Description Institute, which we just finished the summer institute, summer 2022.
The last four have been virtual for obvious reasons. These are training institutes. Three to five days of intensive training with folks who want to be description writers, want to be description voice talents, including people who are blind, but real study and training there, building ultimately, hopefully in the future towards certification. They complete this course, they get a certificate of completion. Every year we do sessions about description with the ACB conference. Every other year, we do a mini audio description project conference within the much larger ACB conference.
We have loads of people come from all over creation to learn about description, to talk about research and description, to experience description. We give awards every year, recognizing the very best in description in theater, in museums, all different performing arts, in media. Also, we acknowledge model programs around the world. We acknowledge the best in research and development. We give a top award, is the Barry Levine Memorial Career Achievement Award. Just acknowledging those folks out there who have been doing this all their lives and really contributed a great deal to audio description.
Not to be confused with our– Something else I wanted to mention, our AD gala, which we started just last year. It’s a way to applaud, to honor, to acknowledge the film and media industry. Those folks, the big movie makers, the big broadcasters who are embracing description. We want to honor them. This is a big fundraising event for the audio description project. We give awards to them. It’s really quite a marvelous program. This year, it will be done virtually. November 29th of this year, you can tune in from anywhere in the world and hear about all of these industry providers of–
They’re not the ones that produce the description but they welcome it onto their broadcasts and such. It’s a big deal. We’re going to be doing that. I want to mention quickly too another program that’s a lot of fun. We call it BADIE, Benefits of Audio Description in Education. We’ve done this now 10, 12 years. We ask blind kids around the United States, but we get entries from around the world actually, blind kids who write reviews of described material. It might be just a half-hour educational program, it might be a feature film. They write reviews. We read them. We have a panel of judges who divide the entries into age range, and we give awards to the kids for the best reviews that we get.
Everybody gets a certificate. We even make awards to the teachers of these kids who have helped them shape their reviews and that sort of thing. By the way, there’s a wonderful woman Paulie Goodwin in Australia who has adopted this idea and is mounting a Australasian version of this BADIE program, and welcoming entries from New Zealand and Australia, and around the region. I’ll send you the information on that, Jonathan. Maybe you can post that on your website. Because it’s great. We have a little spinoff in Australian of the BADIE program.
Jonathan: I was a huge fan of Sesame Street when I was a child. I was really intrigued to read in your excellent book that some of the vintage Sesame Street material has been described. It would be interesting to go back and try and get that, but then when I had kids, I thought, wow, one of the great benefits of having kids is that I’ve got a legitimate reason to get back into Sesame Street. Now my grandchild number one is on the way, so I’ve got another excuse to get back into Sesame Street, but I really must try and find that vintage material audio described because that would be really great.
Joel: For six years I led a program that did the description for the first time for Sesame Street. I’ll see if I can find some material to send to you, Jonathan. You make me remember a letter that I received when I was producing description for Sesame Street. This is back in the mid-2000s. I got a letter from a blind adult. Her name was Carla Hudson. She’s still around, actually, talked to her recently.
She sent me a letter because she said, “Just like that Jonathan Mosen fella, I loved description as a blind child listening to the sounds and the silly music. It was just fun.” Now, back in the early-2000s, she had a cited child, and she loved the fact that she could get description with Sesame Street because she could follow along, with her sighted child, all the antics of Bert and Ernie, and Elmo and such. It’s a wonderful thing on lots of different levels.
Jonathan: Yes, it’s absolutely amazing. In terms of advocating for audio description, some of the things that we talked about is the ACB audio description project the best way to get involved and try and influence some good outcomes there?
Joel: I think so. Oh golly, we have a steering committee that really runs the project. We have a coordinator for the project who’s on the staff at ACB. We have, I think nine sub-committees. My title now is Founder and Senior Consultant, emeritus if you will, but I’m still very involved. I’m at all the meetings and participate actively in the institute of course, as well as some of the awards programs and such.
I want to make sure you have my email address, and people can send me a note about getting involved with the audio description project. They can write to me very simply at jsnyder, J-S-N-Y-D-E-R @acb.org, or my own company is Audio Description Associates. My email address there is firstname.lastname@example.org. The ADP has reached out far beyond the shores of the United States, so we welcome the involvement of folks around the world.
Jonathan: It’s wonderful. It’s something you can feel very proud of that you are part of planting these seeds that have made such a difference, had such a big impact on the lives of blind people around the world. It’s been a wonderful thing to catch up with you and talk about some of these issues.
Joel: Thank you, Jonathan. Thank you so much too. I just want to say thank you for the wonderful work you did with the broadcast in support of Ukraine. I thought that was such a marvelous idea.
Jonathan: Thank you. You were singing on there. I didn’t realize you had that talent.
Joel: I was a part of it. That’s right. I had the opportunity to do some workshops on description in Ukraine in late 2019, and so I feel a bit of a personal connection to the land there, and wanted to be a part of your program. Thank you so much for doing that.
Jonathan: It was an absolute honor to be a part of that. Thanks for coming on the show. The time has flown by. It’s a pleasure to have a chat with you.
Joel: Thanks so much, Jonathan.
Jonathan: I’d love to hear from you, so if you have any comments you want to contribute to the show, drop me an email written down or with an audio attachment to Jonathan, J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N, @mushroomfm.com. If you’d rather call in, use the listener line number in the United States, 864-606-6736
[music: Mosen At Large Podcast]
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