“Audio Description is, to a great extent, a kind of literary art form in itself. It’s a type of poetry—a haiku. It provides a verbal version of the visual—the visual is made verbal, and aural [Snyder points to his ear], and oral [Snyder points to his mouth]. Using words that are succinct, vivid, and imaginative to convey the visual image that is not fully accessible to a segment of the population and not fully realized by the rest of us. The rest of us: meaning sighted folks who see but who may not observe.”
—from Joel Snyder’s “Audio Description — The Visual Made Verbal”

Joel Snyder is one of the pioneers in Audio Description, a field that provides theatre, movies, TV shows, and other arts to people who are vision-impaired. As I thought of being an audio describer myself, I realized how true it was that one has to become someone who not only sees, but also observes.

This transcription of a Joel Snyder presentation goes into some detail about how audio description works, including annotated examples of descriptions. I pulled out this example from The Shining. Can you picture it?

Now, a woman in her thirties with long blond hair. She stands in a white-tiled bathroom and wears a white towel. Leaning on the black sink, she gazes at her reflection in the steamed-up vanity mirror.

(:05) Pause

Her eyes drift down to a gold key resting on the sink. Engraved on the key are the numbers 217. Beside the key is a packet of razor blades.

She picks up the razor blades and slides one of them out. Shown from her bare legs down, she drops her towel on the floor. [DROP] She steps to a black bathmat in front of a footed bathtub. [CURTAINS] Sunlight shines on her bare toes. She steps into the tub.

Now in the basement, Torrance.

“WHAT A MESS”

Blood drips from the blond woman’s hand as her arm rests on the side of the bathtub.

[DRIP DRIP DRIP]

In the basement, the older man blows his nose on a red handkerchief.

(video: Audio Descriptions of Video by Valerie Hunter)


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