FSCast #223

November,  2022

GLEN GORDON:  On FSCast 223, it’s the Second Annual Audio Description Awards put on by the American Council of the Blind.  We’ll hear about some of the winners and talk about all things audio description with Kim Charlson, co-chair of the ACB Audio Description Project, and Thomas Reid, audio description narrator and host of the Gala two years running.

Hello, everybody.  Glen Gordon welcoming you to our podcast for November of 2022.  If you’re here in the United States or in Canada, I hope that you have a happy, healthy, and heavy Thanksgiving dinner.  Thanksgiving is always my favorite holiday of the year just because there are so many good things to eat.  And although I love turkey, once a year is more than enough because, between the main meal and leftovers, I definitely get my fill.

Hopefully you’ve not gotten your fill yet of FSCast since we’re at the very beginning, and we have lots for you this month, including an update about Notification Manager and Notification History.  A bunch of folks wrote in and said that they appreciated my tutorial about how you could use regular expressions to tame some of those messages that come in.  We’ve added a feature to the JAWS December update.  This will be out in mid-December as part of our first updates of 2023.  And that allows you to individually disable and then reenable rules.  Because as many people have been quick to point out, if you begin to have a whole bunch of rules, things may start working badly.  And you can’t always tell which rule has been responsible for the problem.  Up to this point there has been the master kill switch, the turn-off-notification processing.  And that would only tell you that one of your rules did or did not cause the problem.  But it wouldn’t help you really narrow down which one it is.

But with the change that’s coming in our December update, you’ll be able to disable rules one by one, run for a little while with that rule disabled, and see if the problem is solved.  The way to disable a rule is either from a context menu that you can invoke while positioned on the rule of interest, or you can tab to a button to disable or reenable it.  Or you can use a hotkey of ALT+A.  And A is the common letter in disable and enable, which is why we picked it for the hotkey.  And ALT+A will toggle between enabling and disabling the rule on which you’re focused.  That change and a variety of other small enhancements and fixes will be in the December updates of JAWS, ZoomText, and Fusion that should come to a computer near you mid-December.

JAWS Power Tip

GLEN:  Time now for this month’s Power Tip.  And it comes to us from longtime JAWS user and expert Debee Armstrong.  Her tip has to do with handling situations where you’re on a web page, and you press ENTER on something, either a link or a button or any number of other things, and nothing happens.  Now, sometimes something may actually happen, but you just don’t know it because content changes elsewhere on the page.  But in the case where nothing really does happen, one possibility is that the page authors didn’t get it quite right, and they don’t respond in a standard way to what screen readers do to indicate that something has been clicked.  We tell the browser, click this item.  And most of the time that matches with the developer expectations.  But every now and then the only way to activate something is to get the mouse there and simulate a mouse click.

Now, you may be saying, but I don’t have a mouse.  Yes, I don’t have a mouse either, except in my basement where I wish I didn’t.  But fortunately, JAWS can simulate the actions of a mouse.  That’s what we’re going to talk about here.  So if you’re on that offending thing, a button or a link, the first thing you’ll want to do when you’re in the virtual buffer is route the JAWS cursor, and the JAWS cursor is sort of a proxy for the mouse, route that to the location where you are on the virtual buffer.

If you’re using desktop layout, you can simply hold down the JAWS key and press the NUMPAD dash key.  That’s the upper right of the number pad.  If you’re on a laptop layout, use JAWS Key and the left bracket.  Either way, that will route the JAWS cursor/mouse to where the virtual cursor is.  And then all you need to do is simulate a left mouse button click.  With desktop layout that’s the slash on the numeric keypad.  On laptop layout it’s JAWS Key+8 on the number row.  If for some reason you need to right-click, that’s star on the numeric keypad or JAWS Key+9 on the number row.  Either way that may be a way to activate something that is proving intractable by activating it in other ways.

Now, sometimes I have found that if my screen isn’t maximized, and I’m not zoomed to 100%, that JAWS doesn’t get it right, and we don’t route the mouse to exactly where it needs to be to activate in the way I just described.  To maximize, press ALT+SPACE followed by dash; and to zoom to 100%, that’s CTRL+0 on the number row.  And this is just good behavior to get into the habit of checking periodically when a site isn’t behaving exactly as you’d like because of what’s called responsive design, where web pages will nicely adapt to show a certain amount of content based on the size of the screen.  Larger screen, or larger window, means more content will be there by default.  So, for instance, if you remember there being a bunch of options at the top of the virtual buffer that suddenly have disappeared on a particular site, it might be that when you last browsed, you were maximized and zoomed to 100%, where now you’re window is smaller, and so less content is shown by default.

For sending in her tip, Debee gets a year added onto her JAWS license.  And if you have a Power Tip, something about JAWS, ZoomText, or Fusion that you find really useful, and you think that other folks may not be aware of, write to us at fscast@vispero.com, fscast@vispero.com, and we’ll add your Power Tip to the list of those we consider for future episodes.

Audio Description:  Interview with Kim Charlson and Thomas Reid

GLEN:  We’re going to spend some time now talking about the whole topic of audio description.  But the discussion to follow presumes that you’ve maybe watched a program or two that has been audio described, that you know a little bit about the basics.  But if you don’t, do not fear.  We did a more basics-oriented episode back in June of 2021 on FSCast 201 when Judy Dixon joined us to talk about her book about audio description.  And that talks somewhat about the history and all the ways that you can consume audio described programs.

I just went back and looked at the transcript.  Yes, we do have transcripts.  All our episodes back since the beginning of 2019 have been tirelessly transcribed by Elaine Farris.  And I looked at the transcript of my interview with Judy, and I’m shocked and horrified to realize that we did not talk about a great resource for audio description, and that is the American Council of the Blind’s Audio Description Project.  It is just a great resource with pretty much a definitive list of audio-described content which you can either browse or search for by name or partial name.  You can also find out what’s on the various networks and cable channels at a given hour of the day.

Many more articles and resources at adp.acb.org.  One of the things that’s available there is a link for streaming the 2022 Audio Description Awards, which happened on November 29th.  And hot off the press is my interview with Kim Charlson, who’s executive director of the Perkins Library and also co-chair of the ACB Audio Description Project; and Thomas Reid, who is a podcaster, host of the Reid My Mind podcast, that’s R E I D.  He’s also an audio description narrator, and he’s been the host two years running of the Audio Description Awards Gala.  Welcome to both of you.

THOMAS REID:  Thank you, sir.

KIM CHARLSON:  Thank you so much.

GLEN:  So, Kim, I think you’re the elder statesperson here in terms of audio description, since you were part of the WGBH pilot project back in ‘84.  What are your earliest recollections of audio description and your experiences with it?

KIM:  When I was younger, audio description was, you know, it was something my parents did when we went to the movies.  And it kind of became problematic because they would whisper things to me, and people around us would get annoyed, and they would say, “Hey, shut up,” and all that kind of stuff.  And I know others have experienced that same thing.  And pretty soon something that I did with my family fairly regularly became something we stopped doing because they were embarrassed.  They didn’t want to make a scene.  But they wanted to try to tell me what was happening.  And then they got dissed for it.  So it stopped happening in my life.

And it wasn’t really until I was, you know, in my 20s that I really learned very much about audio description and had the experience with WGBH to see what audio description could bring to television.  And then shortly thereafter live theater and museums and, you know, everything that audio description can do.  There were a lot of meetings with advocates from ACB and NFB about how should description be done.  WGBH asked lots of questions of consumers, and listened, and developed a lot of the best practices that still exist today in the development of audio description for media.  But the late ‘80s, ‘90s, besides WGBH, there wasn’t too much else out there except live theater.

Then I bet many of your listeners remember the home video VHS tapes that they could buy with a movie and play at home on their VHS player.  So it was a pretty exciting time and really had a lot to do with I think the growth of description.  Then the 2000s was the time when advocates for audio description in media had to introduce legislation in Congress and worked to get that passed.  And ACB has certainly been there the whole way with all of that discussion, advocacy, compromise, to where we ended up in 2010.  And I had the honor of being at the White House on October 8th, 2010, when President Obama signed the 21st Century Video Accessibility Act, or CVAA as we call it, that mandated description for the broadcast networks like ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX, and the top five cable providers.

In 2009 we started the Audio Description Project, hired Dr. Joel Snyder to work as the project director, and have been advocating for audio description in all of its different venues ever since that time.  And we continue to do that today with advocacy toward basically the next generation of CVAA, which I think you’ll be hearing more about in the not-too-distant future, and things like the Audio Description Awards Gala.

GLEN:  Which we will talk about in a couple of minutes.  But I want to bring Thomas into the conversation.  What were your first experiences with audio description?

THOMAS:  My first experience with audio description was in 2004, and that was soon after I lost my sight.  The experience sort of started with inaccessibility; right?  I went to kind of sit down and watch a movie, and it was like, hey.  Never even thought about this.  I don’t know what’s happening; you know?  And my wife did some research.  We learned about it, and kind of Kim mentioned some of the VHS.  I think my first VHS that I actually got to just kind of check out was probably “The Lion King.”  So, you know, I had watched “Lion King” earlier with my daughter and actually saw it without audio description.  But then it wasn’t until a few years after that, it was like 2007 where I had my first in-theater experience with audio description.  And that was it.  That was a game-changer.  That was “Die Hard.”  “Die Hard 4,” yeah.

GLEN:  What moved you from being a consumer to being actively involved?  What were the precipitating factors?

THOMAS:  Yeah, you know, I think it was like, hey, why isn’t this available everywhere?  Why isn’t this on TV?  Why aren’t more theaters doing this?  Why, when we go and try to access this in a theater, you know, many of us were reporting this same experience, you know, the person who works in the theater wasn’t familiar with it, and they would offer you the wrong device, offering you the device of the hearing impaired.  And so when I lost my site in 2004, soon after that I got involved.  I’m one of the folks who started a – we started a chapter of the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind in my county.  And so I really got involved there with advocating for the CVAA.  I like to say “CV double A,” just sounds cool to me.

Yeah, so I realized that that really, like, man, audio description, I like to always say, is about much more than entertainment.  And all of the things that a film is really about, and access to a film; right?  And so relationships.  Employment, right, because we talk about relationships and just being able to talk to people about whatever’s going on.  And often that’s media; right?  Hey, did you check out the latest “Game of Thrones,” those types of things.

GLEN:  And we’ll talk more about audio description more generally after we talk about the Gala, which happened the night of November 29th.  Kim, what was ACB’s logic for creating an event like this?

KIM:  For two reasons.  One is it is a great opportunity to raise funds to support our audio description advocacy work.  That one’s a no-brainer.  But the other is more because of awareness.  And I think the Gala has done that because there are producers now who are more engaged in the process.  When you say “audio description,” they don’t go, “Huh?  What’s that?”  They’re like, “Yes, we have somebody who works on that.”  And they know what it is.  And that’s a huge step forward from where we were four or five years ago, where hardly anybody at the level of the production really cared much about it.

So I think we’re making a lot of inroads, and I hope we’ll make more with future galas.  But they are a tremendous boost to the industry.  It’s a way to say thank you for doing something that Thomas and I would say you should have been doing for a long time, but we’re not going to say that at the Gala.  We just would tend to say, you know, it’s way beyond time that you’re onboard with us.

GLEN:  Did you do some things this year differently to try to get buzz?

KIM:  One of the things we did after the first year was say, you know, we need to have a way for audio description consumers or allies or whoever they are to have a little bit more of a say in the awards process.  And we created an audio description People’s Choice Award, which took 10 nominated programs or movies.  We had a voting period for two weeks back in September to allow consumers of different audio description shows to vote for their favorite show.  And we encouraged all of the nominees or the finalists to share it out on their social media channels.  And in a couple of cases with “Star Trek” and “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” both of those ended up appearing on fan social media channels for those shows.  So...

GLEN:  That’s really cool.  I would never have expected this because I’m not a social media strategist.

KIM:  Yeah.  It was great.  And it was sort of organic, to say the least.  And, you know, the winner of the 2022 People’s Choice Award was “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” the Disney+ production, with description from Deluxe U.S.  And “Obi-Wan Kenobi” is a production of Lucasfilm’s for Disney.  And they have designated a producer who is responsible for audio description.  So the writing for “Obi-Wan Kenobi” is especially good, very vivid, very descriptive, and incredibly accurate to the program and the content.  So that’s exciting.

The other thing that was super exciting, which I think spins off from this, the primary “Obi-Wan Kenobi” actor is Ewan McGregor.  And there was a clip in the Gala from him.  And his connection to audio description was just incredibly sweet and nice, and it comes from his mother, Carol.  She is an audio describer in Scotland.  And when we asked if she might want to have her son help us, she said, “Of course he will.”  And of course he did because Mom said so.  It was great to have him acknowledge that as the star of the People’s Choice Award.  That was really great.

GLEN:  And the host of the Gala two years of running now was of course Thomas.  What in particular stands out for you from this year’s festivities?

THOMAS:  Last year it was all taking place in my extremely modern, state-of-the-art vocal booth, a.k.a. my closet.  And, you know, it was nice to be able to get out of the closet this year.  And, you know, we found ourselves movin’ on up, and we went over to 30 Rock, of all places, in New York City.  And so we had the opportunity to film in 30 Rock.  And so that was a lot of fun.  And so it was nice to kind of just, you know, get back to the city.  I’m originally from NYC.  And it was also nice because I got to meet, finally, for the first time in person, everybody who was a part of the Gala.  And including Nefertiti Matos Olivares, who this year not only served as audio description narrator, but she’s co-hosting.  So it was fun, yeah.

GLEN:  Wow.  It has a nice flow to it, and it’s a quick-passing 90-minutes.

THOMAS:  Yeah, it’s not a quick-passing production, I can tell you that.

GLEN:  Well, isn’t that the idea?  It’s supposed to sound like everybody rolled out of bed and just naturally did everything.

THOMAS:  No, definitely not.  That is not the way production works.  It’s called “production” for a reason.  And, yeah, I wish I would have, you know, there are the benefits of being at home; right?  Being on Zoom or whatever the case may be, being on the camera like that where you only have to worry about the waist up, and you can be seated and comfortable.  But standing on your feet that long in hard-bottom shoes and all that type of thing, yeah, it’s been a while since I had to do that.  So, but it was a good time.

GLEN:  Are there some other awards that either of you guys want to call out before we start talking a little bit about audio description, the process, a little bit more?

KIM:  We gave an Outstanding Audio Description Visionary Award to Larry Goldberg.  And Larry is someone who has been involved with, well, first with captioning, and then audio description through many years at WGBH Media Access Group, and then later at Yahoo, as well.  So very well deserved.  We gave several Audio Description Game Changer awards.  One was for innovation.  That went to Microsoft.  Microsoft has been involved promoting audio description within their corporate environment, for all their training videos, and they’re very serious about audio description on their Xbox platform.  So that’s a different kind of venue for audio description, a little less traditional, but nevertheless important for people who are gamers that want to have accessibility.

We also had an Audio Description Achievement Award for Live Events.  And this one went to Paramount Global, that would be CBS, for the Grammy Awards.  And that’s live.  So anybody who’s done anything live knows, especially for television, that can be challenging.  And it was a big commitment.  And I think they’re going to stay with it now that it’s happened.  We’ll see the Grammys with audio description, everything from what kind of a dress someone was wearing to all those different things you’ve always wondered and nobody was around to tell you.  So I really want you all to take that opportunity to go and view the 2022 Gala because it’s entertaining, fun, informative, and I just think that all of these award recipients are deserving, and you’ll really enjoy it.  So thanks for that.

GLEN:  Let’s turn to how audio description is done, a little bit.  And I guess the place to start in terms of Thomas is how did you start doing audio description?

THOMAS:  It all goes back to the podcast for me, and producing and recording and writing my narration and doing everything the way I do that there.  And talking about audio description, that was a big part of it.  But, you know, the more I looked into audio description and thought about it, I was like, hmm.  I kind of think I would like to do narration.  And I approached some people years ago who are in the business; and I really, quite honestly, I felt like I was being dissuaded from participating in audio description because I was blind.  And I was being relegated to, well, maybe QC, Quality Control, and possibly audio editing, doing the edits.  And while that’s fine because I am an editor, I am a mixer, I do audio engineering, I was really interested in the narration.

And so I was told that the process does not necessarily make itself available to someone who is blind because you have to be able to look at the time codes that are on the screen, and the script that is sometimes projected on the screen, and kind of go there and do all of that and jump in when necessary.  And I always thought, well, that’s one process.  Why can’t there be another process?  And so fast-forward, years later.  I actually got my first opportunity through a friend of mine, Cheryl Green, who’s also an audio descriptionist.  She’s an audio description writer/narrator/producer and all of that.  And we did a joint narration on a project for Alice Sheppard, who is a disabled dancer, wheelchair dancer, well known.  And it was a fabulous project.

When the pandemic hit, I ended up connecting with Eric Wickstrom from International Digital Centre IDC.  And he was listening to the podcast already, and I’ve been talking about, hey, why aren’t there some more blind people doing audio description, you know, like we should be doing this.  And he felt the same.  And he wanted to kind of talk about it.  And I think it was because he was listening and because of course the pandemic, when the pandemic changed it for everyone.  No one else could now go into the studio.  Everyone had to think about a different process, which is what, you know, what disabled folks usually are yelling about.  Hey, let’s think about a new process.  And so those two things kind of merged, and the opportunity came to be for me.  And that’s how it got started,

GLEN:  What did the mechanics for you, for describing something?

THOMAS:  The mechanics aren’t really that different from anyone else.  The only thing that I like to say is that I just take in the information through my ears as opposed to reading that script with my eyes.  So let’s say there’s 100 lines.  Line 1, boom, I read that.  Line 2, boom, I read that.  But I’m basically listening to the output of JAWS, and I’m making sure that that output of JAWS, when I’m recording, doesn’t bleed over into my recording.  Yeah, and, I mean, it’s basically that simple.  So like I said, the process isn’t really that different  from a sighted narrator.  They’re reading it.  Either they print it out or they’re looking at it on their screen.  Me, I’m listening to it in my ear bud.

GLEN:  Do you listen to the audio of the thing you’re narrating to try to get the right tone?

THOMAS:  I do that, as well.  And also in the scripts they’re usually giving information.  So, you know, for the most part with the things that I’ve been describing, you can get a feel for what’s happening in the script.  But yes, when I have the opportunity to get the film itself, to get the video, I definitely do that.  And so I can mute one.  I put that track on, you know, I don’t want to get too into the weeds, but I use REAPER, and I put that on one track.  And I might have the markers on another track.  So I’m going from one spot to the other.  And, yeah, and I can kind of watch the film at the same time.  But I like to get it all laid down, all my lines, and then kind of go back and watch it to see if there’s anything.  And I can change it on the fly.  There’s, oh, wait, you know what, I want to – I want to emote a little differently for this particular line.  I can do that.

GLEN:  Do you do the narration solo?  Or do you have someone on the line listening and saying, no, you got that line wrong, please redo it?

THOMAS:  We do it both.  So with some companies I’m on a source connect, and they’re recording my side.  I’ll probably record my side, as well, and let them choose which one they want to do.  But we’re putting it right onto the timeline.  So I actually, you know, to be totally honest with you, Glen, I was really nervous my first time doing that because we’re really cooking, you know, when we’re doing that type of thing.  We’re jumping right to the next marker, boom, boom, boom.

GLEN:  Yeah.

THOMAS:  And you get – I learned how to get into a flow.  And that’s the difference is that you really have to have an understanding of your script.  You have to come up with a formatting style that really works for you.  So maybe X amount of words on a line; right?  Knowing when to kind of hurry up and get down to the next line, to hear it before you have to say it.  There’s some timing issues, absolutely.  But to be totally honest with you, this is not something that I just started when I wanted to do audio description.  I said I was doing it with the podcast and my narration because my podcast I write everything.

But even if we go back earlier than that, when I first got back onto my computer, and whether it be, you know, working in whatever capacity or working in advocacy stuff and leading meetings, I would have my agenda and notes in one ear when I’m talking to folks.  And so I was doing that.  I didn’t realize it at that time, but I was learning this process and getting very comfortable with it.  So now I’m comfortable.  As long as I can manipulate my text file and have a way to kind of go from line to line that is a smooth process, and be able to hear it comfortably at a good volume, then there’s no problem.

GLEN:  Why don’t you use braille?

THOMAS:  Well, I’m not a proficient braille reader.  And, you know, what’s funny is that there are some proficient braille readers who do narration.  And from my understanding, a lot of them end up doing the method that I’m doing, as well.  And so it’s nothing against braille because, you know, that’s another sound that you have to be mindful of, especially if you’re using an electronic braille display.  You have to consider those pins are popping up; right?  You have to also consider your hand on paper and the changing of the paper.  So some use that method, and sometimes it’s probably good.  But then sometimes it might not work for them.  So, but if I was a proficient braille reader, yeah, I’d probably use it.  But I’m not that proficient.

GLEN:  How much of the Wild West is it when it comes to writing audio narration copy?  Because it seems at some level to me what’s described are the things that are brought into the forefront.  And they may or may not be the most important things.

THOMAS:  Yeah, yeah.  I think it’s definitely a Wild West because, I mean, you can go from company to company, and if you’re watching, and I always recommend that, so when you find something that you like in AD, make note of who actually did that; right?  Which company.  What’s the writer’s name if they have it.  If you like the narrator, of course.  Folks a lot of times get caught up with just the narrator.  No, listen to the – listen to the writing.  But, yeah, it’s different.  You can just open up Netflix, pick and choose, and you’re going to have different quality.  And I think we need to be focusing on that quality personally.

KIM:  Some companies have a policy right now where they don’t tell you who did the description.  And believe me, the Audio Description Project at ACB is advocating that those companies tell who the describing company is and tell who the voice talent is.  We certainly have favorites.  But if we’re going to give useful feedback, it really helps to be able to say it was this episode of this program, the description was written by blah blah, and the voice talent was so-and-so.  I mean, we can’t get more specific than that.  And that’s, you know, what we need.

GLEN:  It’s just like any other kind of performance.

THOMAS:  Mm-hmm.

GLEN:  Do you want to match something about the cultural affinity or other things about the narrator with the content of what’s being narrated.

THOMAS:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.  And that’s a big, big, big issue, I think, because, you know, it’s still being done.  I mean, there are shows, there are movies that are obviously within a specific culture.  If audio description narrators, you know, we’re saying that they are a part of this film, then it’s a casting choice.  It should be looked at as a casting choice, not just who is available, right, because everyone’s available.  You can find the person, the right person of the culture to probably voice that and narrate that.  And that works in all, all different types of cultures.

So it’s not just, you know, it’s not just race.  I don’t think I should be only describing black films because there are films that are not of any particular culture.  If we say this is an American film, well, newsflash, black people are also of this country.  And so I think I would have the opportunity to do that, as well.  But I would not, and I have turned down opportunities to describe things that I did, was like I’m not of that culture, and this is very, very baked.  That culture is baked into this film.  And it was of Asian – it was an Asian film.  And I did not feel right doing that at all.  And I turned that down because if I’m going to talk about this, I think I should represent that, as well.

And so I think it works many different ways.  And it could work the same way.  I mean, it could be something that is a British – it could be a British film, a British show.  And just sometimes hearing that different voice, maybe that different accent, that could be disruptive sometimes.  It can take you out.  It can make you think about, hmm, who is this person?  Why have they chose them?  And meanwhile the movie is going on.  And so, you know, it took you out of that.

GLEN:  What about describing race in content?  When is it appropriate, and when is it just bringing something to mind that’s sort of an ancillary topic?

THOMAS:  Well, I don’t think it’s ever necessarily ancillary.  And I think there’s time that’s involved in there; right?  So the opportunity to describe someone.  But it is information that sighted people have when watching a movie, when watching a television show, when watching a play.  You have that.  And whether or not you do anything with that information is up to the individual.  But it is information that they have access to.

So even if we don’t get into anything about the film, anything about the plot, it’s about having that information, to let a consumer decide what to do with it.  It’s part of the movie.  It is absolutely part of a movie.  It’s part of our experience.  It’s a part of this country.  It’s a part of this world.  So I believe that, you know, a lot of times they choose, the choice is made to describe someone’s hair color.  Well, what makes someone’s hair color more identifiable for this character than their skin color may?  I’m often baffled when I hear “blond hair,” “black hair,” “brunette.”  Okay.

GLEN:  Well, that’s almost like they’re going the other way to not describe the skin color.

THOMAS:  Exactly.  Exactly.  Which is the history of audio description was always about color blindness.  And so I think just the same way that color blindness does not work in the main culture in our society, and I think people are starting to realize that, I don’t think it works in audio description.

KIM:  I think about this a lot because I think by not saying that there is someone who’s dark-skinned, light-skinned, Asian, whatever it might be, if we just, you know, go to the other extreme where we don’t say it, that can be implicit bias.  And there’s so much implicit bias out there that’s, well, if we don’t say it, don’t you just assume it’s a white person?  Or whatever.  And I, you know, I don’t want implicit bias.  I think that we need to be upfront.  We need to be out there and making those choices and sifting through the information ourselves to determine what we want to know.

There’s a local theater in the Boston area where I live that uses a lot of diverse casting.  They also incorporate people with disabilities.  And the Perkins School for the Blind tends to take the students there, like 30 or 40 at a time, to see those productions.  And I said once to them, “You have disabled actors in this production.  When you’re describing, you should say that because this is really important to those students, to hear that there’s someone with a disability onstage.  That could be their dream.”  And to know that there’s somebody there I think is really important.  And those are just – it’s information we should all have access to.

GLEN:  So I want to talk about something that I think is a controversial topic, and it seems to have started really recently, which is the topic of self-description.  And I as someone who has been blind all of my life, all 64 years now, have never responded very much to visual descriptions because I have no frame of reference within which to interpret them.  And so if I’m in a meeting, and I’m the only blind guy, and someone does self-description, I feel a little like, you know, thanks, but why bother?  And I think, Thomas, you have strong thoughts on this, perhaps along the same lines of what we’ve been talking about.

THOMAS:  Definitely along the same lines.  And, you know, what you just said, I think that is fine.  That is a perspective that I think sometimes people get misunderstood with where I’m coming from.  But if you don’t find it useful, it’s perfectly fine.  But I do think that, especially the fact that most people who are blind had sight at some point in their life, and so there’s information that they have been using.  And again, I’m not judging how they use it at all.  However they use it is how they use it.  And so why shouldn’t they have access to that?  I think the idea of a roomful of people who are actually now thinking about access, I think there’s so much that can come from that.

Yes, not everyone does it right.  Sometimes, yes, people want to give you way too much information.  So people need to learn how to do it.  But we don’t just stop a process because it’s uncomfortable.  We don’t just stop a process because we’re not sure how to do it.  We continue to work on that, and we try to  get it right.  And I think self-description is that right now, and we’re trying to find a way to communicate to folks who want to give that information how to do that quickly, and how to do it right.  And I think the other part is, if you have never used that information, if you have never considered that information, right, well, maybe that can be helpful.  Maybe that can be helpful to you.

And again, however you decide to use it is what you do.  But maybe you’ll come to some sort of determination.  Maybe you’ll see, like, hmm, I get – does this have anything to do with the fact that this person is XYZ?  Is there something there?  It can also, because maybe you’re looking for someone in your life who is XYZ for whatever reason.  Maybe you start to notice, oh, my friend group really isn’t diverse at all.  I like what this person had to say.  Maybe I can approach them.  You know, it could be whatever that is, whatever that is.  But again, it’s just additional information is the way I’m looking at it.

KIM:  I find that I’ve put some filters on kind of when I like it and when I don’t, which I find interesting.  I don’t want every meeting at work to start with people thinking they have to self-describe because I’m there.  I think this is where Glen was kind of getting to a little bit; you know?  We’ve worked together.  We don’t need that.  But at the same time I’ve also noticed in cross-disability settings or more corporate settings, where there’s more than just me, that I have a different feeling about it because I tell myself that there are other people that can benefit from this.  And it’s, you know, something that the cross-disability community, it has embraced because they believe that it is helpful to the blind community that there’s a self-description going on.

The thing I really don’t like is when I had to self-describe.  Now, that really made me think about it.  It’s like, wow, this is hard.  I never self-describe myself; you know?  So now I’ve kind of prepared a little self-description that I’ve got to pull out of the hat when I need it.

THOMAS:  Yeah.

GLEN:  Yeah.  I get as far as balding white guy.  Because beyond that I don’t, you know, I would need to ask my wife to help me come up with a good description and then memorize it.  You know.  Brown eyes.  Yes, okay, I remember now.

THOMAS:  I mean, you can talk about the things that you want to highlight.  You know, you don’t have to – I don’t – I no longer have eyes, so I’m not going to talk about my eye color.  I usually have dark shades on; right?  And so that’s not the thing that I’m going to put forth.  I’m going to put forth my smooth-shaven bald head because I think that everybody should know about my smooth shaven bald head.

GLEN:  Yeah.

THOMAS:  I’m going to talk about my luxurious beard now; right?

GLEN:  Yes.

THOMAS:  So, you know, these are the things that I want to put forth.  So I, you know, I encourage people to have fun with it, to show a little of your creativity.  And also, if you are uncomfortable, explore that.  What’s the matter with self-exploration?  What’s the matter with that?  We should really sort of think about these things because they affect not only us as individuals, but we’re in a society, and so there’s a lot of things that can come out of just thinking about these topics.

GLEN:  Is there anything else we should discuss broadly, just in terms of audio description, that I failed to raise?

THOMAS:  I think a concern that needs to be a part of the conversation is definitely synthetic speech in terms of narration.  And from what I’m hearing, I’m hearing like this is inevitable.  I’m hearing this is probably sooner than later.  And quite honestly, I want to know as a community what can we do about it?  So, you know, I don’t know how much you want to get into it, but these are things that I think the community needs to be thinking about.  I’m 54, and my understanding of the world is that when corporations have something that they really want to kind of push forward, it’s kind of hard to stop that.  It can be really, really hard to stop that.

And I’m wondering what can we as a community do to say, hey, wait, this is not something we’re interested in because the dollar is what I believe is making this decision for these companies.  And I think this is a bigger problem than just audio description because, you know, I feel like audio description, we’re the trial run.  And eventually we know that that’s going to be audible.  We know that that’s going to be, you know, wherever voices are needed, it’s going to be there, whether that be commercials, I mean, yeah, Glen, I think it’s a big issue.  And I, you know, I want to see something, some sort of conversation around it.

KIM:  When we ask this question among users of audio description, they are pretty passionate about the fact that they want their AD voice to be human.  They want it to blend with the content.  They want it to emote when it’s appropriate to do so, when it’s exciting, when it’s passionate, when it’s dull, whatever the case may be, they want that variation in tone that conveys intensity or information.  I also have a colleague that has dual vision and hearing loss, and he’s very passionate about the fact that text-to-speech is harder to listen to because it doesn’t have those tonal nuances that we all appreciate so much.  And so I think if text-to-speech is going to be in the equation, it has got to be high quality.

But my preference and what we’ve been advocating for is absolutely try to get 100% of your new content with human voice narration.  Old stuff might have text-to-speech.  But if it’s a classic movie, no way.  Don’t do that.  Don’t ruin that classic movie by giving text-to-speech for audio description.

GLEN:  And that’s probably a pretty good place to leave it.  Before we wrap up the discussion, if people want to watch a replay of the Audio Description Awards, Kim, how do they do that?

KIM:  There is a website that you can go to, to watch the Gala and see all the award winners and recognize the great work that they have all done.  So there’s opportunities to donate there, as well.  So the first option for viewing the Gala online would be at the website, which is adawardsgala.org – A D for Audio Description, adawardsgala.org.  You’ll be able to view the 2022  Gala or the 2021 Gala, too.  It’s still posted there, as well.  It’s also available on ACB’s YouTube channel.  And this year our industry partner, Pluto TV, is carrying the Gala on their on-demand service, which is free of charge at Pluto TV.  And it’s listed there as “Audio Description Awards Gala,” or “AD Awards Gala.”  You’ll find it either way.

GLEN:  Thomas, if folks want to listen to your podcast, and I give it a 100% thumbs-up, how do they find it?

THOMAS:  Oh, thank you, Glen.  So wherever you get your podcasts you can listen to Reid My Mind Radio.  Everybody forgets the radio.  It’s Reid My Mind Radio.  And the thing that you need to know in order to get there, and to get there safely, you have to spell it right.  And it’s R to the E I D, My Mind Radio.  Or you can just go onto reidmymind.com, that same spelling, reidmymind.com.  Thanks, Glen.  Appreciate that.

GLEN:  Hey, thank you both for joining me.  This was a great conversation, and you’re two people who I’ve not talked to before and would love to have in my life.

THOMAS:  Excellent.

GLEN:  So may we meet again soon.

THOMAS:  That would be fantastic.

KIM:  Thank you.

Signing Off on FSCast 223

GLEN:  That does it for FSCast 223.  And it also does it for FSCast in 2022.  Yes, I do realize there’s another month in the year, but December is the month that I take something away from my bear cousins, and I go into hibernation, recharging my batteries for the year to come.  So we won’t have a new FSCast episode in December, though we will have a replay of FSOpenLine around December 15th.

I’m Glen Gordon.  Thanks for joining me, both today and throughout 2022.  I wish you the best of holiday seasons, and we’ll see you next year.

Transcript by elaine@edigitaltranscription.com


edigitaltranscription.com  •  11/29/2022  •  edigitaltranscription.com