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Audio Description

What Is Audio Description?

Audio Description (AD) makes live and recorded (referred to as “Described Video” or “DV”) events more accessible to people who have differing needs when accessing them via sight, understanding and/ or attention. AD is most often targeted to the Blind/ partially sighted/ low vision (B/ PS/ LV) community. The applications however, include people who are neurodiverse and/ or with sensory sensitivities such as Autism and Tourette, as well as people with a fixed or narrow visual field due to range of motion of the head, neck or spine.

Audio Description is the Art of Talking Pictorially and is also known as “Visual Translation” or “Visual Description”. The creativity in what we do presents itself solely through the art of balancing long-established Standards, Codes of Conduct and the needs of our listeners — with sensitivity regarding our diverse cultural landscape and language surrounding identity. It is both an art – of accurately and vividly representing works – and a science – of understanding the way listeners effectively process and retain information.

Professional Audio Description has been a practice world-wide since the early-to-mid 80’s, but Canada didn’t have any form of DV until 1995, and theatre goers had to wait until 2008. Even now there are only a handful of Canadian cities that offer live AD services.

Audio Description logo: Black background, AD written on top with three white lines radiating from the D
Audio Description Logo

How Does Live Audio Description Work?

From a suitable vantage point, the AD professional describes all relevant visual information, during pauses in dialogue, via microphone. Usually, listening attendees are issued a small receiver and single earpiece through which they hear the descriptions. 

Audio Describers report the essential, visual aspects of the event in order to help listeners share in the full and unique experience of being at a live performance, at a conference, in a gallery, at a stadium, or attending any other kind of cultural or business event in real time. Descriptions happen before, during, and after the event and will also include descriptions of the venue, the audience, and any other pertinent information that is directly or indirectly observable by the non-AD audience. The role of the Professional Audio Describer is to be as unobtrusive as possible and to offer impartial information, thereby allowing listeners to develop their own opinions and come to their own conclusions. Professional describers do not base our comments on our personal ideas, impressions, thoughts, feelings or biases. 

The Process

As with all professional works, the AD/ DV script goes through a rigorous process of writing, editing, dramaturgy and rehearsals/ audience testing before public presentation. This, after meticulous study of video, designs and media, press kits, and watching the content several. Essentially, I create a full production that runs in tandem with the one I’m describing.

As per established Best Practices, two describers and a consultant from the B/ PS/ LV community will work in tandem to offer an outstanding quality of description. I firmly believe in the axiom, “Nothing Without Us”, and consulting with the Community is an intrinsic part of my work and general philosophy. 

Credits: Audio Description

All credits in Toronto unless otherwise noted. Present and previous engagers include:

Live Audio Description for Theatre & Visual Art 

(Including Dance, Aerial Arts and Improv; Gallery Tours)

Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, Stratford Festival (Stratford, ON, seasons 2017 – present), Toronto Fringe & Next Stage Theatre Festivals (seasons 2018 – present), ReelAbilities Festival, Theatre Passe Muraille, Ryerson University’s Crip Fashion Show, “Beauty to Be Recognised”, British Council, Creative Users Projects, Opera Atelier, SoulPepper, Cahoots Theatre, Anamacy Theatre Collective, L’Arche Toronto Sol Express, League of Extraordinary People on the Gender Spectrum, Ontario Contemporary Circus Showcase, Circus Sessions I & Circus Sessions II, Red Dress Productions, Luminato, foldA Festival (Kingston, ON), RARE Theatre, Body Brake, Femmes du Feu, Tangled Art + Disability (Toronto & Peterborough), Young People’s Theatre, Paper Canoe Projects, Native Earth Performing Arts, Theatre Direct, Full Radius Dance (Atlanta, GA), National Arts Centre (Ottawa), Power Productions (St. John’s, NL), Propeller Dance (Ottawa), Tarragon Theatre, Lemon Tree Productions, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Aluna Theatre

Recorded Content (Art Instillations, Film and Web Content)

Images Festival, Power Plant Gallery, Critical Distance Centre for Curators, The Cyborg Circus Project, Next Stage Theatre Festival, Paper Canoe Projects, Tangled Art + Disability, Beauty to Be Recognised, Re-Storying Autism, Theatre Direct & WeeFestival of Theatre and Culture for Early Years, Closed Caption Services (CCS), Guiding Principles (Bodies in Translation, U of Guelph), 15 films for Project Re•Vision: The Centre for Art and Social Justice (U of Guelph), York University, National Arts Centre, Sound Cinema, ACTRA Toronto, Amazing Ain’t It Entertainment Inc., 6 filmed workshops for Picasso Pro’s Resource Hub, Jenelle Rouse & Shelly Nafshi Productions, Mark Brose & Wanda Fitzgerald Films, Zombie Tree Productions, Troublefish Films

Live Description for Conferences, Symposiums & Workshops

Good Host Think Tank #2 (Creative Users Projects & Luminato), Borderless Citizen (British Council), Numerous Public Talks and Roundtables (Sidewalk Labs), Boundless (Design Exchange), Festival of Original Theatre Conference (U of T), Cripping the Arts (British Council, Creative Users Projects, Ryerson’s School of Disability Studies & Tangled Art + Disability), MASS LBP Creative Publics, Vibe Symposium (Concordia U, Montréal), Sick Theories (U of T), Co-Design Sessions (Inclusive Design Research Centre – Ontario College of Art and Design), Int’l Association of Venue Managers, WeeFestival of Theatre and Culture for Early Years, Cdn Association of Theatre Research (CATR, Kingston, ON), Co-Design Sessions (U of Guelph & Ryerson), Second Saturday Social Workshop with Jenelle Rouse (Tangled Art + Disability), American Society of Theatre Research (Atlanta, GA), Summit on Indigeneity and Disability (York U, Toronto, ON), Hemispheric Institute Convergence (York U, Toronto, ON), The Study (National Arts Centre, Ottawa, ON), Talking Movement (Picasso Pro, Toronto, ON)

Miscellaneous (Sports, Workshop Leadership and Consultation)

Open Door Project Consultant (Theatre Passe Muraille), 

Accessing the Arts Initiative (Creative Users Projects)

Audio Description for Game of Thrones (Closed Captioning Services Inc.)

Wheelchair Basketball (TO 2015 ParaPan Am games)

Description Pilots, Research and Experiments

Audio Description Codes of Conduct, Standards and “Pretty Good” Practices

Increasing AD Users in the Process of Creating AD & DV

Creative Description for Visual Arts: When is it OK to “Colour” Outside the Lines? (Workshop Co-Lead at the Critical Distance Centre for Curators)

Ethics, Access and Political Correctness: The Conundrum of Describing People in the Age of Identity Politics and Intersectionality (Presentation at the FOOT Festival)

Relaxed Audio Description for Relaxed Performances: RAD at Flying Hearts (Theatre Direct)

Recorded AD for Live, Touring Performances: Flying Hearts (Theatre Direct)

Audio Description for Very Young Children: WeeScription at TWEET TWEET! (Femmes du  Feu & Presentation at the Kennedy Centre’s Leadership Exchange in Arts & Disability (LEAD) Conference)

Off-site, Online AD for remote communities for Pathetic Fallacy, Chemical Valley Project, Symphonova (foldA Festival)

Because of Kat’s experience as a Props Master and builder in the film Industry  (5 features, TV Docs and Pilots, 18 short films), Kat recently created 8 tactile representations of art works to augment the Audio Description Tour at the Power Plant Gallery. While tactile elements are common additions to AD, it’s usually the responsibility of the producers, designers and/ or artists to supply those elements. This was the first time Kat did a build. As one guest wrote, 

“I am grateful for the Audio Description Tour, it established the Power Plant 

as an inclusive space for me and I look forward to spreading the word. 

Specifically Kat’s tactile representations allowed me to conceptualize 

aspects of the art I couldn’t see…”