Live audio descriptions are his forte

Joel Snyder, President, Audio Description Associates (third from left), Moulik Berkana, cultural affairs officer, Counsulate-General of the USA, (second from right), actor Revathi (third from right), Senthil Kumar, co-founder Qube Cinema (Right) at a workshop on audio description for the blind in IIT Madras Research Park, on Friday. B. Velankanni Raj   | Photo Credit: B_VELANKANNI RAJ

Have you ever wished you could keep pace with a TV show playing in the living room while you had to be elsewhere in the house? Then you will appreciate Joel Snyder, who has carved a career of describing events, on television and radio, for 40 years. He was recently in Chennai for the Ability Foundation’s two-day workshop on audio description. The Ability film fest 2019, a disability film festival, is also on in the city.

Currently the president of Audio Description Associates, and director of Audio Description Project, American Council of the Blind, Mr. Snyder began by reading books on radio for visually impaired persons. His experience in theatre, “lot of professional acting” helped, he says.

He recalls launching himself as a volunteer reader at the Metropolitan Washington Ear, a non-profit organisation. A demonstration of assistive listening system decided his career path. The concept of a listening system that allowed people hard of hearing to wear a headset that boosts the volume was tweaked for blind people to include vivid descriptions of the event. Thus was launched the the world’s first audio description (AD) service.

“Audio description began to spread in different art forms and genres and since I was one of the first to work with description, I was being asked more and more to help spread it,” he explains.

No preview of material

At present, audio description for theatre, TV, opera performances and in the museum is available. One of the challenges is live description for televised events, which do not give an opportunity to preview the material, he says.

“I divide training into four fundamentals,” Mr. Snyder says. A person should be observant, “seeing everything actively”; be able to edit; have language proficiency; and be objective, he adds. “Language is fundamental as in a way we are translators, translating images to words. Understanding language, having a strong vocabulary, using fewer but vivid imaginative language, objectivity and verbal skills, are a requirement for a person who wishes to be an audio describer,” Mr. Snyder says. As a trainer his focus is on voice, as voices convey meaning.

He has trained people in as many as 62 countries. “The fundamentals apply in any language. Sometimes I am accompanied by simultaneous translation,” he says. His book The Visual Made Verbal: A Comprehensive Training Manual and Guide to the History and Applications of Audio Description has been translated in several languages, including Russian, Portugese and Spanish.

Adapting to changes

With technological advancement the service has also changed. The services will grow but changes need to be adapted. Smartphones now offer apps that can listen to the movie that is playing, sync and download the descriptions.

There are plenty of opportunities to become an AD but it cannot be the primary job yet. In the United States, AD “has grown greatly” as the government has mandated that all videos should be accompanied by an audio description, just as captioning (subtitles) have become the norm.

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 3:21:33 PM |

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