Imagine that you’ve bought tickets to a play. You made a big effort and bought two tickets in the middle of the fourth row as a birthday present for your partner. You get all dressed up. You stop for a cup of coffee on the way and arrive at the theater. The auditorium is dark. You hold hands. The curtain opens to a faint murmur, and then there’s silence. Suddenly there’s a burst of laughter. You don’t know what’s happened. The prologue, and then actors are speaking, and you manage to identify some of the voices. Your partner whispers to you that now they’re moving from the living room to the café, and from there to the park. There’s a sigh in the auditorium, and your partner whispers to you that they are kissing.
This is the experience of tens of thousands of blind and visually impaired people in Israel who want to enjoy cultural performances such as plays and films. In order to follow the visual information they need the help of a companion who whispers to them what is happening in the scene before them.
How do we remove this social and cultural obstacle?
At the Library we bring access to culture by providing Audio Description of the visual content of a scene. We create an accompanying soundtrack that describes to the listener exactly what is happening on the screen or stage, in a non-intrusive way that is true to the original creation. In this way we enable tens of thousands of blind and visually impaired people to enjoy cultural experiences with friends and family, and to take an active part in the culture of the country, as if they could see it with their own eyes.
What is Audio Description (AD)?
AD is a service that allows blind and visually impaired people to close the gap resulting from the inability to see, by enabling them to properly enjoy cultural experiences. The audio description aims to describe visual images so that the listener receives a full picture of the characters and events taking place. It follows strict guidelines that demand accurate, creative and concise use of language. The audio description is inserted without interfering with the dialogue and music, so as not to intrude on the original soundtrack.
In contrast to other forms of accessibility, such as sign language and subtitles, AD is a separate, complementary production that needs to be done very professionally in order to correctly portray the visual content of the artistic creation. By involving the creators of the film or series we ensure that the AD is accurate and remains faithful to the original production.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified in 2012 by the State of Israel, addresses the equal right of persons with various disabilities to participate in cultural life. It calls upon countries that support the Convention to take all appropriate measures to ensure that people with disabilities are provided with television programs, movies, theater and cultural activities in formats that are accessible to them.
A taste of what is available in other countries
Check out how it’s done at Disney Studios in this segment from the Frozen trailer.
Two types of Audio Description
There are types of audio description: either pre-recorded or live.
- The pre-recorded method is used to produce an audio description soundtrack for films or television programs. The soundtrack production, done in a special recording studio requires great precision and skill in order to integrate it with the existing soundtrack without intruding on the original. Often there is a very small window in which the AD can be inserted, so the AD script must be prepared with great attention to detail so that it conveys the most essential visual content to the audience.
- The live method is used for theater and other live events. The narrator describes in real time what is happening on stage or during the event, and the visually impaired members of the audience in the auditorium listen with personal headphones, so their neighbors are not disturbed. In theater the AD narration is not pre-recorded because of possible changes in timing, improvisation or changes to the cast.
The Audio Description production team
The team consists of the Director of Accessibility who manages the entire process of producing the soundtrack, the collaboration producer, the scriptwriter who prepares the audio description, a professional narrator who specializes in audio description, a linguistic consultant and sound technician skilled in the accurate placement of the soundtrack.