I’m an audio describer, which means I often have to explain to people just what it is that I do.
A really common question is “so, how long have you known sign language?”, in response to which, I’m compelled to explain that audio description is almost the opposite of signing. Audio description, or AD, is the activity of describing the visual elements of an artwork to people who are blind or vision impaired. It’s often used in theatre but AD is also available for visual art, dance and even public events.
Description is most commonly delivered via headphones, with useful words and phrases inserted between the dialogue of a performance to described the visual elements of the production.
I first came across audio description when I accidentally turned it on while watching a DVD of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. The main character, Esther, was walking through a garden as a kind of disembodied voice was saying things like “Esther walks down the hill”, “she looks over her shoulder” and so on.
It wasn’t until I heard about an AD training course in 2011 that I started to think about how description would really work and who would use it. Now, it’s one of the things that I think about the most.
AD is a fascinating process not least because it forces the describer to really question their own choice of words, tone and nuance. I seem to be constantly asking myself “is that the right word?”, “what does it really mean?” and “is there a better way to say it?”. As a visual artist, I’m used to writing and speaking about images, but always with a view to interpreting the content. In AD, I have to put interpretation aside and to only communicate objective information. This drilling down (or stripping away) and finding the most articulate and descriptive way to summarise what you can see is amazing because it forces you to actually see what is in-front of you.
In many ways, AD is still a growing craft in Australia which is why I’m so excited to make it into the Realise Your Dream finals. The UK is a hub of AD expertise and I’m crossing my fingers for the chance to learn from the very best.
Lara Torr is a visual artist, theatre worker and audio describer from Adelaide. Lara trained as an audio describer in 2011 and she has been combining her love of images and language with her passion for access ever since. Lara is in the finals of the British Council’s Realise Your Dream program for her work making the arts accessible to people who are blind or vision impaired.
You can support Lara and audio description by voting in the people’s choice category on facebook. Voting is open until 22 October, 2013.