JANUARY 26, 2022
Audio Descriptions Make Conventions More Accessible to Blind and Visually Impaired
For the third consecutive year, our annual convention will feature audio descriptions. Videos with audio descriptions include commentary that explains visual content and are primarily used by individuals who are blind or have limited vision. The continued production of the audio descriptions is part of the ongoing efforts of Jehovah’s Witnesses to make spiritual food readily accessible to the world’s estimated 43 million people who are blind and 295 million people who are visually impaired.
Dr. Joel Snyder, president of Audio Description Associates, LLC and a renowned expert in the field of audio descriptions, said of these efforts: “I have been so impressed with the way Jehovah’s Witnesses have embraced accessibility. a To take their videos and to make sure they can be accessed by people who are blind with audio description; that is rarely thought about. So, bravo, to Jehovah’s Witnesses for doing that.”
When the Governing Body decided to make the 2020 annual convention virtual because of the pandemic, it was decided that audio descriptions would be included. In 2020, Translation Services at the World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Warwick, New York, U.S.A., produced the audio descriptions for the convention. In 2021, this work was transferred to Text Processing Services at the Watchtower Educational Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Patterson, New York. This audio description team received training on how to produce effective audio descriptions through an online seminar.
Dr. Snyder explains that “you can train people to practice describing in ways that are most effective.” He says that this involves “using words that are succinct, vivid, and imaginative.”
When considering a segment of the convention, the Witnesses’ team initially listens to the audio only, without seeing the video portion, mimicking the experience of someone who is blind or visually impaired. Each member of the team writes down their first impressions. The group then plays the video again, noting the pauses between any dialogue, since this is where the audio descriptions are added.
Fitting the descriptions in between the existing dialogue of a video can be a special challenge of creating audio descriptions. “Since that space is limited,” states Michael Millen, who works with Jehovah’s Witnesses’ audio description team, “we have to decide what is most important to be able to understand the video. We try to convey time, place, actors, and action.”
The audio description team must avoid interpreting what is seen in a video. In his book The Visual Made Verbal, Dr. Snyder advises audio describers: “Let listeners conjure their own interpretations based on a commentary that is as objective as possible. This means you don’t say: ‘He is furious,’ or ‘She is upset.’ Rather, say: ‘He’s clenching his fist,’ or ‘She is crying.’”
After the audio description team finishes writing their script, a voice actor records the actual audio descriptions. The voice actor must read in a neutral manner. Michael Millen explains: “The voice actor is not meant to compete with the characters in the video. If the actor is too enthusiastic or emotional, it could cause the listener to think that the audio describer is an additional character in the video.”
A technical crew produces the final edits, and a translation package is made available to all branches so that audio descriptions can be created in their vernacular languages. Michael explains that for the past two conventions, the entire process of creating audio descriptions took the team about three hours for every minute of video.
To date, Jehovah’s Witnesses translate literature and Bible-based publications into over 1,000 languages. Although audio descriptions are not included in that statistic, some consider it a language of its own. “Audio descriptions are really a translation for the blind,” says Michael. “The visual elements of a video are being translated audibly.”
We are grateful that Jehovah ensures that people of all circumstances benefit from his abundant spiritual food!—Isaiah 65:13.
a Accessibility can refer to the quality of a service or structure that makes it available and easily usable for people with disabilities.