By Jennifer Kee
For non-disabled people, audio description would probably be less familiar service compared to captions. Although televisions in public spaces often have captions turned on and YouTube offers auto-caption service, audio description is rarely encountered by people who are not blind or visually impaired. Spending most of my life in my home country Korea where social inclusion of disabled people is far behind in its process than it is in the United States, I never knew that blind and visually impaired people have slightest access to audio-visual media. Most of Korean TV shows, especially talk shows or variety shows, start with a subtitle that says the show is providing captions for hearing-impaired persons, but I have never heard an announcement at the beginning of any show that it is providing audio description for visually impaired persons. After reading the article by Georgina Kleege, I could not help but check Netflix Original Korean dramas if they had audio descriptions: and they all did!
I chose a drama called Memories of the Alhambra which I have never watched before, turned on audio description, closed my eyes, and played it for the first ten minutes. Then, I watched the same part again with my eyes opened to see what I missed. For most of the part, I could see that there is much effort put in the audio description to make everything sound clear and understandable. For example, when there are lot of changes in shots in a short period, audio description does not persist with explaining what can be seen on screen on that exact moment.
In the sequence of shots above, there is a relatively slow transition from the first shot to the second shot and very quick transition from the second shot to the third shot. In order to serve all information in a limited amount of time, audio describer explains that the clock is indicating 11:40 while the screen is lingering on the first shot, in which a viewer can barely notice the clock on top left as their eyes rather follow a male character who hurriedly runs into the crowd (which is also audio described before the clock). Since the time on clock is already described, audio describer can continue talking about the second shot, the phone dangling inside the phone booth, even after it changes in less than 3 seconds into the close-up shot of the clock.
Nonetheless, there was a scene I realized that I missed a lot of information while I was watching with my eyes opened. In this scene, I can see detailed shots of the interior of the hostel, while I can hear news from the hostel at the same time.
The audio description is busy providing what is going on on-screen – how the interior of the hostel looks like – so I can hardly hear the news, which is about a young CEO of a company and his accomplishments. Soon, a door bell buzzes, and a female protagonist, the owner of the hostel, opens the door to welcome a guest, who is a well-dressed, young gentleman. If the audio description had not distracted me from hearing what is said on the news when I was “watching” the scene with my eyes closed, I would have been able to make an assumption that this young gentleman would be that CEO from the news. Such drawback I noticed from audio description on Memories of the Alhambra inspired me to choose Korean audio description service as my subject of study for the final project, so that I can further experience current practices of Korean audio description and experiment ways to improve it.
I believe audio-describer and director should have a thorough conversation about what is more important to be described to the audience in all scenes, so that people with and without sights can have the same level of understanding. Also, as it is discussed in Kleege’s article, I believe having an “access producer” from the pre-production stage is highly desirable in any visual media production as it would definitely improve disabled people’s experience, since access producer would be able to have a complete understanding of entire production which is crucial for creating quality audio description and captions.