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Yellowstone Blog (17) Audio Descriptions & CVI

Photograph of Yellowstone national part, a blue pool of water with steam rising from it with brown ground, trees in the background and blue sky with white clouds.
Yellowstone is a teenager with CVI who was diagnosed a few years ago. 

Yellowstone:  TV is very inaccessible for CVI and probably visual impairments in general.

I’m not sure if you’ve heard of audio description, but it’s narration for people who can’t see the screen, only it’s mostly unreliable and not always available. My mom has been watching a show on Netflix called Bridgerton. I’d have no interest in it if it didn’t have good audio description. Unfortunately, my mom wasn’t too keen on me watching it because of this:

image showing screen guidance, for a programme suitable for over 17s

In the end, my parents agreed that I could watch season 2 because it’s not any worse than what I can find in my high school’s library, but the point I’m trying to make is that my options are so limited that I’m watching something I would otherwise have  no interest in and I wouldn’t otherwise be allowed to watch for no other reason than it has good audio description. I can watch stuff like Avatar (which doesn’t seem to have audio description, at least not on Netflix), but for the fight scenes especially I have trouble telling what’s going on. I also think this would be a good time to mention that I like the Zoom program on CVI Scotland for watching YouTube videos because it removes everything on YouTube but the video, but I also like audio description because it lets me pick up on things I wouldn’t have otherwise, here are some examples from Bridgerton:

  • The queen has really big hair, which I’m not sure I would have noticed if the audio description didn’t describe it. My mom likes that because she says no one should miss out on the queen’s hair.
  • There’s a scene reminiscent of a famous one from the 1995 BBC Pride & Prejudice (of Mr Darcy diving into the lake).  Anyway, in the scene in Bridgerton, a character named Kate says something like ’Edwina, it’s impolite to stare’ and then the audio description says ’Kate stares’. I started laughing but I was also excited that I could tell what was going on.
  • There’s another scene where a viscount is marrying one person but actually in love with her half-sister, who’s not as good a match because she’s not ’of noble birth’ (or something), and while at the altar the viscount has a weird dream-sequence where he imagines he’s marrying the sister. Normally I can tell the two apart by their voices, but there wasn’t any dialogue in this scene. When that’s not an option, I can usually tell them apart because their silhouettes are different, but this particular scene just had a face closeup and she was wearing a wedding veil, so, to me, she looked like her sister, and I wouldn’t have been able to tell that anything had changed if not for the audio description (I guess that’s good casting that they’re sisters and they look enough alike that I couldn’t tell them apart. but it is a little annoying).

Here are some of my pet peeves with audio description:

  1. Talking over the dialogue.
  2. The opposite, waiting until everything else is completely silent (almost never) before describing anything.
  3. Not giving enough description.
  4. Giving a description that relies on you already knowing what something looks like.
  5. Giving description that covers the bare minimum of the plot but doesn’t provide context, for example of the jokes.
  6. The tone of the description being off from the scene (this honestly seems like an insult to the show as well, not just the people watching it, because the writers, the camera crew, the set designers, the costume designers, the actors, (in the case of a cartoon) the animators, etc. can spend a whole bunch of time setting up a shot to look and feel a certain way, only for the audio description not to reflect that, mostly by giving a sentence about as exciting as ”Stuff happens.” Bridgerton is good at not doing this.

However, something I have noticed with Bridgerton is that the names the audio description uses for the characters aren’t always the names the characters use for each other. What I’ve noticed the most is that characters with titles or honorifics are usually referred to by their first names (I think because it’s shorter), so ’Lady Bridgerton’ is ’Violet’ in the audio description, ’Lady Featherington’ is ’Portia’ (it took me at least two episodes to realize they weren’t saying ’Porsche’ like the car), ’Madame Delacroix’ is ’Genevieve’, etc. Confusingly, there’s also a character named ’Lady Danbury’, whom the audio description calls ’Lady Danbury’, but I’m not sure she even has a first name.

CVI Scotland:  We took a look at audio descriptions to get a sense of how a programme might be experienced differently and what might be missed or not make sense, and see what you mean!
The first thing that struck us was how visual the audio descriptions were.  To understand the audio descriptions, you need to already know what a lot of things look like, and whilst the context was easy to understand if you can see clearly or see everything, we don’t think it would have been as easy if you could not.  A few things mentioned in the audio description that might not make sense if you did not already know what they were, and look like include:

  • briefcase
  • white convertible (not mentioning it was a convertible car)
  • sergeant at arms

It made us think of different groups who would find audio descriptions helpful.
People who:

  • are blind or have had low vision from birth
  • acquire a visual impairment
  • have CVI (from birth or acquired)
  • are unaware of visual impairments but struggle with complexity

Bizarrely, it seems as though the audio descriptions were written for people who can see!
Another thing that occurred to us was both the pace and how the audio descriptions were ‘slotted in’, where there was a natural gap in the dialogue.  Maybe there could be a beep or something where you could press a button on the remote control and the programme would pause and the audio description for that scene could run, then, in your own time when you have been able to put it all together in your mind, you could press a button to resume.  In some respects, if done well, audio descriptions could elevate a programme.  There is a huge, wasted opportunity here.  Without the quality, what’s the point?

Yellowstone:  I think if you said ”convertible”, I would probably think of a car, unless context indicated something else (but I also thought Lady Featherington was a car, so I don’t know!).

I think that’s why the audio description for Bridgerton is so popular: because it reads (or sounds) like a book, rather than bland sentences that cover the bare minimum or make no sense like most shows. The only problem I could see with an audio description that pauses the program or slows it down would be that that would be harder for things like live sports, but I’m not sure live sports even have audio description in the first place.

ZOOM, mentioned by Yellowstone in this blog, is our free video player designed to play YouTube videos removing all the background clutter with multiple options including to reduce the speed.

Click here to try ZOOM.

Click here for information and instructions about ZOOM.


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