I want to share with you an accessability initiative launching in Singapore in 2019 which I think storytellers are particularly well suited for: audio description. Audio description is a commentary or narration provided live by the audio describer to enable blind or vision impaired audience-members to visualise the non-verbal elements of a performance - the set, costumes, actions, visual gags - which are all so important to understanding and enjoying the show. The challenge is to provide clear yet concise description, because the cardinal sin of describing is to speak over the actors' lines of dialogue.
I have just spent six very intense days being trained by Melbourne's Access2Arts company and I am looking forward to my describing debut in April (of a children's play, so a more manageable 50 minutes for my first effort!)
Aside from the obvious emotional benefit of providing such a meaningful service (and under the Access2Arts model, we trained with a blind Singaporean end-user who had never heard audio-description before and her delight and enthusiasm as an end-user was hugely motivating), I feel that audio description will have positive benefits for my general storytelling practice.
I find myself looking more closely and describing (in my head) : a short middle-aged Asian man enters the carriage. He is wearing a short-sleeved blue-and-white checkered shirt, brown bermudas with an orange belt, and sneakers which have seen better days.
As a result of the course, I realise that I need to do serious work in developing my vocabulary - particularly in relation women's clothing, hairstyles and footwear (I now know what are Mary Janes!)
Thanks to technology - the theatre launching this is using an app so the blind can simply bring their own phone and earphones in order to benefit from the service - it has become a highly portable and relatively straightforward service to offer from a technical point of view. The challenge is developing the describers and a culture in which arts companies/museums etc have the will (and funds!) to provide the service in the interests of making society more truly accessible.
I am so excited that you are getting involved with audio description. I trained to be an audio describer about 10 years ago, regularly did performances in Aberdeen until 2014... and have my next event booked for next week after a five-year hiatus!
Audio description is fairly well established in the UK and is offered by most theatres. I studied for an "Audio Description Skills" certificate which was quite intensive and formal. I think some of the skills cross over well into storytelling (choosing strong verbs instead of relying on adverbs, and choosing story specific vocabulary, for example), but on the other hand, part of the challenge of audio description is keeping it succinct... something that storytellers sometimes to forget to do!
I'd love to talk to you more about audio description. It's a really big passion of mine! I also read a really moving article in the VocalEyes audio description magazine from the point of view of a service user, claiming that audio description changed her life. If I find it, I can share it with you.
The Federation of Asian Storytellers Ltd is a non-profit company incorporated in Singapore in June 2018.