This week I accompanied a small group of adults with vision impairment to the wonderful musical of “My Fair Lady” in the city’s Performing Arts Centre. There were nominated shows that were providing the audio description with headsets for those who required them. Did you know that the person who does the description attends the performance at least 5 times before completing the description? That’s actually one of the reasons why it is not available till at least 2 weeks into the performances of a live show. “My Fair Lady” had so much dialogue and music that it must have been quite a challenge for the descriptions to fit in between both in those short moments of silence. (Basically, for those who haven’t experienced it before, descriptors can be given about the clothing the cast is wearing, the bag they are carrying, the people in the scene, the actions of the people…..)
Prior to this performance, I had attended a movie with headsets providing the audio description. It was the first time I had this experience and the interesting thing was that I can still recall some spoken detail of the movie with the descriptions, which was better than on some occasions where my visual memory hasn’t held onto the detail. I don’t have a vision impairment but there is a lot to be said about individual styles of learning.
Apparently, the success of the audio description can be due to where one is seated for a show, or how the headsets are held or angled from your ears or how powered up the battery is when distributed. And of course, the user needs to know how to work the on/off button, the volume and which way the headset is worn. Over time, hopefully the request for a headset will be a common one just like asking for an extra cushion, and the availability will be in all entertainment venues.
It takes skill to listen to the describer of the show/movie, and to decide what’s important and what’s not. These skills need developing from early on as young children when listening to a parent, a teacher, a friend, a pet. Exploring and deciphering the sounds and words is a skill preparing children for future conversation (social skills), independence and safety (audio train announcements, judging distances by traffic sounds). A person’s conceptual understanding of topics will have a huge impact on what is understood and interpreted when provided with additional audio information.
In this time of technology, our children are growing up amongst it. The phone rings – a variety of tones ring through, the child identifies the person by the tone. When family live distances apart, the child can still talk to them on the phone, ‘facetime’ or ‘Skype’ and wish Grandma a happy birthday with a song. As a parent, friend, teacher, professional – continue to encourage the child with a vision impairment to have those opportunities where the style of communication varies and the information gained can be in a variety of ways. Expose them to different alarm signals, radio wakeup calls, school bells, emergency sounds, digital voice, and teach the child how to turn it on and off, lower the volume, plug in an external cord. These skills and many more, are all functional skills that continue to be required for ‘lifelong learning’.
NDIS Registered Provider no. 4050011793
Kerri Weaver is a service provider for children with disabilities.