Audio Description: An Aid to Literacy

By Joel Snyder.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Numerous studies have shown the value of captions (subtitles) to children in the development of literacy. In a similar vein, I propose that a comparable benefit might be observed in children exposed to audio description. This paper will introduce readers to the fundamentals of Audio Description, focusing on developing more descriptive language to use with children’s books. For example, some “picture books” for toddlers are deficient with respect to the language skills they involve--they rely on the pictures to tell the story. But the teacher trained in audio description techniques would never simply hold up a picture of a ball and read the text: “See the ball.” He or she might add: “The ball is red--just like a fire engine. I think that ball is as large as one of you! It’s as round as the sun--a bright red circle or sphere.” The teacher has introduced new vocabulary, invited comparisons, and used metaphor or simile--with toddlers! By using audio description, these books (or children’s videos) are made accessible to young people who have low vision or are blind and simultaneously all children develop more sophisticated language skills. A picture is worth 1000 words? Maybe. But the audio describer might say that a few well-chosen words can conjure vivid and lasting images.

Keywords: Literacy, Description, Disability, Blindness, Access

International Journal of the Book, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp.19-22. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 669.070KB).

Joel Snyder

President, Takoma Park, MD, USA

Joel Snyder is known internationally as one of the first audio describers. He began describing arts events in 1981 with the world’s first ongoing audio description service in Washington, DC. His work made hundreds of live theater productions accessible to visually impaired audience members; in media, Mr. Snyder has used the same technique to enhance a wide range of programs including PBS’ American Playhouse productions, ABC and FOX network broadcasts, feature films, the IMAX film “Blue Planet” and the Planetarium show “And A Star To Steer Her By” at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum. As Director of Described Media for the National Captioning Institute, he led a staff that produced description for first-run films, nationally broadcast films and television series including “Sesame Street,” and DVDs. Mr. Snyder’s Audio Description Associates develops AD tours for museums throughout the United States including the Enabling Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden, the National Aquarium in Baltimore, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, Washington, DC’s Smithsonian Institution museums and a host of National Park Service and US Forest Service Visitor Centers. Internationally, he introduced description techniques in Japan, Israel, Romania, Spain, Portugal, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Slovakia and Finland; conducted description workshops in London, Prague, and St. Petersburg, Russia; and trained describers for first-ever audio description programs in Sofia, Bulgaria and Moscow, Russia. This summer he presented a workshop on description at the International Federation of Translators conference in Shanghai and described events for the World Blind Union’s 7th Annual Congress in Geneva.


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