Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site


To Margaret and Cody Pfanstiehl, providing audio description for the blind is more than a service - it is an art. The couple trains ``describers'' to be ``faithful color camera lenses,'' says Mrs. Pfanstiehl, who developed a narration technique about 10 years ago to make live theater more accessible to the visually impaired.

Through earphones and a transmitter, the describer conveys for blind audience members the key visual elements taking place on stage.

About these ads

``We do not let the describer explain or evaluate,'' says Margaret, whose own vision is impaired. A describer might say, ```He clenches his fist. His lips are tight. A tear rolls down his face.' But you don't have to say the character is angry or upset,'' she explains.

Not everyone can do it. ``If people don't have the vocabulary or are not quick on the tongue, they can't make it,'' her husband, Cody, says.

For Katherine Adamson of Columbus, Ohio, ``it just sounded like my kind of thing.'' She had been a theater major in school and worked for a local radio reading service. ``I was startled to find out I had to audition!''

Describers must not use ``vague generalities,'' says Margaret, such as ``the woman is wearing a gorgeous dress.'' A more appropriate phrase might be, ``she is wearing a bright blue dress made of velvet.''

Audio description is growing rapidly in theaters across the United States, thanks to this training program, which the Pfanstiehl's operate along with their radio reading service, the Metropolitan Washington Ear, in Silver Spring, Md.

The Pfanstiehls worked closely with PBS station WGBH in Boston in developing its method of ``descriptive video'' for television, which became a reality earlier this year.

``A lot can be brought to the visually impaired,'' through this service, says Margaret. ``It's not patronizing - the blind want more and more of it.''

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.