To celebrate the 4th of July, two of my friends and I went to a neighboring town to watch their annual parade, which featured many interesting floats and costumed performers. One of the friends I was with was blind and had no usable vision, so in order to make sure they didn’t miss out on any of the fun, I took pictures of every single float as soon as it was in front of us and then described the images to them, or had a sighted friend help me with descriptions for more intricate floats or costumes. As time went on, I learned more about creating audio description for parades and was able to modify my descriptions accordingly to ensure my friend got the full experience. Here are my tips for how to audio describe parades and how audio description can help people watch parades.
First, what is audio description?
Audio description is an additional audio track that provides visual information for people who otherwise would not see it. It’s most commonly used by people who have blindness or low vision, though it can also be beneficial for people who want a detailed visual description of an event. Audio description can be used to describe movies, TV shows, museums, music videos, plays, amusement park rides, and so much more.
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Options for creating audio description for parades
For people looking to create audio description for parades, there are a few options for recording audio description. Regardless of what option is chosen, the method for creating audio description is the same.
Recording in advance
Recording descriptions of floats, performers, and other information in advance is a great way to make audio description available to parade attendees with visual impairments. Users can pull up the audio tracks from an external source or playlist and listen to them in real time or after the parade.
Using a live audio describer
Having someone audio describe the parade in real time allows for descriptions to be created on the spot, which is great for more spontaneous events. Audio describers can be speaking in front of an audience to narrate information, or use another service such as a radio or phone to broadcast description.
Amateur audio description
This is the method I chose to use for my friend, as there was no other audio description service available. Having another person in the group create audio descriptions can be great when there is no other description available, though there may be more errors since this person is not a professional.
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If possible, look up a list of participants in advance
When creating audio description, it helps to look up a list of participants in advance to see what the parade order will be, or if there is other descriptive information listed. For example, there may be photos of floats that are used every year, or a list of performances from different groups.
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Start with broad details, then go into specifics
When creating audio description for parades, it helps to start with very broad details, then go into specifics. I typically describe floats in this order:
- Organization name
- Size of float
- General shape
- Material of float
- What people are doing on/around the float
- Any other relevant details
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Examples of audio descriptions
Here are some examples of descriptions I created for my friend at the parade:
- A local toy store has a large flamingo float made of small pink and black balloons that two people hold up as they waved to the audience.
- A fire truck with lots of red, white, and blue streamers on the doors, and firemen sitting in the truck and waving at the audience.
- The 4-H club had about two dozen brown, black, and white goats walking on leashes.
- The high school marching band wearing bright yellow and blue uniforms, with the color guard spinning matching flags in a circular motion.
What I left out of descriptions
While I love getting detailed audio descriptions, there is still some information I chose to leave out of my descriptions. Some examples include:
- Over-describing common objects, as my friend knows what a flamingo and fire truck look like
- Describing musical instruments unless they had an interesting detail like a light-up tuba
- Reading every single piece of text if people were walking around with signs, and choosing to only read a few signs
- Repeating what the parade hosts already said about an organization or float
- Any information that would cause the description to be longer than about thirty seconds
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How I delivered audio description
Whenever possible, I would start reading my audio description of a parade float once the parade hosts were done talking and the float was within view of my camera. Since the floats didn’t move too fast, I was able to take a picture and magnify the image so that by the time I finished figuring out how to describe the picture, the float was straight ahead of us and I could give my friend a verbal description. While I was far from perfect at describing some of the floats and items being used since I also have low vision, this method seemed to work well for delivering basic audio description.
I had a lot of fun describing the parade to my blind friend, and it gave me a deeper appreciation for the professional audio describers that deliver important and interesting visual information in a nonvisual way. By taking the time to create audio description for parades and learning how to describe a parade to blind people, more audience members can feel included and participate in a fun community tradition or event.