I was thrilled to participate in the Video Description Professional Development Workshop held in May at Baltimore's National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. I am also looking forward to communicating all the latest news of the VDRDC via this blog and our new video description Twitter presence (@vdrdc).
On May 13th nine applicants from across the country including myself embarked on the five day training, the first of its kind for blind professionals in the video description quality control post- production process. Designed and taught by a true leader and expert in the field of video description, Rick Boggs, along with seasoned description professionals Terri Grossman and Micca Grossman.
Our Description Quality Control cohort bought many valuable skills to the table, hailing from diverse fields including audio engineering, publishing, court reporting, access technology, and academia.
Video Description Professional Development Workshop Highlights
For me, the group Quality Control exercises demonstrated the crucial need for trained blind professionals in the Video Description field, as we evaluated films and television episodes for redundant or overly- obvious descriptive content. Other problems we identified included ambiguous continuity details, particularly during chaotic action sequences. Imagine, if you will, a scenario in which all the action takes place in a series of identical rooms, and all the characters dress alike- I give you the descriptive conundrum that is every hospital drama ever produced.
Describing the elastic gestures of animated cartoon characters poses unique challenges for description professionals. How might children's descriptive content be tailored differently from that of adult consumers, if at all? Is there such a thing as age- specific descriptive content? Why does Snoopy sleep perched on the peaked roof of his doghouse and is such description relevant to the consumer? Who knew that participating in a Quality Control assessment of that melancholic classic A Charlie Brown Christmas would reveal such complexities?
I have to admit that I tend to view video description as more of an art than a science. I particularly enjoyed our class discussions of the aesthetic conventions surrounding video description. Some people prefer minimal descriptions for key plot points, while others prefer details that speak to a piece's overall tone, artistry, genre, and time.
Our DQC cohort viewed and assessed instructive examples of educational videos, instructional media, animation, comedy, suspense, action, and thrillers- some were excellent, some were, IMHO, of very poor quality.
One of the first things learned in an intro to creative writing course is to write in a way that shows or reveals something rather than tells your reader what or how to think. The same rule should be applied to quality video description. A particularly egregious (and inadvertently humorous) mistakes describers make is to put thoughts or emotions into a character's head. The Descriptive Quality Control professional scowls disapprovingly at such distracting commentary.
As an educator, I can imagine many exciting opportunities for video described works geared to specialized fields of study and training at all levels of education, and blind/ visually impaired consumers must be key stakeholders in developing and evaluating these tools to ensure quality, accuracy, and clarity.
My colleague Chuy Vaca (Burbank, CA) adds, "I like what the VDRDC is doing. It is good that they are educating teachers and the public at large about what is possible through Video Description. The possibilities for innovation through emerging technology that are ahead for Video Description are exciting. I am also glad that we get to work together to move forward and make a positive difference."