Office of the President

Audio Description: If Your Eyes Could Speak

Dr. Joel Snyder (he/him)

Pre-recorded presentation

Captioning embedded


In his introduction to the second edition of The Mastery of Movement, Rudolph Laban suggests that performers form the “active pole of this magnetic circuit” [and form the] “exciting current between stage and audience.” But what if the exchange is interrupted, not by lack of clarity on stage, but rather by an audience member’s lack of access to that full perception. How, for example, can a blind person “see” a dance performance? This paper/presentation will demonstrate how audio description provides access to the arts for people who are blind. Describers observe, select, and then succinctly and vividly use language to convey the visual image that is not fully accessible to a segment of the population—new estimates by the American Foundation for the Blind note that over 32 million Americans are blind or have difficulty seeing even with correction. In the United States, the principal constituency for audio description has an unemployment rate of about 70%. With greater access to our culture and its resources, people become more informed, more engaged with society and more engaging individuals—thus, more employable.


A member of Actors’ Equity Association, the American Federation of TV and Radio Artists, and the Screen Actors Guild, and a 20-year veteran of work as an arts specialist for the National Endowment for the Arts, Joel Snyder is best known internationally as one of the first “audio describers” (c. 1981) working with theater events and media at the world’s first ongoing audio description service. Beginning in the early 1970s, he recorded “talking books” for the Library of Congress and read privately for individuals who are blind – but his abilities as a describer have made hundreds of live theater productions accessible to audience members who are blind; in media, Dr. Snyder has used the same technique to enhance PBS’ American Playhouse productions, Sesame Street, a wide range of network broadcasts, feature films, educational videos, 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.

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Last update: Jun 08, 2021

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