As well as offering audio description services in theatres round the UK, Vocaleyes has spent the last 12 months exploring the development of audio description for visually impaired visitors to galleries, museums and heritage sites, says Clare Stewart.
Audio guides are increasingly commonplace at many venues in the heritage/gallery sector. However, the usability for those with a visual impairment is variable. Working in partnership with the Royal National Institute of the Blind as part of a New Audiences Programme and with funding from Resource, a detailed audit of actual provision has been carried out by visually impaired auditors, along with a survey of visually impaired people into their experience and attitudes to visiting galleries, museums and heritage sites and three case studies (Kettle?s Yard in Cambridge, Tate Britain and Christchurch Mansions in Ipswich). The findings will result in a publication on good practice and be discussed at a major conference in 2003.
In terms of statistics relating to visual impairment and potential users generally, this is what we know:
? In the UK 1 in 60 of the population has a visual impairment; roughly 1.4 million people according to Action for Blind People, and some estimates put it higher.
? The incidences of visual impairment are increasing. Between 1982 and 2000 the number of registered blind people increased by 41% and partially sighted by over 50% (Department of Health 2001).
? According to Prevent Blindness America, the number of blind people will double by 2030.
The need to know more about the potential users of services is paramount, and currently little research has been undertaken to inform marketing practice. As part of the recent survey of 267 visually impaired people, we asked about sources of information for leisure activities ? respondents were able to identify more than one source. 76% of respondents identified societies or groups for visually impaired people, 65% friends or family members, 64% talking newspapers and 59% the radio. What is interesting in this instance is the importance of specialist sources.
A key part of making audio description work is promoting it well, not only to those with serious sight loss who are regular visitors, where such individuals can be identified, but to the wider community. The potential exists to draw in new visually impaired visitors/customers through the friends and relations network. Of course, it is also well worth building contacts through disability-related channels, such as local associations for the blind and the local talking newspaper.
Although audio description is an increasingly understood term, there is still the challenge of raising general awareness as to what description is. However, with the increased availability of audio description at mainstream cinemas around the country for popular films such as Harry Potter, the more theatres and galleries will be reaching audiences who are familiar with the whole concept. In many ways where theatre has led the way in the development of description skills, film will expand the market.