Imagine it’s a Friday night and you are headed to the movies with friends or family. You settle in with your popcorn, endure too many previews, then the opening scene of the feature film finally begins. It’s quiet, no music. You hear a little rustling and perhaps some footsteps. There’s a loud banging – was that a door? – and then nothing. You can tell the screen is filled with dark tones because you do not sense any bright white flashes. You can feel the suspense as the silence ensues until finally, there is another disruption. Loud noises, the sound of two men struggling, and what sounds like pots and pans are falling all around them. Are they in a kitchen? Who are these two men? What do they look like?
As a person with no vision issues, I’ve taken for granted how much I could gather from the opening scene of a movie. I immediately know the environment, can make assumptions about the characters based on their physical stature, and can feel the intensity of the plot because I have the visual attached to this experience. What if you were deprived of this opportunity, though, every time you watched a video?
Jason Strother, freelance journalist and adjunct professor of journalism at Montclair State University in New Jersey, reported for Public Radio International (PRI) on audio accessibility services in the United States, namely Spanish audio description. While the services have improved over time, resources are limited but slowly on the rise for Spanish speakers. Audiobooks have become more prevalent but theatres are not required to provide audio description in any language.
“It’s a translation not from one language into another, but from one medium to another.”
María José García Vizcaino, Associate Professor of Spanish and Latino Studies at Montclair University, created the Spanish Audio Description course, a first of its kind. Her students, many native Spanish speakers, first recognize and work through their dialectal differences in vocabulary in order for the language to be uniform in its translation. Professor García Vizcaino emphasizes that the class is not only working on traditional translation, but also transforming the experience by taking the language from one medium to another. The images that the visually impaired cannot see are “translated” into the oral form, thus allowing them to recreate the scene with their imaginations.
These students do not just sit in their classrooms and watch movies to translate. The class partners with New York’s Repertorio Español to enhance the live theatre experience. A student watches the production on a live black and white monitor from the costume room, providing description to the theatre patrons wearing the visually-impaired accommodated headsets.
“This was my first time in a theatre,” 58-year-old Saeed Golnabi said after the show.
I would like to commend Professor García Vizcaino for the amazing work she is doing with her classes. The marker mic drop for me is the amount of empathy displayed throughout her students’ work. The examples are endless. Let’s name a few:
- Cultural differences: Students realized dialectal differences when coming from various Spanish-speaking countries. (For example, the word for “supermarket” can vary greatly per country.) Communication opens up in recognizing these nuances.
- Looking closer at their own community: Students had to put themselves into the visually-impaired person’s world to understand what they lack in a theatre experience.
- Service learning: Students not only increased their knowledge and developed empathy within the four walls of the classroom. More importantly, they took this knowledge and served the community. You can hear the joy in Saeed Golnabi’s voice, a 58-year-old man who was leaving his first live theatre experience. He had also only been to the movies a couple times in his life.
Teachers, how are your students applying their learning? We are easily swept up in covering the content by the end of the year, but what is our true goal? That we made it through Chapter 20 in the textbook? Or should it be that our students walk away with valuable lessons and touch the lives of those around them?
My previous school, Mullen High School in Denver, CO, taught me the difference between the standard community service graduation requirement and service learning. The Lasallian Catholic motto of “Enter to learn, leave to serve,” greets students and faculty every day upon entering the school.
This principle has greatly affected the way that I approach my lesson planning and what I want my students to know and feel when they walk out my door. I cannot say that my teaching has involved life-altering projects to benefit the community, but my mindset made a significant shift from my four walls to the bigger picture. The first step in approaching a marker mic drop moment like Professor García Vizcaino? Start the discussion. Look at your local community. Make comparisons. I think you will find that students crave a voice. Allow them this voice and I’m certain they will astound you with their compassion and perspective.
Thank you, Professor García Vizcaino, for bringing an example of how our teaching and student learning can affect the community.
For the full article, click here: Visually impaired non-English speakers face accessibility language barrier at the movies (Jason Strother, PRI)