How Does a Blind Person Watch a Play?

 VocalEye audio describers at work. In addition to theatre, VocalEye also describes festival events like the Vancouver Pride Parade and Celebration of Light fireworks display. | Image: VocalEye.

VocalEye audio describers at work. In addition to theatre, VocalEye also describes festival events like the Vancouver Pride Parade and Celebration of Light fireworks display. | Image: VocalEye.

If you're not visually impaired, it might be difficult to imagine how a blind or partially sighted person enjoys a piece of theatre. But it's really not that hard. You go to the show. You take your seat. And if VocalEye is the house, you slip on a single wireless earpiece. And then a clear, soft voice will describe all the characters as they appear, their costumes, body language, and actions, as well as the set design, lighting, and any other visuals on stage. 

Hanna Leavitt experienced Vancouver-based VocalEye’s live-audio descriptions for the blind at Belfry Theatre’s production of Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). “What a treat not to have to tap a friend on the shoulder and whisper, ‘What just happened there? Why is everyone laughing?’” writes Levitt at The Coastal Spectator. “I was hooked.”

Steph Kirkland, the founder of VocalEye Descriptive Arts Society, was the describer that night. Kirkland says she will watch a show two or three times, and then write a script of descriptions.  

VocalEye offers a three-pronged theatre-going experience for blind patrons. Through its Theatre Buddies service, volunteers meet blind patrons and guide them to the theatre, where an audio describer takes over during the performance. After the performance, a “touch tour” allows blind patrons to explore the set, costumes and props.  

Kirkland, a Jessie Award-winning 20-year veteran of the Vancouver theatre scene, had been reading textbooks for the blind at Langara College when she spotted an audition notice to do visual description, in 2009. “It was a natural fit,” she says. Now VocalEye trains audio describers and promotes the services to the theatre community.  

On Wednesday, Oct. 4, Kirkland leads a workshop that will allow participants to witness for themselves the many barriers that people who are blind and partially sighted encounter when attending live performances and other public arts and cultural events. Kirkland will share a variety of approaches for lowering these barriers to inclusion. Please see below for more information on this session and to register today.

Lowering Barriers for Blind and Partially Sighted Audience Members

October 4: 9:30 a.m. - 12:00 pm

This workshop will define many of the barriers that people who are blind and partially sighted encounter when attending live performances and other public arts and cultural events. VocalEye will share a variety of methods and approaches for lowering these barriers to participation and inclusion. 

The workshop will be led by VocalEye's founder and executive director, Steph Kirkland. Steph has been a member of Vancouver's professional theatre scene for more than 30 years. She is the recipient of several Jessie awards and most recently was honoured with the Achievement Award in Audio Description International from The American Council of the Blind “for outstanding contributions to the establishment and/or continued development of significant audio description programs.”

The BC Alliance for Arts + Culture is proud to announce that this workshop has been subsidized by the Somerville Fund held at the Vancity Community Foundation, so you can attend for free. To get free access to this session, please enter the coupon code ACCESS when prompted by the form.

EW: If you are unable to attend this workshop in person, watch and submit your questions from where you are with live online access! To join us digitally, select the Livestream option from the form below. You will be emailed a link to the video. Online access is also subsidized–enter the coupon code ACCESS when prompted by the form.

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