2006 Conference General Sessions

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Joel Snyder
National Captioning Institute

1900 Gallows Road, Ste. 3000

Vienna VA 22182

Day Phone: 703-917-7693

Fax: 703-917-9878
Email: jsnyderncicap.org


In an oral presentation of this paper, I invite session participants to “see” what description is all about by figuratively closing their eyes and listening to an excerpt from the feature film The Color of Paradise. First, I play it with no picture on the screen and no description —just as someone with no vision might experience it if he or she had no access to description. Then I play the same excerpt as described by the National Captioning Institute’s Described Media division; and finally, one last time with the video intact so viewers can make their own judgments about how well we did with the description.

Here I provide an annotated version of the description script for this film excerpt. The notes may afford some insight into our reasoning as to why we used the precise language we used—why we chose the words we selected to bring images to your mind’s eye. Please read and see --

Please note: sound cues are in CAPS and in brackets; descriptions preceded by”>>.” Annotations are in parentheses. The appearance of the character “Mohammed” is described earlier in the film.

>> Mohammed kneels and taps his hands through the thick ground cover of brown (Color has been shown to be important to people with low vision, even people who are congenitally blind) curled leaves.


>> A scrawny nestling struggles on the ground near Mohammed’s hand.


(Timing is critical in the crafting of description. We weave descriptive language around a film’s sound elements.)
>> His palm hovers above the baby bird. He lays his hand lightly over the tiny creature. Smiling, Mohammed curls his fingers around the chick and scoops (Vivid verbs help conjure images in the mind’s eye) it into his hands, He stands and strokes its nearly featherless head with a fingertip.


>> Mohammed starts as the bird nips his finger. He taps * his finger on the chick’s gaping beak. He tilts * his head back, then drops it forward. Mohammed tips * the chick into his front shirt pocket. Wrapping his legs and arms around a tree trunk, Mohammed climbs.
(* Description, like much poetry, is written to be heard. Alliteration adds variety and helps to maintain interest.)

 >> He latches onto a tangle of thin, upper branches. His legs flail for a foothold. Mohammed stretches an arm between a fork in the trunk of the tree and wedges in his head and shoulder. His shoes slip on the rough bark.


>> He wraps his legs around the lower trunk, then uses his arms to pull himself higher. He rises into thicker foliage and holds onto tangles of smaller branches. Gaining his footing, Mohammed stands upright and cocks his head to one side.


>> An adult bird flies from a nearby branch. (What to include? This image is important — the adult bird returns in the next scene.) Mohammed extends an open hand. He touches a branch and runs his fingers over wide, green leaves.


>> He pats his hand down the length of the branch. His fingers trace the smooth bark of the upper branches, search the network of connecting tree limbs, and discover their joints.

>> Above his head, Mohammed’s fingers find a dense mass of woven twigs-a bird’s nest.


>> Smiling, he removes the chick from his shirt pocket and drops it gently into the nest beside another fledgling.

>> He rubs the top of the chick’s head with his index (Be specific-- precision creates images!) finger. Mohammed wiggles his finger like a worm (Similes paint pictures!) and taps a chick’s open beak. Smiling, he slowly lowers his hand.

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