Its something a sighted person would probably take for granted, but "imagine going to a theater performance and not being able to see why people are laughing or gasping during the show." Western Michigan University is putting the spotlight on a situation and how one of its students is working to make the theatre going experience more pleasurable for visually impaired people.

Abby Tongue, a graduate student pursuing a dual master's degree in the Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies, will perform live audio description for two upcoming performances.

The theater started looking into an audio description service after a conversation with an audience member.

"Sometimes you need to know that the villain is watching from above, because it changes the story, and you wouldn't know that without being able to see or having someone tell you," - AnnMarie Miller, lighting and sound designer at the Kalamazoo Civic, from a WMU release.

How this began is Tongue took "several friends to see a show at Western last year and was the only one in the group that didn't have vision challenges," Miller says. "She said that, throughout the show, the audience would clap and make noises and her friends would turn to her and ask what happened."

"Understandably, the people behind us were not very happy with this setup, so it put us in an awkward situation, and I stopped describing for a while. Then my friends didn't know what was going on at key points, so it was this really difficult situation where there was this barrier to accessing the full enjoyment of the performance for everyone." - Abby Tongue


The two upcoming show with audio descriptions are "Madagascar—A Musical Adventure JR" on Friday, March 15th, and "War Paint" on Saturday, May 4th.

Tongue began practicing describing plays in December with "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang", and has gotten more comfortable with the process.

In the release, Tongue says "jotted notes on her script, paying close attention to the director's notes and any other points in the play where she could help convey the plot or emotion. During the performance, Tongue sat below the stage watching a live stream of the show and delivering her descriptions for patrons wearing special headsets. The people in the audience were really excited about it and said it helped them understand things better and gave them a fuller picture of what was going on."

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