Think back to the last play you saw – what comes to mind first? The actors on stage, the details of the set, the witty dialogue? Theater is usually made for those with full sight and hearing, but for those who are blind or visually impaired, part of the story is lost. MindsEye is fixing that.

MindsEye was founded in 1973 to provide readings of newspapers and magazines for the blind and print-impaired. Created through community partnerships with the WMRY radio station in Belleville, IL, MindsEye was the third reading service of its kind worldwide. Broadcasts now reach 13,000 people through SCA radios, internet streaming, mobile apps, and more. MindsEye also organizes community events, like an annual beepball tournament – a modified baseball game played with a ball emitting a constant alarm.

MindsEye regularly broadcasts artistic and cultural news from a range of local and national publications, but its new program will offer audio descriptions during performances for members of the audience who are blind or have low vision.

Amelia Christ, community outreach director, says the program was inspired by their work with Variety Children’s Theatre. For three years, MindsEye has worked with Variety to offer verbal descriptions of shows so visually impaired audience members, crew and performers can experience the costumes, set, sight gags and choreography alongside the seeing audience.

“The experience of working with Variety Theatre has been transformative because we’ve seen the impact of audio description on attendees with vision loss, and also the effect on performers with vision loss,” Christ explains.

“When we got involved with Variety Theatre, Andrew Adolphson, who has a visual impairment, was working backstage. By using audio description, he was able to hear action on the stage described. He understood the show, his cues, and things like sight gags better.

“Working with Andrew as he blossomed in the theater world underscored how much audio description empowers the blind community.”

To create the audio, a trained audio describer attends dress rehearsals and takes notes on visual elements - costumes, props, set pieces, choreography – sometimes handling the materials to best understand them. During the performance, the describer speaks about the visual aspects of the show in a manner that compliments the dialogue on stage, all heard live on headsets given to attendees.

“Right now, as we recruit community members to become trained audio describers, explain the service to venues, and announce audio description to our partner organizations in the blind community – the excitement is contagious,” Christ says. “We’ve had an incredibly positive response from these various avenues.”

MindsEye brought in Joel Snyder, Ph.D., a member of the American Council of the Blind and one of the first to do audio descriptions for theater more than three decades ago, for an intensive training workshop in July to work with local audio describers. [check back about success of workshop]

MindsEye will soon begin offering audio descriptions for performances at venues all over St. Louis. [check back right before publication date to see if any have been officially confirmed] Sponsored by Ameren Illinois and Lighthouse for the Blind St. Louis, MindsEye also ran a crowdfunding campaign for the program on A&E’s stARTup-StL platform. The campaign did ….

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