Audio description in museums & galleries
Visitors to some of Australia's museums and galleries are able to access the visual exhibits through audio guides. They are commonly used for foreign language translation but have evolved into same-language guides to provide further background information on exhibits, and description for visitors who are blind or vision impaired, as well as able-sighted people who want to hear the full story.
The use of audio guides has become increasingly typical of a visit to a museum or gallery, lessening the feeling some may have of requiring specialist equipment to access exhibitions. Audio guides are usually available at the ticket counter of a museum or gallery so can be picked up when you first arrive. There is often a small fee to hire an audio guide, on top of the admittance fee.
An audio guide may consist of a headset and handset that a visitor wears whilst viewing various exhibits. Audio guides can be navigated through at an individual's pace. Some audio guides have features to serve vision impaired visitors, including easy-to-use control buttons, telephone style keypads and raised dots identifying key numbers and functions.
Australian museums and galleries where you can use audio guides include:
- Art Gallery of New South Wales
- Art Gallery of South Australia
- Art Gallery of Western Australia
- National Gallery of Australia
- National Gallery of Victoria
- Australia National Maritime Museum
- The Australian War Memorial
Contact other museums and galleries directly for details on the availability of audio description.
Audio description and theatre
Audio description used to be mainly provided by volunteers, but is increasingly delivered now by professional describers, for selected performances of productions in Australia. A number of major theatre companies provide this service each season, including:
- Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane
- Sydney Theatre Company
- Melbourne Theatre Company
- Canberra Theatre Centre
- Belvoir Street Theatre, Sydney
- Black Swan Theatre Company, Perth
- Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne
To receive audio description you are provided with personal headphones and the narrative is delivered during gaps between the actors' dialogue, just like at the cinema. It is performed live at these events by a trained audio describer who has worked closely with the company to ensure the correct timing of the narration.
Audio description extends beyond the play itself, giving you details of the program and descriptions of costumes and stage settings before a performance starts.
Some productions allow a tactile tour of the stage, costumes and scenery prior to the commencement of the production.
Audio description and music
Music-based productions come in many forms including opera, symphony, concerts and musical theatre. Although these art forms are primarily aural, there is still an element of them that cannot be accessed if you are vision-impaired.
Additional information in programs can offer a valuable insight into a concert, providing notes on composers, the compositions and performers for example. As well as programs, information on the stage settings, costumes and movements of performers on the stage can be lost without the assistance of audio input. This information can be provided in two forms; either audio description during a performance or audio introductions, which can be listened to before, after or in the interval of a performance.
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