PHOTO COURTESY ATHENS THEATRE ENJOYING THE SHOW A LITTLE DIFFERENTLY — When it is offered, some theatergoers utilize descriptive audio services by way of the device shown above.

Picture this: You’re out for a night to enjoy a play or a musical, and you can hear what’s going on onstage, but you can’t see it. For many people with visual impairments, it’s a reality that prevents them from enjoying a night out to the fullest.

Over the years, theaters like the Athens in DeLand have strived to be more and more inclusive. People with difficulty walking have wheelchair accessibility; deaf people can follow along with American Sign Language interpreters. But up to now, blind patrons have only been able to enjoy the visual aspect of shows with help from kind friends or family who will narrate the productions in real time.

That’s about to change, thanks to the inclusion of descriptive audio offerings at the theater.

Athens Theatre Executive Director Alexa Baldwin said she was partly inspired to seek out descriptive audio after seeing what a regular patron to the theater who is blind has to go through to enjoy the theater’s shows.

“They have tickets right in the front row,” Baldwin said, “and she would sit right between her husband and best friend, and they would whisper in her ear what was going on.”

So Baldwin sought out ways to make the theater more inclusive.

“Over the last couple of years, there’s been crazy serious stuff going on in the world,” Baldwin said. “Having the opportunity to go to a theatrical show or concert and be taken outside of your daily troubles and worries … I’ve seen it have a big impact on people.”

Thanks to a partnership with the Orlando-based organization Central Florida Audio Description Initiative, the Athens Theatre will begin offering descriptive audio services at select shows as well as playbills specifically designed for use with audio readers sometimes used by visually impaired individuals. The first show to offer the service will be the Oct. 1 showing of Stephen King’s Misery.

Descriptive services will come courtesy of hardworking audio describers breaking down the visual aspects of a performance directly into an earpiece for patrons who need it.

Not interpreting

When someone with a hearing impairment watches a movie, there are subtitles. During a live performance, an ASL interpreter can break down what someone might not be able to hear. But losing that visual element can make following along with a play or movie difficult.

Central Florida Audio Description Initiative founder Stasha Boyd said good descriptive audio is not just a narration of what’s going on.

“One of the things with audio describers is you don’t describe your interpretation of what you’re seeing,” she said. “You describe what you’re seeing.”

Imagine a scene, she said, where a character storms offstage. An audio describer wouldn’t say that character “angrily leaves the stage.” Instead, they would allow the listener to come to that decision.

“They get to decide,” Boyd said. “If they heard the door slam, they’ll think: angry.”

Descriptive audio isn’t about just filling in the blanks, it’s about allowing visually impaired theater lovers to get a comparable experience to that of their peers who don’t need descriptive audio.

That’s CFADI’s mission, too.

The organization began in 2020 when Orlando residents Stasha Boyd and Marsha Bukala saw a need in their community. Bukala had moved to Florida from Chicago, where there was robust infrastructure in place for people like her who have very limited vision.

When she moved to Florida, she found that descriptive audio services were far less common, often leaving people like her without a key piece of the performance.

“You really do need someone to explain what’s going on on the stage,” Bukala said.

With CFADI, Boyd and Bukala’s goal is to make services for people with visual impairments more common and less stigmatized. Visual impairments, Bukala said, are far more pervasive than people think.

“I think it’s really important for people to understand what it is,” Bukala explained. “If you start thinking about it, especially in the older population, they know someone who has vision loss.”

Nowadays, CFADI works with five theaters in Central Florida, including the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando and, now, the Athens Theatre in DeLand.

The organization’s main mission is education, especially since blind people are often left out of the conversation when it comes to enjoying visual arts.

“It hasn’t crossed anybody’s mind that a blind person might want to come see the theaters,” Boyd said. “Everyone knows deaf people do, everyone knows people in wheelchairs do, we’re just trying to start that level of education.”

Because, Boyd said, the core mission of the organization is to ensure people with visual impairments aren’t treated differently than others and that they can enjoy the performing arts to the fullest.

“It’s not just about the individual wanting to go to the show. It’s about participating in the community, having dinner with their friends, getting drinks and doing all of the things people do at the theater,” Boyd said. “The burden is not on the person with the disability to teach the other person. It’s the responsibility of the business owner to advocate for their audience.”


  1. Great article Noah. No if only the Athens can fix the sound quality for the rest of us. The sound during Annie JR was terrible. They get all those ECHO tax dollars and don’t know what to do with it, I guess?


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