AD provides access for blind or partially sighted (BPS) people, by using words to create vivid visions and sensory experiences in the mind. Most BPS people can see something - shapes, colours, or tunnel-vision. Spoken language can help make sense of this partial information. It is mainly used in cinemas, theatres and dance performances, but it is also used in museums. AD is a practice-led activity, and therefore continually changes due to audience feedback and shifts in trends. It is also studied and taught in Departments of Translation (as intermodal translation).
AD practitioners bring their own style to their work. For example, some may prefer to keep to pure description, while others may offer some contextual background. But there is some standardisation in the English used in AD, such as the constant use of the present tense, and a high proportion of adjectives. It is a particularly vivid form of expression. Furthermore, there is evidence that AD can improve visual memory for sighted people (Rachel Hutchinson, pers. comm.). It is therefore of value to a far wider demographic than it was designed for.
AD differs from the audio guides provided to sighted people in museums. These focus on the background, and assume that the viewer can look at the art work while listening to the historical context. Some museums also provide AD audio guides for BPS people on independent visits; these focus on the image or object itself. Museums run different types of AD sessions for BPS people, which MANSIL will clarify and evaluate.
BPS people are currently passive recipients of AD tours. These can be accompanied by touch tours - to the envy of passing sighted visitors. The tactile dimension of art has long been recognised. If BPS people actively verbalised their haptic perception, this would provide access to sighted people, and possibly contribute to a new academic approach.