Audio Description: The ‘visual made verbal’ art form

Through the mobile assistive app, ShazaCin, visual content is made accessible to persons with visual impairments.

The world of Information, education and entertainment are becoming increasingly video-based. Television, the internet, streaming channels, social media and mobile apps transmit visual content on every aspect of our daily lives, and Covid-19 has accelerated this trend.

As we study, work, relax, catch up on news, pursue healthy lifestyles, shop, bank and keep in touch with our loved ones online, we rely more and more on video. Which is great news, except that people who are blind or visually impaired are being left behind. They are denied accessible visual content that connects sighted people to each other and the world. Audio Description (AD) removes this barrier.

Through skillful use of the spoken word, the visual is made verbal. AD is a method through which the innovative use of words can communicate visual events, either in real time or pre-recorded. AD has diverse applications and is relevant to a growing range of industries. According to the creators, it is “an oral and literary art form that creates access for visually impaired persons to the visual world through language”.

The app promotes inclusivity as members of the blind community can now ‘watch’ films along with family and friends. Through the skillful use of words, the ShazaCin app describes the visual to persons who cannot see – including motion and still imagery, both in real time and recorded. This enables blind people to participate, contribute and function independently.

About ShazaCin

ShazaCin is a young, South African based, innovative company operating in the digital space, providing a 360-degree solution, from AD content creation to AD delivery through their mobile assistive app of the same name. The app promotes inclusivity as members of the blind community can watch films along with family and friends and be a part of conversations around films and TV shows.

The team is made up of a diverse mix of talented graduates. The company is an AD award winner and is skilled in film, IT, business, disability and human rights. They are passionate about audio description, accessibility and inclusion.

The company creates Audio Description scripts and Audio Description tracks for all visual content, feature length films and short videos, for commercials and logos, audio described tours for art galleries, museums, heritage sites and tours, and real-time description for live events such as  theatre, concerts and sports. They also create audio described illustrations for audio books for education and entertainment.

About the founder and creator – Shakila Maharaj

When Morningside resident Shakila Maharaj lost her sight, she continued to visualise the world though her imagination. As an avid film-lover, she continued to go to the cinema and watch television but soon realised how much of the story she was missing.

“When I started to lose my sight, I realised that I continued to ‘see’ through my imagination. I realised that most blind people continue to ‘see’ in this way even if they have never seen anything in their life – they perceive the world. AD is so important for us, to keep that visual frame of reference alive, to keep our imagination alive,” she says.

AD is so important for us, to keep that visual frame of reference alive, to keep our imagination alive.

Through Maharaj and her team’s development of the innovative app, ShazaCin, which launched in 2020, people with visual impairments can now ‘watch’ films through the art of audio description. The app was created along with co-directors, Mthokozisi Mtshingila, who is the content management and development lead, and Prashant Maharaj, the technology lead.

Similar to a streaming service like Netflix – but without the video – the app is currently free to download from the ShazaCin website and will soon be available on various platforms, including Google Playstore and the Apple store.

The app is currently free to download from the ShazaCin website.

How it works:

The video is scripted and recorded to integrate the voice into the film. The content is uploaded to the app, and when the film is on ‘watch’, and when the ‘listen’ button is tapped, the app recognises the film being played and synchronises to the right track in the ShazaCin App using artificial intelligence, and the voice comes through and describes the scene alongside the dialogue.

“Visually impaired people enjoy interacting with the visual world but are not catered for. I am totally blind – I lost my sight in my 20s. I realised, when I was losing my sight, that I still wanted to engage with the visual world. I wanted to be part of it – like most blind people do. This is when I became increasingly aware of audio description as an artform and the need to make it known in this country and in Africa,” concludes Maharaj.

Find out more about the app here:



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