AmeriCorps Taught Me to Provide Access to Others
Since childhood, all I ever wanted to be was a writer. But as anyone who ever got a B.A. in English knows, few people just walk onto a writing job straight out of college. There’s no direct line into that profession. So with no obvious indication as to how I should begin my post-college life, I decided I might as well do something useful while I figured it out, and joined *NCCC.
As a corps member, I gained numerous skills, from framing a house and driving a backhoe, to connecting with strangers and always finding the silver lining. And let’s face it: living and working with one team for ten months isn’t always easy. The flexibility and patience you learn from that alone are invaluable. The service bug hit me hard in AmeriCorps. It led me to become an EMT afterwards, and since I could never forget how much *NCCC meant to me, I went back as a team leader two years later. When I finished, I returned to EMS. But as much as I loved the service aspect of it, something kept tugging me in another direction. I had, after all, once dreamed of doing something else.
So I moved to Los Angeles to look into that whole writing thing. In a stroke of incredible luck, I was hired to write audio description, which is recorded narration of a film’s or television show’s visual elements. It allows visually impaired audiences to enjoy those programs in an experience similar to a radio play. I was getting paid to write and I was serving a community. It should have been a dream come true, but the AmeriCorps part of me was going crazy. Though we were supposed to be providing a service, we never interacted with the end-users. And as much as some of us wanted more involvement in that aspect, it just wasn’t a part of our job description.
If there’s one thing you heard in the corps, aside from the pledge, it’s this: “Be the change you want to see.” Three colleagues of mine and I saw a need to safeguard the quality of audio description for those who use it. There’s no question that to do so, you need skilled writers. But you also need the willingness to be connected to the community, as well as the flexibility to be affordable enough for clients to pay for your service. No company like that existed, so we founded our own.
Since then, I’ve been more in touch with the community than ever before and learned more about the obstacles blind individuals face when using audio description. Sometimes it’s not available when they think it is or sometimes equipment is faulty, plus accessing it on DVDs requires going through the setup menu, which they can’t see. I’ve also learned that when blind people watch DVDs with sighted friends or family, the other people would often prefer not to hear the description. To ease these difficulties, my partners and I created Solo-Dx — a downloadable file that can be used with an MP3 player. It’s the first service that allows users to isolate the audio description through headphones so that sighted folks don’t have to hear it, and it’s the first service that lets them control the necessary equipment themselves.
AmeriCorps gave me the inspiration to be brave and take risks when faced with an opportunity to make things better. It taught me how to be proactive and creatively problem solve when faced with obstacles. We’re doing a Crowdfunder campaign to support Solo-Dx, and AmeriCorps has provided an incredible network of people to help spread the word. Once upon a time, all I wanted to be was a writer, but now I’m actually getting things done.
After graduating from Colby College, Anna served twice with AmeriCorps*NCCC at the Charleston campus, as a corps member on Blue 5/Class X and the team leader of Red 5/Class XIII. Over the past decade, she has been an EMT, a freelance writer and editor, and an audio description writer/producer. In 2012, Anna co-founded Hollywood Access Services, a company that specializes in improving and increasing accessibility to visual entertainment for blind and low vision audiences. To learn more about her company and their Crowdfunder campaign, visit here.