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Colleen Connor | Audio Description Advocacy Icon

The Header image is Colleen's "We Can Do It!" shot - sometimes known as her Rosie The Riveter. Colleen is a white woman with dark hair in a red bandana and red lipstick. Her bent arm is flexed, and she's rolling up her shirtsleeve.

Colleen Connor | Audio Description Advocacy Icon

Description is an art and a science and it’s more than one thing. One of the things that comes up a lot is, controversial things to describe or sensitive material, and I want to create a safe space for those conversations.

~Colleen Connor

Editor’s Note

Just like her powerful “We Can Do It!” Rosie The Riveter header image, Colleen Connor is an icon in her own right. As a blind woman who is now the sole proprietor of her business, she is making serious headway in the field of Audio Description.

Without giving too much away, what I found intriguing about Colleen’s story was how she found her way into AD. Many times it takes something happening to prompt us into the world of advocacy and in Colleen’s case it seems like destiny.

When I first met Colleen I knew she was someone special. I hope you enjoy her Woman On The Move feature as much as I do. ~Steph

Beyond Sight Magazine Cover

Beyond Sight Magazine cover contains a closeup photo of Colleen and Joplin. Colleen's brown hair is parted, she's wearing black and white hoop earrings and is smiling broadly while her and Joplin's faces are next to one another. Text on the cover reads “Beyond Sight April 2022 | Women On The Move | Colleen Connor.”

YouTube Video

Introducing Colleen Connor

Hello, my name is Colleen Connor, my pronouns are she/they pronouns. I am a content creator and disability advocate. I’m also the director of Audio Description Training Retreats, LLC. I’d like to thank Steph and Bold Blind Beauty for having me in this cool series.

I am white. I have a short pixie haircut at the moment, sort of spiky and the ends are pink. I’m wearing a purple shirt and some jewelry, including a braille necklace.

I have cone rod dystrophy, which is a degenerative eye condition. I lost my sight over time. So I significantly started losing my vision at like 14 right when everything is a big deal you’re going to high school. That was when I needed accommodations to complete my studies. So things like large print, and equipment, assistive technology to get through school and to succeed.

Studying Abroad & Gaining Confidence & Advocacy Skills

When I went to college, I ended up majoring in musical theater. And I also studied abroad at the London Dramatic Academy. That’s probably my favorite part of schooling, was when I was over in the UK. They were very hard on me, which was great. So I improved a lot both in my acting and performing abilities, but also in my confidence and the way that I could get around and self advocating there. They were much more about self advocacy over there. And as I got older, I gained more of the language to express myself as to what I needed.

Once I graduated college, I auditioned for everything and anything, both screen and stage auditions all over the place. And it was not sustainable for me. It’s a lifestyle that is competitive, even if you do not have a disability. And certainly having a disability, and some mental health stuff and physical health stuff it just became way too difficult that I wasn’t making any money. And of course, unfortunately, that has to happen to live.

Proactive & Accidental Discovery of Audio Description

Colleen has pink hair and is speaking into a mic and pop filter.
Colleen with pink hair

So I ended up staying my job in a museum in Washington, DC. I did start a podcast and the YouTube channel Blind Inspiration Cast, which I update when I have the spoons to do that.

In working at the museum, I realized that they didn’t have one of those pre-recorded audio described tours. And I wanted to take a look at what they had, I realized it wasn’t very accessible. And if you were blind, you would come to the museum, you had to book like two weeks in advance, so they could schedule someone to read the tour to you and walk you around. And I just thought to myself, this is silly. Can I redo it?

I basically rewrote the entire audio description (AD) tour for this museum. And I got hired for a few other exhibition jobs, doing the AD tour. And what was weird, was I then realized that I had been performing my entire life and going blind and I did not know what AD was.

So I started learning more about the disability community overall. And I started attending conferences, and at one of the conferences in DC, I met a woman named Jan Vulgaropulos. She’d been doing live theater for a long time and was really looking for continuing education. We met at this conference and she was like, “there’s not really like a structured training that is about practice and feedback and networking.”

The Birth of Audio Description Training Retreats

So Jan was like, “I think I’m going to create the training that I think I would like, so would you do this with me?” And so we founded Audio Description Training Retreats, which started out as an in-person retreat. That’s how we came up with the name was the idea of having a small number of students come to a remote location, and we would all stay in the same house.

We provide meals and linens and we pick you up from the airport so that you’re all living in the same house with me, learning what it’s like to just live around a blind person. Then when the pandemic hit much like a lot of people, we decided we did not want to stop what we’re doing. So we were going to go virtual. The good thing about that was you cut the travel out of it. So a lot more people were able to attend and we started teaching our courses over zoom.

This January 2022, my co-founder, Jan, has a well deserved retirement. So I now am the Director of Audio Description Training Retreats. I run the joint. I have really enjoyed hiring, former graduates and working with people to develop different opportunities.

I keep the classes small, because we want to make sure people have a chance to really hands-on practice, learn AD from the ground up. And be able to perform it, get feedback in all different aspects of descriptions. So especially since streaming services, and other places are picking up AD, and it’s becoming more well known.

Preparation for the Range of AD Genres

We’re like, okay, we need quality, and what role are you going to fall into? You could go the museum and art route where you’re describing that kind of experience. Basically anything in education or life can be described. But a lot of people focus on, you know, the live theatre or live event description, and also television and film. And so we’re teaching writers, and quality control, and editing and voicing of description and learning from each other.

Description is an art and a science and it’s more than one thing. One of the things that comes up a lot is, controversial things to describe or sensitive material, and I want to create a safe space for those conversations. And so from the beginning of our company, we’ve always spoken about, for instance, describing race, or sexual content, or not censoring things and disability awareness.

And trying to raise people’s consciousness of advocating for description, what it means to have a disability and to live with a disability and grow and change as things change. For instance of describing race, the practice used to be don’t describe anyone’s race unless it’s relevant to the plot. And now, people want to be represented more and don’t want to be erased. We can’t see people’s races, but sighted people can so it does add something. So we do want to describe things like skin tone and hair texture, and but how do we describe that well?

Obviously, my experience is very different than someone else’s. I am white, for example. And so I prefer to listen to my students or colleagues of color to figure out, how to have the conversation around, what should description be doing? What should the field be looking into and being sensitive to, as we move forward?

Going Solo at Audio Description Training Retreats

One of the things I’m, I guess proud of is being the sole proprietor of Audio Description Training Retreats. In transitioning ADTR to just me being the director there were things that I knew I would have to deal with but I didn’t really plan for dealing with them as a blind person.

So for instance, I wanted to choose a bank, and you’re trying to look up the right phone numbers, and the website might not be accessible. Google does an update, and then I can’t work Google Drive. When I’m trying to hire teachers, or thank god, I’ve hired an admin and she’s been incredibly helpful. Just because even if something is accessible, you have to learn it with your eyes closed.

I happen to be an incredibly visual learner and switching to auditory and trying to learn a new thing while using the screen reader. And still running the business part of it like answering emails and people asking about trainings and like, when are you coaching like what are you doing? And I’m like, I don’t know, I have no time at all. There’s all these elements to it.

But then you have to think about, and I can’t see. So this is going to take me twice, three times, four times as long as somebody who’s sighted. And so trying to maintain that. And then, oh, wait, I also have to maintain the social media.

So let me get on Twitter and let me get on Facebook. I leave Facebook, okay, let me get instagram, tick tock, the kids are doing tick tock, I gotta get on the TIC TOCs. I gotta do this. Look at my dog. She’s really just look over there. Don’t look over here at the business that is not happening. And it was just me.

Valuable Lesson Learned in Entrepreneurship

And so I realized, basically, the thing that I needed was help. I had to sort of eat my own advice, because I tell people all the time, we all need to collaborate and work together. And it’s okay to need other people.

So I’m grateful to have the community that I have with with ADTR. And with describers all over the world, and whatever I can do to help. I’m very grateful to colleagues who have given me a chance, worked with me specifically as a professional and not just because like, ‘oh, give the blind woman a chance and so cute.’ There’s wonderful people in the description community and I’m very grateful for that. So thank you for listening and have a good one.

Meeting Joplin

Adorable photo of Colleen and Joplin outdoors. Colleen's arm is around Joplin and both are definitely smiling for the camera. Colleen is wearing a light blue top with a decorative neckline.
Colleen and Joplin

And ignore everything about me because this is Joplin. This is my guide dog. She’s a golden retriever yellow lab mix. She’s from the Seeing Eye in New Jersey. So she’s a Jersey girl. And she’s off duty right now. But I thought I would show you guys my my companion.

Colleen Connor Bio

Colleen Connor is an advocate, creator, and the director of Audio Description Training Retreats, LLC. Colleen earned a Bachelor’s in Music Theatre from The Catholic University of America and attended The London Dramatic Academy in the UK. As a blind talent and expert in the Audio Description industry, Colleen provides valuable insight and feedback to those training in Audio Description (AD). Colleen discovered AD during her time at The International Spy Museum. Her ongoing work and outreach in the AD field include museum tours, voicing, performing Quality Control for several studios, teaching the various roles within the scope of description, and cultivating a network of diverse professionals.  

Colleen is an appointed member of the Subject Matter Expert Committee of the ACVREP, which is working toward the establishment of official certification for Audio Describers and consultants. Guided by her Seeing Eye Dog Joplin, Colleen advocates for equity and equality wherever they go.  

Connecting With Colleen

Image Descriptions

  • The Header image & YouTube thumbnail photo is Colleen’s “We Can Do It!” shot – sometimes known as her Rosie The Riveter. Colleen is a white woman with dark hair in a red bandana and red lipstick. Her bent arm is flexed, and she’s rolling up her shirtsleeve.
  • Beyond Sight Magazine cover contains a closeup photo of Colleen and Joplin. Colleen’s brown hair is parted, she’s wearing black and white hoop earrings and is smiling broadly while her and Joplin’s faces are next to one another. Text on the cover reads “Beyond Sight April 2022 | Women On The Move | Colleen Connor.”
  • YouTube Video Description Colleen is sporting a short spiky pixie haircut with pink on the ends. She’s wearing a purple shirt and some jewelry, including a braille necklace.
  • Colleen has pink hair and is speaking into a mic and pop filter.
  • Adorable photo of Colleen and Joplin outdoors. Colleen’s arm is around Joplin and both are definitely smiling for the camera. Colleen is wearing a light blue top with a decorative neckline.

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