In this episode Mariana interviewed Dr. Kulnaree Sueroj, who has recently graduated with a PhD from the School of Arts and Creative Technologies at the University of York.

Kulnaree headshot.

You can listen to the episode with the audio player embedded below. There is also a transcription underneath.

Kulnaree running a workshop in a classroom.

Transcription of the podcast episode:


Mariana: Hello everyone. Welcome to a new episode of the DARCI Podcast, the podcast on Disability, Accessibility and Representation in the Creative Industries. My name is Mariana López and I’m a professor in sound production and post-production at the University of York.Today I’m delighted to welcome Dr. Kulnaree Sueroj, who has recently graduated with a PhD from the School of Arts and Creative Technologies at the University of York. Her thesis is titled Strategies for Audio Describing Gestures and Facial Expressions for Visually Impaired Thai Television Audiences. Kulnaree started working as an audio describer and AD researcher after joining a pioneering team in 2012 to carry out Thailand’s first audio description pilot project for television programmes. Now she works as Associate Dean for Research and Creative Works at the Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication, Thammasat University, Thailand. In addition, she collaborates with several AD stakeholders in Thailand and teaches disability and the media modules to graduate and undergraduate students in her faculty. Hi Kulnaree, it’s great to have you in the studio today. Thank you so much for coming. How are you doing today?

Kulnaree: Yeah, I’m good. I’m pleased to share many experiences about audio description in Thailand with you and my project in PhD life.

Mariana: Thank you so much. And you have just recently completed your PhD at the University of York and I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about what the project was about.

Kulnaree: Sure. My project is a strategy for audio describing gestures and facial expressions for visually impaired Thai television audiences. This project focuses on television drama in Thailand due to its popularity as well as the scarcity of studies on this topic. And moreover, this thesis focuses on describing gestures and facial expressions in television drama because the theme of this television genre is related to interpersonal interactions. Therefore, emotions which express through physical expression, especially gestures and facial expressions, are powerful methods to create the comprehension and create the emotional engagement with the audience. The main objective of this study is to create effective descriptions to convey the visual mode of gestures and facial expressions of characters in verbal mode by focusing on the comprehension of blind and visually impaired audiences, both the relations to sound interpretations and the comprehension of verbal descriptions. The specialties of this project is to explore the perspective of three main AD stakeholders, including blind and visually impaired people as AD users, and audio describers as AD creators, and AD experts as the AD knowledge creators. And I think this approach highlights clear challenges and accurate suggestions for creating the strategy for describing gestures and facial expressions.

Mariana: Thank you very much. And what was the most fascinating finding of your work?

Kulnaree: I think the fascinating finding that I would like to share with you is about the specific characteristics of Thai television dramas which affect the strategy of audio descriptions. According to my findings, the four sample clips share a similar use of medium shots to portray characters’ actions and close-up shots to convey character feelings. However, the details of mixing shots and creating the sequence of camera shots are different, including editing techniques which affect the pace of narration. Moreover, the types of sounds in each scene are similar with the sample clips, including three main sounds, music, words, and Foley. However, there are differences in detail, especially on how much each type of sound is used, the functions of each sound. And I found that clips of Thai television dramas tended to be easier to understand than other television dramas due to the simplicity of the scenes’ narration and the density of the dialogue and the slow editing pace. In contrast, a sample clip of Thai television drama, risked being challenging for blind and visually impaired audiences. This was due to the narration’s complexity in quick cutting between the acts of many characters in the various settings. Moreover, it lacked dialogue, so that’s why blind and visually impaired audiences cannot understand the plot and emotions of characters. And interestingly, I found blind and visually impaired participants in my research indicate that they could determine the emotional state of characters in four sample clips of Thai television dramas by listening to voice and human nonverbal vocalisations such as screaming or crying, but they had different degrees of interpretation and comprehension of actions in television dramas. This reflected the significant findings that show literal descriptions might not be a good choice for the part of using human nonverbal vocalizations and the characters didn’t change their movements. Because blind and visually impaired audiences could detect the emotions of characters by themselves. However, if the characters presented human nonverbal vocalisations but they changed their movements, the descriptions of gestures and facial expressions could convey the intensity of emotions. So that’s why in this case, the literal descriptions might be good to put in the part of audio descriptions. For example, when the character cries until they collapse on the floor. Another thing that I think is very important, the audio describer needs to consider about the relationship between soundtracks and AD. For example, the characteristics of Thai television dramas, most of them use the serial music in the scene to indicate the turning point of characters’ emotions or the turning point of mood and tone of each scene. And so that’s why audio describers should not place AD at the beginning of music because most of new audio describers try to put a lot of descriptions on the part of music. I think it’s very interesting finding that I found.

Mariana: Yeah, and it kind of speaks to the importance of thinking about what’s in that soundtrack before adding audio description. So there’s a lot of sometimes a focus on not overlapping the dialogue.

Kulnaree: Yeah.

Mariana: But what you’re saying here is all those vocalisations that give emotions that you don’t need a description of the gesture unless there is a change in movement. Right? Yeah, that’s really interesting.

Kulnaree: Yes, yes.

Mariana: So yeah, really interesting kind of to help, as you said, new audio describers think about where to place audio description and where it might not be necessary.

Kulnaree: Yeah, and concern about the functions of sound in each scene because the case of audio description guidelines in Thailand, the previous guidelines focus on the types of sound. For example, you don’t put audio descriptions on the dialogue, on the sound effects. But sometimes you don’t remember only the types of sound because you need to consider the context. Yeah, because sometimes it’s like a silent part or music that I talked to you before is like important part to enhance the emotions of audience. So that’s why we need to understand the functions of sound more than focus on the types of sound. Yeah.

Mariana: Thank you so much. And besides being a researcher, you’re also an audio describer in Thailand. And I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about what are the challenges of being an audio describer in Thailand, but also what is the most rewarding part of the job?

Kulnaree: I think the biggest challenge for Thai audio describers are different standards of audio description from several aspects of Thai AD stakeholders, some experts don’t accept the interpretations of AD. Yeah, so that’s why the alternative AD in Thailand struggle to prove their effectiveness. So we need to conduct the audio description research about alternative AD in several aspects. Yeah, for example, I think another point about audio descriptions, in the part of alternative AD, is like we don’t try to avoid to interpret. Yeah, but sometimes we have some problem when we need to consider about, we need to describe emotions of character in each situation or not. I mean, sometimes people, I mean blind and visually impaired people cannot understand about the literal description of some emotions. Yeah, but for some emotions they can understand about the literal description because they have the direct experience within themselves. I think it’s very important to study more about alternative AD in Thailand because one of the data collections in my PhD research showed that for the emotion is like happiness, sadness, and anger. The participants were more familiar with the expressions of these emotions because it occurs within a person and this implies blind visually impaired people had high opportunity to understand the literal description for this emotion. In contrast, for the emotion is like disgust, surprise, and fear is like expressed through reflex action. Yeah, and blind visually impaired people cannot remember anything and some emotion in this group we need to learn from seeing because it’s like the emotion that need to observe from the action with other people.

Mariana: OK.

Kulnaree: Yeah, so it’s hard for people who have some limitations of sight, seeing. So that’s why we need to study more about alternative AD, especially for the case of describing about the emotions of character. Yeah.

Mariana: So if I understand correctly, it’s about thinking what type of audio description is the best depending on the gesture, facial expression, the motion being conveyed.

Kulnaree: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We cannot find one type of audio description that can use for every situation we need to concern about the limitations in each situation. Yeah, and I think it’s very interesting to study more because the previous research of international context, for example, the research of Ramos Caro’s research in 2016 focused on comparing between using audio descriptions and audio narration. Audio narration means using interpretations in the part of AD creations and it has some different findings with my PhD findings. Yeah, for the findings of Ramos showed that the emotion is like a sadness. It’s suitable for using audio narrations more than literal description. Yeah, yeah. But it’s quite opposite for the perspective of blind and visually impaired people in Thailand. I mean, especially in the participants in my research, they talked to me. For sadness, they can understand the levels of sadness from the details of physical expressions that audio describers provide to them. Yeah. So that’s why it’s very interesting to study in this topic in further study, further research.

Mariana: Yeah. And just to follow up on something, just in case any of our listeners is not that familiar with audio description, could you give us an example of what would be a literal description of a gesture and facial expression linked to expressing an emotion versus something that would be considered more interpretative?

Kulnaree: Yeah, it’s like a literal description is like “she smiled widely”, “Widely smiled”, yeah. And for the another type of audio descriptions that use interpretations, for example, “she’s happy”, yeah, naming the emotional state.

Mariana: Very interesting. So it seems like there’s some challenges surrounding the balance.

Kulnaree: Yeah, yeah.

Mariana: And what about the most rewarding aspects of being an audio describer in Thailand?

Kulnaree: I think on the one hand, there is a demand of AD jobs in Thailand. This is due to the regulatory mandate. Television broadcasters in Thailand right now, they need to provide AD at least 60 minutes per day. On the other side, AD job in Thailand may be less attractive or challenging, because most Thai television broadcaster choose the same genre, especially documentary, to provide AD because the cost of this genre is lower than dramas. So that’s why many students that learn about audio descriptions and they have opportunity to work in the areas of audio describers, they give some feedback to me. They write one type of TV programs all the time. Yeah, it’s quite boring. Yeah, yeah.

Mariana: I guess it limits their opportunity to expand their skills.

Kulnaree: Yes, yes, yes, yes. And sometimes it’s like it has some judging, that some people stick to the rules about traditional audio descriptions that didn’t use interpretations in any case. Yeah, yeah. So that’s why it’s quite hard for new audio describers to share the new method of audio descriptions right now. Yeah.

Mariana: And the really interesting thing that you mentioned as well is sadly something that we hear a lot in discussions of accessibility, how cost tends to limit or sometimes even perceived cost tends to limit the expansion of accessibility.

Kulnaree: Yeah.

Mariana: And as you’re saying, choosing documentary because it’s cheaper rather than because audiences want to watch audio described documentaries.

Kulnaree: Yeah. And another situation that I think and pop up in my head is like sometimes most television broadcasters offer the audio describer in their company to provide AD in some television program that didn’t need to have audio description such as some interview program that talk a lot. Yeah. But, you know, it’s like a save time to create AD. Yeah. And it’s for 60 minutes of the whole program that you just write the part of AD is just 10 minutes, something like that. You know, yeah. So that’s why it’s not challenge for audio describer in Thailand to improve their skills. Yeah.

Mariana: And if someone did decide to go on a career trajectory of being an audio describer in Thailand, what would they do to become an audio describer?

Kulnaree: Right now is quite limited audio descriptions knowledge in Thailand. Thammasat University is one of universities in Thailand that teach about audio description. Yeah. And I think it’s not more than two universities in Thailand that have the course that relate to audio description. Yeah. A few years ago, we arranged is like a course of audio descriptions that open for general people who interested about television access to come to learn about audio descriptions in Thailand. And after that, some people, it’s like turn to be a freelance of audio describer. And some people it’s like, for example, my student, three students, established a company to create audio descriptions for television broadcasters. And another way is like some television broadcasters have their own department in their stations to create AD in their own company. It’s like in-house productions. But it’s quite different from the situation in the UK. In the UK, there are a lot of AD companies to provide the service to television broadcasters or theatres or live performance. But in Thailand, it’s not widespread like in the UK. Yeah.

Mariana: But it’s so important to kind of widen conversations and accessibility because we hear so much about accessibility in Europe and North America. And it’s really important that we start thinking about other geographical contexts, different styles and different challenges, but also opportunities.

Kulnaree: Yeah. And I think the small groups of people who have the knowledge of audio description in Thailand that affect to the cost of audio descriptions. Yeah. Because people … if we have many choices, more choice, yeah, maybe the cost of AD creations might be lower than this.

Mariana: Yeah. And I’m assuming as well, if there’s a small number of audio describers as well, opportunity for growth is challenging.

Kulnaree: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Mariana: Yeah. Thank you very much. You are Associate Dean for Research and Creative Works at the Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication at Thammasat University. And you do both research and teaching. And I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about what you teach within the university and how it connects with your research.

Kulnaree: Yeah. Right now, I teach for four subjects, but two subjects that relate to the audio description. The first one is for postgraduate students. Yeah. The subject is about media and diversity management. Yeah. For this subject, I teach the fundamental concepts on diversity in general and diversities of people in society related to provisions and laws that enable media administrators to properly manage the diversities of people.

Mariana: OK.

Kulnaree: Yeah. Whether as those represented in the media or as audience, media and content design, and people who face public restrictions, use of audio descriptions, closed captions, and sign language.

Mariana: Yeah.

Kulnaree: As well as proper use of the language and treatment in media and content to promote gender diversity, rights, and equality. Yeah. This is the first subject.

Mariana: Really interesting.

Kulnaree: Yeah. And another subject is for undergrad students. This subject is media and disabilities. Yeah. For this subject, I teach about the concept of television access services, including AD, CC, SL, I mean, audio descriptions, closed captions, and sign language. Moreover, I highlight about the importance of the right of information for students and how to create the appropriate television programs or live programs for people with disability. And I provide the information as a comparative study between Thai context and international context. For the implementations from the findings of my PhDs in this course, I’m able to provide the AD knowledge in the UK context and international context to my students and offering new approaches of audio description. Such as alternative AD. And I, for example, I give, I raise the examples of your project enhancing. It’s quite new in Thailand. To my student. To introduce about AD in the wider terms. [ both laughing ]

Mariana: I love this! So Enhanced Audio Descriptions is now being publicised in Thailand.

Kulnaree: Yes. Yeah. The students are very interested. They are interested in the new approach of audio descriptions because many times that they face some audio description expert that my faculty invite to share their idea, it’s the same knowledge. It’s quite a new thing that I provide.

Mariana: Yeah.

Kulnaree: New approaches of audio description. Yeah.

Mariana: Well, those modules sound fascinating! Makes me want to take these modules! They’re so great. [ both laughing ]

Kulnaree: People in Thailand know you! [ both laughing ]

Mariana: I have to add that to my CV! Yeah. [ both laughing ] No, but it sounds like truly they sound like fascinating modules and the students definitely are very lucky to have you and all your knowledge in the field.

Kulnaree: Thank you!

Mariana: And what is next for you? Because you’ve had quite a busy last few months. So you finished your PhD here at York. Now you’re working full time as an associate dean, but also lecturing very, very intensely. And what’s next for you? What are your plans?

Kulnaree: Yeah. That you said. I’m busy right now. Yeah. But yeah, I have plans. I’m interested to study about audio description strategy for a specific genre of television drama and studying about the alternative AD for Thai material, such as in the television drama or film. Because that I talked to you before, it has big problems in Thailand that we have the limited knowledge about audio description. Yeah. But right now I think I believe in the choices. Yeah. Because blind, visually impaired people have a different characteristic and different limitations. So audio description as a service for support them need to have a different type and different kinds of AD that have more choices for blind and visually impaired people. So that’s why I think in the future, I plan to study more about audio description in Thai context. Yeah.

Mariana: Thank you very much. And what is your wish for the future of audio description?

Kulnaree: Okay. I think I’m hoping for two things. I will talk in the context of Thailand.

Mariana: Yeah.

Kulnaree: One is that the audio descriptions creations in Thailand actually considers the demands of blind and visually impaired users involving them in the process of choosing programs or content to generate AD and increasing greatest amounts of AD and broadcasting program with AD in the appropriate time. I think right now the policies or some television broadcaster is not concerned much about the user. [ Mariana laughing ] Yeah. And secondly, I hope that Thai audio description stakeholders will recognise and accept the varieties of style of AD.

Mariana: Yeah.

Kulnaree: Because it’s quite good for blind, visually impaired audience.

Mariana: Thank you very much. This has been a fascinating interview. It’s great to have you here in the studio sharing all your knowledge on audio description in general, but specifically the Thai context. It’s been fascinating to hear about your work and I’m sure you’ll go on to do more incredible things. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Kulnaree: Thank you for having me. Thank you so much.

Mariana: Thank you so much to all our listeners for joining us today. I hope you have enjoyed the episode as much as I have and do tune in next month to listen to more research and practice on disability, accessibility and representation. Thank you very much!