by Jamie Gibson-Barrows
On Friday November 10, 2017, members of the CCB Fresno chapter visited Yosemite National Park to test the beta app “UniDescription” (UniD) developed by the University of Hawaii. We chartered a bus financed by ACB through its Executive Director Eric Bridges. Without the support from Eric and ACB, this trip could not have occurred. Our original transportation was through the Yosemite Area Rapid Transit System (YARTS), however we found they didn’t have the funds for fall or winter transportation from Fresno, so ACB donated the funding for the charter.
I reached out to Brett Oppegaard, Associate Professor and Principal Investigator at the U of H at Manoa, soon after the ACB convention when I learned of the development of the Unidescription app for Yosemite National Park. We visit Yosemite every year with CCB Fresno members and other members in our community, only to find very little audio description in the Park. So, we were eager to help out with testing of the app. Brett was excited to give our chapter this opportunity, and for the next three months we communicated with ACB, University of Hawaii and the National Park Service. We had the pleasure of meeting Sajja Koirala, who flew into Fresno from Hawaii to join us on this trip. Sajja is one of the developers of this AD app. She joined us as a supporter and observer. At the end of our trip, Sajja facilitated a focus group discussion on the AD app.
The trip was fantastic with 26 attendees and 4 guide dogs. Yosemite’s Ranger Sally Kintner guided us through a tour throughout the day. We touched and smelled large trees on the paths, such as the Incense Cedar Tree and the Ponderosa Pine. We found that if you scratch the bark on the Ponderosa Pine, it has the fragrance of vanilla. In addition, we enjoyed the sculpture display on another trail. This sculpture was hands-on, enabling us to feel the massive rock formations and the Yosemite falls to get a better mental picture of the surrounding mountains. Many participants listened to the UniD app that features the map and brochure before our visit, as well as while we were on the trails. It was a beautiful fall day walking on trails, visiting the Lower Falls, Yosemite Lodge and the Visitor Center. Most took a sack lunch for an outdoor picnic, and some purchased a quick meal on site.
We are very proud of participating with the audio description beta testing for Yosemite and being so supported by everyone who have worked for months getting this app up and running. Our Facebook page has pictures of our day. In addition, we will be sending photos to ACB, who will publicize them soon. Our local producer for Blindside Fresno, William Elliott and wife Darcie, are both members of the Fresno chapter. They participated in the trip, and will be producing a Blindside Fresno segment via CMAC and Youtube that’s coming soon.
UniDescription (UniD) works both for iOS and Android. I encourage you to download it on your Smartphone. Our focus was on Yosemite; however, the app has many more National Parks already loaded, and more to come for the rest of the parks here in California throughout the upcoming year. Our goal is to take part in more National Parks beta testing. Our feedback during the focus group, as well as our filling out surveys for both ACB and Yosemite National Park, will help improve audio description for those of us with low or no vision.
Thank you to the following who have worked months on this project: University of Hawaii, Brett Oppegaard, Megan and Thomas Conway, and Sajja Koirala; from ACB: Executive Director Eric Bridges, Dan Spoone, Jo Lynn Bailey-Page; and from Yosemite National Park Services: Kara Stella, and Sally Kintner.
Editor’s Note: The UniDescription app currently includes audio described brochures for four national landmarks in Pennsylvania: Flight 93 National Memorial, Steamtown National Historic Site, Valley Forge National Historical Park, and Johnstown Flood National Memorial.