Finding the perfect gift for someone you care about can be difficult, even more so when he or she is blind or visually impaired. A gift that would be great normally, may loose some of its appeal if the person you give it to cannot fully enjoy every sense of it. When you still want to create a gift the DIY way, and want it to be fun and personal, you might find yourself in a challenging situation. Losing the option of giving something visually interesting, means you need to get creative.
Together with Joran, I made a gift for someone I care about who is blind. I know she enjoys listening to audio books, but somehow giving an audio book still seemed like it was missing a personal touch. That’s when a new idea was born: to create our own story and record it. Remember those old radio plays? They would tell stories in the studio, complete with sound effects that were created on the spot. That’s what we decided to do as well (minus the radio part).
If you are searching for a personal homemade gift for a blind person in your life, you might want to give this idea a try as well. It may take some time, but it will definitely give you points in the originality department. Recording your own voice makes your audio book into an even more meaningful gift.
Here is how you make your own radio play.
1. Define a storyline
Define your main storyline in about 5 to 10 steps. Who are your main characters? How does the story begin? What is the biggest problem and how will it be solved? How does the story develop and how does it end? This overview doesn’t have to include every conversation and every sound. It’s there to help you define the main course of events.
It might be tempting to overthink this, to wait for the perfect subject and the most poetic story. However, try to pick a subject in maximum 5 minutes. Otherwise you will be stuck forever in making decisions.
Our story revolved around ‘Japie, the little spider with a big dream’. Japie is disappointed that all the animals in the forest are good at something, and that he isn’t, not even at spinning webs (his webs don’t stick, making him fall out in his sleep every night). Then he decides to try out for the annual running competition. Japie gets an intense training of Mr. Rabbit. After failing to find proper running shoes (he needs 4 similar pairs), all hope seems lost. But then he discovers that the material from his web is a great recourse for creating bouncy running shoes. He ends up making his own shoes, beating the hare in the race and starts his own running shoe business.
You see? It doesn’t have to be complicated. Come up with your own story and have fun exploring different possibilities.
2. Find interesting sounds and objects
The fun part is looking around your house for items with the potential of making funny or weird sounds. Big rubber elastic bands can sound like someone is jumping. A big bowl of water can function as a pool in which your main character accidently falls (Mr. Rabbit’s pool, to be exact). Drumming with your fingertips on the table gives different sound effects than drumming with flat hands on the table. You can use your CD player or phone to play music while you are telling a story. Just be creative and use what you have. With a little imagination you can create an entire audio world.
3. Record your story
When you have your main story line and scenarios prepared, your ‘sound system’ (a.k.a. pots and pans and arbitrary objects) lined up and your character voices ready, you can start your recording. After a quick research I found that using the program Audacity was a great choice for recording a radio play. Audacity is free, open source software that can be installed on a Mac, Windows and Linux. Although at first I thought using an extended microphone would provide better quality audio, I found that my Mac microphone worked best for the effect I was looking for. Especially because it doesn’t only pick up your (local) voice, but also sounds that are further away. Although QuickTime also has a built-in audio recording feature, it leaves less room for pausing your recording for a moment and editing later on. My advice would be to try to record as much as you can in one take. Only pause when you genuinely don’t know how to go on. Don’t overthink it. Just improvise. Although most of my DIY’s are perfectly fine to do by yourself, I do think that it is way easier to do this one together. That way one person can be the story teller, while the other one can do the voices and extra sounds for example. When one of the two gets stuck, the other one can continue. Also, it is a lot more fun doing silly voices together, making bad jokes and keeping in snorts of laughter when the other suddenly takes the story in a somewhat unexpected direction.
4. Edit your recording
Although I do think it is possible to record you story without any editing, I found that editing afterwards did improve our audio play a lot. The biggest change I made is to edit out the many pauses. Because everything was improvised, the story would be somewhat slow: it contained many pauses that made simple conversations seem overthought (because they were). I ended up cutting back our rough 27 minutes take to about 20 minutes. I barely made any changes in the story and voices. Most of the change I made was in cutting out silences.
5. Burn your recording on a CD
Buy an empty CD and burn your story on it. Many computers have built-in software to do this for you. I used iTunes (a quick Google search will get you a long way if you struggle with how to do this). You might want to check if your CD works properly afterward. Sometimes a quick mistake in settings makes your CD readable in digital format, while it won’t do anything in a regular CD player.
6. Create a tactile cover
When your CD is finished, all you need to do is put in in a suitable cover. Someone who is blind won’t be able to feel the difference between one CD cover and another. So why not give them some tactile clues? Although there are many ways to do this, I used felt and pipe cleaners. When you feel the cover, you can detect 8 spider legs and a little body with eyes. Try to come up with something that has a clear connection to your story, and is not too detailed to feel. Your CD isn’t only easy to recognise, it is silly and handmade too.
You can wrap your present, but you really don’t need to. It will be a surprise untill you hand your gift over anyways.
If you ever make this as a gift, I would love to hear about it! (In my experience, this gift is a great success.)