Audio Description Should Be Universal

December 9, 2012 in Community Voices

Audio Description Logo “No Johnny, don’t do it!”

[Johnny takes the gun from James, runs to the trap door, and opens it. Johnny races after them.]

“I’m going to get you!”

[James climbs up the ladder quickly with Johnny right on his heels.]

“You can’t do this!”

[James closes the trap door after climbing out of it.]

What was that? That was an example of audio description. Audio description for the blind and/or the visually impaired is just a narration slipped in between dialogue to explain what is happening:  who looks like what, and what text says on the screen. It is very helpful in movies such as Star Wars, or the Passion of the Christ  in which the movie is nothing but subtitles.

This service is quite rare and that might appear a bit weird considering how many years it has been around. Audio description has been around since 1990 and has slowly evolved since that period. The loss of access to this addition of descriptive content  is a huge shame.

Without audio description, we blind would be like the deaf watching a movie without subtitles. And surely you don’t want some blind person whispering in your ear, “What’s happening? What’s going on? Who’s talking?”

Though the visually impaired can usually pick up what is happening, sometimes they just can’t. Personally, this writer has to have an audio description in order to see what is happening.

In 2002, audio description was made into a law regarding television. Major TV networks had to provide at least 4 hours of audio description a day, culminating into 32 hours of audio description a week. If that were me, I would say, “Okay, Sure, No problem!” Instead, all the networks in the industry seem to have become infuriated because blind people wanted to watch a little bit of TV.

Audio description only describes surface actions: meaning facial gestures, scene changes, physical actions, and what characters look like and what clothing they have on. They do not interpret the story. They just describe stuff.

This writer almost never “watches” TV anymore mainly because most programs don’t even carry audio description. TNT, FOX, and PBS have it, but different shows are described in different states. For example, in my home state of Florida, FOX claims to have The Simpsons with audio description. I try it only to discover it isn’t available here in Florida.

Historically, DVD’s don’t have audio description either. A select few have, but that soon changed in 2009. Sony and FOX agreed to release DVD’s without audio description. Will blind people be left having to share the described version from the UK across the internet?

In the U.K., at least 100 DVD’s a year have audio description. Here in the United States only three or four are released with audio description a year.  Audio description is available in some, in fact very few, movie theaters across the United States.

When this writer has tried to use headsets that should have description, I usually have heard static. When the theater manager is asked what the problem is, he doesn’t know what to do. I’ve had to learn through someone else in such situations that “oh, audio description is only available in theater three.”

In order to see the new Harry Potter movie with audio description I would have to wait for the movie to play in one particular area, or section or whatever? No thanks. I would rather just skip the movie.

Disabled people have rights. One of those rights should be to entertainment, allowing all to be able to go to a movie and independently enjoy the show. The visually impaired should not have to wait for the next audio-described DVD to be released. They should have equal access to the same information and entertainment. That includes videos on the web, which have no audio description.

If audio description were more widely used, the visually impaired might finally be able to go see any movie their better-sighted friends enjoy. And everyone could have a good time.