The JJs List Blog

The Theater Audio Description Experience

Posted by on September 9, 2011 - 4 Comments
Cinema 4 at HOYTS, Forest Hill Shopping Centre...

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In light of the recent decision by the Regal Theater chain to equip all their theaters with closed-captioning and audio-description capabilities, I wanted to write about my experiences with audio description.

This is a wonderful service which makes movies, the performing arts, and other television programming accessible to people who are blind or visually-impaired. This is generally done through a separate track which is then added to the movie or other program. The descriptions are written by one or two people, and another person narrates them. Narration via text-to-speech–such as that of screen readers–is now being tested out.

I first became aware of this service back in the mid-90’s when it debuted with the launch of Descriptive Video Service (DVS) in Boston. DVS is now one of many entities that offer this service. I saw a movie at home with audio descriptions. What I remember most is that I was very impressed with the descriptions which I heard. Each scene was described in vivid detail, as well as the props, costumes and actions. The end credits were even read aloud. Since then I have seen many more videos with audio description and it has always been a most enjoyable experience. Not only are the descriptions very well-done, but they also add to my enjoyment of the programming. An example of what someone would hear when watching a movie with audio description follows: “Harry, Hermione, and Ron quickly change into their Invisibility Cloaks while Dobby the house elf looks on. Our view glides right. Fade to black.” It should be noted here that these descriptions do not interfere in any way with the programs/movies themselves. In theaters, only the descriptions are broadcast through the headsets. It is still possible to hear the dialogue, music and sound effects outside the headsets.

It wasn’t long ago that I got introduced to audio description in movie theaters. There is one theater nearby which offers this service, and I have seen several movies there. Patrons who wish to hear the descriptions purchase wireless headsets at the ticket counter, and the descriptions are broadcast through these headsets once the movie in question begins. Movie previews are currently not offered with audio descriptions, but it is my hope that this will change in the near future. These headsets are included in the ticket purchase, which I think is very smart. This way, users don’t have to pay extra for these headsets.

In addition to movies and television programming, the performing arts are seeing more and more audio description. I’ve been to a few plays with these descriptions and have been quite impressed. As with movies in the theater, these audio descriptions are broadcast through headsets but the other stuff in the plays is still audible. Touch tours are often offered prior to showtime, where patrons can go backstage and get a hands-on look at the various props and costumes.

The US is not alone in offering audio descriptions. The service is more widespread in other parts of the world such as Canada and the UK. To find out all you ever wanted to know about this service but were afraid to ask, please visit the following website: .

My sincere thanks to webmaster Fred Brack for allowing me to link to this project. The project was conceived by the American Council of the Blind and Joel Snyder, a veteran describer with Audio Description Associates.

About The Author
Jake Joehl is the Social Media Assistant, and a member of the Disability Awareness Players, at JJ’s List. He provides unique perspective on living as a person who is blind. Watch his video testimonial about Steppenwolf Theatre’s disability-awareness.

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Sam says:
Sep 14, 2011

I think it is very exciting that the rules re-instating 50 hours per quarter of mandatory described primetime and/or children’s television programming will go into effect in less than a year on July 1, 2012. For more information see the FCC rulemaking. I also think it is exciting that all Regal theaters will be equipped with video description equipment when they all are converted to digital theaters by the end of 2012. Hopefully other theater chains will follow Regal’s example and the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) combined with the USDOJ’s proposed updates to the ADA regulations will result in video description becoming more prevalent in society as time goes on.

L. Legendary says:
Sep 15, 2011

I’ve experimented with nearly every type of audio description in nearly every context imaginable, since the earliest deployment of these services. I’ve never been disappointed. In fact, I think my experiences have been enhanced beyond that which non-disabled patrons enjoy. Sharing a headset with a non-disabled companion while attending a play, we compared notes afterward on how we experienced the program. He believed he may not have noticed some of the nuances described by the audio had it not been part of the description. He commented that it was like having a front row center seat, even if you are sitting in the “high altitude” section. Whether you are attending a live event or going to a movie theater, be sure to ask if this type of service is available. In many cases, you may be the first to do so, and the ticket agent with whom you are interacting may not be aware their facility offers audio description. Take advantage of it whenever you can, then tell the venue management how much you appreciated the use of the service. Tell them how much you enjoyed the program as a direct result of using the technology, and they will be sure to continue to make it available. Share with your friends what theaters, venues, museums or other facilities offer description, and let’s ensure the word gets around so that everyone can enjoy the arts to the fullest.

Jake says:
Sep 23, 2011

Thanks for the comments.

[…] Thanks to Kartemquin Films for being a leader in disability-awareness. Check out their full article A Voice Is With A Thousand Pictures for more details. Also check out what JJ’s List team member Jake Joehl wrote about personally being an audio description user. […]

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