The Theater Audio Description Experience

Cinema 4 at HOYTS, Forest Hill Shopping Centre...

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This entry was written by JJ’s List Social Media Assistant, Jake Joehl. Jake, an individual who is blind, shares with us what he experiences when he goes to the movies and uses audio descriptions.

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.


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