by Erika Wolf
Audio description: What purpose does it serve, and why is it so important to many people who use it? Let me begin by telling all of you why audio description is so important and has such great value to me. As a blind consumer, having many materials containing audio-described visual content, like having audible means to go by viewing an array of videos; or when taking in outdoor scenery at a tour at the city zoo, attending a live musical performance such as Disney On Ice, or a live concert such as the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, I have found it to be possible to keep up with my sighted peers by having the knowledge and appreciation of what’s truly going on throughout these captivating events.
Before the introduction and incorporation of audio description in movies and stage productions, watching a movie or filmed presentation was nowhere near the same as it is today. Audio description has truly been a game-changer for me as a non-sighted viewer of picture content. Simply put, there is so much more meaning brought to a motion picture film or television series that has implemented audio description throughout its running time for someone like me. Verbal dialogue is absolutely critical to incorporate.
Visually, so many actions portrayed by characters, whether on stage or within a film setting, are missed by a blind viewer if audio description is not included. This leaves much unknown to the storyline in the minds of those needing non-speaking portions of the film spoken. There have been so many instances, before audio description actually became a mainstream option for blind movie buffs to tap into at a theater or concert hall, where I would leave the venue not having any inkling of what really took place within the production. This was on account of there not being any audible feedback given throughout the production. Having a true awareness of what was contained and carried out throughout a particular scene, or when scene changes occurred, just wasn’t possible for me to follow. As a blind audience member, I had to try piecing together what was happening either on the big screen or the family television set. There is so much that gets lost in translation when there is little to no audio description added in to fully capture all that is happening within a storyline.
Entertainment is nowhere near the same without the inclusion of audio narration. For me, a longtime movie-goer, the quality of a film or stage performance is not the same as when there is a clear audible explanation given. Proper description of expressions held by actors; costumes of sorts; and very detailed physical actions taking place make a tremendous difference.
Recently, my cable network provider attempted to clear out my talking cable box so all primetime channels would include audio description, by remotely electronically testing various channels, only to corrupt the box. The accessibility department’s technician was resetting the box, making what description was previously available non-existent, thereby leaving me without audio description. Now that my cable box is functioning without audible means, when trying to channel surf, and gain access to programming lineup, I don’t have any way of knowing what’s coming up on the screen. Since this took place just a short time ago, I’m faced with making the decision to bypass cable altogether, and turn to using only smart TV streaming channels that already include audio description tracks.
The cable provider completely disabled all audible features of my box, causing complete disruption to my viewing pleasure due to there no longer being any distinguishable way of discerning what channels are coming into view, or the lineup of any programming. The absence of audio description completely diminishes the enjoyment value of what’s being absorbed.
It is essential to have some level of description added in for me to fully get anything out of programs being aired. I’m now having to use an antiquated form of technology, always used in the past, before the passing of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. Audio description comes in handy in relation to any visual live shows being performed, such as in the case of a fireworks display show, any type of major holiday or city parade, national sports championship celebratory parade, and sporting events in general.
Those without vision loss may have no conception of what audio description can truly offer to enhance visual elements to someone blind. Oftentimes, I’ve had to effectively educate close-minded skeptics that have scoffed at my high praises of the enhancement of what audio description can bring to someone with impaired to no sight. Of course, this has mainly been among sighted people who have not undergone wearing sleep shades or blocking out all usable vision to experience what it would be like to watch or sit through a performance with or without audio description.
If this article could serve to dispel some misperceptions that blind and visually impaired people have no way of truly enjoying the arts, like Broadway productions; national parks and monuments; museums; and visual events like a variety of dance, otherwise thought to be “too visual to truly enjoy, or follow and understand,” then my words, outlined here, will capture what is intended. So many things can be truly thoroughly enjoyed and admired through the ingenuity of audio description.
“A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words,” so by having one professionally and artfully describe a picture, stage presence and presentation, or detailed live physical actions, then the same level of emotions and interpretation can be brought about through the masterpiece of audio description.
This article was published in ACB’s February Edition of the E-Forum.