Audio Description: Opening the Cellblock Doors

By Anthony Corona

Prison can come in so many forms from the classic societal incarceration to self-imposed isolation and so many other forms. For someone who loses sight mid-life, it can feel like being in a prison of mazes, brick walls and ever-shifting perspectives. Everything changes suddenly and nothing is what was comfortable, and nothing rings familiar. Gradually, and with a lot of hard work and help, one learns to manage and harness the shifting perspectives into a clear path forward. 

Orientation and mobility (O&M) was the first long metal key turned in the proverbial iron bar cell door of my blindness. Learning technology opened other locked doors, but as I navigated through the mazes of tech and new skills, I still had a very dark cell I was relegated into often. There was light and movement in the dark tunnel when I was introduced to NLS, the National Library Service. Still, I found many of my favorite forms of entertainment now lost to me.

There were many movies I knew from my past that I could still enjoy because I remembered them so well, but new movies and most new television shows were now so frustrating to “watch” that I basically gave up trying. My sister and a few good friends were good at trying to explain, or function as live audio description, way before I knew such a thing existed. It became more of a hassle to plan with these well-meaning folks that I gave up favorite shows and trying new ones. 

Then, during a major moment in my blind journey, the cellblock door was blasted off its hinges and I was free to run into the light. Going to guide dog school changed so much for me, and one of the major revelations was the introduction of audio description to me by one of the other students. 

“You mean to tell me all shows come with someone describing like this?” I asked as the wonder abated and I began to enjoy my first audio-described movie. I had chosen the “Sex in the City” movie because it was one I knew well, and I was very skeptical of this supposedly miraculous service. “No, not all shows and movies,” my new friend sadly admitted. “Yet.”

The description on “Sex in the City” was very well done, although at the time I did not know just how good it was. I remember how elated I became as I realized what this all meant. As the describer illuminated scenes I could still see in my mind, I realized shows I had to give up because so much of it was visual might just be enjoyable to me again. 

I must have driven my fellow classmates crazy with all my questions. How does it work? Do I have to pay for description? Where do I find it? Then in a frenzied fashion I began to search for shows like “Scandal,” which was one show I actually cried over in frustration. I was sad that some shows were not described, but still, it was like Christmas, my birthday and Halloween all rolled up into one amazing night at guide dog school. 

Now, as someone who fights the good fight for more described programming, quality standards and more inclusion of our community in the process I remind myself of the dark days. I applaud efforts like our ACB Audio Description Project and all its fierce warriors. I applaud all the productions who make AD a priority and I even applaud those who reluctantly get on board.  As the walls of the prison of blindness crumble for me, I want to celebrate one of the first major blasts — Audio Description. I encourage us all to continue to demand more inclusion in the process, fight for the quality we deserve but to also take a moment to remember the dark days. It is so easy to complain and rail when it is not available or of bad quality, but it’s also very important to recognize the strides in the movement and how many are doing amazing work. I anxiously await and count the days with anticipation for the American Council of the Blind’s first annual Audio Description Awards Gala!


ACB’s 2021 Audio Description Awards Gala is a free & virtual event. It will be aired live at ADAwardsGala.org and on Peacock on Nov. 18th, 2021, starting at 7:30 p.m. ET

Visit ADAwardsGala.org to reserve your spot now to add the Gala to your calendar!

2 comments

  1. ACB has certainly played a major role in developing and promoting audio description. Here’s a memory from my childhood: Many shows on NBC began with this announcement: “the following program is brought to you in living color on NBC.” Why don’t we ever hear an announcement which tells the world, “The following program is available with audio description for the benefit of blind and visually impaired viewers.” I love the idea of recognizing those who work in audio description through the gala, but I think we may be preaching only to the choir.

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