By Stephanie Ciccarelli
November 1, 2012
Did you know that many of the programs you watch on TV are designed to help those in the vision impaired community SEE what is being presented?
Many people don't know about how widely available audio description is to those who need it, including those who need it most.
Hear from Herb Merriweather as he shares some of what he has learned by working with Audio Eyes, LLC.
By Herb Merriweather
I recently had the great opportunity to attend the National Federation of the Blind, California's convention because of my association with the wonderful folks at Audio Eyes, LLC. In the midst of consumer surveys and meeting convention attendees, I received an eye-popping education in communication (or the lack thereof). It seems that even though--by government mandate--audio description is now available from some (and soon, all) of the major networks on a primetime, weekly basis, very few people know about it. I mean very few people in the vision impaired community (the people for whom this media is intended) and very few people in the sighted community as well.
Let me back up a bit. Referencing a piece of federal legislation called the '21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (June 19, 2008),' video (or audio) description and closed captioning are to be provided over digital TV technologies and the internet. It also states the requirement for multichannel video program distributors (cable/satellite) to make their navigational programming guides accessible to people who cannot read the visual display so as to facilitate program selection.
This is still new territory in many ways. In order to meet the challenge and provide the kind of service that is now federally mandated, many cable and satellite providers will have to step up their game so to speak and provide remotes or easily accessible pages so that the menus can be fully utilized. Sadly, we don't have that equipment available yet. And unless the vision impaired and all others who care come together with a concerted effort to push for enforcement of these mandates, we won't have it. It's not that providers or programmers or producers are cold hearted or uncaring. There are wonderful people who have worked hard to produce quality programming in compliance with the new laws. And it is available to the vision impaired--provided they have someone sighted to help them find it!
There, as Shakespeare put it, lies the rub. Kinda like having a snazzy, brand new car, in your name, all gassed up and ready to go--with no keys. If you don't have access to what's available to you, you can't enjoy it. So I would humbly submit that you do what you can to inform those who need informing! Because once you KNOW what's available, you can use it to get to places previously out of reach.
Audio description media is available via the networks and in feature films. As a matter of fact, your new DVD/Blu-Ray copy of 'Marvel's The Avengers' has a very well done audio description track. Give it a listen and you will see first hand what it's all about and the service it provides to a large chunk of our population. As late as 1994-95, 1.3 million Americans reported legal blindness. Some people reading this are very close to someone within this demographic.
Wouldn't you like to do all you can to bridge the communications gap and make the word 'accessible' real?
Concerned voices can send an email to your local TV content providers and ask them about described programs and how to get to them. And please--don't rely on my feeble writing skills as your only source of info on this subject. WGBH in Boston, the Audio Description Project as well as other organizations can give you detailed information about audio/video description. Or, you can feel free to visit the Audio Eyes, LLC. web page for detailed info about the laws and our efforts to help provide accessible media.
Let's ALL watch TV, shall we?
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