How to Locate and Access Audio-Described Content

Can people who are blind enjoy movies and television shows? Many people have asked me this question; perhaps you’ve heard it or even asked it yourself. While audio-based forms of entertainment like audio books and music are important to persons who are blind, people who are blind often enjoy video-based entertainment like movies, documentaries, and television shows of varying types.

What exactly is audio description? The Audio Description Project (ADP) website, which we will discuss further, says the following:

Audio Description (AD) is the descriptive narration of key visual elements of live theatre, television, movies, and other media to enhance their enjoyment by consumers who are blind or have low vision. AD is the insertion of audio explanations and descriptions of the settings, characters, and action taking place in such media, when such information about these visual elements is not offered in the regular audio presentation.

The initial goal for writing this post was to list most, if not all, of the major sources of audio-described content. While attempting to gather the information into some sort of usable groupings or categories, however, it became obvious that it would be nearly impossible to put it all together in one post, especially if we attempted to elaborate on it in detail. As a result, we will direct you to resources with information about the history and availability of audio- described content and also mention a few resources which are not yet described on these larger sites including a service that calls itself the audio-described version of Netflicks and an independent video developer who chose to make their documentary with audio description.

The Audio Description Project

This website is an initiative of the American Council of the Blind and is a comprehensive site detailing what audio description is, who does it, how to get it, and much more. It contains a list of DVDs and television series with audio description as well as schedules for watching television shows with audio description and lists opportunities for individuals to train to become audio describers. It even includes listings of iTunes and Netflicks programming with audio description.

Although the entire project’s history is described in detail on the site, a brief synopsis of ADP’s history is as follows:

The Audio Description Project’s website collects and provides information on audio description in all its forms: live theatre, television, movies, DVDs, and more. Started in 2002 by AD International, funding and direction for this website now come from the American Council of the Blind’s Audio Description Project (started in March 2009).

Since new audio-described media is released regularly, interested persons should visit the ADP site at http://www.acb.org/adp/and sign up to receive page changes/updates via email. You can also like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.

The Federal Communications Commission

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also provides a dedicated guide to audio description. This guide explains what audio description is, the laws and regulations that are related to its implementation, and how one can utilize it. It includes broadcast networks’ and cable networks’ audio described programming and schedule information and a detailed description of what steps to take to hear the audio description on most television service providers. It also includes information on closed captioning, receiving information related to emergency alerts that the government issues, and communication devices for persons who are deafblind. Taken together, these sites should provide most of the information you need to become more fully informed about audio description. Read the FCC’s guide at https://www.fcc.gov/general/video-description#block-menu-block-4.

Zagga Entertainment

This service calls itself, “Descriptive video on demand!” “We are Zagga Entertainment — a video-on-demand service featuring movies and series with described video. Whether you love a gripping thriller, a probing documentary or a hilarious buddy flick, we’ll feature it on our fully accessible website and mobile apps (which are coming soon).”

Zagga Entertainment provides sample videos on their site and may provide some videos at no cost; however, their service is similar to Netflicks because they are a video-on-demand service so you can watch programming at any time. How much does their service cost?

We have two membership packages to choose from. Our Basic Membership is $6.99 per month and gives you access to our independent content, classics and documentaries. A Premium Membership costs $9.99 and gives you access to all of Zagga, including Hollywood content.

Zagga’s creators have stated that their site is still under construction and that more content is soon to be added. Visit http://zagga.tv/ for more information or email info@zagga.tv.

Independent Films/Documentaries

We, of course, are not aware of the actual number of independent filmmakers who add audio description to their work. One of them, however, chose to inform us about their film and to ensure that we knew that the film included audio description so we mention it here to show our appreciation for its inclusion as part of the film.

Mind/Game: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw, directed and produced by two-time Academy-Award-nominated documentary filmmaker Rick Goldsmith, and narrated by Academy-Award-winning actress Glenn Close, follows Holdsclaw through her legendary basketball career and her roller-coaster journey with mental illness.

Mind/Game is now available on DVD, and comes with video description for the visually impaired, Closed Captioning and SDH subtitles in English and Spanish.

Director Goldsmith has long been committed to full accessibility in his films. He personally presented Mind/Game at this year’s Michigan Association on Higher Education & Disability (MI-AHEAD) conference, and at a special Department of Labor screening of Mind/Game in Washington D.C., to commemorate the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Home use, professional use and educational use DVDS of Mind/Game are available for purchase, and you can read a more detailed description of the film at https://kovnocommunications.org/.

While full implementation of audio description into all movies and television series is still far from complete, its usage seems to be increasing. With all of the available materials, perhaps you can watch something new or revisit something you’ve watched previously—this time with a much better understanding of the visual happenings thanks to audio description!

Stan Greenwood
A humble human, who is always found working on something or drinking coffee. A perfect introvert who talks barely anything but shares a lot through his blog posts at FredForum.

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