The Audio Description Project
An Initiative of the American Council of the Blind
Audio Description in Movie Theaters
Audio description is finally available for almost all
first-run movies, and more and more movie theaters
are being built or renovated with the necessary equipment to offer the description
track to patrons. In fact, the law now requires
them to upgrade to include description equipment. This page will point
you to more information about the process, the movies, and the theaters.
Last updated: Feb 15, 2019.
The following "Final
Rule" was signed in December 2016 and became effective June 2, 2018.
"The Final Rule requires movie theaters [which have digital equipment]
to: (1) have and maintain the equipment necessary to provide closed
movie captioning and audio description at a movie patron's seat whenever
showing a digital movie produced, distributed, or otherwise made available
with these features; (2) provide notice to the public about the availability
of these features; and (3) ensure that theater staff is available to assist
patrons with the equipment before, during, and after the showing of a movie
with these features." However, theaters will have 18 months to comply,
and the minimum number of devices required for AD is less than 1 per screen.
Here is the statement of effective dates:
Public accommodations with movie theater auditoriums showing
digital movies on December 2, 2016 must comply with the rule's requirement
to provide closed movie captioning and audio description in such
auditoriums by June 2, 2018. If a public accommodation
converts a movie theater auditorium from an analog projection system
to a system that it allows it to show digital movies after December
2, 2016, the public accommodation must comply with the rule's requirement
to provide closed movie captioning and audio description in such
auditoriums by December 2, 2018, or within
6 months of that auditorium's complete installation of a digital
projection system, whichever is later.
'Seeing Movies': Technology Makes
Film Accessible To The Blind
The president of the ACB, Kim Charlson, was interviewed in February
2015 for a segment on Boston's WGBH television, the local PBS outlet.
She emphasized how valuable audio description has been for her in the
enjoyment and complete appreciation of movies. The Department
of Justice proposal requiring movie theaters to install description
and captioning equipment was addressed, too. You can view the
4 minute segment below (click it),
read the article in print, or
click here for an audio version.
About ten years ago, movie theaters began converting from film projectors
to digital, each with a server that processes and distributes the movie
data, including audio description tracks. Each month, more and more
movie theaters install one of these systems, making the audio description
available to people who need it. With digital, everything (movie,
multiple sound tracks, and captioning) are all delivered in something called
the Digital Cinema Package (DCP), which any company can
access through common standards, so the competition for equipment is increasing
and the cost of installation is decreasing. One DCP can server multiple
screens in a movie house. While the DCP is currently a physical product
(a hard-drive), eventually the data will be delivered to movie theaters
Sony Digital Cinema Overview (Photo Copyright Sony)
In movie theaters today, the dominant suppliers for digital equipment
A separate Doremi product, CaptiView, is used for closed captioning.
Sony has its own system which uses special glasses and earpieces.
Typically a theater chain uses one system or the other in all of its cities.
Here's what the Sony system (model Sony STW-C140GI, used
by Regal and others) looks like. When glasses are plugged in, it puts
the captioning on the glasses; when an earpiece is plugged in, the user
hears audio description.
Formerly, WGBH Media Access and DTS Access offered a DVS Theatrical Player
for description and captioning. The WGBH system offered closed captioning
via a separate system called Rear Window® Captioning (RWC), while
the DTS Access system offered open captioning on-screen via a special projector.
These systems are being phased out and replaced by digital products not
marketed by either company. However, WGBH Media Access, as the dominant
provider of movie description tracks (over 1200 so far), uses the term
MoPix to cover
the creation of the tracks, and they are very much in that business.
There are some real "good guys" in the history of making audio description
tracks available, for example, AMC and Regal.Cinemark, the third largest theater chain in the United
States, engaged in a process called Structured Negotiations with its blind
patrons and the California Council of the Blind in 2012, and now has audio
description equipment in every first-run auditorium it operates in the country
release). But other companies have often resisted offering description
and captioning, even when the equipment was readily available to them (through
the conversion to digital). In part, this resistance is what triggered
the Proposed Amendement to ADA
Affecting Movie Theater Accessibility in July 2014. This ended
up with the Justice Department signing a "Final
Rule" in December 2016 (effective June 2, 2018) affecting the ADA Title
III, as summarized at the top of this page.
Actiview is an app
for iPhones or Android devices which provides audio description tracks for
a growing number of movies. It can be used in a movie theater (so
you don't have to worry about equipment failure) or at home with a DVD
or streaming service like Hulu, which might not have audio description. Read
article about Actiview.
WGBH Media Access tells us that "All major studios now caption and describe
all wide released features and nearly all independent studios caption all
releases." Not all of that description makes it to DVD, however; but
some studios like Sony, Disney, and Universal have been providing it with
almost all of their releases since 2010, followed later by Fox, Lionsgate,
and Warner Bros. It's tough to get the smaller, independent studios
to fund description of either movies or DVDs. Currently a few major
studios (and some smaller ones) don't provide DVD description either; for
example, Anchor Bay Entertainment / Weinstein Co, Alchemy (formerly Millennium),
Miramax FIlms, and Pure Flix. Write them!
Release to DVD and Blu-ray Disc
So what happens when a described movie ends its run and is released on
DVD and Blu-ray discs? Historically, very few described DVDs were
released, but that changed dramatically starting in late 2009. Read
more about this and how to order DVDs on our
DVDs page. You will also find a huge number of
described movies on iTunes.
Finding Movies with Audio Description
A good source for finding described videos is
Just use the filter to select Descriptive Video. A number of site
visitors have also recommended
iOS App works reportedly works well, or you can search the website by location
or movie name, and by signing up for a free account, you can save and navigate
to your favorite movie theaters. When you find a specific movie, navigate
to the phrase, "Select a movie time to buy tickets." If you
down-arrow at this point, you are hoping to find the phrase,
"Accessible devices available." Clicking that link should produce
a pop-up box with either or both "Closed caption" and "DV" (which stands
for Descriptive Video). You, of course, are hoping to find DV listed
for the film in question! As a point of information, after each theater
name there is a link labeled Amenities. If they have audio description
headsets, "Accessibility devices available" is supposed to be listed there,
but has not proved to be reliable. If you want to do a search on the
page for described movies, you may wish to search for the phrase "accessibility."
More information on Movies With Audio Description
When you pay for your movie ticket, ask for
an AUDIO DESCRIPTION headset; but make sure it is for
audio description, not Assisted Listening Devices for people
who are hearing-impaired!
The following listings pertain primarily to the USA and Canada.
Movies With Description and How to Locate Theatres
No other major USA Commercial Internet service (beyond
Amazon, iTunes, and Netflix) is known to offer audio description with
any of their movies available for downloading/streaming. If you
belong to any such service or wish to, please write them and ask them
to provide this service! (Point of information: Zediva offered
this service briefly, but was forced out of business by the video distributors.)
Do you speak German? A company called
Greta & Starks offers a free IOS or Android app with
description tracks for over 100 movies in German.
Do you speak Italian?MovieReading
is a free app offering audio description tracks for a limited number
of films in Italian. Note that there are a small number of
English language film tracks available also, but the
website is only in Italian. We are awaiting further information.