by Dan Spoone
We are so proud of the accomplishments of the Audio Description Project (ADP) over the past decade. We have come so far. Remember those days of VHS tapes with audio description (AD) that were produced by WGBH (public broadcast station out of Boston)? You would receive two VHS movies from your library, and you were so excited. Perhaps you could afford to purchase your own copy for $40 to $60 for that very special movie. We purchased a copy of “Pretty Woman” one Christmas for Leslie. It was her favorite movie. “Pretty Woman” had been released several years earlier at the theaters and we finally got a copy with audio description from WGBH. Leslie was so happy. We must have watched it every night for a week straight. To this day, every time I see or hear a reference to a snail, I remember the scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts is having the formal dinner and that snail goes flying across the table. “Slippery little suckers,” the businessman observes with a smile.
Audio description (AD) has come so far and ACB is the leading voice of the blind consumer for this amazing journey. ACB created the Audio Description Project (ADP) in 2008 with founding director Joel Snyder. ACB was also the leading consumer group at the table through the creation and passage of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), which mandated AD on the four broadcast channels (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox) and the top five cable channels with at least 50 hours a quarter of new audio-described content.
ACB advocated for audio description in the movie theaters. Now, the Department of Justice (DOJ) requires that all digital movie theaters must have AD equipment. Last year all but one of the Oscar-nominated movies for Best Picture offered audio description. ACB is working with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to mandate that all Best Picture nominations provide AD as a prerequisite for consideration in this category.
In addition, ACB members from across the country have worked tirelessly in their communities to promote AD at their local museums and performing arts centers. The landscape is quickly changing for the delivery of new AD content, and ACB has worked with Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Disney, HBO Max and other streaming services to ensure that their original programming will offer audio description and their websites will be fully accessible. The ACB Audio Description website (acb.org/adp) lists over 4,500 titles with AD and is considered the pre-eminent sight for audio description information.
Audio description has enriched our lives in so many ways. It makes us feel like integrated members of society. My personal story of AD advocacy is a very small piece of the large AD pie. Leslie and I really enjoy going to the movies in the winter. We always try to see the movies nominated for Best Picture. You all know the dance. You arrive at the movie theater and purchase your tickets. Then it’s off to customer service to pick up your receiver and headset. We politely remind them that we are blind and need the receiver to be set on audio description for the visually impaired. We emphasize the setting for the blind. They ensure us that everything is set up OK, and we head on to the theater and pray the audio description comes on when the movie starts. Our prayers are answered about 50 percent of the time. The rest of the time we are scrambling to fix the problem in a crowded theater without disturbing the other patrons. Can any of you relate to this experience?
Several years ago, Dan Dillon connected me with the Vice President of Human Resources at Regal Entertainment, Randy Smith. Randy and I had an excellent discussion on the problem of not knowing if your AD equipment worked until the feature film began. We asked him if they had ever considered adding AD to their Regal Entertainment trailer that plays before the movie previews. He said that they were currently looking to add captioning for the deaf community to the Regal trailer and he would ask the engineers about adding audio description as well. We thanked him for his time and told him how much AD had changed our enjoyment of the movies.
The next month Leslie and I were at our neighborhood Regal theater. We did the usual dance of acquiring our receivers and heading to the theater. We had the normal anxiety. We were both hoping the AD would work. The crowd was pouring in on a busy Friday night. Our fingers were crossed. Please, please work! The Regal trailer began to play before the previews, and the popcorn and Coke started talking! Leslie, do you hear what I’m hearing? Yes, there was AD on the Regal trailer. Before I fully realized it, I stood up in a crowded theater and shouted, “The popcorn is talking.” It brought a silence to the theater, but Leslie and I were both cheering. Sometimes we need to celebrate the small victories.
This month, let’s take time to celebrate the very large victory of the work the American Council of the Blind has done to bring audio description to all of us. Thank you, ACB, for enriching our lives through our advocacy efforts with audio description. Enjoy this issue of the E-Forum dedicated to audio description and be proud of our accomplishments and continue to dream of our future goal of 100 percent AD for all opportunities at performing arts centers, museums, parks, conference presentations, video presentations and movie theaters. It’s our civil right!