Accessibility & Technology

Descriptive Audio Brings Back the Detail

Feb 2, 2018

Descriptive Audio Brings Back the Detail

For more than a decade, descriptive audio tracks have been available on widely released feature films. Now the devices used to access these audio tracks are also widely available. This accommodation was once at the discretion of the theater, but now it is a requirement.

And what a difference it can make for moviegoers with visual impairments.  Sitting up close to the screen is usually a good move, and the added narration can help ensure you don’t miss a thing.

Beginning in January 2017, movie theaters across America now have descriptive audio devices, readily available, for all guests wishing to use them. The theater is also required to have a staff member on hand to assist customers requesting these devices, and that is a very good thing because different theaters may use different devices, and if you are not used to them it takes a time or two to acclimate.

The policy for accessible movies accommodates people with hearing impairments as well, with separate devices that provide closed captioning. This tends to create some minor confusion because the device for people with hearing impairments looks like it’s for the eyes and the device for visual impairments looks like it’s for the ears. Just be sure you are clear that you wish to “listen to the descriptive audio track.”

People sitting and excited, watching a movie in a movie theater.

People sitting and excited, watching a movie in a movie theater.

Depending on the theater, you may get a set of headphones or you may encounter a device that allows you to connect your own personal headphones or earbuds.  Thanks to the digital age in which we live, the movie tracks automatically synch with the film track. Voila!

What happens next is truly wonderful.  A lovely voice begins to speak into the quiet spaces of the film, describing scenes or activity without ever interrupting the dialogue or talking over the music. Important details no longer slip by, the voice keeps you abreast every step of the way. You begin to “see” the picture you might have otherwise missed.

You should also know these descriptive tracks can also be accessed in the privacy of your own home, TV, computer, tablet or smartphone.

Sit back, relax and enjoy the movie!


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About the Author: Dorrie Rush

Dorrie Rush is the Chief Content Officer and Visual Accessibility Expert at Ophthalmic Edge Patients (OE Patients), an online resource, presented by the Association for Macular Diseases, providing practical information and empowering advice for living a full and successful life with vision loss.

She is the former Director of the Grunwald Technology Center and Information Resource Service at Lighthouse International 2001 to 2016. Dorrie is known to have an eccentric view, which is particularly useful in compensating for her central vision loss from Stargardt Disease.



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