Enjoying Theater, Film, and Television When You Are Blind or Have Low Vision
Finding described television shows just got much easier. As part of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, several of the most popular television networks have made certain prime-time and children's programs accessible to viewers with vision loss by adding video description. To help celebrate and promote this initiative, AFB has implemented a Described TV Listings page on its website, an online guide where visitors can determine which shows will be described as well as when they air. To see which described shows will air in your area, and to learn more about how to access it on your television, visit www.afb.org/TV.
Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a wide range of cultural venues and activities now include adaptations for persons with disabilities, including blindness and low vision.
Read about regulations from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that will provide television video description benefitting blind and visually impaired viewers, and find out a little more about Video Description.
Learn more about the Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, which requires that smart phones, television programs, and other modern communications technologies be accessible to people with vision and/or hearing loss.
Audio Described Theater Performances
A number of theaters offer Audio Described Performances, during which patrons can obtain stereo headsets to hear verbal descriptions of stage activities. These are often available for operas, plays, concerts, the circus, and even political events. Call ahead to see if this is service is available at your theater and performance. Due to the increasing popularity of audio description, reservations may be necessary.
The Audio Description Project, an initiative of the American Council of the Blind, provides a wide range of information about audio description, including samples of audio description, technology, guidelines, and history.
The Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey provides regularly scheduled audio description for its performances. They also offer free pre-show Sensory Seminars, which provide an opportunity for blind or visually impaired patrons to tactually explore key props and costumes and hear a detailed description of the visual elements of the production, such as sets, costumes, and lighting. Performers also participate to provide voice recognition.
Descriptive Audio for the Sight Impaired (DASI) is offered at the Asheville (North Carolina) Community Theater and makes makes visual aspects of the performing arts accessible to visually impaired patrons. Using special, unobtrusive microphones and a transmitter, actions, facial expressions, scenery, and costumes are described for visually impaired patrons.
Some theaters offer special preview sessions for patrons who are blind, visually impaired, or have low vision. During these sessions, staff meet with patrons prior to the performance and describe the plot and the stage activities that will take place throughout the performance. Ask if your theater offers this service.
Low Vision Devices
Talk with your eye doctor about low vision optical devices that might help with viewing some stage performances. Helpful low vision devices can include small hand-held magnifiers and/or magnifiers with built-in lights (to help with reading the program), small hand-held telescopes for spot viewing, spectacle-mounted telescopes, bioptic telescopes, or frame-mounted binoculars.
Large Print Programs
Familiarize Yourself with the Story
If you know someone who has seen the performance, ask for an overview of the plot before you go. If the performance is based on a specific book or poem, consider reading it before you attend.
Audio Described Movies and Video
Audio description is additional narration that provides important visual elements of a film or television show as they happen. Increasing numbers of movie theaters and cineplexes are offering movies with audio description and closed captioning.
The Media Access group at WGBH provides resources for captioning and video description for the web; descriptive narration for television, films, and the web; accessibility for museums and cultural institutions; and captioning for web-based meetings.
MoPix® Motion Picture Access, developed by the Media Access Group at WGBH, makes theaters accessible to audiences with disabilities, including blindness and visual impairment. The MoPix® web site provides current information about audio described films playing in movie theaters throughout the country.
Many DVDs also come with audio description. The Media Access group at WGBH provides links to described movies available from Amazon.com and described PBS programs available from Amazon.com.
You can also check with your local library or State Library for the Blind. Both may offer a number of audio described movies free for lending. For more information, see resources for audio, large print, and braille books and materials.
Resources for Descriptive Narration
Other useful resources concerning audio description and theater and movie adapatations include:
- National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM): NCAM's mission is to expand access to present and future media for people with disabilities; to explore how existing access technologies may benefit other populations; to represent its constituents in industry, policy and legislative circles; and to provide access to educational and media technologies for special needs students.
- Narrative Television Network (NTN): Makes television programming and movies accessible to blind and visually impaired persons
- Blindspots and VocalEyes: Provide movie reviews by individuals who are blind or have low vision.
- Blindside Reviews by Jay Forry, a blind movie critic whose reviews are featured in media outlets across the United States
- Movies for the Blind: A podcast of public-domain films with added audio description.
- Theater Breaking Through Barriers (formerly Theater By the Blind): A theater company composed of both visually impaired and sighted theatre professionals.
- Tuesday Night Tandems: An Opportunity for Fun and Fitness
Bonnie O'Day and husband Bob Hartt, both visually impaired, discuss starting a tandem bike club in our nation's capital.