In this post I would like to discuss the availability of visual media with audio description, and point you towards some providers of audio described media you may not have heard about before.
For those who are not familiar with the term audio description, it is simply a voiceover or narrator describing the non-audible actions taking place on the screen. If you would like to learn more about the topic of audio description, please visit this link.
While visually impaired individuals are not in a position to access any media with audio description they would like, the availability of such description is becoming more readily available in certain circumstances. For example, in April of this year (2015), the very popular online streaming service Netflix began providing audio description for the television show Marvel’s Daredevil.
Is audio description not very distracting?
I would say no to the above question, but that is because I am a fan of audio description. However, I can appreciate that some visually impaired and blind individuals may find the said description service intrusive and/or distracting.
For instance, when an item is described on the screen, more often than not, the overall audio of the media is lowered or ducks to make the voiceover/narrator easier to hear. On some occasions, this means that some sound effects and/or audio soundtrack elements are made inaudible.
Another element of audio description which visually impaired or blind individuals may find frustrating is the timing of audible announcements. For example, if a visual action takes place on the screen, the audio description of that event will be announced a little before the event actually happens.
Having an event described before it occurs is necessary as otherwise the audio description may conflict with other dialogue or important audible elements of the media. Nevertheless, this can make it a little difficult for sighted individuals to watch a programme with a visually impaired or blind individual who wants to benefit from audio description.
Of course, some visually impaired or blind individuals may prefer to consume visual media without audio description, and fill in the blanks themselves with what they think is happening, or consulting an online synopsis as required. I have done this on many occasions, and I continue to do it for shows which do not yet have audio description available.
With all that said, if you would like to learn about some sources of audio described media, please read on.
1. Some Sky, UPC and other providers may offer audio described content.
Personally, I have experience of accessing audio description on Sky television only, but I have read that UPC and other providers offer such a service as well. In the case of Sky, you turn on audio description in the same menu as subtitles, and the service remains on until you turn it off.
If you are watching a programme or movie which has an audio describe service available, it will begin playing automatically and you do not need to take further action. For example, if I am watching the national news, there will not be any audio description, but if I am watching The Strain on the channel Watch, there will be audio description.
I can only assume that a similar procedure is applicable to UPC users, and other providers of television services I have not mentioned.
Sky channels such as Sky 1, Sky Living, Sky Atlantic, Watch, BBC1, BBC2, Channel 4, E4 and More4 are normally good providers of audio described content. There won’t be audio description for every show and/or movie, but you never know.
2. Some Irish and international cinemas offer audio description.
I have not yet had an opportunity to experience audio description in a cinema and/or theatre. I understand that you are given an infrared headset through which you listen to the audio described content.
I know for a certainty that the appropriately named EyeCinema in Galway offers a different audio described title each week, and I believe there are some cinemas in Dublin which offer a similar service.
In the United Kingdom, the West End specifically, a number of the theatre productions have audio descriptions of the production being performed. This description is generally available on a Wednesday, but I’m sure each theatre and production has different arrangements.
In the United States, the audio description service is offered in select cinemas, and I don’t know whether Broadway productions offer audio description.
3. Netflix has joined the audio described party.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, April 2015 seen Netflix announcing that they would be offering audio described content starting with Marvel’s Daredevil. In a blog post, Netflix committed to expanding the number of titles with audio description present on offer, and I believe the consensus is Netflix came through on the said commitment.
I am not currently a member of Netflix so cannot access the list of content which has audio description, but when I was a member a number of months ago, there were in excess of 50 titles with audio description. This number included television shows and movies ranging in their genre and release date.
It is my understanding that Netflix is continuing to add titles with audio description to its service, but I have recently read that the company is not willing to comment further on its commitment to audio description.
It is possible to access Netflix for a month free of charge if you are a new customer, and you would then be able to survey the titles on offer with and without audio description for yourself. I would recommend the television shows Hemlock Grove, Bloodline, Between, Sense8 and Marvel’s Daredevil, but that is just my personal preference.
Netflix is available via your internet browser or via an app on your smartphone.
4. BlindMiceMart’s Movie Vault.
I don’t recall how I came across the Movie Vault at the BlindMiceMart, but I am glad I did. The Movie Vault is a section of BlindMiceMart which offers a broad range of audio described content, and it is not just movies which are present in the vault, there are some television shows too.
Low vision or visually impaired individuals may want to note that the content present in the Movie Vault is audio only, there is no visual element to the content on offer. I’m not sure is this to get around copyright law or something else, but it makes the content much easier to download on a traditionally slow West of Ireland internet connection.
I am unclear as to how the audio described content is compiled as there is little information offered, and the BlindMiceMart did not reply to my email requesting further information. However, I can forgive this as the vault continues to be updated, and it has become my primary source of media content consumption lately.
To gain access to the Movie Vault you must first create a free account on BlindMiceMart, and if you are in Ireland, choose Europe from the available country selection. To create an account, and visit the Movie Vault, please click on this link.
5. Other websites offering audio described media.
Over the past few months I have become aware of a number of websites and services offering audio described content in the form of audio files with no visual element. I hope some of the following sites/services are of benefit to you.
5.1. Ray Star’s World:
This site offers a range of interesting content for visually impaired and blind individuals, but what caught my eye, excuse the pun, was the audio described movies and television shows. Some items on this site duplicate some content available in the Movie Vault, but there are differences in places.
To visit Ray Star’s World, please go to this page.
5.2. Jeff Rutkowski’s Website:
This site is similar to Ray Star’s website, and it also provides a range of audio described movies. Since I became aware of the site, there have been updates to the list of available titles, so I’m assuming the site is maintained on a regular basis.
To visit the audio described content on Jeff’s site, please click here.
5.3. SAM NET by Serotek:
I will say that I have no experience of SAM NET, and I am downloading a trial for the programme as I write this Post. However, I have read that among the many features offered by the programme, there is a section which includes a collection of online audio described media.
SAM NET is a subscription based service, and as far as I know, and internet connection is required at all times to access and stream the media content. This is unlike all the other services mentioned in this post, and could be inconvenient for some people like myself.
Nevertheless, there is a lot of other aspects to SAM NET, and it may meet your needs better than mine. To access more information about SAM NET, please visit this link.
I would like to thank John O’Regan of The A11Y Files for reminding me of blindy.tv. This is a rather interesting service which may appeal to you if downloading files for later use isn’t your thing.
Blindy.tv offers a selection of channels which have only audio described content, and the said channels are arranged by genre. The media streamed is audio only, which as previously mentioned is slow internet connection friendly, but may not appeal to some individuals.
You can visit Blindy.tv to experience it for yourself at this link.
The Bottom Line.
While visually impaired and blind individuals are not yet in a situation where they can access audio description on any media from any provider. There are a considerable number of sources of audio described content, and I believe it is on the increase.
I would recommend casting a wide net if you are trying to source audio described content, and I hope the above information and links can be helpful when casting the said net.
As ever, if you have any questions or comments please get in touch, and I’ll be more than happy to get back to you.