Accessibility, in Entertainment, for the Blind.

People who don't have a disability assume that everything is accessible. We know about ADA compliancy and therefore assume regulations ensure everything is accessible to people with any and all disabilities. 

Of course, this isn't true. Things aren't always accessible. In fact, closed captioning has only been widely available on TV since the 1990's. And closed captioning only helps some people who have vision problems -- it's better if you can include both closed captioning and descriptions (this article goes over some of the ins and outs of watching TV as a blind person as well as the history of closed captioning with descriptions).

First and foremost, what is it like to be blind?

Capabilities vary for those who are blind. Some see nothing. Some see things, but not as clearly as others. Some have reduced vision from their previous capabilities. 

This Wiki How is helpful in understanding what it is like to be blind and how you should interact with those who have vision problems. You should read the whole article, but for the purpose of this article -- this point is most important. 

Understand that some blind and partially sighted people watch television and go to see movies.  They enjoy it as anyone else does, they just can't see it the way a sighted person does. Not everyone has to see a story to enjoy it. People enjoy radio plays and audio books without seeing the story. 

Understand that some blind and partially sighted people watch television and go to see movies. They enjoy it as anyone else does, they just can't see it the way a sighted person does. Not everyone has to see a story to enjoy it. People enjoy radio plays and audio books without seeing the story. 

Available Systems for Movie Theaters

Think back to the last time you went to the movies. Do you remember seeing anything to help those who are blind, or hard of hearing? If they're lucky, there are systems available to them

Rear Window displays captions on a light-emitting diode (LED) text display which is mounted in the rear of a theater. Deaf and hard-of-hearing patrons use transparent acrylic panels attached to their seats to reflect the captions so they appear superimposed on the movie screen. The reflective panels are portable and adjustable, enabling the caption user to sit anywhere in the theater. 

A photo example of Rear Window

A photo example of Rear Window

DVS Theatrical delivers descriptive narration via infrared or FM listening systems, enabling blind and visually impaired moviegoers to hear the descriptive narration on headsets without disturbing other audience members. The descriptions provide narrated information about key visual elements such as actions, settings, and scene changes, making movies more meaningful to people with vision loss.

A video example of a film with descriptions.

These features, while great, are only available at some theaters and on some movies. Every movie studio does not go to the effort; approximately 100 movies are captioned every year with approximately 70 of those 100 described. And if the movie is film, the features are not available. You can use Caption Fish to find accessible movie theaters near you.

There's a lot of room for improvement here. 


Watching TV

The FCC requires local TV station affiliates of ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC located in the top 25 TV markets to provide 4 hours of video described prime time and/or children's TV per week (50 hours per quarter). The average American watches 5 hours of TV a day

Smaller markets don't have a requirement, but the requirement will be expanded to the top 60 markets in July of 2015. Many PBS stations voluntarily provide video descriptions. 

Additionally, the top five non-broadcast networks - Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, TBS, TNT and USA - must provide 50 hours per calendar quarter (also about 4 hours per week) of video-described prime time and/or children's programming. Subscription TV systems (offered over cable, satellite or the telephone network) with 50,000 or more subscribers must carry video description. Subscription TV systems with fewer than 50,000 subscribers have no requirement.

Subscription systems like Netflix are internet-based and not regulated. Tensions rose this year when a Netflix original program based on the Marvel character, Daredevil, was set to be released without visual descriptions. Daredevil is blind. Without video descriptions his blind fans, some of his biggest fans, weren't going to be able to watch the show. Oh, the irony. After fan pressure, Netflix responded and added visual descriptions to the show

So, you can have closed captioning on most programs, but video descriptions on approximately four hours of TV a week.

There's a lot of room for improvement here. 


Video Gaming

Though there is still lots of room for improvement for movies and TV, there is another industry that should be considered. The video game industry. In 2010, the video game industry made about 25 billion dollars. The video game industry recognizes the potential profit to be realized if they go after blind audiences and there are smart people working on this. There are even video games being developed that are controlled by voice only --- no video element. 


My hope is this gigantic industry, which targets more of a niche audience, will be able to correct some of the wrongs the other mass media industries are perpetuating, but I guess we'll have to wait and see

And in case you're wondering, here's what it is like to surf the web, and this website, with a screen reader. 

P.S. Tommy Edison is a Blind Film Critic reviewing movies with a perspective that's a little different than the perspective of sighted people. His interviews are funny and insightful. For an example, here is his review of the Hunger Games.


And here is an example of Maureen Bassmaster watching How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days