Audio Description — the extra audio track that narrates film action for people who are blind or have low vision — has been around for decades, but even if you’re blind, you might not use it. Why? Ironically, often the problem with audio description is not really the audio description. The problem is in how AD is delivered — or rather, not delivered. For years, the LightHouse has heard and advocated for blind filmgoers who simply aren’t able to pay for their movie and enjoy it in the format of their choice. If you’re blind at the movies, you know about the broken receivers, the strange formats, poor public education and training, and the many other intervening factors that have continually stymied AD availability across movie theaters and in-home systems, ultimately stonewalling the blind film-watching experience.
Starting today, that’s changing. With a new, major update to the Disney Movies Anywhere app, you can now take control of your own personal audio descriptive track, on your own smartphone, on your own terms.
This brand new, free, mobile audio description from Disney Movies Anywhere is smart and user-friendly; it listens and syncs automatically with their films (starting with the sixteen classic Disney•Pixar titles), including today’s home release of The Good Dinosaur. In accomplishing this, Disney•Pixar is leading the way for accessible films; and soon, we at the LightHouse are confident that this mobile Audio Description experience will be possible for all movies, everywhere.
A project that originated at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville and was taken on by the engineers at Disney, this new accessibility system using an app and a smartphone to access audio description is not only a passion project for the good folks at these companies, but Pixar and Disney have seen to it that key members of the blindness community have been given a chance to provide early and influential developmental feedback every step of the way. In this regard, the LightHouse has contributed feedback, tested for quality assurance, and now we’re proud to help spread the word.
At an event at Pixar in December, part of an unprecedented and ongoing collaboration between LightHouse for the Blind, the Blind Babies Foundation and Guide Dogs for the Blind, we invited nearly 200 blind people from organizations all around the Bay Area to download the app to their iPhones and iPads and test out the technology at a private, red carpet screening of The Good Dinosaur. The response was universal acclaim. The app’s beta version worked seamlessly. People both blind and sighted left the event joyously; celebrating the idea of being able to go back to the movie theater or watch a movie in their homes exactly the way they want.
How Does It Work?
It’s incredibly simple. If you already have a Pixar film that you’d like to watch with audio description, all you have to do is go to the app store and download the Disney Movies Anywhere app. When your movie starts playing (on a separate device or television), open up the app and locate the film. Then click “sync and play audio,” and the rest is done for you. Note that currently this works only for those running iOS 7 or later, with more platforms to come.
For more detailed instructions, visit Disney’s website, or download this special fact sheet to get you started.
More access audio description! This not only means Disney•Pixar is making their movies more personally accessible, but will require the participation of other film studios and distributors to help the blindness community promote accessible movie systems that work and are controlled by the user.
Just because Disney is the first movie studio to take the delivery method of audio description seriously, doesn’t mean it’ll be the only one. There are 285 million visually impaired people in the world — that’s 285 million people who, if given an accessible way to enjoy great movies, would be fans and customers for life.
This spring, we’ll be introducing mainstream audiences to this and other great new accessible technologies at a number of conferences, starting with a special LightHouse panel at SXSW on March 15. More on that soon, so stay tuned.
How Can I Help?
The best thing you can do is spread the word and send us feedback. There are lots of blind people out there who don’t think audio description is for them, many because they’ve never had a positive, easy experience getting it set up and calibrated. With these barriers gone, Pixar’s sixteen world-class titles are now accessible in a whole new way.
The LightHouse knows that nothing comes out perfectly the first time, and we’re already hard at work identifying new kinks and challenges in this brand new technology to make sure that the next version of the app is even better. To this tune, our friends at Pixar have set up a special feedback email address so that you can sound off with your comments, observations and helpful feedback. Just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact us for inquiries about this or any of LightHouse for the Blind’s many technology initiatives, email email@example.com.