Tag Archives: audio description

New Movie Tech for the Blind and Deaf, Actiview, Launches with Disney’s Cars 3

If you’re blind or visually impaired, you know that going to the movies isn’t as simple as smothering your popcorn in butter and leaning back in a cushy chair. While you wait thirty minutes for the manager to locate and set up assistive devices, you’ve already missed the beginning of the movie — if the device even functions properly.

But over the last year, LightHouse partner Actiview designed and prototyped a mobile solution to this problem within the walls of the LightHouse headquarters, and even 3D printed their streaming devices in our Toyota Innovation Tech Lab as part of our startup accelerator. They have since moved their base to our Berkeley satellite location.

On June 16, Actiview launched in the App Store to offer widespread accessibility for the summer Pixar release of Cars 3.

The team and their direction were influenced by many hours of feedback from LightHouse blind staff. We supported Actiview through their beta version because we think it is a huge step in the right direction towards accessibility for all moviegoers.

There is a strong buzz about this new technology as the wider community understands that Actiview will be able to provide affordable access to thousands of movie screens. Last week, industry reporter TechCrunch wrote a fascinating feature on this LightHouse-supported technology. You can read the whole story here. 

The newest release from Disney•Pixar, Cars 3, will be fully supported by the Actiview app, delivering both amplified audio and audio description, free of charge, to anyone who downloads the app and shows up at the theater. Audio description is for blind users, with a voiceover track describing what is happening on screen. Amplified audio takes the audio of the movie and makes the dialogue clearer and louder, for hard of hearing attendees.

Here’s what to know:

  • Available on the App Store (http://appstore.com/activiewempoweredentertainment)
  • Audio Description for Blind and Low Vision
  • Amplified audio for Hard of Hearing
  • Captions and Languages coming soon
  • Works with Cars 3 in all US theaters
  • Assistive services are free

How to use Actiview:

  1. Download the Actiview App from the App Store.
  2. On June 16, Cars 3 assistive audio (assistive tracks will be available to for download in advance. Download over Wi-Fi before getting to the theater if you want to save on data use)
  3. Go to the Cars 3 screening of your choice, open the app, and choose either Audio Description, Amplified Audio or the two tracks combined.
  4. Give us your feedback by emailing comments to team@actiview.co or by calling our hotline at 1(844)-399-2789 to sound off!

Please note: The first time a user opens the app, there is a 30-second tutorial helping the user to understand how to navigate the app which requires headphones to go through.

AMC Theaters Agrees to Improve Services for Blind Movie-Goers

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

San Francisco, CA – April 28, 2017 – AMC Theaters (AMC) has reached an agreement with several blind individuals, the California Council of the Blind (CCB), and the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco (LightHouse) to ensure blind customers have reliable access to audio description services at AMC movie theaters nationwide.

Audio description is a verbal description of the visual events on screen, which plays between pauses in dialogue. Many movies come with audio description tracks, and customers who are blind or visually impaired can listen to audio description through special headsets that are available at the theatres. With audio description, people who are blind and visually-impaired can fully enjoy the important and beloved American pastime of going to the movies.

Under the agreement, AMC will require the managers and staff who are responsible for programming and handing out audio description equipment to be trained on the equipment. AMC and the plaintiffs in the case have developed staff and customer information guides to facilitate better service. AMC also will require managers to check the equipment regularly. Additionally, AMC will now offer audio description immediately before the feature movie begins, so customers can test the equipment before the feature movie begins to help ensure customers don’t miss any of the movie troubleshooting problems. In the rare event that a theater’s audio description equipment is out of service, AMC will now update theater websites to remove the audio description designation from showtimes. AMC has agreed to implement these changes in theaters nationwide.

This agreement resolves a lawsuit brought by CCB, the LightHouse, and several individuals, represented by Disability Rights Advocates and Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP, in 2016, alleging that audio description equipment at AMC theaters frequently malfunctioned and that AMC staff did not properly check, program, or distribute the equipment to customers. AMC has provided audio description equipment to customers for years, but some blind individuals have had difficulty accessing the service because of equipment and customer service issues.

AMC Theatres and the Plaintiffs look forward to improved access to audio description services for blind and visually-impaired persons across the country.

Plaintiff Scott Blanks commented, “This settlement marks an important step toward improving access to the movies for people who are blind or have a vision impairment. I’m looking forward to going to AMC theaters and enjoying the movies with my family when AMC makes the changes to improve reliability of audio description in its theaters.”

Cynthia Pierce, AMC Senior Vice President for Facilities, Sight and Sound for AMC commented, “AMC is pleased to have worked with these organizations and individuals to develop solutions that will help bring the joy of movies to the blind community.”

California Council of the Blind President Judy Wilkinson stated, “The California Council of the Blind applauds AMC for working with us to enhance access to the movie-going experience for people who are blind. Movies are a central pillar of modern society, and ensuring that the blind community receives access to this content is critical to ensure that people who are blind are fully integrated into society.”

Bryan Bashin, Executive Director/CEO of the LightHouse states, “Access to reliable audio description is essential to ensure that blind movie-goers are able to enjoy movies in the same way that their sighted friends and family members do. Dependable audio description levels the playing field for the blind community. The LightHouse is pleased with AMC’s commitment to providing this service to blind movie-goers. We look forward to working with AMC to ensure that all blind movie-goers have a seamless experience when utilizing audio description.

Plaintiffs’ counsel Rebecca Williford of Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) explains, “We are pleased that AMC is committed to improving audio description services in its theaters. Audio description should be as reliable as any other service or technology at an AMC theater, such as a sound system or popcorn machine.”

Ernest Galvan of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld, counsel for Plaintiffs, said “when effectively implemented, technology like audio description has the power to further integrate people with disabilities into their communities.  By improving access to audio description services, this agreement harnesses that potential.”

Press Contacts

Scott Blanks

Senior Director, Programs

Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired

sblanks@lighthouse-sf.org

Rebecca Williford, Disability Rights Advocates

(510) 665-8644

rwilliford@dralegal.org

Michael Nunez, Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP

(415) 433-6830

mnunez@rbgg.com

About the California Council of the Blind

California Council of the blind (CCB) is a non-profit membership organization composed of Californians who are blind or have low vision. CCB’s mission is to gain full independence and equality of opportunity for all blind and visually impaired Californians. To read more about CCB visit: http://www.ccbnet.org/.

About the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired

The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired (the LightHouse), a San Francisco-based non-profit corporation, is California’s oldest organization serving the blind and visually impaired community. Through training, mentorship and recreation, the LightHouse is dedicated to aiding blind and visually impaired individuals in leading productive, enriching, and independent lives. For more information visit www.lighthouse-sf.org.

About Disability Rights Advocates

Disability Rights Advocates is one of the leading non-profit disability rights legal centers in the nation. With offices in Berkeley and New York City, DRA’s mission is to advance equal rights and opportunities for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. DRA has successfully negotiated access improvements to many contemporary technologies, including Redbox’s self-service video rental kiosks, Scribd’s digital library, the Uber ridesharing platform, and Netflix’s video streaming and disc rental. For more information, visit www.dralegal.org.

About Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP

Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP is a private law firm that specializes in complex litigation, including with respect to business disputes, employment matters, institutional reform, and civil rights.  For more information, visit www.rbgg.com/.

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Street Photography – By and For the Blind

Tim Tonachella’s voice is unmistakable. I’ve learned its texture, its subtle turns and the meaning behind the sounds. It’s got some gravel in it; it throws stones playfully. Over several phone calls with the Michigan photographer this past year, though, when we talked about his life, his approach and his raw, explorative photography – the main thing ringing in my ears was that he didn’t want the first bullet point to be that he’s blind.

We talked a lot about how describing things affects how they’re perceived, and my intention was not to congratulate him for being the first legally blind guy to pick up a camera (he’s not, in case you’re wondering).

I reached out to ask if we could use his work in an exercise to help explore the  process and practicalities of describing artwork for a blind audience. He was kind enough to say yes, and today we’re able to present never-before-seen photos along with a conversational, round-table audio description from a few folks who have spent time at the intersection of blindness and visual art: UC Berkeley professor Georgina Kleege, SFMOMA curator Peter Samis and San Francisco photographer Troy Holden.

Before we dive into the audio, a bit more about Tim Tonachella. He came to photography later in life, and when he first picked up the camera, everyone seemed to scratch their heads. He had gone to the Michigan School for the Blind with the likes of musician Stevie Wonder and our own Enchanted Hills Camp Construction Manager George Wurtzel, and though he still wryly jokes that he “never really liked blind people” much, his legal blindness was a constant throughout his life. When he picked up the camera in his fifties though, he suddenly had access to new worlds. The telephoto lens wasn’t, as many might assume, a confounding tool only for use by sighted folks, but instead opened up environments and enhanced his ability to see much in the way it would for those who clock in at 20/20 on the eye chart.

On January 27, Tonachella’s show “Growing Old On the Street” opens at the Downriver Council for the Arts in Wyandotte, MI. The collection is full of portraits, candid and posed, that reflect  the toughness of Tonachella’s human fabric. The show, which also showcases the interpretative works of dozens of other artists, reflects Tonachella’s core sensibilities: generous, honest and a bit rough around the edges. Tonachella’s process is a labor of love, and often involves sitting patiently to hear the stories and take in the realities of the quietly persevering souls that cities have left behind.

Listen to the whole discussion in the playlist above or click each image to be directed to its associated Soundcloud link. Find out more about Tim Tonachella’s upcoming shows at the end of this post.

Photograph 1: A man sits on a concrete ledge and leans his weight into wrought iron fence. His wears a bucket hat and the smoke from the cigarette curled in his right hand catches in the light. A bottle of hard liquor is perched next to him on the ground, slightly concealed by an angular concrete block. Click the image to hear the corresponding audio file.
Photograph 1: A man sits on a concrete ledge and leans his weight into wrought iron fence. His wears a bucket hat and the smoke from the cigarette curled in his right hand catches in the light. A bottle of hard liquor is perched next to him on the ground, slightly concealed by an angular concrete block. Click the image to hear the corresponding audio file.
Photograph 2: An old man clasps a cigarette in his wizened mouth, below his salt and pepper mustache. He wears a bucket hat and a worn polo. His eyes are closed. Click the image to hear the corresponding audio file.
Photograph 2: An old man clasps a cigarette in his wizened mouth, below his salt and pepper mustache. He wears a bucket hat and a worn polo. His eyes are closed. Click the image to hear the corresponding audio file.
Photograph 3: An old, closed-down, shuttered candy store. A clutter of old boxes and furniture appear through the gaping window. Click the image to hear the corresponding audio file.
Photograph 3: An old, closed-down, shuttered candy store. A clutter of old boxes and furniture appear through the gaping window. Click the image to hear the corresponding audio file.
Photograph 4: A man in a knit cap, denim jacket and hoodie looks at the camera with a steady gaze. Click the image to hear the corresponding audio file.
Photograph 4: A man in a knit cap, denim jacket and hoodie looks at the camera with a steady gaze. Click the image to hear the corresponding audio file.
Photo 5: The same man breaks into a toothy grin. The shot is farther away and reveals the piano he sits at, his gloved finger pressing into ivory keys. Click the image to hear the corresponding audio file.
Photo 5: The same man breaks into a toothy grin. The shot is farther away and reveals the piano he sits at, his gloved finger pressing into ivory keys. Click the image to hear the corresponding audio file.

Tonachella’s exhibition at The Downriver Council for the Arts runs from January 27 through February 10, 2017. Downriver Council for the Arts, 81 Chestnut Wyandotte, MI 48192

He’ll also be featured in two other shows in Michigan coming up in July and October this year.

July 2017: Village Theater at Cherry Hill, 50400 Cherry Hill Road, Canton, MI 48187 (exact dates to be announced)

October 2017: Tim’s solo show will Exhibit during National Visual Impairment month. Y Arts, The YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit, 1401 Broadway St, Detroit, MI 48226 (exact dates to be announced)

Meet Actiview, the Ultimate App for Movie Theater Accessibility

If you’ve been to one of the LightHouse’s film festivals, our party at Pixar, or even just watched a movie in one of the living rooms at the New LightHouse, you’ll know that we care about making films as accessible as possible, no matter what kind of vision you have. That’s one of the big reasons why, when a new company called Actiview showed up at the doors of our old office this spring, we knew it was something great.

Fast forward six months, and Actiview now runs their operation out of the LightHouse’s new Toyota Robotics Innovation Lab, building the next big thing in entertainment technology. We’ll post more about the tech behind Actiview soon – but first, we’d like to give you an exclusive preview.

Bay Area residents can try out Actiview for the first time this Saturday, September 10th. To request an invite, send Actiview an email by Thursday, September 8th.

Founded on the basic principle that everyone deserves easy access to entertainment, Actiview is a San Francisco-based startup that promises to set a new standard for moviegoing. With close captions and any available secondary audio tracks (descriptive and amplified) bundled into one clean, easy-to-use app, Actiview aims to do what DMA did for Pixar films, for all movies in any theater across the world. And they need your help.

Actiview has put together its first version of its audio description and closed captioning tools and wants to show theaters and studios how powerful this new tech can be for audiences. They’ve set up a special user testing opportunity this weekend for kids, families, and individuals with an interest in the app to come, watch Pixar’s “Up”, never before seen with audio description on the big screen, and have feedback recorded to further the app’s development. It’s your opportunity to tell Hollywood what accessible movies mean to you.

If you’d like to attend the (free) event on the morning of Saturday, September 10, email alex@actiview.co with your name, age, and the number of family members or friends you’d like to bring along while you test the app. If there’s enough space, we’ll put you on the list. Meet you at the movies!

Disney•Pixar Unveils Mobile Audio Description for ‘Finding Dory’

After lots of collaboration, tweaking and testing, the LightHouse is proud to announce that this week, blind people will be able get audio description for one of the summer’s biggest movies, on their own device, without asking for help.

That’s right! Starting on Friday, June 17, blind and visually impaired audiences will be able to get free, mobile audio description to accompany the release of Disney•Pixar’s Finding Dory.

The past year has seen lots of technological advancement in audio description technology, with Disney•Pixar leading the way for film studios with their app, Disney Movies Anywhere. The app was first demonstrated at the White Canes Red Carpet event in December, released at home with The Good Dinosaur, and discussed at length at our SXSW panel in March. Between these events, focus groups, and enthusiastic collaboration with Guide Dogs for the Blind, the Blind Babies Foundation, and other blindness organizations, this has grown much bigger than just one app: it’s a statement of purpose.

Disney•Pixar’s smart-syncing audio description, native to the mainstream app, represents thoughtful design that works for everybody.  When activated, it provides an add-on experience which levels the playing field for audiences who are blind or have low vision.

Paired with any Disney•Pixar film using headphones or earbuds, the app delivers an extra audio track which elegantly narrates important on-screen action for those who can’t always follow along visually. Now tested and available to use with Pixar’s 16 other feature films, the app’s functionality will work for its first new release when Finding Dory hits theaters this week.

Accolades for DMA

Earlier this week, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler honored Disney Movies Anywhere with the FCC’s Advancement in Accessibility Award, which recognizes achievements in communications technology for those with disabilities. Alongside other innovators in the accessibility field, Disney•Pixar is proud to guarantee audio description to its fans when it comes to both new and classic films.

How to get Audio Description, anywhere:

1. Download DMA: Disney Movies Anywhere app from the App Store.

2. Make sure the iOS accessibility features are in use, or switch accessibility mode to ON in the DMA settings section.

3. Find the movie you’re watching in the “Audio Description” section of the Featured tab.

4. Hit “sync and play audio” button while the movie is playing. (You need to “Allow” to use your microphone for sync).

5. Sit back and enjoy!

Note: Please be considerate of others – makes sure headphones are connected and always use screen curtain (three-finger triple tap in VoiceOver) at any theater! We recommend using the app to download the audio description track before you go to the movie for best results.

More audio description, please!

The rollout of empowered audio description technology is no small task, and Disney•Pixar needs all the encouragement it can get in continuing its mission to serve blind and visually impaired audiences. Let’s face it, not everyone is totally tech savvy, and theaters are understandably wary of cell phone use in theaters. Not only do we want to show studios, cinemas and distributors that we take theater etiquette seriously, but we need to show them that equal access to movies is a mandate from our community.

Disney•Pixar has set up an open line for your stories, and it’s crucial that you weigh in to tell them how much this matters. Send your audio description testimonials and experiences to dmaappfeedback@pixar.com.

 

Ever Had Trouble at an AMC Theater?

Regular movie-goers may not be surprised to hear that often, audio description for blind individuals doesn’t work. According to the ADA, places of public accommodation must ensure that services such as audio description are readily provided when available, and yet often enough, major theater chains fail to deliver. That’s why firms such as DRA are now looking for individuals across the country who have had such negative experiences, to hear their stories. Here’s the official announcement from DRA and RBGG:

Disability Rights Advocates, a national nonprofit legal center based in Berkeley, California, and Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld, a law firm based in San Francisco experienced with disability rights issues, are investigating complaints from blind individuals who have been unable to use audio description services at American Multi-Cinema, Inc. (“AMC”) movie theaters. We are interested in speaking with legally blind individuals who have encountered problems when attempting to use audio description services at AMC theaters.

Audio description refers to recorded audio that provides synchronized descriptions of a movie’s key visual details during natural pauses in dialog during the movie. Many popular films are released with the audio description feature. Movie theaters provide access to audio description by issuing upon request wireless handsets and headphones that play the audio description track during the movie. This configuration allows blind customers to listen to both the dialog and sound effects in a movie and descriptions of the visual aspects of the film.

If you are legally blind and you have been unable to access audio description services at AMC theaters because the audio description equipment was malfunctioning, because AMC staff did not know how to configure the audio description equipment, or for any other reason, we would appreciate speaking with you about your experiences. To share your experiences, please contact Charlotte Landes by phone at (415) 433-6830 or by e-mail at clandes@rbgg.com or Julia Marks by phone at (510) 665-8644 or by e-mail at jmarks@dralegal.org.

 

Pixar is Throwing a Red Carpet Screening for the Blindness Community — Win Tickets Here

White Canes, Red Carpet - glamorous evening of audio description, tech, and access for all

In October, we wrote about the work we’ve been doing with Disney-Pixar to make their movies more accessible for the blind. Today, we’re thrilled to announce that next week, we’re throwing a party at Pixar Animation Studios, offering a sneak preview of their new technology at an accessible screening of their new film, The Good Dinosaur.

little caveman boy rests, eyes closed, on the Good DinosaurWe conceived “White Canes, Red Carpet” as a celebration — of audio description and technology, but moreover, inclusion and access for all. We believe that not having to contend and litigate for good accessible technology is not just a luxury, but a civil right, and seeing such an influential studio as Disney-Pixar take on the challenge wholeheartedly is truly something worth celebrating. What’s more, this will be an unprecedented gathering of blindness organizations across the Bay Area — and we’ve been working closely with the Blind Babies Foundation, Guide Dogs for the Blind, and several other agencies to ensure that as many groups as possible are represented.

So on the evening of December 10, the red carpet will stretch through the atrium at Pixar Animation Studios, and the majority of the hundreds of attendees will be blind or have low vision. The evening will culminate with a very special screening of The Good Dinosaur, and representatives from Disney and Pixar will speak and seek feedback from attendees on their new technology. It will be a grand evening, and the LightHouse is very proud to be a part of it.

HOW TO WIN TICKETS

If you love the magic of a premiere and the glitz of a new film — and especially if you’re blind or have low vision — enter our raffle by Friday, December 4th. In order to win tickets, you must answer the following, and email to lighthouseblind@gmail.com.

1. Full Name:
2. Number of tickets desired (including adult, teen, child):
3. Do you have an an up-to-date iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad?
4. Are you blind, have low vision, or affiliated with a blindness or accessibility organization?
5. Phone contact:

We will notify all ticket recipients by Monday, December 7. Unfortunately we do not have resources to notify all those who are not picked.

Press: please send any media requests to wbutler@lighthouse-sf.org.

Disney – Pixar is Making Movies Better for Blind People

concept art: a landscape from Pixar's new film, 'The Good Dinosaur'

On a warm, sunny morning last month, a group of LightHouse employees piled into a van and drove north to Skywalker Ranch, George Lucas’ historic outpost in the rolling hills of Marin County. But we weren’t there to talk Wookies and Ewoks; we were being hosted, along with a handful of other blindness organizations, by Pixar Animation Studios

Some might be surprised to hear that Pixar and Disney (which now owns the Emeryville-based animation studio) would be seeking out blind and low vision individuals to test animated movies, but that’s exactly what was happening last month. In Lucas’ private theater, a group of almost thirty sat for a test screening of Pixar’s summer hit, Inside Out, each with a light set of headphones and a specially-loaded iPad on their lap. A small group of some of Pixar and Disney’s greatest movers and shakers waited patiently for feedback of a brand new technology they’ve been working on for some time now. Specifically, they’re on a mission to figure out two things: What is good audio description, and how can it best be delivered.

Many blind moviegoers and television fans don’t use audio description (also called Descriptive Video Service or DVS). Due to a combination of factors, including a range of DVS standards and practices, there are lots of blind and visually impaired folks who feel like it’s just not for them. Personally, I was one of those people — I had never watched a full film with audio description, and I’m told that about half of the group gathered at Skywalker was in the same boat.

And yet, once the narration kicked in and we got the levels right, the audio described Inside Out was a ball. We laughed, we (well, some of us) cried. Most of all, there wasn’t one person in the theater that felt left out of the experience. None of us needed to whisper back and forth quizzically about what was happening onscreen; none of of us sat silently spacing out during action sequences; and most importantly, we all smiled at the same time.

Paul Cichocki, the post-production supervisor at Pixar who oversees foreign language and audio described soundtracks, has been running these kind of focus groups for years, but this year they’re trying a few, exciting new things. “All studios make an effort to do this descriptive audio track,” he told me, “but we wanted to place the same kind of attention to the quality of audio narration as we do to the films themselves.” Disney’s aim, under the guidance of Paul and others, is to innovate rather than placate, to find an elegant solution to the seemingly daunting challenge of helping blind folks enjoy the movies as much as anyone else.

After the film, I sat at a table with Inside Out’s producer Jonas Rivera (who also produced Up) and a few other blind elementary and high school students and talked about our experience. We had all found the audio description satisfactory, useful, and even pleasurable — even those of us who had never used the tool before — but Rivera was nonetheless eager to improve the experience in any way possible.

“Did you understand what memories looked like?” He asked about clarity of action, about the choice of narrator, about how to properly introduce all the characters without overloading the listener. As the kids and adults responded, he took studious notes. “If this was me, when Joy sees Bing Bong disappear, I would amplify that maybe — but maybe that’s not right. Does it feel like the narrator is too robotic maybe? A little too literal, in some ways?” Jonas scribbled on a notepad as the kids talked. Simultaneously, at six other tables, a different Disney or Pixar employee did the same with other groups.

a voice actress works on the audio description for "The Good Dinosaur"When I spoke to Paul again this week, he had just gotten back from LA, where he was working with the voice actor recording audio description for Pixar’s new film, The Good Dinosaur. Usually the narrator’s script for an audio described film is contracted out to a specialized agency — in Pixar’s case it’s WGBH in Burbank, which handles most broadcast and film audio description on the west coast. Even with contractors like WGBH, Paul is totally hands-on. “I don’t know of any other studio that sits down and reviews the script for the narration track,” he told me this week. “We have the producer, the director, the writer, the film editor and myself comb through that script and make changes. I sent 3-4 rounds of changes to WGBH for The Good Dinosaur. And it’s about helping them, too — they don’t get direct feedback very often about what’s good and bad about their script.  We want to up that standard for the whole community — so that blind people can feel like they really saw the movie.”

Check back on the LightHouse blog again soon for more exciting news from Disney•Pixar.

article by Will Butler

Disney•Pixar is Making Movies Better for Blind People

concept art: a landscape from Pixar's new film, 'The Good Dinosaur'

On a warm, sunny morning last month, a group of LightHouse employees piled into a van and drove north to Skywalker Ranch, George Lucas’ historic outpost in the rolling hills of Marin County. But we weren’t there to talk Wookies and Ewoks; we were being hosted, along with a handful of other blindness organizations, by Pixar Animation Studios

Some might be surprised to hear that Pixar and Disney (which now owns the Emeryville-based animation studio) would be seeking out blind and low vision individuals to test animated movies, but that’s exactly what was happening last month. In Lucas’ private theater, a group of almost thirty sat for a test screening of Pixar’s summer hit, Inside Out, each with a light set of headphones and a specially-loaded iPad on their lap. A small group of some of Pixar and Disney’s greatest movers and shakers waited patiently for feedback of a brand new technology they’ve been working on for some time now. Specifically, they’re on a mission to figure out two things: What is good audio description, and how can it best be delivered.

Many blind moviegoers and television fans don’t use audio description (also called Descriptive Video Service or DVS). Due to a combination of factors, including a range of DVS standards and practices, there are lots of blind and visually impaired folks who feel like it’s just not for them. Personally, I was one of those people — I had never watched a full film with audio description, and I’m told that about half of the group gathered at Skywalker was in the same boat.

And yet, once the narration kicked in and we got the levels right, the audio described Inside Out was a ball. We laughed, we (well, some of us) cried. Most of all, there wasn’t one person in the theater that felt left out of the experience. None of us needed to whisper back and forth quizzically about what was happening onscreen; none of of us sat silently spacing out during action sequences; and most importantly, we all smiled at the same time.

Paul Cichocki, the post-production supervisor at Pixar who oversees foreign language and audio described soundtracks, has been running these kind of focus groups for years, but this year they’re trying a few, exciting new things. “All studios make an effort to do this descriptive audio track,” he told me, “but we wanted to place the same kind of attention to the quality of audio narration as we do to the films themselves.” Disney’s aim, under the guidance of Paul and others, is to innovate rather than placate, to find an elegant solution to the seemingly daunting challenge of helping blind folks enjoy the movies as much as anyone else.

After the film, I sat at a table with Inside Out’s producer Jonas Rivera (who also produced Up) and a few other blind elementary and high school students and talked about our experience. We had all found the audio description satisfactory, useful, and even pleasurable — even those of us who had never used the tool before — but Rivera was nonetheless eager to improve the experience in any way possible.

“Did you understand what memories looked like?” He asked about clarity of action, about the choice of narrator, about how to properly introduce all the characters without overloading the listener. As the kids and adults responded, he took studious notes. “If this was me, when Joy sees Bing Bong disappear, I would amplify that maybe — but maybe that’s not right. Does it feel like the narrator is too robotic maybe? A little too literal, in some ways?” Jonas scribbled on a notepad as the kids talked. Simultaneously, at six other tables, a different Disney or Pixar employee did the same with other groups.

a voice actress works on the audio description for "The Good Dinosaur"When I spoke to Paul again this week, he had just gotten back from LA, where he was working with the voice actor recording audio description for Pixar’s new film, The Good Dinosaur. Usually the narrator’s script for an audio described film is contracted out to a specialized agency — in Pixar’s case it’s WGBH in Burbank, which handles most broadcast and film audio description on the west coast. Even with contractors like WGBH, Paul is totally hands-on. “I don’t know of any other studio that sits down and reviews the script for the narration track,” he told me this week. “We have the producer, the director, the writer, the film editor and myself comb through that script and make changes. I sent 3-4 rounds of changes to WGBH for The Good Dinosaur. And it’s about helping them, too — they don’t get direct feedback very often about what’s good and bad about their script.  We want to up that standard for the whole community — so that blind people can feel like they really saw the movie.”

Check back on the LightHouse blog again soon for more exciting news from Disney•Pixar.

article by Will Butler

Does Your Movie Theater Offer Audio Description?

photo: a still from Netflix's Daredevil in which a woman reads Daredevil the newspaper

Movie theaters around the country are increasingly under a legal mandate to accommodate blind and visually impaired customers. For the most part, that means providing audio descriptions for films that blind moviegoers can use to hear a visual description of the film. But for various reasons, these services aren’t always available. Here in the Bay Area, a local group of disability rights attorneys are investigating audio descriptions at AMC theaters, and need your feedback.

The announcement is below:

Disability Rights Advocates and Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld are investigating complaints from blind individuals who have been unable to use audio description services at American Multi-Cinema, Inc. (“AMC”) movie theaters. We are interested in speaking with legally blind individuals who have encountered problems when attempting to use audio description services at AMC theaters in California.

Audio description refers to recorded audio that provides synchronized descriptions of a movie’s key visual details during natural pauses in dialog during the movie. Many popular films are released with the audio description feature. Movie theaters provide access to audio description by issuing upon request wireless handsets and headphones that play the audio description track during the movie. This configuration allows blind customers to listen to both the dialog and sound effects in a movie and descriptions of the visual aspects of the film.

If you are legally blind and you have been unable to access audio description services at AMC theaters in California because the audio description equipment was malfunctioning, because AMC staff did not know how to configure the audio description equipment, or for any other reason, we would appreciate speaking with you about your experiences. To share these with us, please contact Charlotte Landes by phone at (415) 433-6830 or by e-mail at Clandes@rbgg.com.