Two Thumbs Up for Audio Description

–Guest post by LightHouse volunteer Brian McCallen

I give two thumbs up on the latest developments in audio description for TV, movies, and phones. TvNewsCheck reports that in October, President Obama signed the Federal Communication Commission’s new Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 into law. According to National Public Radio, the Act requires media companies to provide audio descriptions on television shows for the blind and visually impaired, as well improve accessibility standards for ATMs, kiosks in airports, and smart phones

I am sure you are all wondering how long it will take before we have these descriptions available on local television, so I further investigated the rules and timeline. The game is simple! According to TvNewsCheck, the first rule is that within one year, the FCC will require television stations in major cities to broadcast four hours of audio descriptions in primetime. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, so it won’t be long before I hear a description of how a patient is being resuscitated on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, or maybe the attire worn by anchorman Frank Somerville on KTVU News.

The second rule states that within the course of ten years, the FCC plans to increase the time for descriptions from four to seven hours, and all stations will be required to  broadcast the audio descriptions. The time lag allows the stations with small budgets to gather the necessary funds for switchers, and wiring to activate another audio channel for broadcasting the descriptions. Overall, the new ruling is encouraging for me as a low-vision person, and I look forward to tuning into the additional channel of audio and listening to the ongoing excitement of my favorite TV shows.

I also learned from the Coalition of Accessible Technology (COAT) that the FCC would require audio descriptions to be included on all devices that record and play video, such as DVRs. I would like to see the FCC’s list of video devices that will broadcast the audio descriptions, so that I know which particular MP3 or cell phone I should purchase. For example, the Act calls for accessible advanced communication services, such as smart phone Internet.

TVNewsCheck and the Federal Communications Commission report that fully defined implementations and amendments still need to be made to the Act to figure out what it all means for broadcasters, service providers, and the public. The FCC is also calling for interested parties to file comments about the new Act at or mail the suggestions to the commission’s Washington headquarters. I am definitely going to reply and provide my ideas and I encourage you to do the same.

There are other ways you can show your support for audio description. As mentioned above, the Department of Justice is brainstorming over four Advance Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRMs). The DOJ has scheduled three public hearings on the ANPRMs in three cities and one of them in San Francisco. That hearing is scheduled for city by the bay in January 2011. The hearing’s exact date and specific location are to be announced soon on the ADA’s home page at I encourage you to join me at the hearing to learn how accessible technology firms might work with banks, stores, and other businesses to provide talking touch screen applications. Voice your opinion at this public hearing. Two of the ANPRMs call for improving video descriptions for movies, kiosks, and ATMs, and the accessibility of equipment at banks, airports, and other places like grocery stores. The DOJ is asking questions about the appropriate basis for calculating the number of films to be described, the technologies and standards that exist or are in development for video description, the costs and benefits, and their impact on small businesses. The Department of Justice is also considering revising the Title III regulations, currently requiring that movie theatres show films with descriptive video at least 50% of the time.

As a student in Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts at SF State in 2008, I interviewed AMC Entertainment media representative, Justin Scott, about descriptive video service offerings at the company’s movie theaters. He emphasized that AMC Entertainment wishes to provide opportunities for guests with special needs to attend the theaters comfortably. Today, AMC continues to provide descriptive video at its theaters in large cities. According to the company’s web site, the films: The Social Network and Life As We Know It are shown with audio description at AMC theaters in San Francisco and San Jose. But some AMC theaters in smaller suburban towns don’t offer described movies. It appears that nationwide, the only provider of descriptive video in large cities is AMC Entertainment.

Since the technology for descriptive video has been available for years, I say it is about time! Bring on the hot buttered popcorn and join me for an enriched movie and TV experience with audio descriptions, coming to your local theatres and stations soon.

Brian McCallen is a resident of Livermore, California. Brian is visually impaired with core vision in his right eye and distortion in the left. He is currently unemployed, but is seeking work and volunteering for Access to Information Services at the LightHouse. On his spare time, Brian surfs the web, listens to the radio, or watches TV. He loves Japanese animation (anime) and the late local news. Brian also likes to travel. His favorite places are New York, L.A, and Las Vegas.