Guide for Blind Movie Buffs

-by LightHouse guest blogger and volunteer Brian McCallen

While taking a recent trip down Movie Lane, I listened to Dreamworks’ Megamind, the latest, hottest audio described (and captioned) film at the Regal Cinemas in Dublin, California. Regal is one of several movie theatre chains offering Descriptive Video Service for the blind and visually impaired as well as captions for the hearing impaired at specific show times.

The theater was packed for this Sunday early afternoon showing, but I only saw one other person using the special headphones. She had her guide dog with her, sitting contently in an adjacent seat. The small wireless receiver had an on/off/volume dial and a switch with four channels. It was relatively easy to operate. Since I actually can see the large screen relatively well, I also saw the yellow captions at the bottom of the screen with the other movie viewers.

The film describer gave accurate accounts of the movie’s characters and actions. One good description was when Hal threw Megamind into the air. During the scene, the describer said: “Megamind flew up into the sky.” Also, the describer used just the right amount of dialogue to let me know what I might not gather from the characters’ lines. Furthermore, the describer said the words and phrases with appropriate emotions. For instance, the describer used an increasing pitch on the word “flew” until Megamind soared to his highest point above ground. Overall, the descriptions helped the listener understand not only this scene, but also the rest of the film and how Megamind turned from villain to hero for the citizens of Metro City.

I was curious about the opinion of others that struggle more than I do with motion picture technology, so I interviewed two members of the Vision Loss Support Group at the San Francisco LightHouse and asked about their experiences using Descriptive Video Service. John Denton and Roger Grocott provided a first hand view. John is visually impaired and Roger brings John to the support group meetings.

John and Roger used to enjoy episodes of CBS’ CSI together. John said he didn’t watch much TV because he couldn’t really make out what was going on. However, John was able to really enjoy CSI with descriptive video because he could visualize and understand and follow how the CSI team solved the crime.

John and Roger were very displeased that the descriptions were recently removed from the Secondary Audio Program (SAP), a unique feature of analog television. According to The Audio Description Project, an organization boosting description activity and disseminating information on the work throughout the U.S., audio description was removed from channels with SAP (e.g., CBS 5) after local commercial television stations made the transition from analog to digital transmission in 2009.

But John and Roger are excited to hear about the new Video Accessibility Act of 2010 that President Obama signed into law back in October. The new law calls for stations to provide primetime network programming with audio descriptions. So John and Roger will get to hear how crimes are solved on CSI once again.

Now back to the movies. In the Bay Area, it looks like AMC Theatres and Regal Entertainment Group are two of several chains that currently offer films with descriptive audio. You can learn more about the movies in Descriptive Video Service and show times for the service by going to the websites of the two theatre chains. After paying for my ticket at Regal Cinemas in Dublin, I stopped at guest services to pickup my receiver and headphones. They required that I leave an ID, but there was no extra charge.

To learn about AMC Theatres’ DVS offerings in your area, go to, click on “Movies & Events,” and type in your zip code under “Movie Times & Tickets.” The next page shows the theatre names, movies, and times, along with headings that give you the described films (e.g., “Descriptive Audio”). As for Regal Cinemas, go to, click on “Now Showing,” and then “Open Captioned & Descriptive Audio Showtimes.” Finally, click on the abbreviation of your state and scroll down to your city’s theatre for DVS showtimes.

Please note that it’s always a good idea to call the theatre, check if their movies are described, and where to pick up the headphones. Captionfish serves as a directory of audio described and captioned films and theaters. Just type in your zip code, city, state, or even your address, and get a listing for all theaters that offer audio described movies near you. The LightHouse also sends out an Entertainment and Recreation Listing every Friday that includes locations of audio described movies. if you would like to have this emailed to you, contact

Next time you are looking for something fun to do, consider the movies, and enhance your experience, as I did, with audio description and some buttered popcorn.

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 volunteering for Access to Information Services at the LightHouse. In 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.