I had never heard of this problem before, but upon reflection it makes sense. There is a growing and unmet need to expand the accessibility capacities of video in such a way that those with a visual impairment will be able to have freer and more informed access to the visual mediums and repositories that are proliferating in our lives. This includes not just movies and tv, but portals to video such as that residing on YouTube and Facebook for example.
The problem for the visually impaired is that they can access “video”, can listen to the dialog and sound that it contains, but a certain context does not exist for those sounds unless there are accompanying audio descriptors that extablish that context.
The second problem is that the accessibility to video by the visually impaired is also compromised because while a video (with its concomitant audio) might be known to be available, via its written title for example, there is likewise no audio descriptor that sets out what the content of that video is. Thus the ability for the non-sighted or limited sight consumer to readily and intelligently make decisions about their video consumption choices is reduced or sometimes even curtailed.
I found out about this dilemma and what is being done to solve it in a backdoor sort of way, through a New York Times article that alone is an interesting read. It is a human interest story by Wendell Jamieson in the NY Times (03-03-13), “The Crime of His Childhood” that follows up on an incident that played a part in the author’s childhood, a bogey man story that his mother used on the Mr. Jamieson when he was young to hopefully keep her son safe – “Beware the acid thrower” she would tell him when someone came knocking at the family home door.
The real life victim of the acid throwing incident, Josh Miele, was blinded at the age of four by a mentally ill young man who lived next door to his home. The story in the Times traces the history of the incident, the people affected by it, by Josh, his family, the young man and his family, and what became of all of them in the years since the incident.
Josh Miele who was blinded by the attack has become relatively well known for his scientific and academic work, for example developing a “tactile-Braille map of every station of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, exquisite things with raised lines of plastic and Braille labels. They elegantly lay out information that can be heard by using an audio smart pen,” and “his latest project, a cloud-based software program, the Descriptive Video Exchange, that in theory will let anyone narrate any video or movie to describe what they see for those who can’t.”
A sample of descriptive video from The Lion King demonstrates how context is provided for the underlying audio in a video.
Read Dr. Miele’s speech about the descriptive video project that he is working on.
See more: The Media Access Group at WGBH, Boston.