Video Description

Did you see the ‘TV show “Dogs in the City” this past Wednesday night? It’s one of my favorite shows. Even though I can’t see what the dogs are doing, there is enough dialog for me to learn something I can use each time. Two scenes really grabbed my attention. First, a woman who owned a dog who was blind was overprotecting the dog, thus limiting his enjoyment of being a dog. She actually pushed him around in a baby stroller and called it taking him for a walk. There is a lesson here for friends and family of people who have lost their vision. As Juston said, just because he is blind, it doesn’t mean he is helpless. Secondly, a couple were having problems controlling the outrageous behavior of their large dogs. Juston made his point by explaining that these are working dogs. They need a job to do. Training them to sit and stay gives them something to do. Their job is to obey and to please their humans. When their behavior is controlled, everybody is happy. It seems so simple, but it makes a lot of sense.

Now, let’s get back to the subject of a blind person’s watching television. Yes, I said “watching.” We, who are blind, don’t point out our blindness by saying “listening to TV,” and you shouldn’t either. For the same reason, we say “Look at this,” not “feel this,” and you should too. See what I mean? (Pun intended.) Blind people go to see plays and movies, and they watch TV. More of us could enjoy TV more if the networks would provide as much video description for people who are visually impaired as they do closed captioning for people who are deaf.

Video description, or audio description, as it is called for live theater, is a service wherein trained describers tell what is happening on the stage or on the screen for people who cannot see the action. In theaters, blind patrons use a small receiver with an earphone, through which we hear the voice of the describer. For television shows, we use a special channel where the video description can be heard, as well as the main sound track. To get a better understanding of how this works, try watching a TV drama with your eyes closed. Do you wonder what happened during that scene where you could only hear spooky music, and nobody said anything? Now imagine hearing a voice apart from the sound track saying something like, “She strides across the room and turns out the lamp on the table. A shadow appears in the window.” With video description, the person who is blind gets the benefit of the whole production, not just half of it.

So which shows have this wonderful feature? And how do we know which shows offer it? According to the July, 2012 issue of “The Braille Forum,” the monthly newsletter for the American Council of the blind, the following regulations will be in place soon.

“OnJuly 1, 2012, full-power affiliates of the top 4 commercial television broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC) located in the top 25 television markets must provide 4 hours per week of video-described prime-time and/or children’s programming. On July 1, 2012, cable and satellite providers with 50,000 or more subscribers must provide 4 hours per week of video-described prime time and/or children’s programming on each of the top 5 national non-broadcast networks.

Currently, the top 5 non-broadcast networks are USA, Disney Channel, TNT, Nickelodeon, and TBS.”

Of course, my cable provider is not mentioned here, and I have no idea if “Dogs in the City” will have video description, but I surely hope so.

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