Its been forever since I shared a bucket of popcorn with a friend at a movie theater. Thanks to Accessible Arts of Central Ohio, and an audio describer named Adam, I was able to enjoy Silver Lining Playbook right along with my sighted friend Dan, and Dan didnt even have to annoy the people seated around us with whispered descriptions of what was happening on the screen that wasnt audible. I held a little receiver in my lap with an earpiece in my right ear, through which I could hear Adams brief, well chosen, and pertinent words. In one scene, the main character was running down the street in the dark and the rain, which wasnt evident through dialog or sound effects, but Adam said in my ear, running in the rain. Its dark. Had I not had that description, I would have been left wondering what was happening. And then there was the dance scene, which, without audio description would have been just loud music. There are some blind folks who prefer not to be filled in with information. They prefer to let their imaginations take over. These are usually folks who have grown up as a blind person and were used to not having this service, so they think they dont need it. I, like most visually impaired people who have seen earlier in my life, am grateful to be able to enjoy the same movie that everybody else in the theater is enjoying. This is especially crutial when there is laughter. A good describer will view the movie at least once before they describe it. Adam had seen it 9 times, so he was well prepared to fill in the missing pieces before the laughs, so I could laugh right along with the rest of the audience.
Accessible Arts is the non profit organization that arranges for audio description of movies, plays, musicals, and other live events. The describers go through rigorous training. They must choose their words carefully and try to fit them in during pauses, so they dont talk over the actors lines. They are paid a small amount, but its not about the money. Its about making theater accessible to people who are visually impaired. Everyone associated with Accessible Arts is a volunteer, from the ones who choose which movies will be described to the kind folks who hand out the receivers and assist visually impaired patrons to their seats.
Not every movie is described. Accessible Arts makes it happen about once a month. Thats not ideal, but its far better than it was even a decade ago. The problem is that not enough people know that this service exists. For each one of us who went to that movie last night, there were at least a hundred others who could have benefited from Adams descriptions. Movies arent just for sighted people anymore.