Empish J. Thomas, a member of Descriptive Video Works’ advisory council and Disability Consultant writes about her first experience with Audio Description, and what having AD means to her experience with media now.
My first foray with an audio described movie was a VHS cassette tape. Remember those? The talking book library for the blind provided them for check out. Although I was not a major movie watcher at the time, I was curious. I requested “The Piano” and “Good Morning, Vietnam.”
After popping the movie into my VCR and pressing play, I was immediately taken into this new world of audio description. For the first time after losing my vision, I realized how much I was missing while watching movies and TV. Scenes were vividly described with actor’s facial expressions, body language and clothing. Even the sub-titles were spoken. This realization prompted me to order more movies. The next one I watched was “A Beautiful Mind.” But unfortunately, as soon as I got going with this accessible movie watching method, it stopped. The library had limited films and even less funding available for new titles. So, I researched other options and it turned out that purchasing a movie was my only choice given that there were no audio described rentals. Blockbuster did not provide audio described movies, but soon I began renting DVDs from a new company called Netflix.
I struggled with watching inaccessible rentals, which pushed me into going to an actual movie theater, as there was special equipment that I could request to watch the movie. Before that, I would either not go to the movies or a sighted friend would quietly whisper what was happening on the screen. However, using this equipment for audio description freed me from all of that. I was able to have full independence and follow the storyline along with everyone else. I could watch the latest blockbusters and contribute to conversations about movies with others. Although there were sometimes challenges with the equipment and movie theater staff, I was excited to have equal access to a movie like my sighted peers.
Having this access led me to become a serious campaigner for audio described movies – sharing, writing, and advocating for more audio description. I started speaking up when the audio description equipment was not working, I educated movie theater staff on blindness, I learned more about the quality of the audio description, I took a weekend course on how to be an audio describer, and I joined groups and conversations on the topic. And of course, I kept writing.
Today, I support having audio description everywhere: movies, TV, live theatre, movie trailers, videos, and educational content. Audio description not only enhances the experience, but more importantly provides equal access.
Empish J. Thomas is a freelance writer, blogger and research consultant. She was a diligent and long-time career columnist for 17 years with Dialogue Magazine. She also ventured into broadcast journalism by hosting and producing a radio show called Eye on Blindness with the Georgia Radio Reading Service for 3 years. When Empish is not working, she is writing about her life on her blog at www.empishthomas.com. She is a firm believer in giving back to her community and lens her writing skills to a website for the blind and visually impaired called VisionAware. She is also passionately reading books, listening to podcasts and watching audio described movies.