I HAVE BEEN TOLD I DESERVE
“A FULL LIFE THAT ISN’T JUST ABOUT FIGHTING FOR THINGS”

Recently, the ADInternational mailing list griped that I used the phrase “bullshit cold war” in an E-mail. I don’t know why they were acting offended, and of course it is an act. I swear, and, unless they’re full-on Mormons, so do they.

Nonetheless, I thought I’d take the opportunity to issue a reminder of what there really is to complain about in the field of audio descripion.

  1. Worldwide, almost no television stations provide description. Even in countries where some broadcasters do it, there are not many cases where most broadcasters have to. (In fact, that seems to be an example of one – the United Kingdom.)
  2. Quantities of description are low. There is no known broadcaster that produces most of its programming with description.
  3. Research shows that, in some countries, the number of habitual listeners of audio description is low (in the five digits).
  4. Few countries have a requirement for description. Some do, like Canada and the U.K. (for certain broadcasters). But a real biggie, the U.S., had its description requirement tossed out in court.
  5. Audio description is errantly called descriptive video or video description, or, worse, descriptive narration or audio captioning. As such, it is a difficult topic to explain to people or search for.
  6. Attempts to resuscitate that U.S. description requirement are barely happening.
  7. At least one blind consumer group took the surprising step of opposing a requirement for audio description.
  8. Other blind groups, including A.D. International, are disorganized, understaffed, and overworked, particularly compared to large industry lobby groups like the NAB, CAB, and MPAA.
  9. Most countries require special equipment just to hear audio description, where “special” means “not universally owned” (SAP, DVB receivers, etc.).
  10. Blind people cannot use visual menu systems to turn on special features, though some low-vision people can. Some blind people, therefore, can never listen to description because they cannot independently turn it on and off.
  11. Some broadcasters cannot transmit the special signals involved.
  12. Described shows on analogue TV often lose their description when translated to HDTV. Even if description is preserved, you go from HDTV’s lush 5.1 audio to SAP’s scratchy monaural audio.
  13. Nobody actually knows how to mix an audio track containing a single description narrator and full original sound in 5.1 audio format.
  14. Audio description fights with Spanish translation for space on SAP. On one set of channels in Canada (CPAC), it fights with French or English translation.
  15. Description in the U.S. is reliant on U.S. government funding. A fraction of it is fruitlessly spent on re-describing already-described programming. More significantly, if government funding disappears, description all but collapses in the U.S.
  16. Blind people have difficulty finding out which shows are described. They find it hard to use inaccessible Web sites and printed material. Often there simply are no listings.
  17. A small number of motion pictures are released with audio description. Most aren’t, and almost none are released with description outside the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. Independent studios scarcely ever describe any movies. Almost all described movies are American or British.
  18. There are competing hardware systems for cinema audio description. While the differences are not as drastic as with captioning (you always end up wearing headphones), nonetheless there is a small clash of formats.
  19. There’s a turf war (a “bullshit cold war”) between cinema description providers. In the U.S., none of them is willing to provide a complete list of films with description, including films described by competitors.
  20. DVD releases of described films only sometimes have description tracks in the U.K., France, and Germany; almost never do in Canada or other English-speaking countries; and so seldom do in the U.S. that special press releases go out when it happens. Described films almost always run on pay TV and, later, on conventional TV without description. Once a movie is described and completes its run in theatres, it’s as if the description track ceases to exist.
  21. There is no master list of DVDs with audio description.
  22. Deaf people get way more attention for their accessibility needs than blind people do. Blind people are often willing to include captioning in their lobbying efforts, but deaf people are almost never willing to include description, or anything that doesn’t serve their specific and limited needs, in their lobbying.
  23. Little-known research suggests that, while blind and low-vision people want and value audio description, the amount of information uniquely conveyed by description is low.
  24. Description is expensive compared to captioning, which drives away budget-conscious, impoverished, or cheapskate producers.
  25. There really isn’t any description for online video or for downloadable video for devices like iPods, which are themselves broadly inaccessible to the blind.
  26. Proposed new international guidelines for Web accessibility scarcely require audio description and never require it for live video.
  27. Live audio description is limited almost entirely to individual plays performed here and there.
  28. There are no quality or performance standards for description.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2006.06.16 15:54. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:
https://blog.fawny.org/2006/06/16/dx-problems/

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