What’s Going On?

This is a post about movies, and particularly how totally blind people tend to perceive them. It is, or at least has been, a work in process. However, we are on the verge of entering a promising new era where everyone, including those whose eyes don’t work, can get into and enjoy this very visual form of storytelling.
I grew up in a family of five sisters, so needless to say, there was usually some kind of programming being played on the screen in our giant combination living room and kitchen. If their choice of movies didn’t send me back to my room with a book, Dirty Dancing anyone?, I would usually be sprawled on the thick carpeting covering that kitchen floor, drifting between sleep and wakefulness.
“Come and watch this with me,” my youngest sister especially asked me.
Because she knew my interest would often flag quickly due to not being able to know all of what was happening on screen, she often kept up a running commentary as the action unfolded. As good at it as she was though, I still had so much difficulty picking up on plot lines that I’d just give up and lapse into silence, rather than repeatedly asking questions.
My totally blind cousin, having nearly always desired to be an actor, was both better at holding together a plot line and less fearless about asking all sorts of questions. In many respects, he taught me a little more how to do this via the skits we used to enact, usually involving World War 2 era life, which we for whatever reason called “playing something”. These were pretty amusing, as we somehow managed to juggle several different characters at once without stopping to clarify who would play whom. These could go on for hours, often having to be interrupted by parents or other relatives to inform us that dinner had been served or we needed to go somewhere.
My cousin and I of course got older, and we listened excitedly as the first, some say video, others especially in the United Kingdom say audio described content began to make its appearance. One of the first places in which we saw this technology was the Metrolina Association for the Blind in Charlotte, North Carolina. In the summer of 1992, while attending a day camp there, we were entered into a drawing to win the prize of a specially made TV with the ability to intercept secondary audio programming, on channels where it was provided, that would allow us to hear the displayed video with a described track overlaying it. And, my cousin and I won.
That was a pretty nice television too, probably the best our cash-strapped family had had up to that point. Many of the available feeds at this time were on public TV, and so we spent hours listening to educational material about animals, historical civilizations, and the like. It was fascinating, and sometimes we’d have to be torn away from the set well after midnight.
Next came actual videos, some well-known, with these described tracks. MAB allowed patrons to check these out and watch them, so long as they were returned, undamaged, in a reasonable amount of time. Finally, I could get into something like the Indiana Jones movies, and Amistad, that great flick about a slave revolt of sorts that was full of subtitles for at least the first fifteen minutes or so. We couldn’t get enough of that.
Fast forward to now, nearly 20 years later. Many more hit shows, movies, and other types of visual titles are now accessible in described format than ever before. While many of these can be obtained through various online portals if a blind person is aware of them, individuals like Robert Kingett, a well-known blind writer/journalist, wish to bring this content to mainstream platforms such as Netflix. He, along with others, has launched the Accessible NetFlix project in an attempt to address these issues, noting, I’d say fairly, that paid customers deserve the ability to be able to watch movies of all kinds, and in whichever format they need to gain information and be entertained by them.
I hadn’t exactly been sure about the utility of this, as it sounds like it could be expensive, but they also point out that much of this content is already there and has simply to be made available. I had been a Net Flix subscriber, but I gave up on it because I no longer felt that they had a wide enough variety of movies to suit my desires. I admit though that perhaps if they improve site access so I could more easily browse the titles, and made at least some described material available, I would consider re-upping my membership.

2 Responses to What’s Going On?

  1. Pingback: 4 E’s: Enrichment/Entertainment, and the NC State Fair | A Blind Man's Journey

  2. Pingback: Anatomy of an Audio-Described Blind Man’s Binge | A Blind Man's Journey

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