Blind Tech Makes for ‘Better Radio’

When an entertainer says, “I have a face for radio,” they’re suggesting that they aren’t very handsome or pretty or don’t have the body type that is flattering on the screen but do have a captivating voice. However, when you’re blind, all media is essentially radio. Or put another way, everybody who listens to radio is essentially blind.

Out of necessity, radio is more descriptive than film or TV – the voice artist must paint word pictures and use sound clips and effects to develop the experience for the listener.

Now blind tech is bringing everybody back to the Golden Age of Radio with dramas and comedies boasting a full cast of characters, narration and sound effects.

A little backstory here.

Audio Description (AD) was introduced on video tape in the 1980s – it was the narration added between the dialogue of a movie or TV show to inform a blind or visually impaired person of the expressions and actions occurring on the screen. Titles chosen for AD were limited to box office grossers like “Pretty Woman” and “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” With a little more time and the advent of DVD technology, more titles with AD started appearing. And now the tech has made its way to TV. With many series like “Game of Thrones” a visually challenged person can glimpse just how voluptuous the Mother of Dragons really is or picture the creepy icy eyes of a White Walker.

Daenerys Stormborn

Daenerys Stormborn

White Walker

White Walker

Tech for the disabled is gaining currency with non-disabled folks too. People without impairment are co-opting media tech to enrich their own media consumption. 

For instance, Closed Captioning, the dialogue printed at the bottom of the screen in real time for the deaf community, is also being used by folks whose English may be a second or third language. And Audio Description is being appropriated by sighted users who are turning Netflix Videos into “super radio” to “listen” to a movie or TV show while driving, cycling ,even hanging out at the beach. People who are on the Autism spectrum and those who are auditory learners have been shown to benefit from AD, as well.

Audio Description is certainly an interesting way to open up a whole new market with something Blind and low vision consumers have been requesting for years. Disability tech, like ramps & elevators, has a use for ALL humans.

Excerpts from an article by Patrick Loftus illuminates the point:


“You can listen to movies and TV shows on Netflix by turning on the audio description feature in user controls. In other words, audio description can turn your favorite movies and shows into audiobooks that you can listen to anywhere. Here’s an example of how audio description accurately narrates details of a plot from a scene in Netflix’s original series “Stranger Things.” The audio description track is italicized and in brackets:

[Sounds of Mike and Will’s friends talking around arcade games. Will wanders away, gazing out the door at white spores drifting through the air.] WILL: “Hey. Hey guys, do you see the ---” [He turns around to find everyone gone. The lights flicker off. Growth is now climbing over the walls and dark arcade games. He rolls around as the front door crashes open. Outside, the first letters of the purple-neon “Palace” sign flick on, then off again, as Will steps out of the arcade in the “Upside Down.” His bottom lip trembles as he gazes past the spinning growth covered arcade sign to flashes of lightning crackling behind thick clouds. The flashes grow more intense and he gazes up at the ominous storm, tears welling in Will’s terrified eyes.] MIKE: “Will, Will… Are you okay?” [Will spins around to Mike. He looks back, the night sky returned to normal.] 

Audio description has a vivid narrative quality in order to create an equivalent experience for the visually impaired. So naturally, sighted listeners can also use their imaginations to visualize what is happening, just like one would do while reading a book. And since you can use the feature on your smartphone app, you can use audio description while walking, running, or exercising, driving, commuting to work, traveling long distances, or listening to a show as background noise while working.

In an ideal world, both people with and without disabilities should be able to enjoy the same goods and services without having to take ‘extra steps.’ The term ‘accommodations’ would become a thing of the past as physical and digital interfaces are universally designed from the start to include everyone.

AD offers people the possibility of listening to their favorite shows and movies instead of watching them. As people begin to realize this, hopefully, we’ll start to see a lot more titles with audio description as popular demand for it grows.” 

Now to catch a glimpse of Daenerys Stormborn!

Steve Gladstone

The Blind Dude