Why I didn’t sign the Video Description Petition

I saw a request on VICUG-L, the Visually Impaired Computer User Group List, to sign a petition “asking  Disney to include an audio description track on their movies released on  DVD.” The petition is titled “Video Description” and it’s hosted by PetitionOnline.com at http://www.PetitionOnline.com/dvddvs/.

Although I agree with the intent of the petition, namely to have Disney include video description on their DVD’s, I felt that the petition overstated it’s point. I realize that a strong case has to be made if Disney and other companies are going to listen to such a petition, but I don’t agree with a statement like “We [blind] cannot enjoy movies if the movies do not have video description tracks.” I enjoyed plenty of movies before I even heard of described video, and I may still enjoy a movie today that doesn’t have described video.

I recently discovered the site “Blind Mice Movie Vault” at http://www.blindmicemart.com/assets/product_images/movies2.html, which is a collection of MP3 files each containing the sound track of a movie with described video. This is the first time I’ve done more than watch the occasional movie with described video, and I’m finding that described video does make the movie more enjoyable. I’ve listened to movies I’ve seen several times before, and although I always enjoyed them in the past, I realized that with the described video, I’m picking up on things I never noticed before including video cues that help flush out the plot.

I’ve also realized that video description is an art form in itself. Although almost all of the video description I’ve come across is professional and competent, there is some video description that is better than others. I also feel that not every movie lends itself to video description, or said another way, adding video description to a movie where the beautiful panoramic scenes are the major appeal of the movie probably isn’t going to make the movie enjoyable enough for me to want to listen to it. Granted listening to a description of the beautiful scenery or the action scenes with all of the special effects is better than not getting any description at all, but when there’s more described video than there is dialog it becomes more of an exercise in dramatic reading than a movie.

Getting back to the petition, I also have a small issue with the statement “If you wonder if video description tracks are really necessary to understand what is happening, consider watching one of the Disney movies with your eyes shut. There are so many details that are conveyed visually, but not audibly, that it is impossible to understand what is going on at any given moment, much less understand the entire plot.” As stated above, I don’t think it’s true that “it is impossible to understand what is going on at any given moment, much less understand the entire plot” when you listen to a movie without described video. There are plenty of movies where I thought I followed the plot just fine and even had to explain it to my sighted friends. The issue I wanted to point out though is that asking a sighted person to close his eyes and imagine what it is like to be blind, isn’t the same thing as being blind. When I watch a movie, I have years of experience listening for audio clues to help fill in the blanks created by the absence of the video. A sighted person has no such experience, and can’t help but be left with a feeling of helplessness. Although this plays well when soliciting sympathy for a fund raiser or a petition like this, I can’t help but feel it also does a bit of harm by furthering the notion that the blind are lost without video descriptions and help from the sighted.

Like I said, I want the petition to succeed, and I would have signed it myself if it had been worded a bit differently, and I didn’t feel it conveyed the notion that the blind cannot watch TV or movies at all without described video.

By the way,    VICUG-L is the Visually Impaired Computer User Group List. Archived on the World Wide Web at http://listserv.icors.org/archives/vicug-l.html. You can subscribe by sending a blank email to vicug-l-subscribe-request@listserv.icors.org.

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