After years of not going to the movies because of my vision loss, I decided this year to make a change and explore audio descried movies. I was already somewhat familiar with them because I had rented a couple through the Atlanta Library for Accessible Services some years ago. Regrettably, I found the movie selection very limited and quickly lost interest. But today that has changed and not only can you find audio described movies to watch at home through WGBH Media Access Group but your local movie theatre has audio described options as well. If you are not familiar an audio describe movie provides extra verbal narration of visual elements happening in the film. It could be hand gestures, facial expressions, physical movements or a description of clothing and action happening in the movie. It describes things that a person with vision loss might not notice or realize.
Two major movie chains-Regal Cinema and AMC Theatres offer most blockbusters and current films in audio description. You can read more about these options and how they work by reviewing their websites. When I go to the theatre I request the device for the blind. It will be a headset attached to a small box with a little lever on the side for volume. Because there are devices for the deaf and also the hard of hearing, be sure that you make it clear you want the device for the blind and/or visually impaired. A couple of times I was given the device for the hard of hearing, which looks similar but is not attached to the small box for the volume control. Depending on the theatre you go to, you might have to do a little education with the theatre staff and take time to explain exactly what you need.
I give audio described movies an overall thumbs up because the description makes a movie accessible and enjoyable to a person with vision loss. I now realize that I have been missing critical and key information while watching movies. This has impacted my ability to get the fullness of the film. But there are some challenges I want to make you aware of.
One thumbs down of audio description is that the headset will not work until the movie actually is playing. So that means no description on the previews. That can be a challenge because sometimes the headset is not working properly and you won’t really know until the actual movie starts. I have been told that since each movie comes with a different set of previews it is hard to get those particular previews audio described in advance. Since this happens more frequently than it should, the theatre staff person is supposed to come back and check on you. But sometimes that does not happen. I usually give about 5-10 minutes and if no one comes I get up and go back up to the front counter. Sometimes staff gets busy with other customers and you will have to be assertive but patient when getting another headset.
I have gotten to know some of the staff at my local theatre and have even had a conversation with the manager. I have learned the best time to come to the theater when help is more available to me. I was encouraged to avoid opening nights or evenings because the theatre is usually more crowded. I also learned the hard way that when the actual theatre is crowded it is hard to hear the audio description in the headset because people are talking and being noisy. Today I go early in the day and early in the week to avoid all of this and that has been working out well for me.
Another thumbs down is that the movie might not be audio described even though it says otherwise. It is a good idea to double check the availability of audio description. Although the theatre’s website says they offer audio description call and check again. I had an experience recently where a movie was listed as audio described and the theatre staff thought so too; but it was not. I wrote a nice e-mail to the corporate office expressing my disappointment and requesting a full refund. Some friends have experienced this too and were given free tickets to come backend see another movie.
I give the actual theatre chains a thumbs up. When I went to the movies on my own, the theatre staff was very helpful. They gave me the audio described headset, assisted me at the concession and guided me to my seat. Through some trial and error I discovered that if I sit near the back on the outer row I can navigate with my white cane out of the room pretty easily when the movie is over or if I have to get to the bathroom. I tend to frequent the same movie theatre so I have learned and memorize the floor plan and now have little difficulty with maneuvering around. If worse comes to worse I just ask someone walking by or follow my nose to where I smell the popcorn! That usually does the trick and I am back in the open where tickets and food are purchased. I have found that people are very helpful and will assist you if you need it.
Audio description is an excellent way to enjoy a movie and even with all the ups and downs I would encourage anyone with a visual impairment to check out their local movie theatre. So, let’s go to the movies! Have you experience watching an audio described movie? How was the experience? Did you have any challenges with your headset? Would you recommend audio described movies to a visually impaired friend? Please give your thumbs up or thumbs down in the comment section below.