Category Archives: DVW Team

DVW Brings Critically Acclaimed Series “The Honourable Woman” To Life


Descriptive Video Works recently concluded providing audio description services to the new drama series The Honourable Woman. A Sundance Channel and BBC co-production which has already aired in the UK and exclusively on The Sundance Channel, The Honourable Woman has been a huge hit with audiences and critics alike. Viewers in Canada will get their first look at the show on Monday, September 29 when it premieres on CBC at 9pm with a second episode following at the same time on Tuesday night.

The Honourable Woman tells the story of Nessa Stein (Maggie Gyllenhaal in an astonishing performance), a newly made baroness at the forefront of the Middle East peace process who is struggling to maintain her idealistic principles whilst wrestling with personal demons from a troubled past. Nessa’s harrowing personal journey is set against a backdrop of political intrigue that has all the trappings of the classic spy thriller. As entertainment, it’s as gripping as anything else on television and yet it is so much more than just entertainment – this is a show that is complex in its plotting and fascinating in its character development whilst deftly navigating subject matter that is both highly controversial and topical. It’s impossible to view the show without giving serious thought to what is currently happening on The West Bank.

In bringing the story to life for blind and partially sighted viewers, the The Honourable Woman provided an incredible challenge as well as an opportunity for DVW to showcase the talents of our team.  Given the complex nature of the story, extra attention to detail was required in establishing each location and the characters present in each scene. This was made especially challenging with the story unfolding through numerous flashbacks. As with all spy thrillers, every episode was also abundant with elements that added to the suspense and mystery such as mysterious figures lurking in doorways, evidence uncovered, and props and clues along the way that would not be significant until much later in the story. These details are key to the genre and even for sighted viewers could easily be confusing, missed or forgotten entirely. For us, the key was in being precise and memorable in our descriptions so that when they reoccurred, our blind and partially sighted audience would be reminded of their importance in the story.

Written and Directed by Hugo Blick, the TV series is extremely visual with many themes and metaphors present only as images. For DVW this afforded a wonderful opportunity to write evocative description that we hope honors the rich source material and provides blind and partially sighted viewers a truly immersive experience.

Watch The Honourable Woman on CBC beginning Monday September 29 at 9pm, Tuesday September 30 and every Tuesday after that at 9pm.



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Descriptive Video Works Wins ACB Audio Description Achievement Award!


This past week Descriptive Video Works‘ CEO, Diane Johnson, attended the American Council of the Blind (ACB) Annual Conference in Las Vegas where she and the DVW team were awarded the ACB Audio Description Achievement Award – Media which recognizes outstanding contributions to the establishment and continued development of significant audio description programs in media.

This was one case where ‘what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’ was definitely not the case! All of us at DVW are thrilled and humbled by this news recognizing all of our hard work and we couldn’t be happier to share it with the world!

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Descriptive Video Works CEO, Diane Johnson, (right) with Vocal Eye Executive Managing Director, Steph Kirkland

Also recognized at the ACB conference were our friends at Vocal Eye, also based in Vancouver, who continue to excel in providing live video description for many local theatre productions, arts and cultural events and who brought home the Audio Description Achievement Award – International. Huge congratulations to all the Vocal Eye team.

In an official statement Diane said, “What a great day for Canada to win two audio description awards at this international conference, a meeting which raises both awareness and the importance of audio description to the blind and partially sighted audience worldwide”. She went on to say, “Television, films and theatre play such an important role in our society. In providing the blind and partially sighted audience with the details and descriptions of scenes and physical characteristics, we provide them with an engaging and robust entertainment experience so together they can be immersed in the story with their sighted family and friends”.

Very proud to hang this on our wall!

Very proud to hang this on our wall!

This year marked the 53rd ACB Annual Conference which saw approximately 1,500 blind and partially sighted people from across the United States and many other countries descend on La Vegas. Participants enjoyed a packed 4 day schedule of events including over 350 meetings, numerous workshops, seminars, tours and social events as well as an exhibitor space that included technology, products and services for assisting the blind and partially sighted. We were lucky enough to meet a participant at the conference familiar with the work of Descriptive Video Works who told us, “Described video has made a significant difference in our lives, both my wife and myself are blind. We just want the benefits that everyone else has. As a blind person when watching a show or event you really feel you only get half the story. When we go to a movie and it’s not described, we spend the time guessing where they are, for example, we hear a wave, and say to ourselves ‘oh they must be at the beach’. With Described Video we now know what’s going on and we can enjoy the program without spending our time guessing. We look forward to enjoying Described Video programming for years to come. Thank you”.

Chris Gray, Chair, ADP Awards Committee and former President, ACB presents Diane with the award for Achievement in Audio Description - Media

Chris Gray, Chair, ADP Awards Committee and former President, ACB presents Diane with the award for Achievement in Audio Description – Media

We would like to take this opportunity to thank the ACB for once again putting on a fantastic conference and for presenting us with the Audio Description Achievement Award. It was an honor to be a part of such a wonderful event which brings together so many inspiring individuals.

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It’s Job Swap Time At Descriptive Video Works!

Over the many years we’ve been providing quality described video services we have maintained our position as one of the best in the business by not being afraid to learn and adapt. It is from our continued relationships with organizations in the blind community, producers, production companies and broadcasters that we have been able to see approaching trends and in some cases, even influence them! However, for any company wanting continued success, one cannot underestimate what can be learned from those already in one’s organization.

This past week Descriptive Video Works threw down the gauntlet for its staff to experience what each others jobs entail and the results provided us all with a fun evening of socializing but more importantly, an excellent learning experience and appreciation for what each of us brings to every audio description project that comes through our door.

DVW Narrators unite! Voice talent Arran Henn, Paula Hoffmann and Russ Froese try their hand with the writing side of the process

DVW Narrators unite! Voice talent Arran Henn, Paula Hoffmann and Russ Froese try their hand with the writing side of the process

Descriptive Video Works President and CEO, Diane Johnson, didn’t quite go as far as letting the staff run the company for a week (that’s work best left to the experts…) but she did have the team job-swap on two crucial elements of the video description process – the writing and the narration. With so many laptops spread out, our studio began to look like an Apple Store as our voice talent were tasked with writing a section of audio description for the TV show “The Liquidator“. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the studio, our writing staff took turns in the sound booth attempting to record perfect descriptive video for a segment of the TV drama series “Arctic Air“.

DVW staff Jamie Murrary and Shana Selwyn stretch their writing muscles on "The Liquidator"

DVW staff Jamie Murrary and Dianne Newman stretch their writing muscles on “The Liquidator”

For our professional voice talent faced with writing description, there were a couple of surprises. It goes without saying that significant writing talent is required in order to bring to life the visual elements of a TV program or movie when describing it for the blind but it also requires meticulous attention to detail, consistency and economy of language. This, even for a show with a lot of dialogue such as “The Liquidator”, can take a lot of time and patience and this was the biggest surprise for our narrators in their role-swapping experience.

DVW Head Writer and Trainer, Miranda Mackelworth, gets a taste of what its like in the sound booth for our professional voice talent

DVW Head Writer and Trainer, Miranda Mackelworth, exercises her vocal chords recording a segment of “Arctic Air”

Next door, our writers got to see what our voice talent go through when recording the completed described video scripts in our sound booth. The first thing one is struck by is the isolation of being in a sound proof environment and the awkwardness that comes from “performing” and having ones voice recorded. In terms of the specific process that we go through with descriptive video, our writers were particularly taken aback at the multi-tasking side of things – when recording, our narrators have both the script and the program itself in front of them and must split their vision between the two all the while speaking clearly and succinctly without missing a beat. For our writers, understanding first-hand how their written choices can affect the job of our narrators was an invaluable experience.

Following the writing and recording sessions the team re-convened and asked questions, shared their impressions and even a few trade secrets (several of our narrators sing on their way to the studio!). In attendance was Rosamund Van Leeuwen who has been blind since the age of two and who heads up Descriptive Video Works’ research and development team. Our job-swap experience was given a wonderful context as Rosamund shared her insights on the process as an end-user, the audience our work is focused on.

Rosamund van Leeuwen (right) giving our staff invaluable feedback

Rosamund van Leeuwen (right) giving our staff invaluable feedback

A great team-building exercise, our job-swap evening also highlighted for all of us at Descriptive Video Works how much time and dedication goes into describing movies and TV for the blind. Closed Captioning is mandatory on all programming whereas only a small percentage of descriptive video is mandatory. Whereas Closed Captioning can be produced at a rapid rate, descriptive video requires a very different set of skills and a lot more time and dedication. Since it takes more to produce, does this mean it should be any less important when there are more than 30 million people in North America alone who can benefit from described video? We think not. If you’d like to see more programming available for the blind, you can help by introducing to your friends to what we do at Descriptive Video Works because as we discovered with our job-swap this week, there’s a lot to gain from sharing one another’s experiences.

Follow us on Facebook or on Twitter to learn more or visit our website.

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Descriptive Video Works on The Simi Sara Show with Shawn Marsolais of Blind Beginnings


Recently, Diane Johnson, Descriptive Video Works President and CEO was a guest on The Simi Sara Show on Vancouver radio station CKNW. Joining Diane was Blind Beginnings founder and Paralympian, Shawn Marsolais.

In the interview, Diane and Shawn talk about the importance of making television and movies accessible to the blind, the work that we do at Descriptive Video Works and the need to raise awareness of the massive non-sighted audience that is being ignored by TV networks, movie studios and broadcasters around the world.

Here’s the interview:


We’d like to extend our thanks to Simi Sara and CKNW for having us on the show and highlighting the need for greater media accessibility and described video services. The Simi Sara Show can be found on CKNW AM980 Monday to Friday from noon to 3pm.

About Blind Beginnings

Founded by in 2008, Blind Beginnings offer British Columbia children and youth who are visually impaired opportunities to develop skills, confidence and independence. A family-centered organisation, Blind Beginnings promotes a ‘no limits’ philosophy which challenges pervasive misconceptions about blindness by demonstrating that there is no limit to what children and youth who blind or visually impaired can accomplish.

Here’s a terrific video about the organisation:


As founder of Blind Beginnings, Shawn Marsolais truly embodies the ‘no limits’ philosophy of the organization. Born with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a rare eye condition that caused her vision to deteriorate through her childhood, Shawn has had less than two percent of her vision since the age of 18 but this has not stopped her from leading an exceptionally active life. A former competitive swimmer who still holds three Canadian records, Shawn represented Canada at the Paralympic Games in Athens in tandem cycling and has won several medals in Goalball, a team sport designed specifically for blind athletes. Over the years she has worked for CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind), the Western Association for Persons With Vision Impairment, Canadian Blind Sports Association & Recreation Association and Access for Sight Impaired Consumers.

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Descriptive Video Works Celebrates The Coming Year

A special message from Diane Johnson, President & CEO of Descriptive Video Works.

Happy New Year! Break out the bubble – we are celebrating our 10th Anniversary in 2013!


For many people 2012 was a challenging year. Economic downturn affected virtually every business – ours included. Thankfully with our dedicated Descriptive Video Works team and wonderful clients we have held our own through the slow periods and things are shaping up quickly for some exciting developments in 2013. I am so grateful for your dedication to keeping us number one in Canada – with incredible potential to expand at a global level. Many new irons are in the fire and I hope to have some very exciting news to share within our first quarter.

We hear from our friends in the community of blind and vision impaired people how they are enjoying television and theatre like they never have before.   We know that as more and more people hear about audio description this group will have even more wonderful described entertainment to enjoy this coming year. One of the highlights for Descriptive Video Works in 2012  was doing the descriptive video for the opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics. We plan to do the same for many years to come.

On a personal note I wish you all the very best of health, happiness and prosperity in this auspicious new year!

One of our writers sent this to me and I would like to share it with you as we all move into a year filled with possibilities.

“If anything were possible… quickly, easily and now… what would your life look like. Who would you be with? What would you be doing? Where would you be living? What would you look like, feel like? Invite your future self into your present to help you become the person of your dreams.”

May your dreams become a reality in 2013 and may we all continue to take even small steps to make the world a softer more gentle place for all.

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Descriptive Video Works Brings a Silent Classic To Life


This month marks another historic first for Descriptive Video Works as we were tasked with providing audio description for the classic Charlie Chaplin film The Gold Rush. The challenge? Describing a film that had zero dialogue and sound effects, the only audio being the music track!

Released in 1925, The Gold Rush tells the tale of Chaplin’s most iconic character, The Tramp, as he travels to the Yukon in search of gold. The victim of bad weather, The Tramp ends up stranded in a small log cabin with a burly prospector named Big Jim and escaped convict Black Larsen. Eventually, The Tramp finds himself in a gold rush town and gets a job taking care of another prospector’s cabin where he falls for a lonely saloon girl whom he mistakenly thinks is also in love with him.

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Written, produced, directed and starring Chaplin, The Gold Rush was hugely successful around the world and is the fifth highest grossing silent movie of all time. At the time of its release and in interviews over the years, Chaplin said that of all his films, The Gold Rush was the one he most wanted to be remembered for.

We are proud of the work we do on every project that comes to us at Descriptive Video Works. We strive for excellence no matter what show we are working on, but when a much-loved classic such as The Gold Rush comes in the door we all feel the pressure to raise the bar even further.

Charlie Chaplin in the Shoe-Eating Scene from .

The task of writing the audio description script for The Gold Rush became the responsibility of Describer, Shaindle Minuk who said, “It’s not too different from describing any other type of movie… Just a lot more of it! You have to describe literally everything that happens, with no dialogue or even sound effects to help out”. Other than the sheer volume of described video needing to be written Shaindle said that in terms of The Gold Rush “The biggest challenge going in was the fact that Charlie Chaplin is a film legend and getting across his humor and charm in written description was pretty intimidating for me. He had such great body language and was the forerunner for so many visual gags that have become commonplace in film, that describing it was really fun but also kind of difficult. Chaplin’s appeal is entirely visual and I was delighted to be able to allow the sight impaired viewer to enjoy his charm and appeal in my description.”

Here’s a short sample of Shaindle’s work on The Gold Rush:

Though it’s a lot more work than the usual movie, it brings us great pride to be able to make classics like The Gold Rush accessible to the blind and vision impaired.

An accomplished artist and writer, Shaindle and her husband, Dave, write and produce their own original comics which can be found here.

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Descriptive Video Works Dines In The Dark

This week the Descriptive Video Works team hit the town for an adventure that was part celebration of all our accomplishments in the past year and part field trip. We spent the evening at Dark Table, a fabulous new dining experience that just opened its doors to the public in Vancouver, B.C.

Dark Table invites its patrons to embrace an extremely unique experience as they dine in the dark, giving them a taste not just of their delectable menu but also what it’s like to be blind. Owned by Moe Alameddine, founder of O.Noir, Canada’s only blind dining restaurants in Montreal and Toronto, Dark Table recently opened its doors to the public in what was formerly “Quattro On Fourth” restaurant in Kitsilano.

When arriving at the restaurant, guests make their menu selections outside and are then welcomed and escorted inside by a blind server. It’s an exercise in trust as one slowly shuffles forward into pitch darkness towards ones table. Once seated, one is immediately struck by how vulnerable one feels when lacking sight. We really do take for granted something as simple as sitting at a table and eating a meal.

Lazare, our attentive server for the evening who has been blind since age 9, was certainly kept busy, far more so than a server would be required to be at any other restaurant. In addition to bringing us our food, re-filling drinks etc., he was also required to patiently guide each of us through such normally simple tasks as finding a bread bun in a basket, exchanging empty plates between courses and even escorting us safely to the washroom and back. Yes, even the washrooms are dark!

It’s a strange experience at first. Upon sitting at the table one is immediately aware of how as sighted people we take simple spatial elements for granted, such as where the table is in relation to one’s chair, where the cutlery is, what else may or may not be on the table. One of the first challenges was buttering a bread roll – many of us spread more butter on our thumbs than on the bread on our first attempt!

As time passed our active senses of smell, touch, hearing and taste were slowly forced into the forefront. The smell of the food arriving at the table wafted closer until Lazare’s soft, reassuring voice reached out from the darkness nearby and directed our hands to find the edges of the plate. Using a knife and fork is an exceptionally odd experience in complete darkness. One is forced to use one’s fingertips to navigate around one’s plate with every bite becoming a surprise of flavor not to mention size of morsel – You never quite know whether you have a tiny chunk of potato, a deliciously grilled vegetable or a large piece of succulent chicken breast on the end of your fork.

For the Descriptive Video Works team it was great to get together and celebrate our recent achievements but most of all, by experiencing Dark Table, we were all reminded of why it is so important that we all continue to do what we do making television and movies accessible to the blind and vision impaired. Though we were only in darkness for a couple of hours it was a humbling experience that none of us will soon forget.

Dark Table is open 7 days a week (5.15pm-10pm Sunday to Thursday with two sittings on Friday and Saturday at 5.45pm and 8.45pm) and is located at 2611 West 4th Avenue, Vancouver. Call 604-739-3275 to make a reservation.

Team DVW before embarking on their Dark Table adventure

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