Category Archives: Vision Impairment

Descriptive Video Works Makes Case For DV At CRTC Hearings


This past week, Diane Johnson, CEO and President of Descriptive Video Works, took part in the CRTC (Canadian Radio-Television & Telecommunications Commission – the administrative tribunal that regulates and supervises broadcasting and telecommunications) hearings discussing the future of Canadian television. Dubbed Let’s Talk TV the hearings gave Diane, who was joined by Shawn Marsolais, founder of Blind Beginnings, the chance to make the case regarding the importance of described television.

Following a submission process, Diane and Shawn were among the lucky few to be invited to the discussions pertaining to audio description (other speakers included AMI – Accessible Media Inc.).  “Over and over again I am asked why are not more programs described,” Diane said prior to Let’s Talk TV. “I don’t understand why the current mandate is only four hours a week for described video on TV, and 100% for closed captioning. I don’t understand why the blind and partially sighted are denied equal access to information and entertainment”.

During the allotted ten minute session, Diane gave the CRTC a background of her experiences with Descriptive Video Works and the kind of services the company offers, many of which are practices that we have pioneered such as Live Video Description. Also addressed were emerging worldwide trends that show availability of described video increasing, blind audiences becoming harder to ignore and how Canada has the opportunity to be a leader in the field. As a founding member of the Canadian Described Video Broadcast Committee, Diane expressed the importance of Best Practices and how these standards only have value if everyone follows them.

Shawn said to the members of the CRTC panel, “Please imagine not being able to see. We don’t know what our peers are wearing or doing leaving us at a disadvantage socially. It is difficult to make friends when can’t talk about sports, TV programs, fashion, or when you miss the action or joke because it was something visual. DV fills in these gaps”. She went on to say, “Being able to talk knowledgeably with sighted people about these things demonstrates that I am not that different from them, I just can’t see”.

Diane capped off their time speaking with the CRTC by saying, “Both entertainment and information are received via television, lack of access is socially isolating. The blind and partially sighted community deserves the same access to television as enjoyed by all viewers. Descriptive video directly contributes to a higher quality of life. We respectfully request a mandate that requires 100% described video on Canadian television programming”.

Diane and Shawn then answered questions from Stephen Simpson, CRTC Commissioner, British Columbia and Yukon who was particularly interested in Live DV and the associated costs of DV and how these costs may be reduced for broadcasters.


To watch Diane and Shawn’s full presentation to the CRTC as well as how they responded to Commissioner Simpson’s questions, CLICK HERE and jump ahead to 135:00.

It is our hope that the CRTC listens to not just Diane and Shawn’s feedback, but the feedback from the entire blind and partially sighted community across the country, a group of one million plus Canadians that is expected to increase significantly over the coming years as the baby boomers retire. The blind community is tired of being mostly ignored – a fact supported by a complete lack of media coverage during the video description portion of the CRTC hearings. Though Let’s Talk TV is now over, we can all do our part to continue pushing for increased DV. Let’s not let the importance of equality for all be overshadowed by focus on BDUs (Broadcasting Distribution Undertakings), pick ‘n pay contracts and Netflix. Let’s continue to talk TV and ensure that nobody is left out of the discussion.

For a full breakdown of the topics covered by the Let’s Talk TV CRTC hearings, CLICK HERE – Sections 20 and 21 pertain to Described Video and Media Accessibility.

We also encourage you to check out the amazing work being done in the community by Shawn and her team at Blind Beginnings.



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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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Academy Originals Spotlights Described Video

This month The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the folks better known for The Oscars, launched a new documentary webseries, Academy Originals,  highlighting and celebrating various aspects of the movies and the movie making process. The first three short films in the series premiered last week and one of them is of particular interest all of us here at Descriptive Video Works as it focuses on something near and dear to us.

Here’s the film, it’s well worth your time checking it out.

Not Much To See – How The Blind Enjoy Movies does a great job of capturing what makes described video such an important service as well as what it means to the blind to be able to enjoy something most of us take for granted.  Every single one of us has a treasured memory of sitting in a darkened movie theater and delighting as larger than life images flickered before our eyes, inspiring, informing, entertaining and in many cases transporting us to far off places beyond our imagination. There are some who dismiss the need for greater accessibility in media (be it described video for the blind or closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing) as being a needless service that only caters to a minority. However, there are more than 20 million people affected by serious vision loss in the United States alone. According to the World Health Organization, in 2013 there were 39 million people worldwide who were legally blind and 246 million with significant low vision. That’s 285 million people around the world who cannot experience the magic of the movies.

During our many years providing descriptive video we have made more than 800 movies accessible to the blind. Here are just a FEW of those movies:

A Fish Called Wanda, Analyze This, Before Sunrise, Brazil, The Bridges Of Madison County, Castaway, Catch Me If You Can, Crimes And Misdemeanors, Die Hard, Do The Right Thing, Father Of The Bride, Fight Club, Forrest Gump, The Fugitive, Hard Days Night, JFK, Kramer vs Kramer, Leaving Las Vegas, Mississippi Burning, My Beautiful Laundrette, Rebel Without A Cause, Roxanne, Something About Mary, Speed, Stand By Me, The Color Purple, The French Connection, The Full Monty, The Thing, The Client, Twelve Angry Men, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, White Christmas, X-Men, Zulu…

…and many, many more!

All of these movies are generally regarded as classics in their genre and it has been both a delight and an extremely rewarding challenge for us to be able to bring these films to life for those with low vision. The power of the image, especially the moving image, has left an indelible mark on our culture over the past 100 years and nobody should be denied access to it especially when as a society we have the means to ensure that nobody is excluded. Through quality writing, voice recording and audio mixing  we remain committed to providing the very best audio description in the business. Shockingly, we still encounter people on a daily basis who are completely unaware of video description. Their reaction is much like what Melissa Hudson of says in Not Much To See – “Blind people don’t go to the movies!” As such, we also remain committed to spreading the word concerning the importance of descriptive video. We encourage you to do the same. Share, Like, Retweet, etc. Inform, illuminate and help us make a difference.

It is our hope that the day will come when all movies and television includes described video as standard. We applaud the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences for launching their new online series with an episode that highlights described video services and its importance to the blind. The magic of the movies will continue to captivate the world, lets all do what we can to ensure that nobody is left out from experiencing that magic.

Crowd watching a movie

You can check out the other Academy Originals webseries episodes via their youtube channel here. Future episodes will be featuring Academy members such as writer-director Paul Haggis, producer Kathleen Kennedy and filmmaker Ava Duvernay.

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Twin Life: Sharing Mind and Body

Descriptive Video Works provides audio description for all kinds of TV and Film projects but every once in awhile a project comes our way that is truly remarkable. “Twin Life: Sharing Mind and Body” is one such project.

Filmed over the course of 2013, “Twin Life: Sharing Mind and Body” is a one hour documentary that follows a year in the remarkable lives of Tatiana and Krista Hogan, conjoined twin sisters who live in Vernon, British Columbia. As craniopagus twins, joined by the head, the Hogan sisters are truly unique, being the only people in the world known to share a neural bridge between the thalamus. Situated between the cerebral cortex and the midbrain, the thalamus regulates consciousness and relays sensory and motor signals to the cerebral cortex. What this means for Tatiana and Krista is that they share a sensory bond that doctors suspect is a medical first – they can quite literally see, feel and taste what the other feels.

Born on October 25, 2006, Tatiana and Krista Hogan were given a 20% chance of survival but every day since then they have defied medical science, confounded and amazed their doctors in equal measure and inspired the world with their courage and spirit. “Twin Life: Sharing Mind and Body” follows the twins and their family as through several events during the course of 2013 including a stressful trip to Vancouver for continuing medical tests, their first ever visit to a waterslide park, the beginning of Grade Two, Halloween and Tatiana and Krista’s seventh birthday party.

For Descriptive Video Works, making this particular documentary accessible to vision restricted audiences required a sensitivity to the material as well as a deft hand in bringing to life a story that is both cinematic and deeply moving. It was a privilege and an honor to be a part of this remarkable story.

Produced by Margaret O’Brien and Judith Pyke (who also wrote and directed the film), “Twin Life: Sharing Mind and Body” is narrated by Ann-Marie MacDonald and produced in association with Entertainment One in association with the Canadian Broadcasting Company. The film debuts on CBC Television’s Doc Zone on Thursday March 13th at 7pm.


Tatiana and Krista Hogan

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Audio Description Brings “The Host” To Life For Blind Audiences

Our wonderful working relationship with the folks at Open Road Films continues this month with The Host (Official Site for the movie here) – An excellent science-fiction film that will be coming to movie theaters across North America on Friday, March 29, 2013.


If The Host sounds familiar to you it’s probably because the movie is an adaptation of the best-selling novel by Stephanie Meyer, the writer behind the smash-hit Twilight books which have also been turned into incredibly successful movies. We are very proud to have provided described video for the film making it accessible to more than 30 million blind and vision-impaired people across North America.

Writing video description is always a challenge but it is especially so when the TV show or feature film is of a fantasy or science-fiction nature. There are often strange gadgets and creatures to be described and sometimes even entire alien worlds that we must help our non-sighted viewers visualize. In painting vivid but succinct pictures through our descriptions we strive to transport our blind audience members to the world of the story in a way that is as close to the experience as it would be for a sighted audience member.

The Host is set in a near future Earth that has been invaded by a technologically advanced alien race that lives inside humans, turning us into host organisms. The alien parasites known as “souls” consume the memories and personalities of their host organisms but some humans manage to fight back – such is the case with the main character in the story, Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), who refuses to fade away and who survives as an inner voice within the alien soul inhabiting her body. From a video description standpoint this presented a unique challenge as we had to ensure that the distinction between human characters and the alien soul inside them remained clear throughout.


Central to The Host, much like the Twilight saga, is a teen love story and this meant the video description and the voicing of the description also needed to maintain a quality of sensitivity that was in-keeping with the central themes of the film. For those of you who might be put off by science-fiction or teen romance, we urge you to go and check out the film – directed by Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, The Truman Show, In Time), the film has a surprising level of depth and beauty to it.

We are very proud of our work describing The Host and whether you are a sighted or a non-sighted audience member, it is well worth your time and money. If you attend a screening of the film with the described audio track, do let us know what you think!

Watch the trailer:

Buy the book the film is adapted from 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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ITU Focus Group on Audio Visual Media Accessibility

Last week Descriptive Video Works President and CEO, Diane Johnson, attended the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Focus Group on Audio Visual Media Accessibility which was held in Toronto, Canada.

ITU is the United Nations’ specialized agency for information and communication technology and is committed to connecting  all the world’s people wherever they live and whatever their means. Conferences and focus groups are held all around the world throughout the year.

As an industry leader in Canada it was important that Descriptive Video Works attend the conference in Toronto especially in regards to sharing with the rest of the world our experience in describing Live Television broadcasts. We are extremely proud to be the first company in the world to offer the service and the only company offering training for news anchors and reporters that provides guidance in how to make their content more accessible. The conference provided a wonderful opportunity for Descriptive Video Works to stress the importance of, as Diane said, “thinking outside of the regular Described Video TV box”.

“The conference was a great opportunity for us to share with international attendees our descriptive video guidelines that we have developed over the last decade in conjunction with the visually impaired audience in Canada. It is so important to ensure that we are always meeting the needs of the end user. These guidelines, together with the high level of skill and craft that we demand from all of our writers and narrators are what makes Descriptive Video Works stand out in a rapidly growing market”.

Diane also stressed the importance of maintaining high quality described video, “Poor description that misses the mark not only alienates the audience already tuned in but makes it very difficult to attract a new audience. Another challenging aspect in growing the service in all countries around the world is how to get governments to take notice and assist in getting the word out to the blind and vision impaired organizations and communities”.

Highlighting this need to grow awareness for descriptive video services are the statistics from a recent awareness campaign launched in the United Kingdom. Prior to the campaign, only 37% of the general public and 43% of the visually impaired had knowledge of audio description services compared to 60% of the general public and 72% of the visually impaired following completion of the public awareness campaign.

The ITU conferences around the world are important in developing future standard guidelines and best practices for audio description services on an international level. “One example of how we are working together in Canada, are the listings that AMI (Accessible Media Inc.) have put together of all programming on all stations that is described. Instead of looking at it as competition, they see the value of sharing this valuable listing service”.

“The ITU conferences are a great way to get people around the world with the same goals to share their knowledge, their challenges and their aspirations regarding where we can all take descriptive video in the future. Though it was felt by the entire group that we are just at the beginning stages, it is clear that we are sure to see huge growth in audio description in the next few years with levels approaching the current reach of Closed Captioning services. This underlines the importance of continued cooperation, sharing of ideas, increased awareness and the maintaining of high quality DV”.

Descriptive Video Works will continue to be “thinking outside of the DV box” as we take the next steps into what is an incredibly exciting time in the audio description world!

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