Tag Archives: Media Accessibility

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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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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Descriptive Video Works takes on a Titanic task!

All of us at Descriptive Video Works are proud to be working with CBC and providing the audio description for their new TV series Titanic: Blood & Steel.

Now before you exclaim, “What?! Yet another Titanic story?!” this particular story is very different than those seen previously involving an iceberg and the sinking of what is arguably the most famous ship in the world.

Titanic: Blood & Steel tells a story most will not know very much about – namely the events surrounding the construction of the ship. Though there are a number of fictional characters included for the sake of great television drama, the show is still a history buffs dream.  It features such historical figures as JP Morgan (played by Sex and the City hunk, Chris Noth), Joseph Bruce Ismay (Gray O’Brien), the former Chairman of White Star Lines, survivor of the the Titanic sinking and once named “the most cowardly man alive” and William James Pirrie (Derek Jacobi), a Canadian who became one of the most highly regarded shipbuilders of the time.

We take great pride in the work we do providing audio descriptions for television and movies and a show such as Titanic: Blood & Steel provides us with a terrific platform to showcase the quality of our work. We are among the top companies that deliver descriptive video services and our level of excellence comes from over a decade of experience in the industry, a close working relationship with our vision impaired audience and our attention to detail in the descriptive writing, narration recording and final audio mix.

In the case of Titanic: Blood & Steel there are a number of descriptive challenges. Firstly, the show has a large cast of characters, all of whom must be correctly identified in order to assist our vision impaired viewers in following the story. Secondly, there are many period details that are an intrinsic element of the world of the story from settings (various shipyards, poverty-stricken streets as well as grand, elegant mansions), costumes and props.  In order to describe these details our writers go to great lengths to ensure accuracy. For example, in one scene from the show two characters take a walk in a park passing by an ornate structure and from a Google image search our writers were able to identify it specifically as the Royal Belfast Botanical Gardens.

Finally, a central element of the show is the construction of the Titanic herself. In order to describe these details we try to avoid generic terms and instead use the correct nautical terms. An audio description that describes specific elements (such as the keel, the bulkhead, the starboard-side hull, etc.) complements the efforts made by the show’s filmmakers and, more importantly, adds to the richness of the experience for our vision impaired audience.

This is what the actual construction site looked like.

And this is how the Titanic: Blood & Steel crew were able to recreate it with amazing set design and special effects from Windmill Lane VFX. Lots of details to be described!

With a wonderful cast led by Kevin Zegers, the aforementioned Derek JacobiNeve CampbellOphelia Lovibond as well as Italian stars Alessandra Mastronardi and Massimo Ghini, Titanic: Blood & Steel offers something for everyone. Set in Belfast in 1909 there was a lot happening at this point in history: The beginnings of workers fighting for their rights and the establishment of Trade Unions, the rise of of The Women’s Suffrage movement, the beginnings of the Irish Republican Army. All of this in addition to Class struggles and religious intolerance between the predominantly poor, Catholic, work force and their wealthy, Protestant masters. For the romantics among you the show even has several cross-class love stories, something we all come to expect from such epically sumptuous, big-budget period TV series.

All of us at Descriptive Video Works are grateful to the filmmakers and to CBC for providing us with such wonderful material to make accessible to the vision impaired.

Neve Campbell as Joanne Yeagher, Chris Noth as JP Morgan and Kevin Zegers as Dr. Mark Muir

Catch the big premiere on CBC at 9pm on Wednesday, September 19th.

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The State of Audio Description Around The World

The July 4th Independence Day celebrations come a few days early this year for the nearly 30 million blind and vision impaired people in the U.S.

Thanks to the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, that is the day that television networks across the country will be required to provide the equivalent of four hours of video described programming every week. For those 30 million blind and vision impaired, this means greater independence as they can now enjoy a more robust television experience and share in the collective social dialog that so much of today’s television content facilitates.

This hallmark date also creates an ideal opportunity to educate content creators, television producers and distributors and network executives as to the status of video description (also called audio description, described video or descriptive video service) in television markets around the world.

In Europe, the U.K. and Germany are industry leaders in video description. In 1991, the Independent Television Corp. founded the AUDETEL consortium of regulators, consumer associations and broadcasters in order to explore issues related to described video content across Europe. In 1994, a field trial was conducted by the BBC using set-top boxes and, following this, an amendment to the Broadcasting Act legislated that 10% of all programs carry video description. Since that legislation programming carrying video description has never slipped below 17%.

Compared to Europe and North America, the development of video description in Australia has been a slow crawl but was kick-started in 2005 with a government grant providing description on 10 DVD titles. The service continued to grow from a low base of about 2% of entertainment DVDs to the current 25-30%. On the broadcast television front, a video description field trial has been carried out in the last 12 months led by the non-profit agency Media Access Australia. This organization has been working with all sides on negotiations for an increase in descriptive video services. It is hoped this will be the precursor to a full video description service coinciding with the country’s end of analogue television in 2014.

Japan was the first country in the world to offer described video for the blind and vision impaired in 1983. While the percentage of video described programming is still low (4% for national broadcaster NHK), the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has established guidelines that will raise video description to 10%.

Despite being home to more than 9 million people who are blind or vision impaired, China is only just beginning to take its first tentative steps into descriptive video services. In 2010, the movie Aftershock was the first DVD release in China to carry video description in Cantonese.

In India, where blindness affects more than 15 million people, descriptive video began in 2005, with the Saksham Trust creating a video description track for the award-winning film Black. Response was enthusiastic and since then Saksham has released numerous Hindi films with video description and film production houses are beginning to show interest. There are no television channels in India currently carrying descriptive video, but the 2010 Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act will help with a provision calling for video description on films and documentaries on public and private television broadcasts.

“Black” (2005) starring Amitabh Bachchan and Rani Mukerji

The Future

As the global population increases, especially in the western world where there will be a large increase in those over the age of 60, so too will the number of individuals with vision problems. With an increase in demand there will also be many more providers of descriptive video services. To that end, it is imperative that standards are adopted and maintained. Inferior video description isn’t better than no video description at all because it will alienate the very audience it is supposed to engage.

The FCC mandates that, as of July 1, around four hours per week of programming must provide video description. It is our hope that broadcasters recognize the size of the audience they may be overlooking and step beyond the minimum requirements as has been the case in the U.K.

In the meantime, we wish America’s blind and vision impaired audiences a very enjoyable Independence Day!

If you’d like to know more about descriptive video do call us toll free at 1-888-998-9894 or check us out here.

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Take A Ride In The “Cash Cab”!

We’re extremely familiar with the bright, multi-colored flashing ceiling lights of the infamous Cash Cab since Descriptive Video Works has provided audio description for many, many episodes of the hit Discovery Channel Canada TV series.

The show is based on a format devised by Adam Wood in the U.K. and has since been franchised all over the world with versions of the show being produced in 31 different countries. The Canadian version, however, is the first one to be shot in High Definition. The show uses 8 different cameras placed in and around the Toyota Sienna cab used for the series.

Hosted by comedian Adam Growe, Cash Cab is a unique mobile game show where contestants think they are climbing into an ordinary cab only to be greeted by multi-colored lights and blasting sound effects. Adam then challenges them to play the game and win cash by answering numerous trivia questions on the way to their destination. Contestants are given three “lives” and if they get three questions wrong, the cab pulls over and their journey is over… Regardless of how far away they are from their destination!

Along the way there are “Red Light Challenges” worth extra cash and contestants can use a “Mobile Shout-Out” to call a friend or a “Street Shout-Out” where Adam pulls over the cab and contestants can ask passersby for help on their question. If the contestants make it to their destination with lives to spare, Adam offers them a double or nothing chance to answer a “Video Bonus” question.

The Canadian iteration of Cash Cab is produced by Castlewood Productions and first aired way back in September of 2008. Host, Adam Growe, spent the first four seasons of the show driving the busy downtown streets of Toronto looking for contestants but for the  fifth season, he is in Vancouver, B.C. Given the number of bridges that connect the downtown core to the surrounding city, the show has added a new twist – the “Bridge Bonus” but you’ll have to watch the show or track down the Cash Cab in person to find out what that entails!

So far none of us at Descriptive Video Works have had the luck in tracking down the Cash Cab in our home city so we’ll just have to be content describing the show and making it accessible to our vision impaired audience.

The brand new season of Cash Cab just began airing on Discovery Channel Canada on Saturdays at 7pm ET/4pm PT.

You can join the Cash Cab on Facebook here and catch up on all the Discovery Channel Canada goings-on by following them on Twitter

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