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DVS: Closed Captioned for the Blind?
23 Jun
By 2020
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By Randy Pierce

Watching television or a movie is often a frustrating experience when you can’t see what’s on the screen. There is a solution which has existed for many years, but its use has been very limited. Until now, that is!

A new policy will require mainstream TV networks to include DVS (Descriptive Video Service) as of July 1, 2012. DVS, much like closed captioned programming for the hearing impaired, is a means to enhance the experience of blind users “watching” television or movies. A narrator describes key visual points while working around speech and key sound effects of the program. The script carefully integrates the narration to ensure the experience can be fully appreciated by the sight impaired.

If you want to more fully understand the process I recommend a tour of the Wikipedia entry. Many movies and recent DVD/Blue Ray releases already include this feature, but very few television programs have done so.

The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act is what is pushing this changeover in the TV arena. On July 1, the results of a 12-year effort will finally be realized when a steadily increasing number of networks and cable channels will be required to include more and more programming that includes this service.

While legislation has forced this decision, ensuring programming is ready for the service in another matter. The schedule impact and cost are not insignificant. CBS has already led the way with several options that demonstrate its feasibility, while other networks are finding the cost of $2,000-4,000 cost per hour an impairment to their integration.

The battle is over for now and the service will become steadily more utilized, but the question remains: is it the right decision?

Unfortunately, the television menu systems are not yet accessible to readily enable a blind person to turn on the feature without assistance. There is also no standard yet to alert a blind person when such a feature is available. Ideally, a tone will give such an alert but this only helps if someone is present at the right moment.

So to make this solution effective, it will require more planning, as well as accessible and informative program schedules going forward. I’m not sure I can entirely justify the present system, but I am sure I can and will very much appreciate when it is available.

2 responses to “DVS: Closed Captioned for the Blind?”

  1. Penny says:

    My daughter Abby loves watching show with descriptions. WGBH has been broadcasting a lot of shows with descriptions for years. Now its exciting to find other channels following suit (I guess that they have to had something to do with it)

  2. Heather Green says:

    One of the new shows I have been enjoying is Covert Affairs on USA. I borrowed the first season from a friend to get caught up and was pleasantly surprised to see that the show I like, which includes a tech savvy blind CIA agent named Auggie offers the DVS on its DVDs. Glad to hear this option will soon be available for many other shows as well.

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