Enjoy movies despite having a visual impairment

Audio films: Even those with poor eyesight can enjoy crime series or go to the cinema with friends - thanks to a special offer called audio description

I hear what you see: People with a visual impairment can also cheer at the crime scene. The Sunday thriller with audio description has been around for years

© istock / simonkr

How is it possible to watch a movie without actually being able to see it? With a voice describing what is happening on the screen. This process is called audio description. It is used more and more frequently.

Sunday crime thriller for the visually impaired

The first 25 seconds of a well-known German series sound like this: "The screen is blue. A man's pair of eyes peers to the left, to the right, straight ahead. A crosshair closes around his right eye. The crosshair tears open, behind which the blurred silhouette appears of a man, he holds his hands protectively in front of his face. Running legs on wet asphalt. A spiral line creates a stylized fingerprint. Crime scene. " The ARD crime series has been offered with audio description for many years.

Technically it is not very complicated: "The audio description is basically an extra sound track on which what is shown is described - whenever no one else is speaking in the film," explains Jan Meuel, who works for the German Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (DBSV) busy with the subject.

Turn on audio description

An audio description is sent digitally and can now be received with any standard television or receiver. To activate only the audio track needs to be changed. This is possible either via the menu of the television or receiver or via a special button on the remote control. For example, "AD" can stand for audio description on it.

Symbol for audio films: The crossed-out eye in the program guide

© W & B / Veronika Graf

Public broadcasters in particular are already thinking of people with poor eyesight when it comes to a growing part of their programming and media libraries. "On ARD, 24 percent of the program is currently offered with audio description, on ZDF it is 16 percent," reports Meuel. The service is only available sporadically on private channels.

Audio discretion in the cinema and at live events

Similar to subtitles and sign language for people with impaired hearing (see box below), the tone explanation is already taken into account during the production of films and programs.

This also applies to many movies. The viewers can download the corresponding audio texts on a smartphone app. In the cinema, the app synchronizes with the sound of the film, and the scenes can then be described using headphones.

The technology now also works for live events: "The last soccer World Cup and the Olympic Games were broadcast with audio description," says audio film expert Meuel.

Jan Meuel, audio film expert at the German Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired

© W & B / Andreas Müller

Watch TV without barriers

"There are no concrete figures, but it is estimated that far more than a million people in Germany can benefit from audio description," said Meuel. As life expectancy increases, this number will continue to rise in the future. Because most of the time, eyesight only deteriorates significantly in old age.

In order to further improve access to media for blind and visually impaired people, the EU decided to revise a corresponding directive in November 2018. The new version calls for an expansion of offers with audio description, subtitles and sign language.

The EU member states are obliged to ensure "without undue delay" that access to services "for people with disabilities is continuously and gradually improved through appropriate measures".

Activate subtitles

For the hearing impaired, most programs and films are now offered with subtitles. On many televisions, these can be switched on with a button on the remote control.

Phoenix or 3Sat bring sign language news programs. For this purpose, a person is displayed next to the reduced original image who reproduces what has been said in sign language.

The right button: The soundtrack for audio films can be activated using the AD button

© W & B / Veronika Graf

Christiane Möller, legal expert at the DBSV, thinks that Germany falls short of these requirements: "The draft of the new state media treaty does not provide for any binding regulations, nor does it say that the complaints office required in the directive will be set up."

But there is hope that there will be an EU requirement at all. It shows that the topic of audio description has arrived - in politics and in everyday television life.

The current range of audio films can be found online at hörfilm.info, information on movies with audio descriptions at www.gretaundstarks.de.

You can find out which audio films are currently on television - free of charge at 030/255 58 08 00.