DVDs for the Blind

Posted: December 23rd, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: production | 5 Comments »

It almost sounds like a joke, doesn’t it? DVDs for the blind. What are the blind watching DVDs for? There’s nothing to watch, really. Go listen to an audiobook or something, blind people.

Well, you might be surprised to hear that the blind do buy DVDs, and play them, and enjoy the movies. Not all of them, but not everybody watches DVDs at all, so this isn’t surprising. In another useful bit of evidence on the side of the anti Digital Rights Management crowd, the blind sometimes end up having to rip the DVDs and extract the various titles/parts out of the DVD so they can play stuff without being hung up on menus and special features and easter eggs and the rest. They turn a DVD into a series of audio tracks in a playlist and go through those, basically.

A number of the interviewees of GET LAMP are blind. The BBS Documentary had an interviewee who was deaf and that was the first time I’d ever interviewed someone who couldn’t directly hear me. GET LAMP caused me to spend time with blind people for extended periods, in real conversation. One thing I learned was that blind is relative; a number of my blind interviewees can see, just not very well at all; one was born with no lenses on her eye. One is aware of some aspect of light, but it’s absolutely an abstract hue. And so on.

It’s amazing how flexible the human mind is; it will try to place items in context even though one might think it wouldn’t have any context at all. “Flame” means one thing, “mountain range” another, and interviewees mentioned how much text adventures expanded their knowledge of the world because you could “walk” among places with no guidance and all the salient features explained to you, right there. One mentioned how he didn’t understand how big an ocean liner was until he played a game that took place on one, and so on. Another was very sad for sighted people because of all the years we’ve watched television at 720×540 resolution. That’s so sad! His resolution is infinite.

As I interviewed someone who was deaf for my previous film and resolved then and there they should enjoy it like everyone else, so too does the interviewing of several blind subjects mean that I want them to enjoy the DVD as well. Hence, a blind-accessible DVD.

As opposed to my militancy regarding subtitles, I realize that I’m much further out on the edge with wanting to make a DVD blind or visually-impaired accessible. There’s just not a metric ton of these things.

I found a DVD that claims to be the first blind accessible DVD, with menus and the rest. That’s true, as long as you know what submenu to magically navigate to to turn it on. (I bought a copy to see.)

What is likely to happen with my DVDs is that when you put them in, it acts like any other DVD, but the first selection is an introduction to the disc, which says, out loud, what to hit to start audio menus. From there, we can have a bunch of other features, but then both “types” (blind and not blind) are happy. I hope. It’s the wheelchair ramp problem; functionality vs. aesthetics. I’ve seen it done right and wrong.

This means the episodes or films on this set will have descriptive video. Experiments are underway for that. It also means that everything gets descriptive video. This delays the project, or more accurately, the project takes the right amount of time to do this properly.

If you’re feeling cynical, you can also tell me how brilliant I am to market to the blind; the blind, after all, often were big customers of text adventures because these were games that were basically complete and total when read to you. You could play them in audio and get the same experience as others. And they were easy to hack into screen readers, since they always wrote to text rendering instead of doing graphics or whatever else your system used. So these were very popular so hooray, more potential customers. If it’s not obvious, this isn’t my main motivating factor, otherwise I’d “spice up” the whole movie with stuff that might, somewhere, appeal to a general audience even if it didn’t have anything to do with text adventures.

As I work this point, it also means I look at my editing in a different way; when you know your work has to be portrayed as much as it’s shown, you really want to smooth the thing out to the best quality. If I’m going to spend an extra week recording descriptive video, then it should be something worth describing.

We live in this great modern age, where machines can do an awful lot for everyone to enjoy content like never before. I hope this DVD set will be a favorite for blind viewers for a long time to come.


5 Comments on “DVDs for the Blind”

  1. 1 Dave Ross said at 4:40 am on December 31st, 2008:

    “This delays the project, or more accurately, the project takes the right amount of time to do this properly.”

    I think that’s a good way to look at it. You’ve never promised a release date as far as I know, so you aren’t racing to meet some arbitrary deadline. Savor that. Accessible menus sound like a great idea for a documentary.

    I’ve never heard of that Abraham & Mary Lincoln documentary, but the region 2 Doctor Who DVDs have audio menus. When you first pop the disc in, they show & say “For spoken menus, press select now”, and then you’re taken to a special, well, “spoken” menu. If you don’t touch anything, it shows the regular menu after 5 seconds. That sounds like what you’re saying you want to do, and it works out great. Us sighted people are only inconvenienced for a few seconds, but I’m sure it’s a godsend for blind folks.

  2. 2 Andrew said at 10:44 am on December 31st, 2008:

    Neat thoughts on it, I’d certainly love a look at how you work it out on your DVD or video when completed, it’s a pretty hard thing to work out accessibility for.

  3. 3 Joe Clark said at 1:31 pm on December 31st, 2008:

    I’m glad you’re militant, but what you’re militant about is captioning, not subtitling. (Subtitling into what? Welsh?)

    The Lincoln DVDs weren’t the first commercial DVDs with accessible menus. If memory serves, _Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas_ was. I have it and it works (so do the Lincoln discs).

    Odds are you’ll make as many gigantic mistakes as minor ones if you try captioning or description yourself. Leave it to the experts.

  4. 4 Loughlin said at 7:08 am on January 7th, 2009:

    Right on. I wonder were the old BBS systems like DLG Pro on the Amiga ever hooked up to screen readers. Did they even exist back then? Did the Amiga OS have one built in? Hmm…

    Anyway, it’s a pretty noble and righteous thing to prolong the development of the Get Lamp documentary to accommodate Blind and hard-of-sight people. I also think it adds yet another interesting dimension to the entire project. Really looking forward to this one.

  5. 5 Scott Adams said at 8:26 am on January 18th, 2009:

    When I was about to release Return To Pirate Island 2 I got a nice email from a blind fan. Because of ths I spent another couple of month’s making the game blind accesible.

    Its worth the time and effort to do, even if it only helps one person!

    Scott Adams


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