Technology Helping the Blind & Visually Impaired Enjoy TV & Movies

Larry Goldberg is the Director of WGBH’s National Center for Accessible Media

I have been a fan of FiOS television in the past, but never more so now that Verizon has launched a service that makes television viewing for persons who are blind, or who have vision loss, that much more enjoyable.

Verizon’s decision to include video described first-run feature films to its FiOS Video On Demand library is a groundbreaking move that is to be applauded in the industry. Today, FiOS TV customers in all FiOS markets can now take advantage of this new functionality.

Huh!  Blind people watching TV?

The whole concept causes many people to pause, but with the use of Descriptive Video Service (DVS)®, the viewing experience goes a long way toward leveling the playing field and enabling customers with vision loss to enjoy television programming like anyone else.

DVS, used by select movie theaters in the U.S., on DVDs and some television shows, conveys the key visual aspects of a film or television program by describing things like scenery, facial expressions and costumes during natural pauses in the dialogue.  Specifically, the added narration is mixed with the dialogue, music and effects to seamlessly create an enhanced viewing experience.

WGBH developed this technology and has been encouraged by the increasing amount of content that the broadcast and cable networks are offering.  However, Verizon FiOS’ use of video description for the increasingly important video on demand business is a big step toward what we hope will be an even more expansive library of described television programming used by more pay TV providers.

I want to credit Disney and Warner Brothers that are the first two movie studios to step up to the meet the challenge too, and to VubiquityTM for helping secure the content for Verizon.  The first movies that Verizon customers can enjoy with the DVS enhancement are from those two movie studios and include Wreck It Ralph, The Hangover III, Gangster Squad, The Great Gatsby, Iron Man 3 and Monsters University.

We hope that this is the harbinger of things to come from other studios as well as other video providers, and we look forward to Verizon FiOS TV customers having even more described video choices to watch. .

The new choices will be listed under “Descriptive Video” in the FiOS TV On Demand menu movie folder.  To begin enjoying described On Demand movies, customers will be prompted to acknowledge they are purchasing or renting an On Demand title with described content.

WGBH's NCAM has valued its partnership with Verizon over the years and milestones like this only serve to accentuate the importance of the work we can do collectively. We look forward to continuing to develop solutions that mitigate any gaps in communications technology.