Watching television seems like such a visual thing to do. After all, we do call it watching, don’t we? For the most part, for most people, it is a visual experience.
But where does that leave those of us who can’t see the screen, or who have difficulty making out the details? Are we marooned in a televisionless world? Or stuck only understanding a small portion of the program?
In short, what is it like for me to watch television as a blind person?
If you want to be purely pedantic, I don’t watch television. For one thing, I can’t watch anything in a literal sense, and for another… I don’t actually own a television.
I do own a laptop and a smartphone, though, and do subscribe to streaming services.
We are now in a time and place where it is easier and easier for someone like me to enjoy shows to nearly the same degree as sighted people do, especially where streaming services are concerned. For years now, closed captionning has been a thing that has allowed the hearing impaired to follow such things. Audio description is now catching up.
Audio description is basically a track laid over the program with a narrator describing the action and setting between moments of dialogue. It isn’t perfect, but it’s usually good enough to get the idea across. And streaming services seem to be leading the charge. I have tried Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney Plus (though am not currently subscribed to all three). Of the three, Netflix and Disney are the ones I have the most experience with, and these days, any original programming either has offered up has audio description. Disney Plus, as a much more recent offering, can claim to have done this from the start but Netflix gets the credit for beginning the trend. Starting back when their Daredevil series began, every series and movie they have created has come with audio description, and no, it isn’t lost on me that they chose the show with the blind protagonist to begin this.
Now, it’s on everything. Even their standup comedy specials have it, though to be honest I find it distracting in that one instance. Mostly, though, it’s awesome. And sometimes unintentionally hilarious, such as the time when the narrator dramatically announced that Daredevil (a blind man, I will remind you) “walks away and doesn’t look back.” Of course he doesn’t look back, he can’t. But mostly, yes, it’s awesome.
But what about the shows that aren’t created by/for the platform? Those, unfortunately, tend not to come with audio description when they stream, though some do have it when watched on their originating television channels. So can I still watch them?
Yes. Mostly, I can still follow those stories. You would be surprised how much you can get from sound effects and dialogue.
For instance, Doctor Who does not have audio description. Or at least, it doesn’t the way I consume it. It is the only show that I outright buy, as it is no longer on Netflix but I still love it and want to follow it, so I buy it on itunes. That show has always been particularly good at conveying what is actually happening through sound and dialogue. Right now, with its current cast of characters, I hear a common complaint that one or two characters tend to state the obvious. “Look, a big plane” or the like. It probably is annoying for most of you. For me, though, it’s awesome. I know that there is a big plane. But failing anything that obvious, the sound of a jet engine is fairly distinctive. As is the sound of planes taking off, which would have already told me we were at an airfield. True, I sometimes miss some details, but I have almost never been left unsure what was happening as a whole.
I’m not going to try to claim that it is just as easy for me to consume visual media as it is for most people. I have to take an extra step here and there, and I do have to concentrate a bit more. I do miss some things. However, I do get just as much enjoyment out of it, and now you know how.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and find something to not actually watch.
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