Ensuring that someone who is blind or visually impaired can understand and enjoy watching a movie or TV program is only part of what descriptive video is all about, says the CEO of a Vancouver descriptive video company.

It's also about making sure that, for example, the narrator for Spongebob Squarepants has a voice that suits the role, and that the narrator doesn't step over the actors' speech.

"Downton Abbey, now you have to have a British voice that, which we've got," said Diane Johnson, the CEO of Descriptive Video Works.

"Those are the little things that are really important, because I want it to be a great experience for people that are blind that are watching."

Focus groups

Johnson's company, which also operates out of Toronto, Montreal and Los Angeles, creates described video for a number of movies, broadcasters like CBC, and a number of Netflix shows including House of Cards and Narcos.

When her company takes on a new movie or show to describe, they learn what the show's intended blind and vision-impaired audience are looking for by holding focus groups.

Johnson also said that Netflix has "set the bar" when it comes to streaming services offering described video, and hopes that it will become even more widespread.

visual impaired

Shawn Marsolais (left), the founder and director of nonprofit Blind Beginnings, and Diane Johnson, the CEO of Descriptive Video Works. (Gavin Fisher/CBC)

"When you think about it, 100 per cent of television programming is closed captioned for the deaf, why would we treat people that are blind differently?"

She is also currently campaigning to have descriptive video on more airlines' in-flight entertainment movies.

"To me it's also good for people that are sighted as well. You may be on your computer thinking you should do some work, but you really want to watch a movie. So you put your headset on and you get to do it all."

'Very beneficial'

For Shawn Marsolais, the founder and director of nonprofit Blind Beginnings, described video has made a big difference in her life, as she is blind and has a two-year-old son who asks her questions when they watch TV together.

"Cartoons are really hard to follow. You don't even know what that character is that's talking — is it a person, is it an animal? So I'm able to answer his questions and follow along with what he's watching as well.

"[For] blind parents or blind children it's really beneficial."


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