Braille Monitor                                                                                May-June 1986


Descriptive Video Service

Recently WGBH in Boston, Massachusetts, announced that it was launching a new project which it called "Descriptive Video Service." Some of the rhetoric in the WGBH press release is overblown and unfortunate, but this has nothing to do with the basis of the idea. We herewith reprint the WGBH press release so that Monitor readers may think about it and decide whether this is a good or a bad concept. Does it really make television more enjoyable for the blind and visually impaired, or is it simply another phony gimmick ? Does it damage our image and promote custodialism, or does it help us come closer to equal access in the area of television? If it is a good thing, we should help promote it. If it is a bad thing, we should not be uninformed or silent about it. We should jump on to it while it is young and kill it. It is exactly the sort of thing that will appeal to the public. It has (or can have) far-flung implications. Here in its entirety is the press release:

WGBH Launches Descriptive Video Service

February 25, 1986

Contact: Sharon Davenport WGBH Educational Foundation 125 Western Avenue Boston, Massachusetts 02134 (617) 492-2777

BOSTON, MA--The WGBH Educational Foundation has been awarded a grant from the Easter Seal Research Foundation to launch an exciting new project that will make television more complete, understandable, and enjoyable to blind and low-vision viewers.

An emerging new technology called multi-channel television sound (MTS), or stereo TV, offers a potential for providing audio descriptions to persons with visual impairments during regular television broadcasts. MTS provides an additional channel, the Secondary Audio Program, or SAP channel, which permits transmission of program- or non-program related audio. By simply switching to the SAP channel of stereo TV you will be able to hear, during the pauses in the regular program dialogue, a specially trained announcer describe the visual action: the sets, the costumes, facial and body movements, location, etc.

We've dubbed this concept Descriptive Video Service (DVS). It was originally conceived by Dr. Margaret Pfanstiehl, president of the Washington EAR, a radio reading service for the blind, and herself blind. Dr. Pfanstiehl describes DVS as "...the art of talking pictorially. The audio describer is a verbal camera lens, serving as eyes for people who can't see or can't see adequately theater or films, television or other events." The innovative and pioneering work of Dr. Pfanstiehl combined with the new MTS technology offers an exciting opportunity to make television as accessible to visually impaired people as closed captioning is for hearing impaired. WGBH will begin on-air testing of the service in the Boston area late this spring using a WGBH produced program as the pilot show. After a short trial period, with volunteers from the visually impaired community as viewers, WGBH will evaluate plans for extending the service on a national basis. For more information on the DVS project, or if you live in the Boston area and would like to participate as a viewer, please call Sharon Davenport, 617-492-2777, extension 3734.