As of June 2, 2018, the law requires that audio description for the blind and visually impaired be made available by all digital first-run movie theaters. Almost all applicable theaters have complied, and others are in the process of converting to digital and upgrading to include description equipment.
The Federal Government defines audio description as “narration added to the soundtrack to describe important visual details that cannot be understood from the main soundtrack alone.” Wearing headsets provided by the theater, the listener hears spoken information about actions, characters, scene changes, on-screen text, and other visual content, the narrations are usually added during existing pauses in dialogue. Listen to a sample of descriptive video from the movie “Zulu”.
Audio description has been randomly available since the 1990’s for some live plays, movies, television shows, and DVDs, but this is the first time the service has been required by law in movie theaters. Some companies, like Cinemark, AMC, and Regal, have been offering accessible movies, but others have been late getting on the boat. This resistance partially motivated the amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act that led to the Justice Department signing it into law in late 2016, finally taking effect this past June.
For more information about audio description technology and availability, read The Audio Description Project, an Initiative of the American Council of the Blind.