A BRIEF HISTORY OF AUDIO DESCRIPTION IN THE U.S.


* COURTESY OF THE AUDIO DESCRIPTION COALITION

This history, to the best of the Audio Description Coalition founders’ knowledge, represents the milestones in the creation of audio description, its development beyond its use in live theatre, and laws that require audio description.

As a supplement to this history, we would like to document the spread of live theatre audio description across the U.S. Please send information about non–profit organizations that have fostered audio description for live theatre in your community to info@AudioDescriptionCoalition.org. (The theatre companies may be non–profit or commercial, but the organizations providing audio description must be non–profit.)

• 1974 – While working on his broadcasting master’s thesis in “television for the blind,” Gregory Frazier develops the concepts underlying audio description.

• 1981 – Margaret and Cody Pfanstiehl of the Metropolitan Washington Ear collaborate with Arena Stage in Washington, DC to create and develop an audio description program for live theatre performances. The service premieres with the Arena Stage production of Major Barbara.

• 1982 – The Metropolitan Washington Ear works with the producers of the PBS “American Playhouse” television broadcast to simulcast audio description on radio reading services.

• 1986 – The Metropolitan Washington Ear creates the first audio description cassette tours of museums or exhibits, the Statue of Liberty and Castle Clinton (NY), two national monuments managed by the National Park Service.

• 1987 – Professors Gregory Frazier and August Coppola found the AudioVision Institute at San Francisco State University.

• 1987–1988 – The Metropolitan Washington Ear works with the WGBH Educational Foundation, Public Television Playhouse, Inc., and the Public Broadcasting Service in a year–long nationally broadcast test of what would become Descriptive Video Services. For the first time, synchronized, pre–recorded audio description was broadcast via satellite on the Second Audio Program (SAP channel) for the season’s 26 “American Playhouse” productions.

• 1988 – James Stovall of Tulsa, OK, produces audio description of classic TV shows and movies for home videos.

• 1989 – James Stovall founds the Narrative Television Network to offer description for movies on cable television.

• 1990 – WGBH Educational Foundation launches Descriptive Video Services (DVS®), a subsidiary to provide audio description for television viewers.

• 1990 – The Metropolitan Washington Ear creates the first audio description soundtracks for IMAX and OMNIMAX films and National Park Service films and videos.

• 1990 – The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awards special Emmys to four organizations that brought audio description to television: AudioVision Institute (Gregory Frazier), Metropolitan Washington Ear (Margaret Pfanstiehl), Narrative Television Network (James Stovall), and PBS/WGBH (Barry Cronin and Laurie Everett).

• 1991– Gregory Frazier establishes AudioVision, Inc. to offer description services in the San Francisco Bay Area.

• 1992 – WGBH begins its Motion Picture (MoPix) Access project, which leads to providing audio description for first’run films in selected theaters nationwide.

• 1994 – The Los Angeles Radio Reading Service provides the first live network television description with Tournament of Roses Parade. I still question why this is in here, it isn’t really a first – everyone else has been doing live description, every one else has been doing TV description.

• 1994 – The Metropolitan Washington Ear describes the first opera performance, Madame Butterfly for the Washington Opera at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

• 1994 – At an Association for Theater and Accessibility pre–conference meeting, Rod Lathim gathers audio describers from across the U.S. who commit to a follow–up conference the next year.

• 1995 – Audio Description International (ADI) has its first meeting hosted by The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. ADI incorporates in Washington, DC in 1998.

• 1998 – Congress amends the Rehabilitation Act by adding Section 508 to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Beginning in June 2001, all film, video, multimedia, and information technology produced or procured by Federal agencies must include audio description.

• 1999 – The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announces its Notice of Proposed Rule making for phased–in video description for television.

• 2000 – The FCC implements rules requiring major broadcast networks and cable companies in the top 25 television markets to provide 50 hours of described programming per quarter effective April 2002.

• 2002 – The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts coordinates and hosts the second national meeting of Audio Description International (ADI).

• 2002 – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reverses the FCC ruling requiring Audio Description for television finding that the FCC had acted beyond the scope of its authority in adopting those rules.

• 2003 – Representative Ed Markey (D–MA) introduces a bill to update the FCC’s authority to adopt audio and video description rules. The bill does not pass.

• 2005 – Senator John McCain (R–AZ) introduces a bill to update the FCC’s authority to adopt audio and video description rules. The bill does not pass.

• 2006 – California Audio Describers Alliance adopts California Standards for Audio Description and shares them with the Audio Description Coalition for development as national standards.

• 2006 – Audio Description Coalition forms to develop standards for audio description and code of professional conduct for describers.

• 2007 – Formation of the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT), to advocate for legislative and regulatory safeguards that will ensure full Communication Access and Video Programming Access, including video description. Audio Description Coalition is one of more than 200 national, regional, state, and community–based disability organizations, which comprise COAT’s membership.

• 2007 – Audio Description Coalition publishes the first version of its Standards for Audio Description and Code of Professional Conduct for Describers.

• 2008 – Described and Captioned Media Program, working with the American Foundation for the Blind, publishes its Description Key, guidelines for the description of educational media.

• 2009 – American Council of the Blind launches its Audio Description Project to offer training, establish standards, encourage growth, disseminate information, and encourage studies of audio description.