Jason opened the meeting by saying this will be our last meeting until fall. We don’t know September’s topic yet. Jason said we will present, then leave time for questions. Questions can be on any topic, not just tonight’s discussion. Today we’re going to talk about accessible entertainment options: getting books, audio description resources, and Kevin Shaw from Zagga entertainment will talk about his new service.
There are so many options these days for entertainment. First Jason talked about audio books. These are resources you can use outside of CNIB CELA. You can get books through there, but there are lots of other places as well. A book may come out and the CNIB may get it right away, but they may not. Sometimes it’s available earlier in other places. The simplest way is through your public library in the way sighted people get books. They come on CD, and the public library has a lot of commercial titles that CNIB doesn’t necessarily have. You can also get them through overdrive. This is an online service that you access using your library card, and download them. It’s a software program available for free from the public library site. You need to download the overdrive utility first. It’s fairly accessible, and has a large collection.
Another way to get audio books, Jason’s favourite, is Audible.com. They’ve been around since the mid 90’s. They’re owned by Amazon. You log on, and you can download audio books; it’s a paid service. They have a lot more titles than CNIB or CELA. You can sign up to pay a fixed amount per month for a certain number of titles per month. You own those books for ever once you’ve purchased them. It is a U.S. site, so the cost is in U.S. dollars. However, you can log in to audible.ca, which will present prices in Canadian dollars. Some daisy players will play them, such as the Victor Stream. BookSense and BookPort do also. The Audible site is not the most accessible site in the world, but it’s not unusable. The first time there will be a learning curve. Audio books are so much more mainstream now that more and more titles are available.
There are some sites where you can get free audio content. One is called librivox.org. Those are audio books that are older, classics, that the copyright has run out on. Ian added that the books are read by volunteers, and production can be choppy. For example, one book may be read by multiple readers. Project Gutenberg is another option for books that are in the public domain.
The Marrakech treaty is a treaty needing 20 countries to ratify. It will allow participating countries to share books, thus preventing duplication. Canada ratified it, we’re number 18. The treaty removes a lot of copyright restrictions that have been making duplication necessary. This means that more books can be produced because organizations aren’t duplicating each others’ efforts.
One more important service is bookshare.org. This is a site that allows you to download electronic text books. These are books you can load onto your computer or player, and read with synthetic speech. As a CNIB user you can get access to this site. Do so through the CNIB Library site. Canadian users have a smaller pool of books to choose from, but hopefully the Marrakech treaty will fix that.
Audio description is when a movie or TV show has an embedded audio track between the dialogue that gives description of visual aspects of the movie or TV show. The AMI site instructs you on how to activate audio description from your cable remote. The instructions can be found at the following link:
Their site also posts a schedule of described programming across networks. This is a very useful resource because it gives you one place to go to find out what audio described programming is available on all channels. Jason went to the Accessible Media International site to demonstrate. The link is title DV guide. The first time you log on, it asks you for your postal code and cable provider so that it can filter your results. There’s a combo box that defaults to today, but that can look 5 days ahead. The site has a series of tables, each corresponding to a time slot. You can use T to jump between tables, and H to jump between headings.
One of the things that has happened in the past 6 months is that Netflicks is offering audio description. On their web page there’s a link titled audio description, that will give you a list of audio described programming. You can then watch it on your device of choice. The most accessible device to choose is Apple TV, because the interface is fully accessible.
ITunes also has audio description on some of its movies. If you do a search in the search box for AD, it will list all movies with audio description. They’re adding stuff all the time. This is a paid service; you’re paying just as everyone else does for content. It’s $5 or so to rent, and $15 or so to by. A member noted that sometimes Apple TV fails to identify a movie as having audio description, but if you know it’s described, you can rent it and play it with description. If you tell Netflicks you want audio description all the time, it will default to play it. In response to a member’s question, Jason said that you can watch Netflicks right from your computer. The player controls on the computer aren’t accessible during playback using Jaws, but they are with NVDA.
Jason introduced Kevin, who is here representing Zagga entertainment. Kevin told a “true story.” He was at home, and wanted to watch a DVD. All of his dvd’s were in shrink wrap. He realized he didn’t want to go through the frustrating procedure of going through inaccessible menus to enable audio description on them. This motivated him to build a site dedicated to audio description and accessibility. His site, zagga.tv, is designed to be used with screen readers and speech synthesis software. He loaded his site and did a demo. There are links for movies, TV, family, your account etc.. You can navigate using headings. The site is in beta, so input is appreciated. The video content is also displayed, so that you can watch with sighted companions. When you sign up for an account you get access to all content. He scanned through content which included movies, documentaries and TV shows. There are mobile aps in the works. While watching content there are hot keys for moving around or changing the volume. Kevin explained that if you sign up today, you’ll get one month free. It’s a monthly subscription fee of $6.99. Everything streams. Kevin said that he’s been working on this long before Netflicks and ITunes. He favour’s his service because it’s a flat fee, not pay as you go like the other services. The premium package will be coming for $9.99, and will include updated Hollywood content. He’s in negotiations with MGM, Fox, Paramount, and a couple of smaller organizations, including Synoflex a local company. A member asked how the deals work. Kevin explained that you licence the title for a defined term, 1 year, 3 years etc.. One advantage of his site is that you don’t have to set any special features to get audio description, it’s automatic. There’s negotiation in the works for childrens’ programming too. Older programs get described all the time. The site has the Dick Vandyke show for example. Apple and Android aps are coming, as well as one for Apple TV, and one for Rocu. A member asked about Airplay, Kevin answered that there’s an option to do that. Jason asked whether they’re considering asking AMI for some of their content. Kevin answered that they need permission from the original producer first, then from AMI. Until the mobile aps are ready, it’s possible to use it on a mobile device through the browser. CoolBlindTech.com is a popular podcast for teck in the blind community. Tomorrow there will be an interview with Kevin on their podcast.
Jason then introduced the idea of live audio description. This is something like a play for example, where you can get a head set and hear description of the live event. There was recently a Jane’s walk designed and led by a professional audio describer, and intended to give visually impaired people a unique view of the city. Ian added that Stratford and some Mirvish productions offer this.
Another member added that some movie theaters offer audio description for some movies. Another member added that theaters differ in how effective and functional the units are. Ian recommended that you should report any problems to customer service because they need to know if the system isn’t working. It’s worth while to say that you had a better experience at another theater. Lately, theater sites have gotten a lot better about making information available about which movies are described.