NBC is making sure everyone gets to follow along with the Olympics. Even those who can't see their telecasts.
An interesting report Wednesday by the Associated Press detailed a novel approach taken by NBC that allows blind people to follow along with the game. The station has employed extra broadcasters for their prime time telecasts who describe in real time what's happening on screen. The narrative feed is activated through a special setting on the cable box. It's a major upgrade for blind people, the AP found.
"I'm so happy I'm going to be able to sit back, watch the Olympics like anybody else, know what's going on, not have to imagine or wonder. That's huge," 66-year-old Marlaina Lieberg told the news service. She has been blind since birth and typically relied on her husband to describe sporting events.
The AP gave an example of how this type of commentary works. During a recent broadcast narrator Norma Jean Wick, a Canadian sports broadcasting veteran, worked alongside the commentary from NBC's Bob Costas. She told the audience that the screen showed a "a golden orange sunset in Rio de Janeiro," and as the music came in over the broadcast, she added "night has fallen." Then Costas started with, "Aaaand here we go."
Wick works alongside Jim Van Horne, also a Canadian broadcasting vet. This "audio description" or "video description," a closed captioning of sorts for the blind, has reportedly existed since the '80s but isn't very readily available or well-known. The aim for live sporting events is to provide the "what and how," Van Horne told the AP, "what an individual is wearing, the expression on their face, how did they fall, how did they twist the ankle."
Paul Schroeder, head of programs and policy at the American Foundation for the Blind, wrote in a 2012 blog post that the advent of descriptive video service or DVS "brought movies and some public television shows to life. For me, and as importantly, my sighted family, DVS was a blessing, providing much more information about movies and shows, thereby relieving my family of the pressure to provide haphazard description.
The American Council of the Blind keeps running guide of the shows that are available for those seeking DVS audio. All the major networks have at least some shows available, although the cable offerings are relatively limited. It's far easier to provide DVS for scripted television than live sports, since it's hard to predict, exactly, what will happen. There's also the challenge of fitting snippets of commentary between the dialogue from NBC's broadcasters. It's a complicated challenge but the product allows blind people better enjoy the sporting event that consumes the country every couple of years.