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For First Time in Broadcast History, the 93rd Oscars Will Include Audio Description

Audio Description Ensures Equal Access for Blind Viewers, While Closed Captioning Assists Viewers who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

An award statue next to the icon for audio descriptionHollywood, CA, April 25 – This year’s Oscars ceremony will be the most accessible for viewers yet. In a broadcast first, live audio description will be available for the live telecast nationwide. Google is sponsoring both this year’s closed-captioning and audio description. The addition of audio description, which is audio-narrated descriptions of a program’s key visual elements, ensures that viewers who are blind and low-vision will be able to take in all the action occurring on the screen and provide a much richer experience as they listen to the more traditional aspects of the show from the presenters, winners and performances. Per a press release from ABC, the closed captioning will be provided by VITAC, and the audio description will be provided by VITAC and Audio Eyes.

The audio description will include the pre-show, awards ceremony and the post-show. To join in the experience and provide live feedback to Audio Eyes describers, use the hashtag #OscarsAD on Twitter.

During the show, Google also will run an ad that features the story of Google employee Tony Lee, a child of deaf parents (CODA). The spot explores how his family communicates today with the help of Google products including Live Transcribe, Captions in Google Meet & Live Caption on Android and Chrome.

“Google is committed to making the world a more accessible place by working to ensure disabled people are represented in the stories we tell and the products we build,” said KR Liu, Head of Brand Accessibility. “We are excited to do our part in making this year’s Oscars accessible for everyone by helping to make the audio descriptions and captions available for viewers.”

Michele Spitz of Woman of Her Word has been working with the Academy, laying the groundwork for this advancement. “I am proud to have been the impetus over the past months aligning with the Academy and ABC to inspire the first ever audio described broadcast in the history of the Oscars,” she said in a LinkedIn post. “Low vision and blind audiences will finally now have the wonderful opportunity to equally experience the Awards show and accompanying programming. Congratulations to all involved who made this dream come true!”

One low vision audience member who will benefit is Alex Howard, who has a rare mitochondrial disorder called MePAN that causes limited vision.

“Low vision and blind individuals love going to the movies just as much as anyone else and the Oscars is one of the biggest and most prestigious celebrations of cinema,” said Howard, who currently is working as an Entertainment Media Fellow with the disability advancement nonprofit RespectAbility. “Making the biggest movie awards show of the year accessible to the low vision and blind community is a huge step in the right direction. It not only makes the content more accessible but helps build awareness around audio description so that hopefully it becomes more commonplace. I am very excited as an audio description consumer myself to see how the description enhances the experience of the Oscars!”

Oscars programming begins at 6:30 p.m. ET / 3:30 p.m. PT, with the main event beginning at 8:00 p.m. ET / 5:00 p.m. PT, on Sunday, April 25, 2021 on ABC.

Meet the Author

Lauren Appelbaum

Lauren Appelbaum is the Vice President, Communications, of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities, and managing editor of The RespectAbility Report, a publication at the intersection of disability and politics. Previously she was a digital researcher with the NBC News political unit. As an individual with an acquired invisible disability - Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy - she writes about the intersection of disability, employment, Hollywood and politics. From entertainment professionals to presidential campaigns, journalists to philanthropists, she conducts trainings on the why and how to be more inclusive and accessible. Behind the scenes in the entertainment industry, Appelbaum engages decision makers and creatives to improve the quality and number of authentic, diverse and inclusive presentations of people with disabilities on TV and film so audiences can see people with disabilities as vital contributors in America and around the world. She and her team have consulted on projects with Amazon, Disney/ABC Television, NBCUniversal, Netflix, and The Walt Disney Studios, among others. Appelbaum also enriches the pool of disabled talent in Hollywood by nurturing and connecting them to those who can assist with their careers, both on the creative and business sides of the industry. She is the author of The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit, which was created to help entertainment professionals to be as inclusive of people with disabilities as possible, and the creator of an innovative Lab Program for entertainment professionals with disabilities working behind the camera. To reach her, email LaurenA@RespectAbility.org.

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