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Who's Watching? A Profile of the Blind and Visually Impaired Audience for Television and Video

The American Foundation for the Blind completed a study in 1997 of the viewing habits of blind and visually impaired people and the impact of video description. The version below is accessible to blind and visually impaired people using screen readers as well as to people accessing the Internet through slow connections.

Limited print copies with complete graphics, available at no charge, can be requested from the American Foundation for the Blind Information Center at afbinfo@afb.net.


TEXT-ONLY Version updated 8/25/97

[This Chartbook is a compilation of tables and charts representing statistics from data gathered as part of our recent study on video description. Graphical information is described within brackets [...] . Throughout, we use the convention "N=" to represent the number of respondents (e.g., "N=15" means there were 15 respondents whose data were used in a particular chart or portion of a chart.]

[outside front cover]

[A drawing of a large television set is atop a videocassette recorder (VCR). Within the screen of the television are the following words:] Who's Watching? A Profile of the Blind and Visually Impaired Audience for Television and Video.

[Underneath the television are the words:] Jaclyn Packer, Ph.D. & Corinne Kirchner, Ph.D. [plus an AFB logo made up of the three capital letters--AFB, with a braille dot representation beneath each of the letters, along with the words "American Foundation for the Blind."]

[end of outside front cover]

[Scattered around on the inside front cover page are the following quotes from study participants, presented in various typefaces and shades of green; this was done in order to give each participant's quote a distinct graphic presentation.]

These services make me feel just like all other people and I can benefit so much more from the programs.

With description, I feel that my TV- and movie-watching experiences are tremendously enhanced. No frustration, sadness, or anger at having looked forward to a pleasurable experience and feeling cheated out of it because of not being able to follow the action.

Described television and movies have widened my world. They have given me an awareness of how much I was really missing and added extra enjoyment and dimension to everything I have seen.

Having lost the ability to observe action, clothing, facial expression, and landscape, I am grateful for the words description provides. Non-described shows are sometimes rather frustrating, due to the lack of these cues.

Description is the best thing to happen to television in my lifetime.

A news program last week was described. I was amazed, as facial expressions and body movements were explained, how much I had been missing. One gets so used to not seeing it is easy to forget.

I'm always so excited to find out a movie or program has been audio described. This tempts me to watch things I may not watch otherwise.

Descriptive programs are a great help to better understanding and enjoyment of the programs.

I was so excited when I found out about description. I watch movies and love it.

I think descriptive TV is a wonderful enhancement.

[end of inside front cover page]

Who's Watching? A Profile of the Blind and Visually Impaired Audience for Television and Video.

Jaclyn Packer, Ph.D. & Corinne Kirchner, Ph.D.

[AFB logo, along with the words "American Foundation for the Blind"]

Who's Watching? A Profile of the Blind and Visually Impaired Audience for Television and Video

Copyright © 1997 by American Foundation for the Blind

11 Penn Plaza, Suite 300, New York, NY 10001

All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, except as may be expressly permitted by the 1976 Copyright Act, or in writing from the publisher. Requests for permission should be addressed in writing to American Foundation for the Blind, 11 Penn Plaza, Suite 300, New York, NY 10001.

Printed in the United States of America.

In keeping with AFB's mission to achieve equality of access to information for people who are blind or visually impaired, this document is available, upon request, in one or more of the following formats: electronic file, braille, large print, and audio recording.

This project was supported by the U.S. Department of Education, Grant #H026G40001. This book does not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Education.

[Page numbers mentioned in the Table of Contents and in the text refer to the printed copy of "Who's Watching."]

[Footnotes, referred to with asterisks, are placed immediately below the paragraph where they are cited.]


CONTENTS

Introduction

Who Is the Blind and Visually Impaired Audience for Television and Video?

Isn't Viewing TV and Video Frustrating for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired?

Is There a Solution to the TV and Video Viewing Problems of People Who are Blind or Visually Impaired?

Why Is Video Description Important?

Why Is the Information in This Chartbook Important?

Who Is Included in This Chartbook?

Tables and Charts

Table 1. Size of the Blind and Visually Impaired Population in the United States Who Are Likely to Benefit from Video Description Compared to the General U.S. Population

Chart 1. Demographics of the Blind and Visually Impaired Population in the United States Who Are Likely to Benefit From Video Description Compared to the General U.S. Population

Chart 2. Ways That Vision Problems Affect Respondents' Television Watching

Table 2. TV/VCR/Cable Ownership and Usage by Respondents Compared to General Population Surveys

Table 3. Actions Taken by Respondents to Increase Their Understanding and Enjoyment of Television Shows, According to Amount of Useable Vision

Chart 3. Importance of Impromptu Description to Respondents' Enjoyment of Television, According to Age

Chart 4. Respondents Who Had Heard About or Experienced Video Description (AFB's Household Survey)

Chart 5. Respondents Who Had Experienced Video Description (AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey)

Table 4. Receptivity of Respondents to Video Description, According to Amount of Useable Vision

Chart 6. Likelihood That Respondents (Most with No Video Description Experience) Would Watch Television or Videos with Description, According to Amount of Useable Vision

Chart 7. Likelihood That Respondents with Video Description Experience Would Watch Television or Videos with Description, According to Amount of Useable Vision

Chart 8. Length of Time Respondents Had Known About Video Description

Chart 9. Respondents' Perceptions of How Often Description Interferes with Fully Sighted People's Enjoyment of Programming

Chart 10. Ways Respondents Acquired Videotapes with Description

Chart 11. Amount of Information Respondents Obtained From Video Description, According to Amount of Useable Vision

Chart 12. Importance of Video Description to Respondents' Enjoyment, According to Amount of Useable Vision

Table 5. Benefits of Video Description as Perceived by Respondents Who Have Experienced Description

Table 6. Television Genres That Respondents Would Like to Have Described

Table 7. Video Genres That Respondents Would Like to Have Described

Conclusion and Resources

Technical Appendix

References

About the American Foundation for the Blind

Quotes on the inside covers are from responses to AFB's DVS(r)

INTRODUCTION

Who Is the Blind and Visually Impaired Audience for Television and Video?

This audience, hardly a homogeneous group, encompasses people who, like the general audience for television and videotapes, have varied interests, priorities, and amounts of available leisure time. They represent all levels of education and income, and all races and ethnic groups. Additionally, the blind and visually impaired audience is made up of people with varied levels of vision, ranging from those whose only difficulty is reading printed words on the television screen, to those who can see most of the action but find the images blurry, to those who can pick up very little of what is on their screen, to those who have no vision at all. It is estimated that in the United States there are 10 million people who, even while wearing their glasses, are visually impaired (McNeil, 1993). This report focuses on the 6.5 million adults among them who are more severely visually impaired, according to a special analysis of federal health data (UCSF/RRTC, 1996).

While there are blind and visually impaired people in every age group, the oldest age groups have the largest concentration of them. Since older people are the fastest growing age group in the United States, the number of blind and visually impaired persons is expected to increase.

Because so many people watch television and videos on a regular basis, those with visual impairments already make up a substantial part of the viewing audience. In fact, as viewers, they are similar in most ways to the general audience; as a group, they watch television and videotapes in similar numbers and with similar frequency to the general population, and our research suggests they have similar tastes and preferences in programming.

Isn't Viewing TV and Video Frustrating for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired?

Yes, because television and video are primarily visual. Programming often is difficult to understand if one is only hearing it, or hearing it along with seeing it, but poorly. Many visually impaired people have had the frustrating experience of, for example, listening to a chase scene for which they hear lots of tire squeals, crashes, and gun shots, but no dialogue that explains the action. Others have watched a one-hour television mystery, following and enjoying it for 58 minutes until, at the climax, the show turns dramatically silent and reveals the ending in a visual way -- that's who killed Mr. X!

Many visually impaired people prefer to watch with a sighted friend or relative who explains enough parts of the presentations to make them aware of important elements that are presented only visually. However, the visually impaired person may not have someone available who can describe programming to him or her, or may wish to watch some shows alone. In addition, impromptu description, while better than nothing, leaves much to be desired. First, enjoyment of the show is reduced for the person describing by the responsibility of doing so. Second, it happens that, just at the moment one thing is being described, another more important incident is missed, detracting from the viewing experience of the visually impaired person, the person describing, and anyone else in the room watching. Third, the person describing simply may not be good at it.

Besides frustration while watching television and videos, many people who are blind or visually impaired feel "left out" because they miss information that sighted people easily get in this culture where television and films play such a large part. Not only do they lack information or have to work harder to obtain information readily available to others, but they also are at a social disadvantage when they are not able to discuss popular topics like current movies or last night's TV sitcom. So-called "water cooler" discussions play a large part in adult social interaction, and similar types of discussions may play an even larger role in the lives of children and teenagers; being unable to participate fully limits interactions and can negatively affect one's self-concept.

Is There a Solution to the TV and Video Viewing Problems of People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired?

Yes - video description is a solution. Whenever possible, all forms of media should be made accessible to everyone, regardless of disability. A special technique called "video description," in existence since the mid-1980s, opens the possibility of full access to television and video for people who are blind or visually impaired. This technique inserts explanations and descriptions of visual elements of a television or video program, without interfering with the sounds and dialogue that are a regular part of the program. Video description* is similar to the description provided to visually impaired persons by friends and relatives, but without the disadvantages.

*More generally, any formal presentation of described information is known by the term "audio description." Audio description appears to have been available since at least the 1970s; it has been used to make live theater, film presentations, dance performances, art exhibits, parades, and other events accessible to people with visual impairments. The term "video description" is reserved for description of videotapes or television programs.

Video description, at the time of this writing, is offered primarily by two organizations, Descriptive Video Service(r) (DVS), developed by Boston, Massachusetts public broadcaster WGBH, and Narrative Television Network (NTN), a private company based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. For the most part, DVS(r) describes programs shown on public television as well as classic movies on cable, and NTN describes classic movies and older television series over cable and satellite transponder. In addition, DVS(r) offers described films on videotape, including current popular features as well as classics. These are available to buy from DVS(r), to rent from some video stores, and to borrow from many libraries.

Other organizations and individuals do provide description for television and videotapes, but on a much smaller scale than DVS(r) and NTN. Presently, NTN delivers its video-described programming using "open description;" that is, the description is part of the soundtrack and cannot be separated -- everyone who watches the show gets the description. DVS(r) currently delivers its television programming using "closed description" -- people who choose to hear the description use the SAP (second audio program) feature available on most stereo television sets, while the rest of the audience does not receive the description. Closed description is similar to closed captioning for people with hearing impairments, who can turn it on and off at will. At this time, due to limitations in videotape technology, movies available from DVS(r) on videotape have open description.

Why Is Video Description Important?

Adding video description to a soundtrack is likely to increase the size of the audience of blind and visually impaired people for a videotape or television show, and is almost certain to enhance the viewing experience for the existing as well as the future audience of blind and visually impaired persons, plus family and friends who view the programs with them. Those who are visually impaired are within the demographic groups that watch the most television (Papazian, 1996), as they are disproportionately older and are less likely to be employed.

In addition to the benefits for people with visual impairments, there is some evidence that video description helps people with cognitive impairments or learning disabilities understand and enjoy programming.

It also has been shown that people without disabilities have interest in description, in situations where it is inconvenient to pay attention continuously or at all to the visual aspects of a show. For instance, they might enjoy listening to television while doing housework or receiving description over the radio or on audiocassette while driving. This parallels the situation with closed captioning in which people who do not have hearing impairments have found captioning to be convenient when the audio aspects of a show are difficult or impossible to hear, such as in a crowded bar or health club, or at a train station or airport.

Why Is the Information in This Chartbook Important?

Besides making programming more accessible to a greater number of people, video description fits the spirit of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is a piece of landmark legislation with the purpose of bringing people with disabilities fully into civic and community life. Society has historically excluded people with disabilities from many opportunities open to those without disabilities. Full enjoyment of television, videos, and other forms of popular culture has been denied to people with visual impairments; now the technology is available to turn that situation around.

In addition, media providers who offer video description of their programming reinforce the message that they are committed to all of their viewers. In sum, providing video description is the right thing to do!

The tables, charts and text that follow illustrate much of the information the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) has gathered about the blind and visually impaired audience for television and video. These findings clarify the similarities and differences between this audience and the general audience for television and video, the actions blind or visually impaired people take in order to understand and enjoy television and videos, and the reactions of this audience to video description. Although the blind and visually impaired audience watches TV and videos about as much as the general population (Table 2, p. 9), they have to work harder at it (Table 3, p. 11) and get less out of the experience (Chart 2, p. 8) --and they get less than they could with video description (Chart 4, p. 13, Chart 11, p. 23, Chart 12, p. 24, and Table 5, p. 25). The American Foundation for the Blind hopes this report provides information and inspiration to those who can help ensure that blind and visually impaired people will have much better access in the near future to the popular culture and to the educational benefits transmitted through television and videos.

WHO IS INCLUDED IN THIS CHARTBOOK?

This chartbook gives you information from three sources:

1. The primary "target" population; that is, blind and visually impaired people in the general population. Information about this group was gathered via telephone interview with a sample of persons who identified themselves as having visual difficulties watching television. These people generally had not experienced video description and were not familiar with what it is and how it works. This study will be referred to as "AFB's Household Survey."

AFB's Household Survey sample was made up of 417 individuals, of whom 4% reported having no useable vision, 16% reported very limited useable vision, 35% reported some useable vision and 44% reported considerable useable vision. (Because of the small number in the first two groups, we combined those with no useable vision and very limited useable vision for statistical purposes.) This sample's median age category was 45 to 54 years; 78% of the sample were women; 91% were white; 46% had some college (17% had college degrees); 60% of those under age 65 were employed; the median income reported was $12,500 to $29,999; and 41% reported they had other disabilities.

Because of the disproportionate number of women in this sample, all findings were examined for differences between men and women. Where statistically significant differences for gender were found, these differences are noted.

2. Blind and visually impaired individuals who generally had previously experienced video description. Information about these individuals was gathered via a written survey (in large print and braille) sent to individuals on a mailing list for the "DVS(r) Guide," a publication that includes programming information for Descriptive Video Service, one of the two large providers of video description. Most had specifically asked to be placed on the mailing list. This study will be referred to as "AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey."

AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey sample was made up of 884 individuals, of whom 43% reported having no useable vision, 30% very limited, 18% some, and 9% considerable useable vision. For this sample, the median age category was 55 to 64 years; 58% were women; 93% were white; 68% had some college (43% had college degrees); 47% of those under age 65 were employed; median household income was $12,500 to $29,999; and 49% reported having other disabilities.

The two AFB samples differ from each other in various important ways. While similar on race, income, and presence of other disabilities, AFB's Household Survey sample had a much smaller percentage of respondents with no useable vision or very limited, compared to AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey sample. The latter sample included a larger percentage of men, and respondents were somewhat older, had more education, and were somewhat less likely to be employed. The demographic differences between these two groups, as well as the fact that most respondents to AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey were "self-selected" in the sense of choosing to be on DVS(r)'s mailing list, should be kept in mind when comparing results of these two surveys.

In comparison to statistics gathered in the National Health Interview Survey, representing the nation's non-institutionalized population, (conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), both of AFB's samples were made up of a somewhat older population of blind and visually impaired persons, who were more likely to be white and female, and who were more likely to have had some college. Although the National Health Interview Survey measures visual impairment differently from the two AFB surveys, the numbers offer evidence that AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey included a much higher proportion of people with no useable vision or very limited useable vision than is found in the national population of blind and visually impaired people.

3. The general U.S. population (with and without disabilities), gathered from national studies, including those conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, Nielsen Media Research, and Roper Starch Worldwide, Inc.

In addition to these three main sources, information from various other studies were used, where relevant.

TABLES AND CHARTS

TABLE 1. Size of the Blind and Visually Impaired Population in the United States Who Are Likely to Benefit from Video Description Compared to the General U.S. Population (Estimated From the National Health Interview Survey, Average 1989-1994)

[This table has 3 columns: Vision Category, Size of Population, Percent of Population]

Blind in Both Eyes, 497,500, 0.2%
Other Visually Impaired, 5,957,200, 2.4%
Not Visually Impaired, 244,162,300, 97.4%
Total Population, 250,617,000, 100.0%

Table 1 and Chart 1, p. 6, present the size and demographics of the blind and visually impaired population who are likely to benefit from video description, compared to the general U.S. population. They are based on the National Health Interview Survey for the years 1989-1994 (UCSF/RRTC, 1996). In order to estimate who would be likely to benefit from video description, AFB included all individuals who reported that they were blind or visually impaired in both eyes, or who had a visual condition that caused "activity limitations" (for example, a visual condition that kept them from working or limited the kind of work or amount of work they did). People who reported being deaf in both ears were excluded since they would not benefit from video description. Finally, to keep these figures conservative, people whose only reported visual impairment was color blindness were also excluded. (It is not clear that people who are only color blind would benefit from video description, although description may benefit them in viewing situations where color is extremely important; for example, watching sports where the teams wear different color uniforms.)

  • Approximately 3% of the nation's population are blind or visually impaired people who can benefit from description.
  • People who are blind in both eyes are a small portion, less than one-tenth, of all those who are visually impaired and likely to benefit from description.

CHART 1. Demographics of the Blind and Visually Impaired Population in the United States Who Are Likely to Benefit from Video Description Compared to the General U.S. Population (Estimated From the National Health Interview Survey, Average 1989-1994)

[This page has three sets of three pie charts. There is an individual pie chart representing the percentage distribution for the age, gender, and employment status of people in each of three visual status categories:]

People who are blind in both eyes:

Age: (less than 34) 20% ; (35-54) 25%; (55 plus) 55%.
Gender: (men) 48%; (women) 52%.
Employment Status (ages 18-64 only): (employed) 40%; (not employed) 60%.

Other visually impaired people:

Age: (less than 34) 28%; (35-54) 28%; (55 plus) 44%.
Gender: (men) 63%; (women) 37%.
Employment Status (ages 18-64 only): (employed) 69%; (not employed) 31%.

General U.S. population:

Age: (less than 34) 54%; (35-54) 26%; (55 plus) 20%.
Gender: (men) 48%; (women) 52%.
Employment Status (ages 18-64 only): (employed) 75%; (not employed) 25%.

Age

  • People who are blind or visually impaired are disproportionately in the older age group, compared to the general population. This contrast is even more striking among those who are blind in both eyes.

Gender

  • While the gender distribution of people who are blind in both eyes is similar to the general population, those with other visual impairments are more likely to be men. However, among those 65 years and over, women predominate. (Not shown)

Employment (ages 18-64 years)

  • People in the typical working age group who are blind or visually impaired are less likely to be employed than are other people.
  • The employment rate is much lower for people who are blind in both eyes than for people with other visual impairments.

CHART 2. Ways That Vision Problems Affect Respondents' Television Watching* (AFB's Household Survey)

[This page has three horizontal bar charts showing that of the survey sample (N=417), 97% "Have Trouble Seeing Details on a TV Screen;" 64% say they "Very Often" or "Fairly Often" Miss Information Available to Others; 56% say they "Have Other Visual Difficulties Watching TV (other than seeing details)."]

*Each bar refers to the entire sample.

Respondents to AFB's Household Survey said they had trouble seeing, even when wearing eyeglasses or contacts. They reported varied types of difficulty watching television, as follows:

  • 97% of respondents reported having trouble seeing details on a TV screen from several feet away.
  • 64% reported being aware "very often" or "fairly often" that, while watching TV, they are missing information that is available to others without visual impairments.
  • 56% reported having visual difficulties watching television, other than seeing details (e.g., tunnel vision or other kinds of limited visual span).

TABLE 2. TV/VCR/Cable Ownership and Usage by Respondents Compared to General Population Surveys (AFB's Household Survey)

[This table has three columns labeled: TV/VCR/Cable Ownership and Usage; Percent of Visually Impaired Survey Participants (N=417); Percent of General Population (N varies from about 2,000 to 4,000).]

Percent who own television; 99%; 99%(A) / 98%(B).
Percent who own VCR; 83%; 85%(A) / 80%(B).
Percent who have cable; 68%; 64%(B).
Percent who rent, borrow, or buy videos (of those who own a VCR); 81%*; 79%(C)**.
Percent who rent, borrow, or buy videos one or more times per week (of those who own a VCR); 26%; 31%(C)**.
Percent who watch television at least 2 or 3 times per week; 97%; 95%(A).
Mean number of hours of television watched per week; 24hrs; 29hrs (B).

A=Roper (1995)
B=Nielsen (1995)
C=Roper (1994)

* In this sample, men and women differed significantly on this variable. While 86% of women reported renting, borrowing, or buying videos, only 65% of men reported doing so.

**The 1994 Roper survey asked only about video rental. Presumably, this percentage would be somewhat higher if it had also included buying and borrowing videos.

A series of questions about use of television and video was asked in AFB's Household Survey. Also shown, for comparison, are statistics for similar questions from national studies of general populations.

  • The respondents to AFB's study were very similar to the general U.S. population in how much they used television and video and in the equipment they owned.
  • Despite their visual impairments, virtually all survey participants owned a television set and watched TV at least 2 or 3 times a week.
  • Similarly, considering computers as other visual technologies, respondents were about as likely as the general U.S. population to own personal computers (29%), use personal computers (38%), and to use online services or the Internet (12%). (Not shown)

A study conducted by Nielsen Media Research for Narrative Television Network* (NTN) obtained results similar to AFB's Household Survey: 94% of their visually impaired respondents watched television at least once a day and 66% had cable television. In addition, 23% of those having cable subscribed to premium channels. However, Nielsen found lower percentages owning VCRs (58%) and renting movies (46%). This may be due to the fact that the respondents in the NTN/Nielsen study had lower levels of employment and lower household income than did those in AFB's Household Survey. (NTN/Nielsen unpublished study, 1996)(Not shown)

*The Executive Summary of the NTN/Nielsen study is available from Narrative Television Network. See Conclusion and Resources, p 29.

AFB's Household Survey respondents also indicated they used other information and entertainment sources (books, magazines, radio, newspapers) to a similar degree as those in the general U.S. population (Roper, 1995). Among AFB's respondents, those with better vision were more likely to use newspapers, magazines, and books, but were no more likely to use television and radio than those with poorer vision. While respondents in all vision groups used radio more for entertainment than information, those with poorer vision relied on radio for information to a greater extent than did those with better vision. (Not shown)

TABLE 3. Actions Taken by Respondents to Increase Their Understanding and Enjoyment of Television Shows, According to Amount of Useable Vision (AFB's Household Survey)

[This table has 4 columns: Action to Increase Understanding and Enjoyment of Television; Very Limited or No Useable Vision (N=80); Some Useable Vision (N=147); Considerable Useable Vision (N=190).]

Ask others questions about what's happening on screen; 64%; 56%; 55%.
Sit closer to TV set; 42%; 51%; 44%.
Tape shows so that you can re-watch certain portions; 38%; 48%; 38%.
Adjust picture using contrast or hue buttons; 21%; 33%; 33%.
Tape shows so you can watch later with someone who can answer questions; 31%; 24%; 16%.
Other actions; 16%; 16%; 10%.

AFB's Household Survey respondents reported various actions they took in order to access television and video.

  • The action taken most often by people at all levels of visual impairment was to ask questions of others, a way of trying to get at what video description is designed to provide.

  • VCR-taping of television shows helped visually impaired viewers in two distinct ways: 1) to watch segments over again that they had trouble following; and 2) to watch shows at a later time with a sighted person who could explain the parts they would otherwise miss. Those with poorer vision were most likely to do the latter.

  • Other actions respondents took to increase their understanding and enjoyment of television included watching shows with video description, buying a larger television or a magnification screen, and using devices such as prescription binoculars.

CHART 3. Importance of Impromptu Description to Respondents' Enjoyment of Television, According to Age (AFB's Household Survey)

[This page has a vertical bar chart with three bars, and illustrates the percentage of people in each of three categories who found impromptu description "Very Important or Somewhat Important" to Enjoyment. The first column labeled "18-34 Years of Age (N=41)" shows 71%; the second column "35-54 Years of Age (N=88)" shows 89%; the third column "55+ Years of Age (N=90)" shows 91%.]

People who are blind or visually impaired watch television alone as well as with other people, as do others in the general U.S. population. When a person who is blind or visually impaired watches with others, viewing companions who are sighted (or less visually impaired) may describe some of the visual elements of programming to help the visually impaired person follow the show (impromptu description).

  • Respondents to AFB's Household Survey, at all ages, found impromptu description important to enjoyment of programming.
  • The percentage of survey respondents who mostly watched television alone increased sharply with age; 14% of respondents under 34 watched television alone most of the time, compared with 20% of those 35 to 54, and 46% of those over age 55. (Not shown)
  • A majority in all age categories who did watch television with others had other people describe to them at least some of the time. (Not shown)
  • Similarly, the NTN/Nielsen study found that 50% of visually impaired respondents generally watched television by themselves, and that 78% reported that others helped them "with the visual aspects of programming." (NTN/Nielsen unpublished study, 1996) (Not shown)
  • Having other people describe television shows became even more important to visually impaired people in the oldest age group. Because older people are less likely to have others available to describe to them, feelings of social isolation may be increased; being able to follow programming because of added video description may increase their ability to socialize.

CHART 4. Respondents Who Had Heard About or Experienced Video Description (AFB's Household Survey) (N=417)

[This page has a pie chart showing that 87% of the sample had not heard of video description, that 6% had heard of it but not experienced it, and that 7% had both heard of and experienced it.]

CHART 5. Respondents Who Had Experienced Video Description (AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey) (N=885)

[This page has a pie chart showing that 34% of the sample had not experienced of video description, and that 66% had experienced it.]

Very few people in AFB's Household Survey were aware that video description offered a solution to their viewing problems.

Although video description has been available on television and videos since the late 1980s, the amount of programming offered has been limited. In addition, broadcast television and cable television with added video description have been available only in certain geographic areas.

  • Only a small percentage (13%) of AFB's Household Survey respondents had heard of video description, and only 7% had actually experienced it.

  • Similarly, in the NTN/Nielsen study, only 11% had heard of video description. (NTN/Nielsen unpublished study, 1996). (Not shown)

  • In AFB's Household Survey sample, more men than women reported being severely visually impaired; this pattern may be due to the survey circumstances (see Technical Appendix, p. 31). Consistent with this, more men than women in this sample reported having heard about video description (24% versus 10%) or experienced video description (18% versus 4%). (Not shown)

  • Limited awareness of video description among the respondents was reflected in misunderstandings by many regarding how video description works and whether they might benefit from it. (This point is discussed in relation to Table 4, p. 15.)

In contrast to respondents in AFB's Household Survey, most respondents to AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey (66%) had actually experienced video description either on television or on videotape.

  • Respondents to the DVS(r) Guide Users Survey were not asked whether they had "heard about" video description since all were on the DVS(r) Guide mailing list. Even though they were on the mailing list, a third had never actually experienced video description.

  • Among all respondents to AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey, 35% had experienced video description on both television and videotapes, 18% had experienced it on TV only, and 13% had experienced it on videotapes only.

TABLE 4. Receptivity of Respondents to Video Description, According to Amount of Useable Vision (AFB's Household Survey)

[This table has three columns: Receptivity to watching a tv show or video with description compared to one without description;
Very Little or No Useable Vision (N=77); Some or Considerable Useable Vision (N=333).]

Would be "somewhat more likely" or "much more likely" to watch TV/video with description; 44%; 36%.

Would be "somewhat less likely" or "much less likely" to watch TV/video with description because respondent:*

  • Doesn't enjoy or doesn't watch television or videos; 16%; 9%.
  • Doesn't feel his/her visual impairment is severe enough to need description; 9%; 14%.
  • Doesn't feel he/she needs it (not specifically because of level of vision); 14%; 13%.
  • Believes that description will be distracting, irritating, or annoying; 21%; 24%.
  • Has a clear misconception about description; 12%; 15%.
  • Doesn't like others describing; 9%; 6%.
  • (Miscellaneous reasons); 9%; 8%.
  • (No reason given or not codeable); 14%; 15%.

*Some respondents gave more than one reason.

Interviewers read to participants in AFB's Household Survey a three-sentence capsule explanation of what video description is. Respondents were then asked how likely they would be to watch television or videos with description, rather than without description. Since only 7% of the sample had actually experienced description, the question required respondents to make a "large leap" from the brief explanation to determining how likely they actually would be to use the technique. Despite the question being highly speculative, a large number of respondents indicated great interest in using this technique, especially those with poorer vision, and those who were younger. Examining the reasons the other respondents gave for not being interested revealed that they held numerous misconceptions about video description.

  • People with different amounts of vision who said they would not prefer description differed from each other mainly on two of the reasons they had given: those with poorer vision were less likely to watch or enjoy TV or videos, and those with better vision were more likely to feel that their visual impairment was not severe enough to need description.

  • Those who are older were more likely to say that they did not prefer description because they did not watch or did not enjoy television or videos, or because they didn't feel they needed description, but did not specifically say it was because of their visual impairment. In fact, older respondents to AFB's Household Survey did have lower levels of vision than those who were younger. (Not shown)

  • Misconceptions about video description included the belief that viewers would be charged money to receive television description services; that special equipment is required to receive description for television and videos; that the describer "talks over" and directly interferes with the program dialogue; and that viewers would not be able to tell which voices were the description and which ones were the program audio.

  • The largest percentage of respondents not interested in description believed that it would be distracting, irritating, or annoying. It is likely that these views also reflected misconceptions, and that once respondents actually experience video description, most would not find this to be the case. (See Chart 7, p. 19.)

  • Several respondents were candid enough (or aware enough) to explain that they were not interested in using anything that made them appear different because of their disability.

CHART 6. Likelihood That Respondents (Most with No Video Description Experience) Would Watch Television or Videos with Description, According to Amount of Useable Vision (AFB's Household Survey)

[This page has a chart containing three vertical bars illustrating the percentage of respondents in each of three categories who said they were "Much More Likely or Somewhat More Likely" to watch television or videos with description. Those in the category "blind or very limited useable vision (N=77):" 44%; those with "some useable vision (N=145):" 42%; those with "considerable useable vision (N=188):" 31%.]

Given the amount of misunderstanding of video description by respondents to AFB's Household Survey illustrated in Table 4, p. 15, it is understandable that 62% of them said that they would be "somewhat less likely" or "much less likely" to watch television or videos with description.

Studies show that people tend to be conservative at first about adopting new media technology; however, after a period of time, acceptance becomes quite rapid. This has been the case for adoption of television in general, color television, VCRs, and cable television (Klopfenstein, 1989). The idea of video description is completely new to many people, and they are hesitant about its possibilities and its drawbacks. However, the evidence indicates that after their initial hesitation, blind and visually impaired people strongly appreciate the value of description.

  • Data gathered in an AFB study for the National Science Foundation (NSF) shows that blind and visually impaired participants who had never before seen video description gave positive evaluations of it after they experienced it. Ninety-three percent of these participants found description "interesting;" also, 93% found it "informative;" 71% found it "enjoyable;" 61% found it was "not confusing" (Schmeidler & Kirchner, 1996). (Not shown)

  • Further examination of the AFB-NSF data, comparing people with varied amounts of experience with description, shows that those who had more experience with description found it more enjoyable and less confusing than those with less experience. (Not shown)

  • Interviews with service providers of video description, conducted by AFB as part of this study, provided evidence of many blind and visually impaired persons who, before they experienced description, believed that it was something they would not like; after they actually experienced it, however, their opinions changed drastically and they became strong advocates for the technique. (Not shown)

CHART 7. Likelihood That Respondents with Video Description Experience Would Watch Television or Videos with Description, According to Amount of Useable Vision (AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey)

[This page has a chart containing three vertical bars illustrating the percentage of respondents in each of three categories who said they were "Much More Likely or Somewhat More Likely" to watch television or videos with description. Those in the category "blind or very limited useable vision (N=382):" 97%; those with "some useable vision (N=73):" 99%; those with "considerable useable vision (N=34):" 71%.]

In light of the many misconceptions by respondents to AFB's Household Survey, as well as the negative evaluations some people anticipated they would have of video description, AFB compared respondents from AFB's Household Survey, most of whom had never experienced description, with those respondents from AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey who had actually experienced description.

  • In stark contrast, respondents from the DVS(r) Guide Users Survey who had actually experienced description were overwhelmingly more likely to want to watch television and videos with added description than were those in AFB's Household Survey, most of whom had never experienced description. Of course, people who were on DVS(r)'s mailing list to receive the DVS(r) Guide were likely to be people already interested in description. However, the AFB-NSF study demonstrated (not shown) that study participants became enthusiastic about description after they experienced it for the first time.

  • Overall, people with considerable useable vision were somewhat less likely than those with poorer vision to want added description.

  • Older people were less likely to want to watch television and videos with added description in both AFB's Household Survey and AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey, although the age pattern was less pronounced in the latter. (Not shown)

CHART 8. Length of Time Respondents Had Known About Video Description (AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey) (N=848)

[This page has a pie chart showing the following percentages for four categories of length of time respondents had known about video description: "Less than six months": 7%; "Six months up to one year:" 9%; "One year up to two years:" 35%; "Two years or more:" 49%.]

Respondents to AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey were asked how long ago they first heard about video description, and how they had heard about it.

  • Respondents had known about video description for a long time; almost half (49%) knew about it for more than two years, and only 16% had heard of it only within the past year.

  • The most common way respondents heard about description was through a friend or relative (42%), or from a publication (42%). Only 17% had heard on television that a show was described, and only 13% had found it on TV by chance. (Some respondents gave multiple answers.) (Not shown)

CHART 9. Respondents' Perceptions of How Often Description Interferes with Fully Sighted People's Enjoyment of Programming (AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey) (N=415)

[This page has a pie chart showing the following percentages for four categories reflecting how often respondents perceived description as interfering: "Always Interferes:" 3%; "Often Interferes:" 10%; Rarely Interferes: 39%; Never Interferes: 48%.]

Respondents to AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey, who had experienced video description while watching with others who did not have visual impairments, were asked how often they felt description interfered with the sighted person's enjoyment.

  • Among the 51% who had experienced description while watching TV or videos with people who were fully sighted, 87% said that description never or rarely interfered with the enjoyment of the programming for sighted people. Ten percent said it interfered "often," and 3% said it "always" interfered.

  • People with more useable vision were more likely to say description "rarely" interfered, in contrast with "never" interfered. That is, they were slightly more likely to think there was occasional interference. (Not shown)

CHART 10. Ways Respondents Acquired Videotapes with Description (AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey)

[This page has three horizontal bar charts showing that of the survey sample (N=378), 73% "rented or borrowed videos with description;" 49% "bought videos with description;" 30% "received videos with description as gift."

Almost half the respondents to AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey had experienced videotapes with description (48%). (Not shown) Chart 10 is based on the 378 respondents who answered a question about how they had acquired videos with description.

  • Of those who had seen videos with description, 73% had borrowed or rented one or more videos, 49% had bought one or more, and 30% had received one or more as a gift (those who obtained videos in multiple ways were counted in each category).

  • It is noteworthy that almost half of those who had experienced videos with description had purchased a tape.

CHART 11. Amount of Information Respondents Obtained From Video Description, According to Amount of Useable Vision (AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey)

[This page has a line chart showing a similar pattern for the amount of information obtained from video description for four groups: "blind, no useable vision (N=277);" "very limited useable vision (N=148)," "some useable vision (N=81)," "considerable useable vision (N=36)." The pattern shows the percentages of respondents very high around the category "just the right amount of information," and very low in the four surrounding categories. The percentages making up the chart are as follows for the groups "blind, no useable vision;" "very limited useable vision;" "some useable vision;" "considerable useable vision:"

far too little; 3; 1; 1; 8.
somewhat too little; 5; 11; 11; 17.
just the right amount; 79; 80; 78; 67.
somewhat too much; 8; 6; 7; 8.
far too much; 4; 2; 2; 0.]

Respondents to AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey were asked their opinions about the amount of information they get from video description.

  • The vast majority who had experienced description judged that description gave them "just the right amount" of information. This was true for respondents in all vision categories.

  • Those with higher levels of useable vision were, perhaps surprisingly, somewhat more likely to say they got too little information from video description; it may be that those with some vision want greater detail about the things they notice on the screen that are not described, while those less able to see rely more on the verbal description to alert them to what is important on the screen.

CHART 12. Importance of Video Description to Respondents' Enjoyment, According to Amount of Useable Vision (AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey)

[This page has a chart containing four vertical bars illustrating the percentage of respondents in each of four categories who said that the importance of video description to enjoyment was "Very Important or Somewhat Important." Those in the category "blind, no useable vision (N=284):" 96%; those with "very limited useable vision (N=151): 94%; those with "some useable vision (N=83):" 95%; those with "considerable useable vision (N=38):" 74%.]

Those respondents to AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey who had experienced video description were asked how important they felt it was to their enjoyment of programming.

  • The overwhelming majority of respondents, in all vision categories, felt that description was "very important" or "somewhat important" to their enjoyment of television programs or videos.

  • Respondents with considerable useable vision were less likely to say that description was important to their enjoyment. It is likely that individuals in this category already were able to see a lot of what video description focuses on, while wishing for greater detail about different aspects they had trouble seeing. This is supported by the data in Chart 11, p. 23, showing that people with better vision were somewhat more likely to say they got too little information from description than were those with poorer vision.

TABLE 5. Benefits of Video Description as Perceived by Respondents Who Have Experienced Description (AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey)

[This table has two columns: Perceived Benefit; Percentage of Answers (Total N=586)]

Enhances the television/video viewing experience overall, 92%
Enhances the learning experience of television/video, 77%
Enhances the social experience of television/video, 76%

Respondents to AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey were given a series of statements regarding possible benefits of video description, and were asked to indicate which items applied to them. They were also asked to write in benefits not listed on the questionnaire. Their answers fell into three distinct categories: description enhances 1) the viewing experience, 2) the learning experience, and 3) the social experience of television and videos. Table 5 shows the percentage of respondents who agreed with at least one item in each of these three categories. (This analysis included only those people in the sample who had actually experienced description.)

  • Almost all respondents (92%) selected at least one benefit relating to the enhancement of the television/video viewing experience, which included "understanding programs better," "getting needed information," "enjoying programs alone," and "watching programs they might otherwise not have watched." The benefit selected most often by respondents was the ability to understand programs better.

  • More than three-quarters of respondents selected at least one benefit relating to the learning experience of television/video, which included "learning more in general," "learning more about the visual world," "about body language," and "about current dress and styles."

  • Also, more than three-quarters of respondents selected at least one benefit relating to the social experience one derives from television/video viewing. These items included "being able to watch the same programs others watch," "talking socially about programming," "feeling more at ease in social situations," and "having more enjoyment watching with family and friends."

  • Fully 95% of respondents cited a benefit in at least one of the three broad categories, and more than two-thirds (68%) cited benefits in all three of these categories.

  • The benefit cited most often by respondents who opted to add items to those provided was "not having to ask other people questions while watching television and videos."

TABLE 6. Television Genres That Respondents* Would Like to Have Described, Ranked According to DVS(r) Guide Users' Selections (AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey and AFB's Household Survey)

*Responses to this question were analyzed only for those people who said they would be "much more likely" or "somewhat more likely" to watch television shows with description.

[This table has three columns: Television Genres; DVS(r) Guide Users (N=706); Household Survey (N=160).]

Dramas or Mysteries, 85%, 83%
Nature or Science, 67%, 72%
News and Information, 61%, 68%
Comedies, 59%, 77%
Music Programs or Videos, 40%, 44%
Sports, 37%, 26%
Game Shows, 26%, 41%
Daytime Soap Operas, 21%, 28%
Talk Shows, 20%, 29%
Shopping Programs, 16%, 12%
Children's Programs, 15%, 38%
Other, 14%, 11%

Respondents to AFB's Household Survey who said they would be more likely to watch a television show with description were asked which genres they would like to have described. In AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey, all respondents were asked this question. For purposes of comparison, this table includes only those in both groups who said they would be more likely to watch a television show with description.

  • In answering this question, it is likely that respondents took into consideration both how important they thought description would be to a particular genre, as well as how much they enjoyed that genre.

  • The results from the two samples differed somewhat. While "dramas or mysteries," "nature or science," "news and information," and "comedies" were chosen by high percentages of both, a much greater percentage of respondents to AFB's Household Survey chose comedies than did respondents to AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey. It is possible that the higher education or somewhat older age of the latter group contributed to this difference.

  • One other very large difference was the greater desire of AFB's Household Survey respondents to have children's programming described. This is to be expected as respondents in that group were much more likely to have children living at home (31% versus 13%), in turn a result of AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey respondents being older. (Not shown) Since the children in these homes are probably not themselves visually impaired, this finding suggests that visually impaired parents want better comprehension of what their children are viewing.

  • Gender differences in programming preferences that emerged in these groups were in the same direction as would be expected in the general population (e.g, more men wanted to have sports described; more women wanted description of soap operas). Men also were more likely to want to have news and information programming described. (Not shown)

TABLE 7. Video Genres That Respondents* Would Like to Have Described, Ranked According to DVS(r) Guide Users' Selections (AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey and AFB's Household Survey)

*Responses to this question were analyzed only for those people who said they would be "much more likely" or "somewhat more likely" to watch videos with description.

[This table has three columns: Video Genres; DVS(r) Guide Users (N=729); Household Survey (N=163).]

Serious Dramas, 78%, 70%
Documentaries, 69%, 71%
Classic Films, 69%, 55%
Comedies, 68%, 72%
Action and Adventure, 65%, 73%
Musicals, 55%, 54%
Music and Concert Videos, 41%, 53%
Exercise and Fitness, 27%, 14%
Sports, 25%, 24%
Adult (X-rated), 22%, 9%
Children's Movies and Cartoons, 20%, 41%
Foreign Films, 19%, 10%
Other, 11%, 7%

As in Table 6, p. 26, this table includes only those respondents who said they would be more likely to watch a video with description.

  • Overall, participants preferred most to have serious dramas, documentaries, classic films, comedies, and action and adventure films described

  • As was found for television genres (Table 6, p. 26), the results show that respondents in AFB's Household Survey were much more interested in description for children's programming than were those in AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey, consistent with the difference in percentage of children living at home.

  • The large difference in preference for description of X-rated films may have been due to the fact that AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey was filled out anonymously, whereas AFB's Household Survey was conducted over telephone by interviewers.

  • As for television genres, gender differences in programming preferences emerged in these groups in the same direction as would be expected in the general population (e.g, more men wanted to see sports videos, action films, and X-rated films described; more women wanted description of serious dramas). (Not shown)

  • Also, as for television genres, it is likely that in answering this question, respondents took into consideration both the importance of description for a particular genre and their own enjoyment of the genre.

CONCLUSION AND RESOURCES

This chartbook has provided you with information you can use about the blind and visually impaired audience for television and video, and about video description. The resources below can answer questions you may have and can help you put to use the information you have acquired.

The American Foundation for the Blind's research has demonstrated that people with visual impairments (about 3% of the population) watch television and videos about as often as those who are not visually impaired. The data show that visually impaired people have an interest in gaining access to television and videos through the technique of video description, and that individuals who are familiar with video description obtain numerous benefits from it.

You now have an opportunity to play a role in ensuring that blind and visually impaired people can be full participants in experiencing all that television and videos have to offer.

American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)
11 Penn Plaza, Suite 300
New York, NY 10001
Phone: (212) 502-7600
(800) AFB-LINE
Web site: www.afb.org

Descriptive Video Service(r) (DVS)(r)
WGBH

125 Western Avenue
Boston, MA 02134
Phone: (617) 492-2777 x 3490
(800) 333-1203 (for pre-recorded information)
Web site: http://www.wgbh.org/dvs

Narrative Television Network (NTN)
5840 South Memorial Drive, Suite 312
Tulsa, Oklahoma 74145-9082
Phone: (918) 627-1000

U.S. Department of Education
Office of Special Education Programs
600 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, DC 20202-2731
Phone: (202) 205-8475
http://www.ed.gov/offices/OSERS/OSEP/links.html

TECHNICAL APPENDIX

The following sections report technical details of data collection and analysis used for this chartbook. For additional information, please contact the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). (See Conclusion and Resources, p. 29, for contact information.)

National Prevalence Estimate of Visual Impairment: National Health Interview Survey

The National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) is an annual survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a federal agency. Each year, approximately 50,000 households (125,000 individuals) are surveyed and one-sixth of the sample is asked a series of questions about blindness and visual impairment, as well as other impairments. The questions asked in this survey since 1982 are:

Does anyone in the family now have blindness in one or both eyes? Cataracts? Glaucoma? Color blindness? A detached retina or any other condition of the retina? Any other trouble seeing with one or both eyes EVEN when wearing eyeglasses?

If the respondent answers "yes" to any of these questions, additional items are asked. Depending upon the respondents' answers, individuals are coded in one of several categories including "blind in both eyes," "visual impairment in both eyes," "blind or visually impaired in one eye only," and various other medical condition categories such as "cataract" or "glaucoma." Individuals with color blindness are coded as visually impaired in both eyes.

Each year approximately 1,200 people are coded as visually impaired. These sample data are weighted in order to arrive at estimated statistics on visual impairment for the population of the United States. (Note that NHIS includes only the civilian, non-institutionalized population.)

A special analysis of NHIS data was conducted for AFB by the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Disability Statistics, at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF/RRTC, 1996). This special analysis combined data from 1989 through 1994, in order to approximate the number of blind or visually impaired persons in the United States who might benefit from video description. It was necessary to combine several years of data because in each year the number who are blind is too small to make reliable estimates of their demographic characteristics.

AFB's figure is somewhat conservative, as it eliminated from the NHIS figures all individuals who are deaf in both ears, and those whose only visual impairment was color blindness, as well as those individuals who had particular visual conditions but who also said that their impairment did not cause any limitations in their daily activities (e.g., work, housework, or personal care).

Characteristics of the Audience for Video Description

AFB's Household Survey

A major challenge of AFB's research on video description was obtaining a sample of visually impaired people to interview who were not necessarily affiliated with "the blindness system." Many studies of the blind and visually impaired population have used groups of people who have some affiliation because it is easier and less expensive than community-based sampling to study people who are already identified as visually impaired. Unfortunately, these samples are often biased, as people affiliated with those groups may differ in important ways from others who are visually impaired.

People affiliated with blindness-related organizations are more likely to be familiar with video description than those who are not, and therefore it was particularly important for AFB's Household Survey to identify visually impaired persons in a way that avoided that bias. (Note that although the National Health Interview Survey avoids this bias, it did not ask questions about media usage and video description and could therefore not provide information most relevant for this chartbook.)

With this challenge in mind, AFB decided to contract with a market research firm that utilizes an "omnibus mail survey;" that is, they regularly survey several hundred-thousand families who, as a group, closely match the demographics of the United States population in various important ways (e.g., age, gender, household size, annual household income, and geographic area), and who have agreed to be surveyed occasionally by mail and telephone. Because of the low prevalence of visual impairment, it was important to start with a very large number of households in order to end up with several hundred visually impaired people for the final set of analyses, and particularly to end up with a sufficient number of people to analyze who had no useable vision or very limited useable vision (a small minority of the total population of blind and visually impaired persons).

AFB provided a carefully pre-tested set of four questions for a mail questionnaire that was sent to 150,000 households, and followed up with a telephone screening of 2,023 individuals, of whom 417 made it through a tightly targeted set of screening questions.

Considerations in Using a Mail Survey - Using a printed mail survey to identify visually impaired persons has obvious inherent problems. However, mail respondents were asked about every member of their household, so that a sighted household member would identify visually impaired members on the questionnaire.

There would still seem to be a problem in households (including one-person households) where every person is visually impaired. Every household in the omnibus sample had agreed beforehand to answer mail surveys periodically, so any households where all members are visually impaired (likely a very small percentage of households) would already have some way to have the survey read and answered. Some blind people pay for reader services and others use volunteers from agencies, or use family members or friends to help read their mail. Since most visually impaired people do have some degree of vision, many may be able to read the survey themselves using special devices.

However, households where every person is visually impaired would probably be less likely to agree to be in a mail omnibus panel to begin with. Therefore, households made up only of visually impaired adults probably are underrepresented here; it is likely that these are households that would especially benefit from video description.

Survey Questions and Responses - There are numerous ways to define visual impairment; thus, depending on the exact wording of the questions asked, different groups of people meet the criteria. Because this study focused on the issue of video description, the survey questions focused on whether individuals specifically had trouble with the activity of television watching due to their vision. The questions on the mail omnibus survey were the following, in "yes" or "no" format:

Do you or any person living in your household, age 18 or older:

  1. Experience color blindness?

  2. Have trouble seeing, EVEN when wearing eyeglasses or contact lenses?

  3. have trouble seeing, or have any visual condition, that would, EVEN when wearing eyeglasses or contact lenses, affect the ability to see details on a TV screen from several feet away?

  4. have trouble seeing, or have any visual condition, that would, EVEN when wearing eyeglasses or contact lenses, cause any other difficulty watching or enjoying TV?

Of the 150,000 households that were mailed a questionnaire, 107,764 returned the survey (72%). Seventeen percent of households responded affirmatively to at least one of the four questions. Excluding those with color blindness, 9% answered at least one of the other three questions affirmatively. For the telephone follow-up, AFB focused on the 6% who answered affirmatively to Question 2 as well as to either Question 3 or Question 4. It is not possible to determine whether a pattern of mail survey answers from a particular household reflects more than one person with a visual impairment, e.g., an affirmative answer to question 1 and 3 may reflect one household member who is color blind and has trouble seeing the details on a TV screen; it may also reflect two (or more) individuals, one (or more) with color blindness and the other(s) with trouble seeing details. For the telephone follow-up, AFB constructed a rigorous screening to determine the pattern for each visually impaired member of a household, and to determine whether the person's initially reported visual impairment was severe enough for him/her to be included in AFB's Household Survey.

Follow-up Screening by Telephone - To be included, AFB required that individuals had indicated that they had trouble seeing and that they had trouble seeing details on a TV screen or other visual difficulties watching and enjoying television. In addition, a series of telephone screening questions was created for the purpose of targeting those who would most likely benefit from video description.

The specific questions follow; which of these were asked of each respondent depended on the specific pattern of answers, as did the outcome of the algorithm which selected or rejected participants. Questions screened out those who said they would have no vision problems if they got a new prescription for eyeglasses, as well as those whose pattern of answers indicated that they had few or no visual problems related to television watching. The following questions were in "yes" or "no" format unless indicated otherwise:

  1. Do you experience color blindness?

  2. Do you have trouble seeing, EVEN when wearing eyeglasses or contact lenses?

  3. Do you have trouble seeing, or have any visual condition, that would, EVEN when wearing eyeglasses or contact lenses, affect the ability to see details on a TV screen from several feet away?

  4. Do you have trouble seeing, or have any visual condition, that would, EVEN when wearing eyeglasses or contact lenses, cause any other difficulty watching or enjoying television?

  5. Please tell me which of the following best describes your vision, while wearing eyeglasses or contact lenses, if you use them: blind, no useful vision; very limited useful vision; some useful vision; considerable useful vision; no visual impairment.

  6. Are you legally blind?

  7. How much would you say you rely on your vision for reading, as opposed to methods such as Talking Books or having others read to you? Do you use your vision: a great deal; a moderate amount; a little; not at all.

  8. How much would you say you rely on your vision for watching television? Do you use your vision: a great deal; a moderate amount; a little; not at all.

  9. When you watch TV programs, how often do you feel you're missing information that is available to people who do not have visual impairments: very often; fairly often; seldom; never.

  10. Do you think that with (new) eyeglasses or contact lenses you would still have trouble seeing, or have any difficulty watching or enjoying television because of your vision?

A telephone follow-up necessarily excluded those persons who were deaf, which was not seen as a major drawback as this group is not likely to benefit from video description.

AFB's DVS(r) Guide Users Survey

AFB anticipated that a large percentage of respondents to AFB's Household Survey would not have been familiar with video description, and therefore would not be able to provide reliable information about experiences with it. In order to be able to target a large sample of people familiar with description, AFB utilized a mailing list maintained by Descriptive Video Service(r) (DVS(r)), one of the two largest providers of video description in the United States. This mailing list included people who regularly receive the "DVS(r) Guide," a periodic publication that contains information about DVS(r)'s television programming schedule and news about DVS(r), such as described videos that are becoming available.

Out of 12,799 individuals on the list, we systematically sampled 2,408 individuals who regularly receive the DVS(r) Guide in large print (approximately 22% of the large print list) and 600 who regularly receive it in braille (approximately 31% of the braille list), oversampling braille users in order to yield a large enough sample for analysis. Although participants were mailed a questionnaire in the same format (large print or braille) in which they get the DVS(r) Guide, all participants were informed that they could receive the other format by calling an 800-number. After sending an initial questionnaire, a postcard followup, and a second copy of the questionnaire over a four-month period (August 1995 - November 1995), we achieved a final response rate of 42% for both formats (after accounting for undeliverable surveys), and a 37% survey completion rate (36% for large print, 40% for braille).

Of 1,058 completed surveys, 78 who indicated that they did not have a visual impairment or who did not answer the vision question were dropped as were surveys that were completed by respondents under 18 years old. After excluding these two groups, a sample size of 885 remained for analysis.

Data Analysis

In many cases data were not analyzed separately because the sample numbers were too small (e.g., the number of respondents with no useable vision in the Household Survey) and were either not reported or were collapsed with closely-related data in order to increase their reliability.

All data were examined by level of visual impairment, and by other variables of interest where relevant. Because a disproportionate number of respondents in AFB's Household Survey were women (78% women and 22% men), all variables were examined for statistical differences on gender. Chi-square goodness-of-fit tests were calculated for categorical data, and t-tests for continuous variables. However, chi-square and t-tests showing significance for gender may have been confounded with degree of visual impairment because in this sample more men than women reported being severely visually impaired. As a precaution, where statistical significance was found for gender at the .05 level, these data were then subjected to multiple and logistic regression analyses in order to control for differences in vision level to determine whether gender contributed to the variance independently of visual differences. These significant differences are noted in the text.

The anomaly of having a disproportionate number of women in AFB's Household Survey, and of the men being more severely visually impaired may be explained by two factors. The omnibus survey sample consists of households in which one person has agreed to answer surveys, and the vast majority of these are women. Those willing to participate in the overall omnibus survey may also be inclined to want to participate in smaller surveys that result from the omnibus. Therefore, in their effort to participate, these respondents may have a lower identification "threshold" that makes them more likely to fit the characteristics of interest. Other household members who do not have a propensity toward participating in surveys may be less likely to feel they fit the characteristics of interest; their impairment would have to be more severe for them to report about it and thereby meet the criteria to be interviewed. In addition, men in general seem to be less likely to identify themselves as having an illness or impairment. According to Verbrugge (1987), women more readily report problems with health status than do men, not necessarily reflecting only differences in physical status, but also differences in perception of symptoms and health reporting behavior. Women are also more likely to report disabilities, and may remember their health problems more accurately than do men.

REFERENCES

Klopfenstein, B.C. (1989). The diffusion of the VCR in the United States. In Levy, M.R. (Ed.), The VCR Age: Home Video and Mass Communication. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

McNeil, J.M. (1993). Americans with Disabilities: 1991-92. U.S. Bureau of the Census. Current Population Reports, P70-33. Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Nielsen Media Research. (1995). Personal Communication, Alina Dinca, 3/7/97, regarding data from summer 1995. New York.

NTN/Nielsen unpublished study. (1996). Conducted for Narrative Television Network by Nielsen Media Research, New York.

Papazian, E. (1996). TV Dimensions '96. NY: Media Dynamics Inc.

Roper Starch Worldwide (1994). Roper Report 94-9. NY: Author.

Roper Starch Worldwide (1995). Roper Report 95-10. NY: Author.

Schmeidler, E. & Kirchner, C. (1996). Adding audio description to television science programs: Impact on legally blind viewers. Final Report of Grant #ESI-9253447, National Science Foundation. New York: American Foundation for the Blind.

UCSF/RRTC. (1996). Special analysis of survey data from the National Health Interview Survey, conducted for AFB by Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Disability Statistics, University of California, San Francisco.

Verbrugge, L. (1987). Sex differentials in health and mortality. Women and Health, 12(2), p. 103-145.

ABOUT THE AMERICAN FOUNDATION FOR THE BLIND

A non-profit organization founded in 1921 and recognized as Helen Keller's cause in the United States, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is a leading national resource for people who are blind or visually impaired, the organizations that serve them, and the general public. AFB has its headquarters in New York City and offices in Washington DC, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and San Francisco.

The mission of the American Foundation for the Blind is to enable people who are blind or visually impaired to achieve equality of access and opportunity that will ensure freedom of choice in their lives. AFB fulfills this mission through four primary areas of activity regarding the non-medical aspects of blindness and visual impairment:

Information: Development, Collection, and Dissemination

Information Center - Responds to inquiries using AFB's expertise and resources including the M.C. Migel Library, the world's largest reference collection on blindness and visual impairment, and the Helen Keller archives.

AFB Press - Publishes books, pamphlets, videos and the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, the leading professional journal of its kind.

Critical Issues: Identification, Analysis, and Resolution

Takes a leadership role in collaboration with key constituents in addressing the most significant issues facing people who are blind or visually impaired. Conducts, evaluates, and publishes policy research that positively affects the quality of life of people who are blind or visually impaired. Illustrations of critical issues include: the staggering unemployment rate; the declining use of braille in education; and barriers to accessing the information superhighway.

Advocacy: Education of the Public and Policymakers

Public Education - Increases public awareness of the capabilities and needs of people who are blind or visually impaired through the media and other communication channels.

Public Policy - Represents the interests of people who are blind or visually impaired in the formulation and implementation of legislation.

Talking Books: Production of Audio Materials

Records and duplicates books and other printed materials for the Library of Congress and various corporations and organizations.

[The inside back cover page has the following quotes scattered throughout in various typefaces and shades of green:]

Now that I have had description for a few programs and movies, I look forward to the time when it is available for any and all TV and movie viewing. Not only does it add to the independence of blind people, but it is the best way of getting the information we miss.

Description came along and I realized how much I'd been missing and how much more I could appreciate TV programs and movies.

With the help of video description, I have a much easier time enjoying programming with long periods of silence. Without it, I quickly lose my sense of what's going on, and either switch channels or change to another activity.

Having experienced description and very much enjoyed it, it has become more desirable to have it available each time I watch anything on TV. It far surpasses having to fill in the pieces or make guesses.

Being legally blind most of my life I never realized how many details I was missing out on when I watched TV. I really enjoy seeing it as it is meant to be seen by all.

Description makes TV watching more meaningful and enjoyable.

I feel that a barrier exists between the blind and the seeing world due to the lack of described TV.

We don't have to ask questions anymore. Thanks to whoever thought of described tapes.

I think that described TV is the greatest thing that happened. All programs should have description!

I do not know how I would do without it again.

[end of inside back cover]

[The outside back cover has an AFB logo, along with the words "American Foundation for the Blind".]

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