1981, October -- For the first time anywhere, regularly scheduled audio description service for live theater performances begins at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. with Cody Pfanstiehl as the first volunteer describer. Service provided by the Metropolitan Washington Ear, Dr. Margaret Pfanstiehl, founder and president. (The non-profit Metropolitan Washington Ear provides a free radio reading service, a dial-in newspaper and magazines service throughout Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, and audio description services for major local theaters.)


1982, January -- In cooperation with PBS, the Ear, using volunteer describers, adds descriptions to American Playhouse and Nova Programs. Since this was before the SAP channel was available on TV, descriptions were distributed via radio reading services in 18 cities using the subcarrier channels of NPR radio stations. The descriptions were aired in synch with PBS television broadcasts.


1984, March -- Pfanstiehls meet with Dr. Barry Cronin, then from WGBH, to form a partnership to inaugurate description service for television. By this time SAP was available on TV to deliver video description directly to television sets. WGBH had the technical know-how and means of distribution; the Metropolitan Washington Ear had developed the art of description and had links to the low vision and blind community. "A marriage made in heaven", said Cronin.


1986 -- In Boston, the Pfansiehls train describers who wrote and voiced scripts for a local WGBH feasibility test of video description.


1987-88 -- In Ear studios in Silver Spring, Maryland, Ear's theater describers write and voice descriptions for American Playhouse PBS series for a WGBH national test.


1988, March -- Jim Stovall, founder and president of the for-profit Narrative Television Network, independently begins descriptions for movies on cable channels.


1989, December -- Pfanstiehls train first group of describers for the new Descriptive Video Service at WGBH in Boston.


1990, January -- Regularly scheduled DVS service begins.


1990, October -- National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences awards Emmys to Margaret Pfanstiehl ("for leadership and persistence in making television accessible for visually impaired people") , and to PBS, Jim Stovall and the late Gregory Frazier of

San Francisco.


1990, Fall -- Pfanstiehls train second describer group for DVS.


1994, Winter -- The Pfanstiehls begin working with Congress to promote mandating of video description and establish National Television Access Coalition of 17 national organizations concerned with blindness, low vision and aging.


1995, November -- In a trip to Hollywood arranged by the Motion Picture Association of America, with representatives from a few other organizations concerned with blindness, the Pfanstiehls visit five leading studios to discuss the studios' funding of descriptions for new video releases. This never happened.


1995 - 1999 -- Meetings with and mailings to Congress and the FCC to promote mandating video description. The American Council of the Blind and the American Foundation for the Blind become particularly active.


1999, November -- FCC announces Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for phased in approach for video description.


2000 -- Among other organizations, the Blinded Veterans of America and the Lions Clubs join in promoting the cause of mandated description for television.


2000, July -- FCC votes on rule.


1980s to present -- Audio description for live theaters and museums spreads throughout the United States and to Australia and Europe. England mandates description for television.


Pfanstiehls continue to provide describer training, work with museums and produce descriptions for National Park Service videos and other venues.

Background for FCC action July 21, 2000 on docket 99-339 concerning video description for low vision and blind people.



Audio description for low vision and blind people is the art and technique of using the natural pauses in dialog or narration during live theater performances to insert descriptions of the essential visual elements: actions, appearance of characters, body language, costumes and settings, lighting etc. Descriptions are delivered through a tiny earpiece thus permitting visually impaired people to sit anywhere in the audience.


For museums, the descriptions are blended with edited versions of the texts accompanying the exhibits. These descriptions are delivered either via audio cassettes players or random access acoustical devices.

Video Description is the art of audio description applied to television, videos and motion pictures. In Video description the credits and subtitles are voiced. Descriptions are delivered via a separate audio channel permitting TV viewers and moviegoers to hear or not hear the descriptions according to their wishes.

( Ear's website is www.washear.org) .