While many of you are gearing up to enjoy your favorite holiday movies, the visually-impaired will mostly be kept in the dark. Universal Multimedia Access aims to change that with MovieReading, a free app that syncs with movies to provide audio descriptions of the on-screen action.
Available on iOS and Android, MovieReading (opens in new tab) uses your device's microphone to decipher which part of the movie the viewer is watching. Prior to starting a film, users can download descriptions or audio subtitles that will play automatically through headphones once the corresponding film is detected.
We tested MovieReading with a short clip of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" after spending a few minutes downloading the supplementary audio description. After a few seconds of holding our iPhone's mic to the speakers, a robotic female voice in our earbuds began narrating the film's intro.
"The expedition pushes on through a hazy jungle," read our narrator, setting a scene for the listener as the opening credits rolled.
Our review version of MovieReading also had downloadable descriptions for "The Hunger Games," "Mile Mile and a Half," and "The Princess Bride," and the recently-released "Philomena," though the latter movie is the only one to currently offer an audio clip for the general public. All audio descriptions were free to download in our testing, but that's subject to change in the future.
Once it gains support for a wide variety of current movies, MovieReading has the potential to add some crucial context for visually-challenged cinephiles. We're not sure how well the sound of headphone narration would mesh with the sound of a large movie theater, but the app's ability to add extra audio details could help the blind or near-blind experience their favorite movies more vividly than ever.