High on the superstar’s wish list: Increased video description services.

Yes, you heard it right! Stevie Wonder, the legendary songwriter and recording artist, made the rounds, live and in person, at the FCC recently. He met with the Chairman and the other four Commissioners to advocate for greater availability of audio description services to provide better access for the blind to television programming. Mr. Wonder noted that he can go to his choice of movies in many theaters today and get a headset that delivers video description; but when the same movies are shown on television, the video description is absent. Captioned television for viewers with impaired hearing has made great strides over the years, and it’s time for video description to make similar progress.

Mr. Wonder believes that the availability of video description can be increased by taking advantage of screenplay information already created for most staged productions. The process of turning that information into audio description can be automated. Prominent personalities, with Mr. Wonder himself taking the lead, could provide their voices, so that machines could read descriptions of the action on the screen and translate them into the listener’s choice of a celebrity voice. Video description might even be downloaded into a smartphone and have the smartphone “listen” to the audio dialog and synchronize the video description to the audio.

If the process can be automated sufficiently, the hope is to drive production costs down to minimal levels; and downloading video description over the Internet would eliminate the need to use data capacity in a TV or cable channel. Mr. Wonder hopes that modern technology can make video description so practical and cost-effective that the video industry will voluntarily embrace it, without regulatory compulsion, in much less time than it has taken for captioning to reach today’s widespread distribution.

FHH’s Peter Tannenwald escorted Mr. Wonder during his visit to the FCC. It was a memorable day. After the FCC sessions, Mr. Wonder was kind enough to visit our offices, where cameras clicked, and he even serenaded our Firm Administrator. He invited a few of us to join his entourage for a vegan dinner, reported in the Washington Post.

Peter has worked with Mr. Wonder for almost 35 years. He prepared the initial petition that led the FCC to adopt captioning rules some 40 years ago, helped establish the National Captioning Institute, has worked on increasing cellphone compatibility with hearing aids, and now looks forward to helping Mr. Wonder realize his dream of making television programming more accessible to the blind.