Disneyland introduces new Audio Description service
by, 11-08-2009 at 03:05 PM (2696 Views)
The Disneyland Resort has a new service for guests with visual impairments, the Audio Description device. The PDA-sized device is worn on a lanyard around the neck, and comes with a headphones. When the user enters the queue of a designated attraction, a transmitter activates the device, and a recorded voice describes the attraction or show in real time. The device works at 19 attractions and shows in Disneyland and DCA, including most of the Fantasyland "dark rides" like Peter Pan's Flight and Snow White's Scary Adventures. I tested the device last week to see how it worked, and how well the spoken narration described the actual ride.
The device is fairly lightweight, and was not uncomfortable to wear. The provided brochure recommended holding the device chest-high, so the device could clearly receive the signal from the transmitters concealed at the attractions. I quickly spotted the transmitter inside the queue for Pinocchio's Daring Journey, and it looks to be the same type of transmitter used to run the Pal Mickey device at Walt Disney World. If so, the transmitter does not actually "supply" the audio description as stated in the brochure, but simply notifies the device to begin playing a specific, pre-recorded description once it receives that signal.
Once the device recognized I was at Snow White's Scary Adventures, the recording began by describing the outside of the building, including the fact that the Evil Queen peered out from a window above the entrance. The description was incredibly detailed, to the point of reading the text of the storybook at the entrance to the queue, and encouraging me to touch the apple to hear the Old Hag cackle. Unfortunately the recording began after I had already entered the queue and was well past the book. The line was quite short that day, and the description cut off mid-sentence when the device had received the signal from the next transmitter in the ride. The narration was extremely detailed in some places, even describing the colors of Snow White's dress and the musical instruments held by each Dwarf. The narration ended abruptly in the middle of the scary forest, and there was no further description of the end of the ride. Since some complain that the ride's story also ends very abruptly, perhaps this was intentional and not a glitch. Just to make sure, I rode again, and the narration ended in exactly the same spot.
The description of Pinocchio's Daring Journey includes a detailed description of the ride vehicles themselves - down to the carved figures on each one - and descriptions of the art seen in the queue. I noted that the male narrator was very emphatic in his descriptions, as if each sentence ended with an exclamation point. The female narrator who recorded the descriptions for other attractions was a little less intense.
I was curious how the device would describe Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters, since this is not only a highly visual ride but includes a video game element that someone with total vision loss would be unable to experience. The audio description described the murals in the queue and the animatronic Buzz Lightyear figure, and provided instructions to "aim for the Z," and volunteered that some targets are worth more when lit. The narration also explained that the ride uses a moving walkway to board the ride vehicle, but did not mention that the vehicle would be to the left of the walkway, something I thought might be helpful. Throughout the ride, the device described each scene, in many cases providing details I normally overlook in my quests for high score.
I wanted to see how the device worked when used on an attraction that already has live narration, but Storybook Land Canal Boats were closed for refurbishment. Instead, I visited Honey, I Shrunk the Audience to see how the device would enhance a film-based attraction. Audio Description is also offered on It's Tough to be a Bug, Muppet*Vision 3D and Turtle Talk with Crush, as well as the Enchanted Tiki Room. My device did not activate until the show started, and I had feared it wasn't going to work at all. The narrator described many of the 3D elements of the show, and the audio description was well coordinated with the film's dialogue so the narrator rarely spoke over a character.
My final ride was the Disneyland Railroad. I boarded at the Tomorrowland station, and the device was quiet until we entered the first tunnel. However, once we reached the Main Street Station, the device launched into a lengthy recording, with narration that included everything from the architecture and decor of the Main Street Station (down to the wood trim and wall paper) to the costumes worn by the Cast Members, and even the difference between a Holiday and an Excursion-type train. If you use the Audio Description device, I highly recommend that you board at the Main Street Station to get the full benefit of the description.
The device is extremely easy to use (the only buttons the user ever needs to press are the easy-to-identify volume up/down buttons), and fairly comfortable to wear. The headphones began to bother me after a while, and so I simply removed them between rides. Like Pal Mickey, the device vibrates for a moment before it begins playing the recorded dialogue, giving you enough time to put the headphones on. I found the descriptions quite detailed in most cases, and when I closed my eyes, definitely preferable to riding along with no idea what was going on around me.
I would have liked to be able to replay dialogue I missed or was cut short (in several cases, the device interrupted itself when it sensed the next transmitter). In the example of Snow White's Scary Adventures, it would have been wonderful if the narration had begun while I was still outside the attraction, and could fully experience what was being described to me. Of course, this is a necessary limitation of the system - if the transmitter activated the device when you simply walked by it, taking a shortcut through Fantasyland would trigger a half-dozen recordings. Perhaps one of the buttons on the device could be programmed as a "skip" button, so you could terminate a recording you didn't want to hear. Minor quibbles aside, this is an impressive new option for Disneyland visitors, and hopefully descriptions of even more attractions will be added to the service in the near future.
The Audio Description device is one of three services available to visitors with visual impairments, and can be checked out from either Disneyland's City Hall or the Guest Relations Lobby inside Disney's California Adventure. A refundable deposit of $100 is required to check out the device. You can use the device at both theme parks, but must return it to the park where it was checked out. Since Disneyland usually has longer operating hours, it's probably best to check out the device from Disneyland if you plan to do any park-hopping.
Braille guidebooks are available for both Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure, and include brief descriptions of each ride, show, restaurant and shop. Guidebooks are available at Disneyland's City Hall or the Guest Relations Lobby at DCA, and may be checked out with a $20 refundable deposit. Digital Audio Tours of Disneyland and DCA are available using the same handheld device, and offer an general overview of each park, designed to provide a sense of direction and a brief description of attractions and services. Digital audio devices can be checked out from Disneyland's City Hall or the Guest Relations Lobby at DCA, and a refundable deposit of $100 is required.