Sample Disney’s new theme park outdoor audio description assistive technology

in Disney, Disney's Animal Kingdom, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Theme Parks, Walt Disney World

On June 27, Walt Disney World will premiere a new advancement in assistive technology allowing guests with visual disabilities to “see” theme park surroundings by way of highly-detailed audio description.

The descriptions are delivered to guests by way of Disney’s patented handheld device (pictured above), which has been in use at the Walt Disney World resort for several years. In addition to providing closed captioning and assistive listening for rides, shows, and other attractions, the device is now being updated to include the important and interesting information about outdoor theme park areas.

I had a chance to walk through Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park yesterday to preview the impressive new technology and can report that the addition of outdoor audio descriptions is going to be a life-changing experience for any visually impaired Disney fan.

Throughout this article, I’ve included audio samples of what you can expect to hear while using Disney’s handheld device. Technical note: If you have any trouble playing the samples, simply refresh this page and they should load properly after a minute or two.

Until this addition, guests with visual disabilities have often relied on travel companions and Disney’s cast members to guide them through theme parks, helping to describe their richly detailed environments. But Disney’s handheld device offers these guests a new freedom to explore and interact with their surroundings in a way never before possible.

Controls on Disney’s handheld device are simple and designed for easy tactile use. Uniquely shaped buttons for volume and audio menu selection are completely intuitive to use without the need to see them. A pair of buttons are also devoted to repeating the current location identification and to give instructions on how to use the device.

Audio Sample:

[wpaudio url=”http://www.insidethemagic.net/assistivesamples/DeviceOverview.mp3″ text=”Device Overview followed by Current Location description” dl=”0″]

The device weighs 7.2 ounces and I found that it does get a bit tiring to hold after a while, but it can hang comfortably from a user’s neck via a supplied lanyard, eliminating the need to carry it around by hand.

Disney has made the smart move to differentiate the way the audio descriptions are triggered on the handheld device when inside attractions and when walking around outside. The description available when riding, for example, Toy Story Midway Mania, is automatically triggered by the device. Audio begins playing through headphones as soon as the ride begins and is carefully timed to offer insight into what’s going on during the ride without intruding upon the existing ambient audio inside. But the pace at which a guest walks around outside in a theme park is much slower and does not require such careful timing. So rather than force-feeding guests descriptions of environments, the device simply presents options that are available whenever the guest is ready for them.

Audio Sample:

[wpaudio url=”http://www.insidethemagic.net/assistivesamples/HollywoodBlvdMainMenu.mp3″ text=”Audio Menu – Hollywood Boulevard area, Disney’s Hollywood Studios” dl=”0″]

Options within each menu include descriptions of decorative and architectural elements, available attractions in each “land,” entertainment and dining options, and even the nearest restrooms. At any time, users can skip through the available options using the left and right buttons on the handheld device. After using it for a while, the menu system becomes so familiar that it’s no longer required to listen to each option to find what is needed. Any time you hear the voice getting interrupted in the audio clips below, it’s because I chose to skip that option. Many quick descriptions also lead to additional options allowing users to hear a much longer, more detailed description of an attraction or area.

Audio Sample:

[wpaudio url=”http://www.insidethemagic.net/assistivesamples/HollywoodBlvdFullDescription.mp3″ text=”Audio Menu – Hollywood Boulevard general and detailed descriptions, Disney’s Hollywood Studios” dl=”0″]

Audio Sample:

[wpaudio url=”http://www.insidethemagic.net/assistivesamples/HollywoodBlvdAttractions.mp3″ text=”Audio Menu – Hollywood Boulevard attractions, Disney’s Hollywood Studios” dl=”0″]

Audio Sample:

[wpaudio url=”http://www.insidethemagic.net/assistivesamples/HollywoodBlvdMerchandise.mp3″ text=”Audio Menu – Hollywood Boulevard merchandise, Disney’s Hollywood Studios” dl=”0″]

Audio Sample:

[wpaudio url=”http://www.insidethemagic.net/assistivesamples/HollywoodBlvdEntertainment.mp3″ text=”Audio Menu – Hollywood Boulevard entertainment, Disney’s Hollywood Studios” dl=”0″]

Audio Sample:

[wpaudio url=”http://www.insidethemagic.net/assistivesamples/HollywoodBlvdRestaurants.mp3″ text=”Audio Menu – Hollywood Boulevard food/restaurants, Disney’s Hollywood Studios” dl=”0″]

Audio Sample:

[wpaudio url=”http://www.insidethemagic.net/assistivesamples/HollywoodBlvdRestrooms.mp3″ text=”Audio Menu – Hollywood Boulevard restrooms, Disney’s Hollywood Studios” dl=”0″]

Additional attraction-specific “pre-descriptions” are available to enable users of Disney’s handheld device to decide whether they want to visit that attraction. Here’s an example for the Great Movie Ride:

Audio Sample:

[wpaudio url=”http://www.insidethemagic.net/assistivesamples/GreatMovieRide.mp3″ text=”Audio Menu – Great Movie Ride pre-description, Disney’s Hollywood Studios” dl=”0″]

These pre-descriptions, as well as many of the more thorough area descriptions, often contain so much specific information about the area that even I discovered new details about Hollywood Studios – and I’ve been there hundreds of times!

The audio clips above give you a good sense of what using Disney’s handheld assistive technology device is all about. Coupled with the already rich ambient audio that fills Disney’s theme parks, the new technology rounds out the experience for anyone who is unable to see their surroundings and is sure to delight anyone who uses it.

Disney’s handheld device may be picked up for free (with a refundable deposit) at Guest Relations within Walt Disney World’s theme parks. Plans are to roll this technology out to the Disneyland Resort in California in 2011.

To hear even more audio samples from Disney’s assistive technology, including a complete ride-through of Toy Story Midway Mania and the first scene of Disney/Pixar’s new film Toy Story 3 both featuring audio descriptions, listen to Show #273 of the Inside the Magic podcast, to be released on Sunday, June 27 right here at InsideTheMagic.net. The podcast will also feature interviews with Greg Hale, chief safety officer and vice president of Worldwide Safety and Accessibility for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts, and Larry Goldberg, director of media access at WGBH Boston, which worked directly with Disney to help create the descriptions featured in the handheld device. I’ll update this post when the show is available.

4 Comments

  1. Awesome Ricky!!! 🙂

    I posted a link on my blog Dizneluver’s World esp since Disney and disabilities are my things 🙂

    Keep up the GREAT work!

    Kelly DeBardelaben < 🙂

    Dizneluver's World (www.dizneluver.wordpress.com)

  2. Alan

    What I don’t understand is, why didn’t Disney just build this as an iPhone app? That way everyone could use it, with their own headphones and their own device; without having to carry additional equipment around the parks. I mean, what’s so special about Disney’s “patented handheld device”? What can it do that an iPhone and an iPod touch can’t?

    Also, not many people know that Figment is a purple dinosaur… because he’s not, he’s a dragon. Little heads up there for the guy you interviewed 🙂

    1. Ricky Brigante

      I’d imagine that Disney wanted to have complete control over the experience. The tactile buttons are a bit part of it too, which the iPhone lacks. The ease of navigation is very important if you aren’t able to see the device.

      And yes, Figment is a dragon. I’m sure he just misspoke. 😉

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