NCBI trials app offering cinema audio description for those with sight loss

7 Oct 2019

Image: © aerogondo/

The Earcatch app has already been rolled out in The Netherlands and Belgium, where it has made the cinema experience more accessible for more than 20,000 people.

From Saturday (12 October), the National Council for the Blind Ireland (NCBI) will be partnering with Bartimeus Foundation to test an app that provides audio descriptions of movies to smartphones.

The Earcatch app, which makes films accessible to those who are blind and vision-impaired, adds a verbal description between the dialogue so that cinemagoers can follow what’s happening on screen.

To use the app, the user needs a smartphone and a headset. The NCBI explained that the audio description track for a film can be downloaded in advance of the screening, and so no internet connection is needed during the screening.

As soon as a user hits the play button, a unique digital fingerprint is made of the ambient sound. Within seconds, the app will recognise which part of the film is on screen and it will play the corresponding audio description automatically over the headset.

The app has already been rolled out across The Netherlands and Belgium, where it is used by more than 20,000 people at more than 1,300 screens.

Irish cinema trial

From Saturday, the Earcatch app will be trialled in Ireland for the first time during the DreamWorks film Abominable at its 2pm screening at Movies @ Dundrum. Tickets to that screening are free for people with sight loss and their families and friends, and reservations can be made through Earcatch.

The test will then run for four weeks, during which time people can use the app to watch Abominable in any cinema in Ireland. Feedback from users is welcomed.

June Tinsley, NCBI head of communications, said: “NCBI is very excited about the possibilities Earcatch gives to people with sight loss to make their cinematic experience far more inclusive and accessible.

“Presently, many people who are blind or visually impaired do not go to cinemas as only a handful of Irish cinemas have the facilities in place to offer audio description.”

Michael O’Sullivan, a Cork-based cinema fan who is eagerly awaiting the test of Earcatch, said: “Dublin is the nearest cinema to me that offers audio description so that’s a whole day gone to watch a film. It’s great I’ll be able to go to any cinema I want with this new app.”

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic