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The Trump Administration Is Behind On White House Tours For Blind Visitors

The audio description tours for blind and low vision people are not up and running yet but the administration says they're working on it. There is also some drama over a recorded introduction of Melania Trump to replace the one by Michelle Obama.

Posted on June 16, 2017, at 1:11 p.m. ET

Andrew Caballero-reynolds / AFP / Getty Images

In the early days of Obama's second term, the White House announced that audio description tours would be made available for blind and low vision visitors after a decades-long push by advocacy organizations. But concerned groups now say the Trump administration is not offering the same service to blind Americans and say they don't know who to get in touch with at the White House.

There is also another issue — the previous audio description included an introduction by former first lady Michelle Obama, and, presumably first lady Melania Trump would record a new introduction.

But a Trump administration source and sources close to the administration said the new introduction was recorded, and later scrapped because the White House did not like how Melania Trump sounded in it.

A White House official told BuzzFeed News that they are working on getting the audio description tours up and running but blind or visually impaired citizens can still receive a human-led tour by someone experienced in giving these kinds of tours.

Regarding the introduction by the first lady, the official said they're working on that, too. Asked whether it was already recorded and if there were perceived problems with Melania Trump's version of the introduction, the official did not dispute that account but reiterated that it is "in process — all I can say to you is that anyone who is visually impaired will be given a human-led tour."

A second White House official responded after publication and said the first lady never recorded an introduction.

Audio description, whether done at museums or at the White House is a professional activity, where the focus is not just on the history of the room but on describing the objects in the room and what the room looks like — making the visual verbal, experts say.

In 2010, the White House worked with groups like the American Council for the Blind to pass the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which for the first time created a legal requirement that broadcasters include a minimal number of hours of audio descriptions. In addition, White house ceremonies were audio described and stakeholder groups felt there was a real attention to visitors.

But now some of the same organizations that worked closely with the Obama White House say they are having trouble getting someone on the phone in the Trump administration. One source asked BuzzFeed News who they should reach out to.

The director of the White House visitor's office, Daniel Fisher, which manages the tours, did not respond to a BuzzFeed News request for comment.

But Eric Bridges, the executive director of the American Council of the Blind, stressed that the Trump administration shouldn't be overly criticized regarding the audio descriptions, and instead put the onus on his own organization.

"We have not formally reached out to them," he said, noting that organizations like his are constrained by capacity, staffing and resources.

Still, he too would love to hear from the Trump administration.

"We would welcome the opportunity to sit down with them," he said.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.