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Broadcasters ‘dragging their heels’ over subtitles on catch-up TV services

Friday, August 21st 2015 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

Deaf and blind charities are calling for other broadcasters to follow the BBC’s lead in producing accessible TV content.

Earlier this week, the BBC announced that audio description – commentary describing what is happening on screen – was being made available to viewers watching iPlayer on a TV set.

The service was already available on computers, mobiles and tablets, while subtitles are available for all pre-recorded programmes on the catch-up service.

Sonali Rai, audio description executive at RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People), said: “Audio description enhances the television and film viewing experience for users, and enables blind and partially-sighted people to access and enjoy films and TV programmes.

“We are pleased to see the BBC continuing to deliver on its commitment to the accessibility of their content across devices and platforms.

“We urge the rest of the industry to increase the amount of audio description they provide on their online and catch-up services.”

A campaign to stop deaf and blind people being excluded from on-demand TV content was launched by Action on Hearing Loss in June.

Subtitle It! calls for the government to introduce subtitling and audio description targets for on-demand content.

Rob Burley, Action for Hearing Loss’s head of public affairs and campaigns, said: “The BBC is the first broadcaster to subtitle across such a huge range of devices, and they consistently lead the way in producing content that’s accessible for people with a hearing loss.

'Too many mistakes'

“We’re calling on other broadcasters to follow suit, to bring the new platforms that they own into the 21st century so that the millions of people in the UK who rely on subtitles can enjoy the same viewing experience as everyone else gets to.”

Susan Daniels, chief executive at the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS), said: “People now watch TV in a range of different ways including on mobile devices and via catch-up services. Deaf young people are often frustrated at not being able to access this content.

“The BBC has led the way in making programmes on iPlayer accessible, although there are still too many mistakes in subtitles and some web content has no subtitling at all.

"Other broadcasters and on-demand services are really dragging their heels and should make rapid improvements so their content is accessible for deaf people.”

The Subtitle It! campaign was the subject of a Private Members Bill submitted by Labour MP Lilian Greenwood and has its second reading in the House of Commons on 20 November.

Action for Hearing Loss does not expect the bill to progress beyond this stage, but sees it as an opportunity to raise the profile of the issue.

The campaign has also seen more than 3,000 people sign a petition asking digital minister Ed Vaizey to stick to his promise to review the provision of subtitles, audio description and sign language – known as access services – for on-demand content in 2016.

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