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Deaf and blind TV viewers face 'exclusion' from catch-up services

Monday, December 21st 2015 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

Deaf and blind people will be “digitally excluded” from catching up with their favourite TV shows this Christmas, charities have claimed.

Action on Hearing Loss and RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) are calling for government legislation to make on-demand TV services more accessible.

They want to see legal requirements for on-demand services to include accessibility measures like subtitling or audio description – a spoken narrative that describes the action taking place on screen.

Figures released by the Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD) show that only four catch-up TV services offer any audio description, with one providing audio description on just 0.4% of its output.

ATVOD’s annual report also revealed that 76% of the UK’s on-demand services provide no subtitles.

RNIB said the lack of a legal requirement is behind the continuing low level of audio description on on-demand TV services.

It pointed out that some traditional broadcast TV channels, which are regulated, have audio description on 20% of programmes.

Steve Tyler, the charity’s head of solutions, strategy and planning, said: “It is high time that the government legislated to require audio description for on-demand TV services, just like it did some years ago for broadcast TV.”

“To the frustrated viewer there is no logic to there being audio description on a programme being broadcast tonight at 7pm, and yet none for that same programme if they try to watch it on catch-up TV the next day,” said Mr Tyler.

“The government said in 2013 that it would consider legislating as of 2016, if on-demand TV had not become significantly more accessible.

“This ATVOD report is clear evidence of a lack of progress towards that goal, so we urge the government to draw up legislation on the matter next year.”


Action on Hearing Loss CEO Paul Breckell, said: “This year ‘binge-watch’ was named word of the year, which highlights the monumental shift in the way we watch television.

“But over Christmas if someone with hearing loss wants to catch up on the Downton Abbey festive special, depending on which subscription service they use, they will struggle to watch it with subtitles meaning that unless they watch the episode when it’s first broadcast they are likely to miss it altogether.”

Mr Breckell said regulation is the only option to ensure the provision of subtitles is consistent across all on-demand providers.

He added: “While it’s encouraging to see some new developments with some of the major platforms due to improve their subtitling provision, it still means thousands of people with hearing loss will be digitally excluded this Christmas.”

ATVOD said the accessibility of programmes has improved across platforms including games consoles, connected TV apps, YouView and other set top boxes, but CEO Pete Johnson urged major television platforms and content providers to “work together to address the relative inaccessibility of these platforms to those with disabilities relating to sight and/or hearing”.

He added: “We have had no powers to compel VOD providers to become accessible, but have been committed to doing everything we can to encourage and assist them to make real progress by 2016 when government has indicated it will review the situation.”

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