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MP backs campaign for more subtitles for on-demand TV

Wednesday, June 24th 2015 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

A campaign to stop deaf and blind people being excluded from on-demand TV content is to be discussed in the House of Commons.

Labour MP Lilian Greenwood yesterday submitted a Private Members Bill backing the Subtitle It! campaign being run by deaf charity Action on Hearing Loss.

The campaign calls on the government to introduce subtitling and audio description targets for on-demand content.

Currently, Ofcom regulations for what it calls access services only apply to traditional broadcast TV.

The Communications Act 2003 amendment seeks to introduce regulations for subtitles, audio description and signing on video-on-demand services.

Lilian Greenwood MP said: “Most of us are watching more programmes than ever on demand, but thousands of people are completely excluded from many of these services.

“There is a compelling case for updating the law and I know just how much it would mean for people with hearing loss.

“This measure has broad cross party support and I would urge the government to make the most of this opportunity for change.”

Digital exclusion

The measure has been welcomed by Action on Hearing Loss, which launched Subtitle It! earlier this month to call for end to what it calls the digital exclusion of the 7.5m people in the UK reliant on subtitles.

More than 3,000 have signed the charity’s petition, which calls for the government to review the relevant legislation next year.

Action on Hearing Loss CEO Paul Breckell said: “As technology changes, so does the way in which we watch our favourite shows and people with hearing loss have had enough of being left behind.

“Legislation played a vital role in making traditional television accessible to the 10m people in the UK with hearing loss, but it didn’t foresee the amazing development and growth in on-demand content, leaving just a fraction of it subtitled.

“We’re delighted that Lilian Greenwood has chosen to use the opportunity of being drawn in the Private Members Bill ballot to get behind our Subtitle it! campaign and to help ensure that people with hearing loss are no longer subjected to digital exclusion.”

Earlier this week, Ofcom increased the number of TV channels that will have to provide subtitles, audio description or signing on a percentage of their programming in 2016.

Susan Daniels, CEO of the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS), said it was good news for the 45,000 deaf children in the UK often left frustrated at not being able to access TV programmes.

'Rapid progress'

“However, young people now watch TV in a range of different ways so we need to see rapid progress towards greater access for ‘catch-up’ and video-on-demand services,” she told Cable.co.uk.

“Watching shows along with hearing friends, siblings and parents is crucial for deaf children and young people, which is why NDCS is supporting the Subtitle it! campaign from Action on Hearing Loss.”

Dan Pescod, campaigns manager for the RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People), said: “Blind and partially sighted people need audio description to access and enjoy television.

“RNIB therefore welcomes Ofcom's continuing commitment to this and other access services.

“We hope that broadcasters will increase the amount of audio description they provide, especially those producing video-on-demand, where the levels are currently minimal.

“We also look to television manufacturers to ensure that the electronic programme guides are accessible to blind and partially sighted people, such as through text-to-speech technology.

“After all, if you cannot find the programme you want to watch, then you cannot use the audio description that goes with it.”

Pictured is Lilian Greenwood MP (second from right) with Rob Geaney, Laura Matthews and Johanna Taylor from Action on Hearing Loss.

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