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Ofcom investigating ways to improve on-screen TV guides for blind people

Wednesday, July 22nd 2015 by Ellen Branagh

Telecoms regulator Ofcom has launched a consultation on ways to make on-screen TV guides more accessible to visually-impaired people.

Despite research suggestions that people with visual impairments watch a similar amount of TV as other people, Ofcom said on-screen TV guides are often difficult for them to use.

Difficulties in using the guides to plan their viewing means that visually-impaired people can often find their choice of viewing unnecessarily restricted, it said.

The regulator is now looking into how those who make the guides, known as Electronic Programme Guides (EPGs), can work with manufacturers to provide better accessibility features.

It plans to amend the code of practice for EPGs to allow people with visual impairments to make better use of them.

The move follows a call for input and feedback from interested parties including the RNIB and EPG providers, so Ofcom can take that into account before deciding whether to proceed with a series of proposed improvements.

They include allowing visually-impaired viewers to have EPG information on channels, programmes and navigation menus read out as speech, to help them navigate the guide and choose programmes to watch or record.

Ofcom is also looking into magnifying parts of the EPG display, or increasing the size of text, to make it easier to read, as well as allowing people to view the guide in a high contrast display.

Another possible improvement could be to highlight or list separately programmes with audio description or signing, making these easier to find.

'Great idea in practice'

Musician Andre Louis, who is blind, welcomed the suggestions.

He told Cable.co.uk: “This is a great idea in practice. I sincerely hope they can talk the talk and walk the walk.

“The idea of channel-announcement is nice but should of course be optional.

“Better accessibility to audio description is always welcome and definitely needed – many have access, but even more do not.”

Mr Louis has previously called for a simpler system to access audio description, which he said plays “second fiddle” to subtitling, which is accessible by the simple press of a button.

He has suggested something like a “long-press of the captions button” which he said would only require a software update rather than new hardware.

Last month, Ofcom set out which TV channels would have to provide subtitles, signing or audio description on a percentage of their programming in 2016.

83 UK channels, accounting for 90% of the UK’s TV audience share, will be required to provide access services in 2016.

Most channels will have to provide subtitles for 80% of their programming, audio description for 10% and signing for 5%.

The BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky (excluding Sky’s sports channels) have committed to audio describing 20% of their content rather than the statutory 10%.

Cable.co.uk has previously reported on calls by deaf and blind campaigners for access services targets to be applied to on-demand content.

The closing date for responses to Ofcom’s consultation is 30 September 2015.

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