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Ofcom: Lack of on-demand subtitles leaving deaf and blind viewers behind

Monday, April 10th 2017 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

The lack of subtitles and audio description in on-demand programmes is leaving disabled viewers “further and further behind” according to Ofcom.

A report by the communications watchdog found that 68% of on-demand platforms didn’t provide any access services at all between April 2015 and March 2016.

And while 32% did provide some subtitling, only 6% offered audio description or signing.

Ofcom said the majority of providers who do provide subtitling do so only on their own website or mobile app.

Only 7% of providers made subtitles available on their services when viewed on a TV platform such as Sky, Virgin Media or YouView.

The report says there has been “little progress in spreading the availability of subtitles from websites to more conventional TV viewing platforms” or in making audio description available.

It also warns that “consumers with hearing and/or visual impairments are being left further and further behind, without access to content” and says the technical obstacles to providing access services are “not insurmountable”.

Ofcom will get new powers requiring on-demand broadcasters to make their programmes more accessible when the Digital Economy Bill is passed.

The House of Lords approved an amendment to the Bill in February meaning Ofcom’s regulations will no longer be limited to traditional TV channels.

'Nowhere near acceptable'

The amendment followed a lengthy campaign by deaf charity Action on Hearing Loss for on-demand services to include subtitles.

Dr Roger Wicks, the charity’s director of policy and campaigns, said the new figures illustrate the importance of the Subtitle It! campaign.

He said the number of providers making access services available had improved by 8% from the previous year, but was still “nowhere near acceptable”.

“We are looking forward to working with broadcasters and Ofcom to ensure that the new code of practice for VOD services meets the needs of people with a hearing loss so that they can enjoy catch-up TV just like their hearing peers,” said Dr Wicks.

“We also welcome the new Ofcom interactive guide, which allows consumers to see the proportion and volume of content of each service provided with subtitles so that people can make an informed decision when shopping for subscription TV services.”

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