Accessible media for people with sight loss: TechShare Pro 2019

The RNIB's Sonali Rai (far left) reflects on developments in making digital multimedia accessible to people with sight loss, in this Guest Blog.

A picture of the panellists featuring Sonali Rai, far leftOver time, we've seen momentum build towards making video accessible to people with sight loss including the growth in audio-described content. 

Services like Netflix and Apple+ are providing access tracks across of the majority their original content, with Prime Video following suit.

According to the Ofcom Access Services Report of 2018, about 25 per cent of content was broadcast with audio description on TV in the UK with BBC, ITV and Channel 4 leading the way on their streaming services in addition to linear broadcast. 

Download session transcripts and view additional session content

Shifting expectations around audio descriptions for accessibility

A picture of iPlayer with Audio Descriptions highightedLast year, we celebrated 25 years of audio description on broadcast TV. It is also 15 years since we saw the first UK theatrical release with description, Harry Poter and the Philosopher's Stone.

Steady progress on the delivery of tracks on content has meant that we now have a generation that has grown up with an audio description and that refuses to waste time on content that is not made accessible for them.

What is also helping immensely is that the user group is more vocal now than ever before.

Legislation prompting audio descriptions

Expectation is one of the motivators behind the movement. However, the UK is also benefitting significantly from legislation notably the UK Communications Act of 2003 while the US introduced CVAA (21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act 2010).

UK broadcasters have been required to audio describe 10-20 per cent of their programming, depending on their license and other voluntary commitments negotiated by the UK Government, for some time now. Following the launch of US Services such as Netflix and Apple+, which deliver audio description on a large part of their shared US content [because of CVAA], the UK Providers are now in a rush to fix the accessibility of their own non-linear delivery channels.

The recent Ofcom report shows there has been remarkable progress to meet these needs, particularly by ITV Hub and All4.   

Still, most providers attributed the recent progress and increase in accessibility to innovation and meeting user requirements rather than legislation.

Sarah Herrlinger, Director of Accessibility, Apple, mentioned that compliance rarely inspired true innovation with rest of panellists agreeing that viewer experience was paramount in driving the efforts.

However, legislation could also be a great leveller and give those broadcasters that have resisted calls for accessibility and audio description the much-needed push to finally take the plunge.

We need to monitor how much multimedia material is accessible

During our session, we also heard from Nigel Meggitt, Executive Product Manager, BBC, who talked about the need for greater transparency where, in the future, providers would be supporting each other by making their usage data available for the wider industry.

For example, how much of BBC content on Netflix is watched with audio description and subtitles?

If the usage is high, then it might encourage other providers to make their content available with access features as well, and if it isn’t high enough then is there a piece of work to be done to understand the reasons for this lack of engagement? 

In either case, users of access features would benefit from greater transparency.

Supporting viewer experiencesColour photo of Mariana Lopez

One of our other panellists, Mariana Lopez from the University of York, introduced the AHRC funded Enhancing Audio Description Project.  

While there are many initiatives looking at ways to improve the viewer experience of audio description users, particularly at the role of binaural and spatial audio, Enhancing Audio Description Project was among one of the first back in 2017.

The results were promising and since then several projects have been launched to explore the benefits of AD as a storytelling technique and the narratives that develop from it. It is worth noting here that next-generation audio, which introduces more immersive sound technologies, will be available on consumer devices soon too, so it is no longer a thing of the future.

Apple+ already has AD on the Atmos mix!  

So, the time to act is now.

Audio Description and Video on Demand session video:

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