UK regulator begins consultation on speaking TV program guides

Wednesday, 16 July 2014 12:04pm

The UK communications regulator, Ofcom, has begun a consultation process in which it is asking for feedback on how electronic program guides (EPGs) with a ‘text-to-speech’ function would benefit blind or vision impaired people, and how feasible it is to introduce them.

In its discussion paper, ‘Speaking TV programme guides’, Ofcom notes that it has a duty to provide guidance on the practices involved in the provision of EPGs. “These practices must include the incorporation of such features as Ofcom considers appropriate for ensuring that people with disabilities affecting their sight or hearing (or both) may use EPGs for the same purposes as other people, so far as practicable.”

EPG providers in the UK have already provided some accessibility features, including high contrast displays, choice of colours and the ability to magnify text. There are also some TVs on the market in the UK and Australia, such as some Panasonic models, and some apps, which will read out at least some of the text of EPGs. However, no free-to-air or subscription service offers EPGs with text-to-speech that is available on all devices.

At a roundtable convened by Ofcom in April with consumers and EPG providers, it heard that blind or vision impaired people find EPGs difficult or impossible to use. According to industry representatives, “Technology did not pose a particular constraint to the introduction of speaking EPGs, although some existing platforms might be subject to technical constraints, at least in the short term. However, the main barrier was commercial – the incentives on manufacturers and service providers to enable speaking EPGs were quite weak, as other features would produce a better commercial return.”

Ofcom’s consultation paper can be downloaded in a variety of formats, including an audio version. The closing date for written views and comments is 8 September 2014.

Last year, Media Access Australia issued a report, Electronic Program Guides and Accessibility, which looked at how EPGs in Australia display caption and audio description, and how well they work with screen readers.

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