Sensory loss charities urgently call on Government to make on-demand TV content accessible.
In 2017, the Government were given the power to regulate video on demand (VoD) services and set minimum levels for subtitled, audio described and signed content. However, four years later and nothing has been done.
The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and National hearing loss charity, RNID, have been campaigning for improvements in access to on-demand TV since 2015, which subsequently led to changes in the law in 2017. Yet, no action has been taken.
Broadcaster Relationship and Audio Description Manager at RNIB, Sonali Rai, said: "Video on demand services have become increasingly popular over the years. We are extremely concerned that not enough has been done to improve the viewer experience for blind and partially sighted people. Time and time again, people with sight loss have been overlooked when it comes to accessibility of programmes by VoD providers. We urgently need the Government to take action and ensure that blind and partially sighted viewers have access to the same programmes as their sighted peers."
Following two public consultations from the media regulator, Ofcom, the Government now has the final recommendations for making on-demand services more accessible. With these recommendations, we should see 80% of on-demand contact with the option of subtitles, 10% with audio description (AD) and 5% with signing.
With 60% of those with hearing loss having experienced challenges with the accuracy, availability and timing of subtitles and 42% of blind and partially sighted people disagreeing or unsure if improvements had been made since these recommendations, the sensory loss charities are uniting again to ensure that more is done.
According to the 2020 Ofcom Access Services Report, between January and December, of the providers who responded to Ofcom's data request, currently, 36.2% don't offer any subtitles, 83.3% don't offer any audio description, and 88.6% don't provide any signing.
Reece Finnegan, a 25-year-old from London, was born with the sight condition retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and has been registered blind since he was a young teenager. He said: "When audio description is done well, it genuinely transforms my viewing experience. Unfortunately, there are still so many shows that have no such option. As a result of this, I've found I have to avoid programmes I would otherwise love to watch simply because I know I won't be able to understand what's going on without AD."
Meanwhile, Michelle Hedley, a 49-year-old from Northumberland with severe to profound hearing loss in both ears, shared her experience. "If the law was implemented so that far more on-demand content have subtitles, it would mean that I have the freedom to choose what and when I want to watch just like everyone else. It would mean that I can have more family times where we watch TV together without struggling to find something we all like and has subtitles," said Michelle.
RNIB and RNID continue to fight and encourage the Government to act now to help create an inclusive society for deaf and blind communities to have access to the same content as everyone else.