“Speaking” digital TV for blind people- “spec”tacular news!
For anyone doubting it, blind and partially sighted people watch TV too! To do so they use a combination of residual sight, hearing and audio description (AD). (AD is an expertly scripted narrative voiceover which describes the on-screen action between the dialogue.)
However, EBU warned as far back as 2007 in a Commission-organised conference on “eInclusion” that the switchover to digital TV would mean a switch off for blind people if action was not taken.
The fact is, the plethora of on-screen information digital TV sets carry, both about programmes and through which a viewer finds the programme they want to watch, was making digital TV much less accessible to blind people than its analogue predecessor. After all, if you cannot find a programme, any amount of AD will be of no use to you!
Several years ago therefore, the European Blind Union (EBU) and European Disability Forum (EDF) started negotiating with the TV manufacturing industry to try to achieve the dream of accessible digital television for blind and partially sighted people.
Under that initiative, chaired by the European Commission, we undertook several years of painstaking negotiations with industry representatives “DigitalEurope”.
We urged TV manufacturers to include voice synthesis technology in their new digital televisions so that they would read out loud on-screen information and allow blind people to keep enjoying TV in the digital age.
The final outcome of those meetings was agreement on a specification detailing how TV manufacturers should make their TV sets “speak”.
Fast forward to February 2013 and we have good news. The specification we agreed with DigitalEurope for “speaking” television sets has now been approved and published by standards body IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission), after excellent work by EBU expert Guido Gybels within the relevant IEC working group.
(For the technically minded the specification is available as IEC 62731:2013 from the IEC webshop.)
Some cynics might claim that this specification is just words and that this whole process would not lead to actual accessible products in the shops. However, we can point to the “talking” televisions that Panasonic makes as proof that the work has indeed already led to “speaking” TVs in the shops.