From today, Freeview is rolling out an Accessible TV Guide across a range of its devices.
The guide is designed to make the process of browsing through channels for people with accessibility needs – such as visual impairments or hearing loss – much easier through the use of text-to-speech navigation, design alterations and filtering programmes by those with subtitles, audio descriptions and sign-language interpreters.
At launch, the guide will be available across roughly 50% of devices in the UK, with the aim to roll out to more across the coming months. Freeview has worked with numerous charities to develop these features, including the
Scope and the
Digital Accessibility Centre. The company has also conducted testing on the platform with an expert user who is registered blind to ensure that the features work in practice.
Granular details include a high contrast colour design that’s easier to view, paired with zoomed in text. The layout of the guide has also been altered from a grid format to a chronological list of shows and movies on each channel tab. Users will be able to choose from the majority of channels included on Freeview, exceptions including adult content.
In addition to this, Freeview is also working on recommendations for on-demand content, filtered by user’s accessibility needs. However, this particular feature won’t roll out until sometime in 2021.
Whilst this is quite a wait, accessibility for on-demand content has been a struggle for a long time with British television. A
2018 Ofcom report states that though legally traditional broadcast television must make a specific percentage of content accessible for those with hearing or visual issues, the same standards do not apply to on-demand services.
Consequently, it means it’s a lot harder for viewers with impairments to stream or watch content on demand.
The Radio Times delved into this, finding that a large percentage of streaming platforms had no subtitles available on any of their programmes – with the exception of larger companies such as Netflix.
Fortunately, these figures will soon become a thing of the past. Ofcom has stated that within the next few years, on-demand services must offer subtitles on 80% of their catalogues, audio descriptions on 10% and sign language interpretation on 5%.
The rollout of the Freeview Accessible TV Guide will also set a precedent to other TV services to research into how they can improve their own navigational features.
Of course, Freeview isn’t the first TV service to work on accessibility. Sky made a partnership with the
BSLZone back in November 2019, which is hosting (and continuingly adding) shows and movies that feature interpreters for British Sign Language – this was done in partnership with the British Sign Language Broadcasting Trust (BSLBT).
The BSLZone has been providing content since 2009 both online and at selected times on Film4 and Together TV. The BSLBT offers independent commercial broadcasters the option to host programmes with BSL interpreters included.
BT offers users the option to switch the menu to a high contrast colour scheme for easier viewing, as well as zooming when you’re in the main menu and guide.
Roku also offers an audio guide for navigating through the user interface and menus.
While it may appear as if Freeview is late to the game, this is the first service to work on a dedicated solution for browsing through the entire TV guide that considers multiple accessibility factors. It also speeds up the process of looking for shows with subtitles, audio descriptions and signing.
In addition, it’s also a non-premium TV service – meaning that features for those with disabilities aren’t locked behind an expensive subscription. Once the guide is rolled out to all Freeview devices – and the inclusion of on-demand content is added in – it will change a lot of lives up and down the country.
How to access and navigate Freeview’s Accessible TV Guide
If your device is eligible for the new TV guide update, you can access it by tapping ‘555’ on your Freeview remote. This is the button with the notch on, located on the centre of the remote control, to help users with visual impairments.
Once you’re on the guide, you’ll be able to toggle the settings to suit how you want to filter your TV programmes in the guide (such as showing programmes only with subtitles), and you’ll be able to change the speed, tone and volume of the voice commands.
Hannah Cowton is a Senior Staff Writer at Tech Advisor and Macworld, working across entertainment, consumer technology and lifestyle. Her interests and specialities lie in streaming services, film and television reviews and rumours, gaming, wearables and smart home products. She's also the creator of The London Geek, a geek culture and lifestyle blog.