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TV Accessibility for People With Disabilities Has Come a Long Way

August 22nd, 2019   ||    by Oriana Schwindt

TV accessibility for people with disabilities is no longer simply a nice-to-have. Great strides forward have been made in this arena over the last several years, from technology that makes it easier to navigate platforms to more inclusive advertising.

“Accessible TV should be a fundamental tool in building inclusive societies,” a 2011 G3ict report found. It’s taken years to make progress, but as American culture, in particular, becomes more aware of what a term like “diversity and inclusion” really means, the needs of the disabled community have taken on new prominence, and the TV industry is addressing them.

Here are some ways in which the TV industry is finally becoming more inclusive of the disabled community.

1. Hands-Free Navigation

The advent of voice recognition tech has sped up this process significantly. From Amazon’s Alexa to Apple’s Siri to Comcast’s X1 cable platform, voice navigation has seemingly become table stakes.

But there are even more exciting recent advances: Comcast is integrating eye control into X1, according to The Verge. This allows people with limited or no arm mobility and limited or no speech ability to do something as simple as change the channel without help, a true improvement in their quality of life.

2. Captioning

Captions have been available for TV programming since 1972, according to Mental Floss. But though it’s the earliest form of TV accessibility for people with disabilities, captioning has also lagged a bit in terms of innovation.

However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. In 2015, a 17-year-old created a prototype for a Google Glass-type personal display that can take natural speech and turn it into text, according to Smithsonian.com.

3. Descriptive Audio

For the visually impaired, watching TV can be somewhat frustrating. Descriptive audio is the solution: a narration that describes what is happening when dialogue isn’t being spoken.

Descriptive audio was previously seen as a burden on productions and networks, but that perception is slowly starting to change as the TV experience begins to take on digital traits. Netflix has been a leader in offering descriptive audio for its programming, and in March, fellow streamer Hulu began adding audio descriptions to its programming, according to the American Council of the Blind.

4. Inclusive Advertising

“Inclusive” here applies to both the content and the way in which it’s presented.

Microsoft made a splash in the 2019 Super Bowl with an ad that featured a boy with a disability using Xbox’s accessible Adaptive Controller, according to The Verge. The ad was widely hailed as one of the best ads of that Super Bowl by publications like Forbes. (Oh, and the controller’s packaging is disability-friendly as well, The Verge also reported.)

Tommy Hilfiger recently debuted a clothing line designed for people with disabilities, and touted this with an ad campaign that included descriptive audio and was led by a legally blind director, according to Ad Age. Making sure ads carry both descriptive audio and captions signals to the disabled community that you actually understand their needs.

These advances aren’t just good for the disabled community. With a large aging population, these technologies can make life better for every consumer. There are still many miles left on the road toward true TV accessibility for people with disabilities. But the progress thus far has been encouraging.

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