Written evidence submitted by RNIB
RNIB is the largest organisation of blind and partially sighted people in the UK and welcomes this opportunity to respond to the consultation.
With blind and partially sighted people at the heart of everything we do, our community of over 33,000 people brings together anyone affected by sight loss. More than three quarters of our Board of Trustees are blind or partially sighted. We support, empower and involve thousands of people affected by sight loss to improve lives and challenge inequalities. We engage with a wide range of politicians, organisations and professionals to achieve full inclusion through improvements to services, incomes, rights and opportunities.
We campaign for the rights of blind and partially sighted people in each of the UK’s countries. Our priorities are to:
RNIB welcomes the opportunity to respond to this consultation.
RNIB hope so. UK public service broadcasting is important for blind and partially sighted people. The level of accessibility is far higher than non-PSB channels in both the amount of audio description and the accessibility of the catchup services. UK PSBs have also been involved in most, if not all, of the major accessibility improvements in UK broadcasting. The AUDETEL project [[i]] that pioneered audio description involved ITV (under the old name of the Independent Television Association ltd). The coronation of King Charles III had live audio description from ITV [[ii]] using never before seen technology and the BBC created an accessible live commentary broadcast [[iii]] on the red button in parallel to the standard audio. ITV and Channel 4 have worked with RNIB to trial new ways of providing accessibility to reality TV and foreign language content respectively and Channel 4 has championed positive perceptions of accessibility with the “Meet the Superhumans” campaign, The Last Leg and accessible advert breaks that simulated sight conditions.
Not only do the UK’s Public Service Broadcasters create much loved content that is sold around the world but they have driven UK broadcasting accessibility and helped make us a world leader in accessible television.
The proposed access service quotas for VOD are based on the legal quotas for broadcast content. Many broadcasters are far exceeding these quotas on broadcast content and RNIB would have preferred VOD service providers to be held to the higher standard that has been demonstrated to be possible. RNIB hope that VOD service providers will follow the lead of broadcasters and embrace the value that access services bring to their audiences.
No. The proposals enable the UK to catch up with US accessibility legislation [[iv]] which has secured audio description on Discovery+ and Paramount+ in the US. This means that English language audio description exists for a lot of content on these services but is not made available in the UK because of the lack of UK legislation. At the same time Netflix and Disney+ provide audio description in the UK voluntarily demonstrating that carrying audio description is in no way prohibitive.
Criteria for designating on-demand programme services as Tier 1 should as much as possible be in line with the criteria for deciding which broadcast channels need to support access services. The criteria currently used by Ofcom assume broadcasters have an obligation to provide access services unless there is sufficient reason why it would not be possible or feasible for them to do so.
Audio description is a well-established accessibility feature but may not always be the best option. Programs that are audio lead may not need AD and may be accessible by default. RNIB has, in the past, called for a higher quota of programs that need to be accessible but including in this quota programs that are accessible by default. Although harder to measure, this may give a better metric for the accessibility of British TV.
Use of selected sound effects and spatial audio may also provide an accessible, intuitive and inclusive experience without the need for spoken AD (or with a reduced need for spoken AD) as demonstrated by the EAD project from the University of York [[v]]. It is unlikely that the current wording would count EAD augmented content towards accessibility quotas. Ofcom should have the power to review at a future date how they measure content that is accessible for blind users and what the quotas for that should be.
The UK has previous been hampered in the creation of accessibility legislation by the need to refer the legislation of goods to the EU [[vi]]. This has led to Ofcom needing to place accessibility requirements on EPG service providers rather than directly on TV manufacturers. Now that the UK is no longer working within the European legislative framework Ofcom should be able to apply the EPG code directly to device manufacturers. Placing the obligation directly on device manufacturers rather than on EPG service providers will have a stronger and more reliable effect.
Media, Culture and Immersive Technologies Manager
[iv] The Americans with Disabilities Act protects the rights of blind and partially sighted people to expect audio description and the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) requires access services to be carried where available.
[vi] National legislation on goods would inhibit cross border trade which is prohibited by the Treaty for the Formation of the European Union