The ‘help scheme’ on offer to people with disabilities to assist with the
UK-wide switchover to digital TV works well, though many users will
find digital services harder to use, research from the RNIB has found.
The institute surveyed a group of 30 people with impaired vision in the
Whitehaven area of Cumbria, where a live digital TV switchover pilot
is underway. Under a help scheme funded by the Department for
Culture Media and Sport with the BBC, eligible households, including
those where people have disabilities, can receive a Freeview set-top
box with audio-description and other special access features for just
£40, including installation and some training (see
In the run up to the Whitehaven pilot, information was made available
to people in their preferred format on the options available to them. Of
the 30 respondents to the RNIB survey, seven had already switched to
digital television before the pilot, and the remaining 23 took advantage
of the help scheme. All the respondents who used the scheme agreed it
offered good value for money. Help scheme staff were praised as
friendly and helpful, although some respondents felt that certain
aspects of the technology, in particular the audio description option,
had not been explained adequately.
But while the respondents thought that on the whole digital television
is a good thing, and they appreciated the increased number of channels
on offer, they found that digital television is more difficult to use.
Currently no digital service offers a set-top box with a voice-output
menu and the use of on-screen menus make it difficult for a visually
impaired user to navigate. As a consequence some users are reluctant
to venture beyond the traditional channels for fear of being unable to
find their way back.
RNIB Media and Culture Department Manager Leen Petré says voice-
output technology could become readily available, and is working with
manufacturers to develop an affordable solution. The decision on
whether set-top boxes with voice-output will be included in the help
scheme will be made by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media &
Sport next month (see E-Access Bulletin, issue 95, November 2007).
Nationwide digital TV switchover is due to start at the end of 2008 in
the Scottish Borders and sweep across all regions over five years,
ending in the Channel Islands in 2013. For more details of the RNIB’s
TV-related campaigns see: