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On-screen TV guides to become more accessible for people with sight loss

Electronic programme guides used to navigate TV channel menus are set to become easier to use for people with a visual impairment or hearing loss, thanks to a series of new requirements for UK broadcasters.

Organisations using these electronic programme guides (EPGs) must now take the following four steps: provide a text-to-speech function within EPGs; highlight or list separately programmes with audio description or signing; provide a magnification or enlarging function, and; make sure that viewers can switch between default and high-contrast displays.

The new rules, which come into force on July 27, have been set by communications regulator Ofcom, and will affect all EPG providers in the UK, including Sky, Virgin, BT, TalkTalk and EE.

Ofcom has amended its ‘Code on Electronic Programme Guides’ to include the rules, as part of a drive to make EPGs easier to use for people with disabilities.

The move has been informed by a public consultation that ended earlier this year, which asked for views on proposed accessibility changes by Ofcom. Organisations including the BBC, RNIB, the Communication Consumer Panel and the European Guide Dog Federation (EGDF) responded to the consultation with suggestions and feedback on the proposed changes.

In a statement detailing the new rules, Ofcom notes that RNIB, EGDF and a number of individuals said they did not believe that Ofcom’s outline for broadcasters to use “reasonable endeavours” to improve EPG accessibility went far enough, and instead requested “a more prescriptive approach” for delivering accessibility improvements.

To help enforce the new rules, Ofcom will also introduce “strengthened reporting practices”, which will require EPG providers to submit an annual report on EPG accessibility and future plans.

Cathy Taylor, Senior Standards Executive at Ofcom, told e-Access Bulletin that the revised code will “also give EPG providers the flexibility to innovate in this area and introduce other equally effective methods to help people with sight impairments navigate TV channels more easily.” Speaking about the consultation process, Taylor said: “It is crucial that we publicly consult on matters of public policy to offer those affected a chance to have their say, and to make sure we ultimately arrive at the right decision.”

Ofcom also notes on its website that it is supporting a national campaign run by major broadcasters to improve public awareness of audio description. The campaign will run until September 9 and is being highlighted by promotional adverts aired by Virgin, Sky, BBC, Channel 4, ITV and other broadcasters.

Find out more about the EPG accessibility changes at Ofcom’s website.

Read Ofcom’s full statement on EPG accessibility in PDF or rich text.


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