One of the UK’s leading experts on accessible technology has called for TV set manufacturers to provide better information on their websites about access to their products by people with disabilities.
Adrian Higginbotham, manager of cutting edge research at the UK’s education technology agency Becta, made the comments after his own attempts to buy an accessible TV set which supported audio description (AD) were hampered repeatedly by poor information online.
Speaking to E-Access Bulletin this month in a personal capacity, he said the best source of information he had found had been announcements on the independent ‘TV Help’ guidance website ( www.tvhelp.org.uk/audes ) that all new Panasonic models; nearly 40 Sony sets; six Toshiba sets and a few sets from Philips would be audio description-ready. But when he had looked for accessibility information on the websites of the manufacturers themselves, there had been almost nothing of use.
On the Panasonic website, there had been no relevant information at all, even though “It didn’t seem like the sort of thing they would leave out, given the level of technical detail they went into,” Higginbotham said. The Sony website mentioned audio description features in an online glossary of terms, but not on most model descriptions.
Following an online query from Higginbotham earlier as to which current models supported AD, Sony UK’s Customer Information Centre replied: “No details of the products due for launch in the future or their specifications are made available or published prior to their launch. I regret therefore that I am unable to provide you with any information at this time.”
Higginbotham next pointed out his question was not about future models but currently available products, and asked: “Is your rather vague message of earlier today trying to tell me that Sony has taken a strategic decision to backtrack on the support which it has previously offered to visually impaired customers?”
This led to a second reply which was “the complete opposite” of the first, stating
all current models did in fact support AD. While this did indeed turn out to be the case, Higginbotham said, “I didn’t in the end buy a Sony, or even look at many of their models because the whole experience of dealing with the customer centre didn’t particularly make me feel like giving them the benefit of my business.”
Manufacturers that make their sets accessible are to be commended, he said, but unless they make the information available there is not much point. “I wouldn’t expect all customer support staff to know about it or staff in high street shops, but it should be on their own website.”