Electronics manufacturer Panasonic has built text-to-speech functionality into 30 of its television models, designed specifically to help blind and visually impaired users, making them the first such TVs to become available on the UK general market.
After switching on the function during installation, text-to-speech will be present over a wide range of tasks in the televisions, including speaking the channel number and name of a programme when switching channels; the time that a programme begins and ends; and whether other accessibility features such as audio description are available for a programme.
Text-to-speech assistance is provided on connecting to a Wi-Fi network through the TV, and users can also to scroll through a TV’s electronic programme guide and listen to the list of programmes, timing information and a synopsis of each programme.
Speaking to E-Access Bulletin, Nigel Prankard, IPTV and digital TV solutions centre manager at Panasonic, said a lower implementation cost of text-to-speech in recent times had enabled the company to offer the functionality
“If you asked us to introduce text-to-speech [into our televisions] two years ago, the extra cost would have been significant, but with the onset of activity in the IT world, the implementation costs of text-to-speech have come down, enabling us to put it into the TVs without passing on the cost to customers”, Prankard said.
Panasonic worked with the Royal National Institute of Blind People to build the text-to-speech function, undertaking user-testing with a prototype before gathering feedback and making improvements to the final design.
Prankard said he hopes to further improve the functionality and add more features if there is positive feedback from the initial models, possibly looking at how text-to-speech could work for internet-connected TVs. “The W3C [World Wide Web Consortium] are trying to make more regulatory requirements for web accessibility, so we may have to think how TVs could handle [web accessibility requirements] if we give them the full ability to go to websites”, he said.