YouView TV – Taking access seriously

You View

Due to launch in 2011, according to its website YouView has made a commitment to providing accessible TV

I’ve caught in the UK press much excitement over the announcement of a planned new TV service formerly titled ‘Project Canvas’ – its name for launch sometime next year is YouView.  I decided to take a look at the website to see what potential viewers can expect.  Like any ‘new’ broadcast service  it can often feel that accessibility is an after thought, not something considered a high priority for launch. So it is refreshing to see  the following statement on You View’s website:

Accessibility is a core requirement for YouView, which will be reflected both in the requirements included in the Digital TV Group’s (DTG) ‘Connected TV’ work and in the user interface design. YouView will also propose best practice accessibility models to content providers.

I can hear the cynics saying anyone can write such a statement, following it up is another thing altogether. Well yes that is true, but that there is further detail on the website as to the company’s accessibility goals – take a look here. I think it is being taken very seriously. As it should be. Still not convinced? You View TV took part in the UK Council on Deafness (UKCoD) 2010 and Beyond: Communication services for deaf people conference last month. Some quotes from YouView Chief Executive Richard Halton:

…we started work on accessibility when we started work on You View. This is not a recent development this has been part of the story of You View going back to the early days as research and development project in 2008.

….the audience with accessibility needs is a very big audience that is always the story that we tell that
accessibility is not a niche set of requirements by any means it relates to a quarter of people in the UK
depending on the definition. It’s very important to our technology partners as well, so what we have
tried to do over the last year is work with organisations like the RNID, RNIB Scope, Mencap, Age
Concern et cetera to develop some requirements. We have also tried to balance requirements. For
example some of the fonts that the RNIB would like us to use causes challenges for people that
Mencap represent, so trying to find a balance where there’s a wide range of accessibility needs catered
for that don’t conflict.

Just to underline this we made a commitment to accessibility as part of asking permission to launch the service and some of these requirements were baked into exactly how we run the business to give you a feel for that you know, we support subtitles as you would expect, but we also have made sure that the remote control itself has a dedicated button for things like audio description and subtitles so every remote will have those buttons.

We have done a lot of work on the fonts so when you move around the program guide we will come up with a front that hopefully every body will find useful and we made your our UI zoomable and we do a lot of work on APIs and the box to allow the box to connect to third party devices. For example some of the work we have done with RNIB – how we enable text to speech to a separate device.

SOURCE: 2010 and Beyond: Communication services for deaf people conference

Of course the company is reliant on the content providers also providing the service when it comes to subtitles or audio description but it is refreshing that access issues are being tackled from the start and is not an after thought.  YouView state that from launch it plans to have the following access features:

Access Services (where provided by the content provider)

1) Support for subtitles and audio description for standard definition (SD) linear broadcast content
2) Support for subtitles and audio description for high definition (HD) linear broadcast content
3) Support for subtitles and audio description for video-on-demand (VOD) and other off-schedule content (BBC iPlayer standards)
4) Navigation for access services

SOURCE: YouView – Accessibility

It might not sound much but points 2 and 3 at the moment are not being fulfilled by many existing services in the UK. An example: Five provides subtitles on its HD channel – however depending on how you are accessing Five HD you may not get access to said subtitles. Currently, if you access Five HD through Virgin can access the subtitles, but viewers watching Five HD through Sky cannot because of current technical issues. (See this forum post). Confusing right? And certainly disappointing if you are paying for a Sky subscription and cannot access a service that a content provider is providing! As for Video On Demand (VOD) channels – little content (if any? Can anyone confirm they’ve accessed subtitles on VOD? Please comment) is subtitled.

So I am quietly excited to see that YouView is attempting to avoid issues like these and encourage content providers to provide greater access. I will definitely be looking out for updates for launch of the service.  And no I haven’t been paid to write this 😉  I am  just sharing the info I have found.  🙂