Accessibility features on TV streaming services for blind and visually impaired people

With people continuing to self-isolate, TV streaming services are a great lifeline and source of entertainment. For blind and visually impaired people, accessibility features on TV streaming services, such as audio description (AD) and voice-over, are vital tools so that they can enjoy the same experiences as sighted audiences.

I have used a variety of TV streaming services to catch up and binge watch my favourite programmes and films. I tend to watch these streaming platforms on two devices; my Samsung Smart TV in the lounge and my iPad when I am in bed.

6 Accessibility features on TV streaming services for blind and visually impaired people

There are several accessibility features on TV streaming services available for blind and visually impaired audiences. This is not just being able to understand the narrative in programmes but also being able to access the streaming service itself (e.g. selecting menus).  These include:

  1. Audio description service – a narrator who describes the scenery, action, body language and facial expressions in a TV show or film.
  2. Audio description category – a menu where all audio described shows and films are stored together
  3. AD function button – a button that allows you to turn on or off audio description
  4. Voice-over on iOS app – the audio accessibility feature that is used on iOS devices when navigating and selecting options on menus
  5. Voice Guide on Smart TV – the audio accessibility feature that is used on Smart TVs when navigating and selecting options on menus
  6. Airplay function a screen icon that allows you to play a video from your phone or tablet and mirror it on a Smart TV screen. Therefore you could use your phone or tablet as the TV remote.        

Unfortunately, not all streaming services provide all accessibility features for blind and visually impaired audiences. Here I roundup nine different services I’ve signed up to over the past few years and analyse the accessibility features that are available and still required for blind and visually impaired people on each platform.

Please note: I’m only analysing on my iPad and Samsung Smart TV. There may be other options available on other Smart TV brands and Android devices.

BBC iPlayer

BBC iPlayer app icon

BBC iPlayer is a free streaming service where you can catch up on BBC shows that you’ve missed, binge watch your favourite BBC box sets and get access to original BBC content and first watches of new episodes.

Although this is a free service, you’re still required to have a TV license to watch programmes online as well on terrestrial television.

This is probably my second favourite streaming service. I like catching up on my favourite shows including, Casualty & Holby City, and binge watching classic box sets such as Miranda, My Family & Waterloo Road.

Accessible features available 

  • Audio description category
  • Voice-over on iOS app
  • AD function button
  • AirPlay function

Accessible features still required 

  • Voice Guide access on Smart TV
  • AD available on all TV shows, films and box sets

ITV Hub

ITV Hub app icon

This platform is the viewers to catch up on TV programmes broadcast on ITV. There is a free subscription that includes adverts and there is also a premium service, which you pay for to make it ad-free.

I only ever use this streaming service occasionally just to catch up on a programme I may have missed. I just stick to the free subscription as I don’t think it’s worth the money paying for the premium service.

Accessible features available

  • Audio description category on iOS app
  • Voice-over access on iOS app

Accessible features still required

  • Audio description service on Smart TV
  • Audio description category on Smart TV
  • Voice Guide access on Smart TV
  • AD function button
  • AirPlay function
  • AD available on all TV shows, films and box sets

All4

All4 app icon

All4 is a streaming service for people to catch up on programs broadcast on Channel 4. This again is a free service but there is a premium service if you want to go ad-free.

I mostly use this service to catch up on my favourite programme The Last Leg and occasionally watch shows like The Undateables and Don’t Tell The Bride.

Accessible features available

  • Voice-over access on iOS app
  • AD function button

Accessible features still required

  • Audio description service on Smart TV
  • Audio description category on iOS app and Smart TV
  • Voice Guide access on menu selections on Smart TV
  • AD function button
  • AirPlay function
  • AD available on all TV shows, films and box sets

My5

My5 app icon

My5 is a streaming service that allows you to catch up on shows from Channel 5. I’ve only ever used this service once to watch a documentary about Freddie Mercury at Christmas.

Accessible features available

  • Voice-over access on iOS app
  • AD function button on iOS app

 Accessible features still required

  • Audio description service on Smart TV
  • Audio description category on iOS app and Smart TV
  • Voice Guide access on Smart TV
  • AirPlay function
  • AD available on all TV shows, films and box sets

 Netflix

Netflix app icon

This was the first streaming platform I’ve paid to sign up. I’m subscribed on the Basic Plan, which costs £5.99 a month. It has unlimited access to all kinds of TV shows, box sets and movies. My favourites so far have been Stranger Things, 13 Reasons Why, Orange is the New Black, Black Mirror & Special. Netflix is also where I repetitively watch my all-time favourite programme, Friends.

Accessible features available

  • Voice-over access on iOS app
  • Voice Guide access on Smart TV
  • Audio description category on iOS app and Smart TV
  • AirPlay function
  • AD function button

Accessible features still required

  • AD available on all TV shows, films and box sets

Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime Video app icon

I’ve attempted this service on two occasions but I’m not a big fan of it. Even after subscribing, most content you still have to buy or rent.

Accessible features available

  • Voice-over access on iOS app
  • Voice Guide access on Smart TV
  • AirPlay function

Accessible features still required

  • Audio description service on iOS app and Smart TV
  • Audio description category on iOS app and Smart TV
  • AD function button

 NOW TV

NOW TV app icon

I’ve only used this service once to watch a football match between Portsmouth vs Southampton on Sky Sports. I purchased a Sky Sports day pass for £9.99, which gave me access to all Sky Sports channels for 24 hours. Of course, I only watched one channel for a rather nerve-racking and disappointing 90 minutes.

I’m not keen on NOW TV because rather than a contract where you get unlimited access to TV shows and films, you have to buy a pass for a different type of channel or genre.

Accessible features available

  • Voice-over access on iOS app

Accessible features still required

  • Voice Guide access on Smart TV
  • Audio description service on iOS app and Smart TV
  • Audio description category on iOS app and Smart TV
  • AD function button
  • AirPlay function

Apple TV+

Apple TV app icon

I only signed up to this service because I was given a free one-year subscription after purchasing my Macbook Air. So far, I’ve only watched The Morning Show, which was amazing. However, there aren’t many other programmes or films available with the subscription and the rest you still need to buy or rent.

Accessible features available

  • Voice-over access on iOS app
  • Voice Guide access on Smart TV
  • AD function button
  • AirPlay function

Accessible features still required

  • Audio description category on iOS app and Smart TV
  • AD available on all TV shows, films and box sets

Disney+

Disney+ app icon

I initially wasn’t going to subscribe to Disney+ because I already have most films on DVD. However, I tried out the 7-day trial, and I’m so glad I did. There is so much to watch, I could happily give up working and binge watch almost everything, all day, every day.

Accessible features available

  • Voice-over access on iOS app
  • Voice Guide access on Smart TV
  • AD function button
  • AirPlay function

Accessible features still required

  • Audio description category on iOS app and Smart TV
  • AD available on all TV shows, films and box sets

Which TV streaming services do you prefer to watch as a blind or visually impaired person? Is there an accessible platform I may have not mentioned? Share your thoughts in the comments box or social media.

Audio Description Campaign

Audio description (AD) logo

Looking over my analysis, you can definitely see a couple of re-occurring features that are still needed on these streaming services; “Audio description service” & “AD available on all TV shows, films and box sets”. It appears that each streaming service either has no audio description at all or only a certain collection of programmes and films with audio description.

I believe this is not fair and having audio description should be an essential part of producing a film or TV series. Plus, classic films and box sets should also be adding AD too. All they have to do is go back over the content and fill in narrations between the dialogue. The more audio description that is available, the larger the audience figures will become.

Also, I get irritated when the latest series of a box set or film franchise has audio description, but when I want to watch it from the beginning, the first series or film doesn’t have audio description. This isn’t right as we should be able to access all the series of a particular TV programme of film franchise and not just the latest series or film.

That’s why I have launched this petition. I started it back in 2019 and so far it has gained 195 signatures but we need lots and lots and lots and LOTS more. Hundreds of thousands or even millions of signatures in order for film and television companies to realise how important audio description is to audiences with sight loss.

Please visit my change.org page, “Make audio description available on ALL films, TV programmes and streaming services, and continue to sign, share and support my campaign to make audio description available on every TV show, film and box set on every channel and streaming service.

Let’s make television and film accessible to all blind and visually impaired people!

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Published by Rock For Disability

This blog follows my life as a disabled person, reports disability news, share music reviews, give advice pieces, shows multimedia content plus much more!

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