Joe Clark: Accessibility | Design | Writing

Video-on-demand accessibility backgrounder

Basic problem

Programming and interfaces for video-on-demand (VOD) services must be accessible to deaf and blind viewers. At one level, VOD services are merely television programming, which already must be made accessible. At another level, VOD programming is opt-in, so it makes sense to add incentives to buy programming; there is no bigger disincentive than “even if I bought it, I couldn’t understand it.” VOD has the added wrinkle of using visual menu interfaces that also must be made accessible.

Programming accessibility

Pay-per-view services like Viewer’s Choice were the earliest networks in Canada to be required to caption essentially everything. The requirement recognized that discretionary services with dollar costs for each program segment must adhere to higher standards than conventional TV. The same applies to a VOD service.

Menu accessibility

VOD viewers will presumably use interactive program guides (IPGs) to browse, select, preview, and buy programming. But IPGs are visual menu systems, meaning blind people can’t use them. Work is already underway to solve the problem.

Access techniques are already available. CBC could be the first broadcaster to roll out accessible IPGs.

Cost and pricing

Captioning costs will probably be quite modest; there’s more of a sticker shock with description. The dollar cost to caption or describe an hour of programming refers solely to original hours; not only do repeats cost nothing, they earn money. Once a program is captioned and described, it remains so forever; each on-demand viewer purchase of a captioned/described program incurs no marginal cost for the network. In this way, accessibility costs for VOD programming can be amortized faster than on any other type of broadcast network.

A viable VOD service should be state-of-the-art: Given that captions and descriptions are available on free, over-the-air TV and on cable networks, a VOD service should not provide less accessibility than the competition. And as a premium opt-in service, VOD channels should remove every barrier that would prevent a viewer from buying a program. Captioning and description costs should be built into the programming budget; accessibility should not be viewed as additional or extra. If it were deemed unavoidable, viewer fees could be increased very slightly across the board (say by 25¢ added to each and every program purchase price)to pay for accessibility.

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Published: 2002.05.28 ¶ Updated: 2006.08.16

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