Audio Description, or AD, is a service that provides an additional audio commentary to describe what is happening on screen for visually impaired viewers.
The BBC, ITV and Channel 4 have been working closely with the RNIB (Royal National Institute of the Blind) and manufacturers to develop an Audio Description system for blind and partially sighted people known as Receiver Mix, the only system that fully meets the RNIB's specifications.
This version of AD can also be decoded by receivers using a chip which can currently offer additional facilities such as a spoken EPG (the Electronic Programme Guide which provides on-screen scheduling information for digital viewers).
The technology is proven and manufacturers are beginning to build it into the next generation of set-top boxes.
Hundreds of blind and partially sighted people are already enjoying this service on digital terrestrial television via a set-top box manufactured by Netgem.
It is a high quality, user friendly, technically efficient system and, as public service broadcasters, we would like to see it available to all viewers on every platform.
We are confident that Ofcom will encourage this process, as they have a duty to encourage manufacturers to develop apparatus which can easily be used by people with disabilities under the terms of the 2003 Communications Act.
However, there are some blind and partially sighted people (in particular some 2,000 to 3,000 Sky subscribers) who already own set-top boxes which cannot receive Audio Description through the Receiver Mix system but are able to receive the simpler Broadcast Mix system.
We have therefore decided, following discussions with the RNIB, that we should offer Broadcast Mix as an interim measure until Receiver Mix set-top boxes are available for every platform.
We intend to begin this service as soon as is practicable.
For information about Audio Description, call BBC Information on 08700 100 789 or visit bbc.co.uk/reception.
The UK's first Freeview set-top box that enhances blind and visually impaired people's experience of television is being launched today.
A version of the Netgem i-Player with an audio description function that helps the visually impaired understand what's going on is now available. During TV programmes, the new tool gives spoken details of key visual elements, such as a change in location, movements, interaction, and even clothes people are wearing. This gives blind people the context and helps them to set the scene and recreate the drama, suspense or comedy when watching TV.
The tailored i-Player, which is endorsed by the RNIB and the BBC, is now available for a one-off payment of £119. The audio description function is available on such programmes as: Eastenders, Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Office, Friends, Fimbles and The Hoobs.
In addition to the audio description function, the i-Player is the only set-top box which gives users access to Freeview TV and radio, and also to the Internet.
Clive Miller, digital broadcasting development officer at the RNIB said:
"This is a very exciting time, as the i-Player is the first and only Freeview set-top box that makes audio description available to the general public. The service is massively important for blind people, because many TV programmes are hard to follow just by listening. With audio description, blind people know what's happening, without having to guess or ask someone, and that means they relax and enjoy it, just like everyone else. It also enables them to talk about programmes on an equal basis. We think the i-Player is fantastic - it offers a very friendly approach and even tells people what channel they are watching!"
The BBC today welcomed Netgem's announcement that the i-Player is now available which will offer audio description to blind and partially sighted viewers.
Welcoming this new development Greg Dyke, the BBC's Director General, said:
"This development follows many years of research involving the BBC's engineers at Kingswood Warren and the RNIB. We are delighted that Netgem are now the first manufacturers to integrate this system into their boxes, and very much hope that manufacturers of all set top boxes and iDTVs will also enable blind and partially sighted users to receive audio description in this way in the near future. The technology is now available for blind and partially sighted people to enjoy audio description in the best way possible, and to suit their needs."
Netgem is also working with the RNIB to improve blind people's enjoyment of television further by adding an audio channel guide, delivered over the internet, which will provide a spoken TV Guide. This is due to be launched later this year.
Five is a member of the Broadcasting and Creative Industries Disability Network (BCIDN) and is highly committed to increasing access to its programmes and services on and off air. I am very pleased that we are able to enhance our service for blind and partially sighted people in this way.
BSkyB is delighted that Five is to take advantage of Sky digital's audio description capability. The launch represents an important step forward in increasing the range of accessible programmes and services that blind and visually impaired people can enjoy through digital satellite television. We congratulate Five on its commitment to offering accessible services to satellite viewers.